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Jon Atack: How to get a convinced Scientologist on the road to recovery

Jon_AtackJon 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 for more than a year on Saturdays he helped 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. He was kind enough to send us a new post.

Jon has really come through for us again, this time laying out a complete program for the frustrated friend or family member who wants to get a Scientologist to begin challenging their indoctrination. Jon, tell us how it works.

JON: I have several times been asked how to approach a convinced cult member. I hesitate, because a list of resources may encourage the cult to prepare an index of prohibited texts. Still, here it is.

The first aspect of intervention is to present parallel material. Never go head on. Sometimes it takes months, but the goal is to encourage critical thinking, so that the individual will begin to look for the way out. By the time I quit intervention counseling, no one who had spoken to me in the previous five years returned to the cult.

I had only a day to achieve this effect, but a spouse, relative or close friend has as much time as necessary — as long as they avoid criticizing the cult with the attendant risk of being shunned. I used to start with Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond, but it is possible to take a more gradual approach. (I had no time to play with!)

There are many movies and documentaries that show elements of the techniques of exploitative persuasion. At the top of my list are Leap of Faith, with Steve Martin, which is based on the memoir of a bogus faith healer, and Life of Brian, because it actually does touch on many aspects of cult involvement but makes light of them. A serious cult member may not take to the absurdist approach, however (my kids roar with laughter). The Wave is very good and, of course, books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World (not the movie of either, however). THX 1138 — George Lucas’s first movie –- is good, too. Terry Gilliam’s dystopian Brazil makes some of the points.


I would show Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond (1983, directed by Pierre Lasry) section by section and encourage the person watching to talk about what they are seeing and offer examples from their own experience. Typically, Scientologists will think that nothing in the film has any bearing on them. This does not matter, what does matter is that critical thinking is fundamentally the ability to articulate ideas, and just talking about something in a friendly environment can kick start the process.

After Captive Minds — and plenty of discussion — I showed a documentary about the Rajneeshis and the fiasco of Big Muddy — Rajneesh: My Dance is Complete. Again, stop the film along the way and encourage discussion of simple points. You never make any comparison with Scientology, and if the person does you simply nod (the gentlest affirmation). Scientologists will find nothing in common, yet again. It is important to allow plenty of time –- I only had a day, because the member would report their encounter with me, if I’d failed to take them all the way.

A recent documentary about the Jehovah’s Witnesses — Truth be Told — is very good, as is Meet the Mormons. Scientologists are happy to laugh at such cultic behavior. There is never any need to point out that identical behaviors exist in Scientology. They will work that out, eventually. By the way, this is the opposite of hypnosis, in that it is all presented analytically and leaves the person to sort it out rationally. Allow for plenty of time. There must never be any rush.

Material about the Moonies, Mark Twain on Christian Science (hilarious as ever), just about anything about cults, is grist to the mill. Such material can even be introduced by saying “People call Scientology a cult, but this is what a cult really is.”

There are some fine texts on fanaticism and the cults of the past. Two years before I left, I read Norman Cohn’s seminal Pursuit of the Millennium, about the end of the world groups at the time of the Crusades, and his Europe’s Inner Demons, about the mass murder of “witches,” and they influenced my decision to leave.

Aldous Huxley’s Devils of Loudun is excellent, and the film The Devils, which is based upon it, is very well made (with beautiful sets by Derek Jarman, and a fine performance by Oliver Reed. One of Ken Russell’s best films). Miller’s Crucible was also turned into a fine film.

Anything at all about fanaticism is useful, because it can tickle the critical faculties. Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, is a classic. But if something has entertainment value, it will be easier to digest, though there are still a few of us who like to read a weighty tome. Such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird are also relevant, as they show fanatical behavior. The movie is good, too, as are such classics as Fonda in Twelve Angry Men or Tracy in Inherit the Wind.

You sadly have to avoid anything by a psychologist or psychiatrist, because the phobia induction is so profound. I’d sneak William James’s fine Varieties of Religious Experience under the wire, if possible.

Any book recommended by Hubbard is valuable. Show the person where Hub recommends it and then give them the text. This includes Hypnotism Comes of Age by Wolfe and Rosenthal.

Crowley’sMagick in Theory and Practice was originally published with Crowley’s “magical” name, the Master Therion, on the cover, and Hubbard refers to it by that title in PDC lecture 18. Play the PDC lecture about Crowley first, if you can, to introduce this awful book.

There are further references to Crowley in PDC 35 and 40 (see also Professional Auditors Bulletin no.110, 15 April 1957). My own Hubbard and the Occult has this passage: “Hubbard had a very positive regard for Crowley, calling his work “fascinating” [PDC 18] and recommending one of his books to Scientologists. Having referred to Crowley as “The Beast 666,” Hubbard said that he had “picked a level of religious worship which is very interesting” [PDC 35]. He also made it clear that he had read the fundamental text of the Crowley teaching, The Book of the Law [PDC 40].”

