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Jon Atack: Why it takes so long to recover from Scientology

Hubbard_SpeechJon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and on Saturdays he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.

Jon, you’ve really been on a roll lately, and this week is no different. You’ve talked about the difficulties that people face when they leave Scientology, but this week you give us more detail about your own journey, and what convinced you to try to help others.

JON: I came back to the fray because I was concerned at the lack of recovery among so many former members. Conway and Siegelman, in their best-selling text, Snapping, reckoned that where people snap out (sorry) of most cults within months, Scientology remains embedded for about 12.5 years. They based this, so I am fairly reliably informed, on a study of three ex-Scientologists, so it is not a gold standard survey. [Conway and Siegelman respond, below.] Even so, I think they were nearly right. The majority of former Scientologists don’t actually recover in 12.5 years, though. They don’t recover at all, because they have to participate in their recovery, and Scientology is a self-perpetuating trap.

I was lucky. Soon after I left, I applied the Data Series to the Org and found it wanting. Then I applied the Data Series to itself and found it wanting. Which determined me to abandon every scrap of Scientology and reincorporate anything that made sense, piecemeal. Very little actually did, once I’d stepped away. A chap who’d been in since 1954 told me that he’d laughed out loud when he read OT 3, but had done the level, just the same. I asked him why, and he told me that it “read” on the e-meter. I asked him if he’d ever doubted the e-meter. He had not. I thought that OT 3 was crazy when I first read it, but I’d spent seven years getting there. I held on for just over a year after that, until the silliness of demon possession as a leading edge therapy technique finally became unbelievable.

The first year after I cast off L. Ron Hubbard’s “Tech” was a great year. I hadn’t realized just how much I was having to conform to the straitjacket of Ronthink. After so many years of diminished thinking, it was a tremendous pleasure to rediscover my self-determinism and draw my own conclusions.

ScientologyMythbustingI understood that the language holds the whole ramshackle construction together, so I deliberately journeyed back to wog-speak. This was easy, as I’d never been a live-in member, and had never been tempted to spray non-believers with Hub’s vast hoard of misunderstood words. Putting down the locked-on eye contact was more difficult. It was curious that when I finally achieved it, I was able to see better — visual fixation not only induces a hypnoid state, it also reduces perception, perhaps because we naturally scan our environment. I realized that Scientology had made me ever more self-conscious, and it was with a great feeling of liberty that I walked away from it.

Whatever was good in Scientology seemed trivial — I liked the recent comment that only the advice to use alcohol when cleaning tape heads was sound (and even there, he doesn’t tell you to use isopropyl alcohol, rather than rubbing alcohol). I wrote a paper called Possible Origins for Dianetics and Scientology, following the lead of the estimable Jeff Jacobson, and pinned down 120 plagiarisms where Hubbard had reason to have known the source of his thefts. In the end, apart from the advice not to knock the vase against the faucet, there isn’t much substance, just a great deal of pseudoscience, which is fitting because that was the original definition of Scientology, before Hubbard stole the word. OT 3 is about the only original concept, and it violates the Auditor’s Code, where we are told that we must “never” evaluate for the preclear (an idea borrowed from client-centred therapy, by the way).

I did come to realize that there is often a paralysis of thinking among Scientologists. Given the mix of euphoric states caused by the hypnotic procedures and the vicious internal policeman installed into the heads of all believers, it is no wonder that Scientologists take so much longer to recover, when they do, indeed, recover.

Even after the language is gone, the concepts generally remain, simply translated into New Age. So, the overt-motivator becomes karma, without any study of the Hindu or Buddhist texts. The SP becomes the sociopath, but without reading Cleckley (from whom Hub stole the idea) or any of the hundreds of professional texts subsequently (I used DSM for my diagnosis in Blue Sky). The concepts function in the background as unquestionable assumptions about life, the universe and everything.

How do you dig your way out of this morass? Jeff Hawkins and a few others have traveled this route and made their journey public. Instead of remaining under the covers, they dare to break the taboo and discuss the Tech. Now this is the strongest injunction: Don’t communicate about the Tech. And there is a good reason for this. When we talk about things, we have to think. Parroting requires no cognitive abilities. As soon as you do talk about it, as Jeff has recently with Introduction to Scientology Ethics, the whole mess starts to fall apart.

So, this is just to say how much I admire those people who dare to challenge Hub’s taboos and speak out. For those still locked into Hubthink, I suggest this statement from the man himself: “In learning, study what you want to know, think what you want to think about it, recognize institutionalism for the bogus straw man it is, and keep the analyzer whirring.” (Research & Discovery, volume 3, p.247). And don’t take any wooden nickels.

THE BUNKER: We received this response from authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, authors of Snapping

We were pleased to see Atack’s citation of our study of the long-term effects of Scientology and other cults in your recent blog. But we would like to correct one point: he got his numbers wrong by an order of magnitude. Our correlations of time spent in Scientology’s ritual practices and long-term effects among ex-Scientologists afterwards were based on 33 former Scientologists, not 3 as Atack claimed to have been so “fairly reliably informed.”

Atack’s a good man and very good on Scientology. But his reference to our work mirrors those of many ex-Scientologists and critics of the group who have never read, let alone studied, our findings. In fact, many are still quoting our first summary of preliminary findings that appeared in Science Digest in 1982, “Information Disease: Have Cults Created a New Mental Illness?” After that article, which won an award from the National Mental Health Association, we took all our data to the University of Oregon Communication Research Center and spent a year analyzing it with a team of top methodologists and statisticians in the field. The full findings were presented in a special “theme panel” presentation at the International Communication Association annual meeting in Hawaii in 1985, and then published in the international journal Update, out of Aarhus, Denmark.

We present an expanded report on that research in Chapter 13 of the fully updated second edition of Snapping (see especially pp.176-178 re CoS) and the entire data analysis in an all new Appendix. But, to our knowledge, no one in the ex-Scientology community, not the cult’s critics or former members, has read those findings thoroughly or presented them accurately in their real significance for Scientology’s present and former members.

You can read about the second edition of Snapping at The book is available there and at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.


ASHOFlierIt’s a party on L. Ron Hubbard Way!

So today’s the day for the re-re-re-scheduled grand re-re-re-opening of ASHO and AOLA at Scientology’s Los Angeles headquarters. The American Saint Hill Organization (ASHO) and Advanced Organization of Los Angeles (AOLA) are being rededicated at the “Big Blue” complex on Fountain Avenue — centered by the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital and also known as PAC Base (for Pacific Area Command).

Several of our correspondents should be on the scene as various festivities happen from noon to 2 pm and beyond. No doubt photos and videos will pop up here and at the usual places — WWP and ESMB.

As for the other big opening in LA — the Hollywood Test Center on Hollywood Boulevard — there’s still no new date that we’ve heard about. We only got the one communication which said recent construction at the facility required a new Certificate of Occupancy, and that might take a while.

But for today, the party is on for Big Blue. Take care if you go by not to tangle with the locals. Just take pictures and smile.


Litigation update

We’re adding TX Lawyer’s observation here before it gets buried in comments later in the day. Thanks for the update, TX

The Austin Court of Appeals has set oral argument in the Miscavige mandamus for April 9 at 1:30 pm. 20 minutes of argument per side, in front of Justices David Puryear, Melissa Goodwin, and Scott Field. All three are Republicans. Fell free to google them, but I’m not a fan of any of them.

It is, in my experience, unusual to have an appellate court set argument before the responding party’s brief has even been filed.Looking back over the opinions released by the court in the last couple months, I see that the same panel has granted mandamus relief at least twice, and Puryear and Goodwin were on another panel that also granted mandamus. Notably, one of those mandamus cases rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to take two “apex depositions” on the grounds that they had not shown the execs had any special knowledge of the case (which alleged a company was responsible for wildfires that occurred in Bastrop a few years back).

Hopefully, Team Monique has sufficient evidence to get past this, but I wouldn’t be happy with either the quick setting or the panel.


Posted by Tony Ortega on March 8, 2014 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer


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