The Book of the Law is at least brief, and highly relevant, given Hubbard’s statement that Crowley was his “very good friend” (PDC 18). My Possible Origins for Dianetics and Scientology, shows that Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice is the most important single source for Scientology. But be very careful — allow the believer to work this out. Almost anything by or about Crowley is disturbing, given Hubbard’s accolades. His autobiography, The Diary of a Drug Fiend, sums it up in the title. I spoke with Crowley’s literary executor, John Symonds (he loathed Crowley), and his biography of Crowley shows why Hubbard fantasised about a friendship with the “wickedest man in the world.”

William Bolitho’s 12 Against the Gods — which Hubbard called his favorite book in PDC lecture 16 (which is where Vaughan Young got the idea from for his answers to the interview “with Hubbard” — Rocky Mountain News, 20 February 1983. Members are led to believe that this is a genuine interview with Hubbard. It says there that the “introduction is particularly good”). Cagliostro is especially significant in this book. And what Scientologist wouldn’t want to read Hubbard’s favorite book?

Then there are the intelligence books in the B-1 “information” hat pack — this pack was reissued in 1990. The only change to the 800 pages being the title page, where “OSA” replaces “GO.” These include Sefton Delmar’s Black Boomerang, Christopher Felix’s The Spy and His Masters and Reiss’s Total Espionage. All are revealing. It is possible to follow this up with extracts from the B-1 pack — it is after all “scripture” — Hubbard’s Conference for the Investigators for instance.

No one has done better work than Derren Brown. I introduced my friend Steve Hassan to his work about 20 years back and he uses clips in his own interventions. Brown’s debunking of spiritual matters should be carefully handled — I’d avoid Fear and Faith for a while — but the Manchurian Candidate from Experiments, Messiah, and the Heist are all excellent. Again, encourage discussion and avoid comparison with Scientology.

Comparable religious material is also important. As Hubbard claimed to base his ideas on Buddhism, the Vedas and the Tao Te Ching (see the Phoenix Lectures, chapter one) these can be introduced (though probably not my translation of the Tao! Gia Fu Feng is very good and handsomely illustrated. D C Lau is a straightforward version). Benjamin Hoff’s Tao of Pooh is a light-hearted examination of the philosophy of Lao Tze. Chuang Tze’s “essential chapters” (the first seven chapters of the Chuang Tze) are also quite lovely.

Any expansion of ideas is useful in generating critical thinking, so texts on karma, reincarnation, and the like are valuable. It does show that Hubbard’s claim to have made the only contributions to the fields of the mind and spirit in the last 50,000 years are simply braggadocio.

This isn’t about teaching dogma, so it doesn’t matter if the ideas expressed seem silly to you. Just that they expand the horizons of the cult member. You might be able to get away with Brian Ingliss’s Trance: A Natural History of Altered States of Mind, an interesting history of hypnosis, because he avoids psychology and has a supernaturalist bent that will appeal to the Scientologist (though it seems credulous to me).

The cult uses Houston Smith on the Minister’s Course and I’d add Joe Campbell’s Power of Myth, just to give a better grounding in religious ideas. The exclusivity of Scientology is challenged by these materials. For the more academically inclined, Mircia Eliade’s History of Religion (3 volumes), Campbell’s Masks of God (in 4 volumes), Cohen and Phipps’ Common Experience and Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy are all good — the last two being shorter and easier.

Hoffer’s True Believer is very good — and short — along with the movie The Inner Circle (Vaughan Young told me that this paralleled his Sea Org experience, exactly — it’s about Stalin’s personal projectionist who maintained his devotion to the dictator as his master casually murdered millions).

The process of paralleling continues until the person begins to make comparisons with Scientology. This may take an hour or a year.

The direction of attention is important. I learned this from Idries Shah — whose books are also interesting (The Sufis is positively mind blowing, and lovely for anyone captive in magical thinking, though it won’t do anything to help them escape from it!). A counselor used the method on a family where the mother constantly talked about her suicidal inclinations. He simply said to ignore anything negative that she said, as if nothing had been said at all. Within two weeks of her family doing this, she stopped talking about suicide. Hubbard has a version of this in his “good roads, fair weather” approach to “PTSness.” So, encourage all sensible statements and simply fail to acknowledge anything cultic and negative.

Alongside this, you should reach into the person’s pre-cult life to reaffirm the pre-cult identity. Ask about the believer’s past and encourage them to talk extensively, especially about the peak experiences and good times. Dig out old photos. Get in touch with old friends and family. Keep Scientology off the subject list, unless it is mentioned. Moving back before the cult identity was cloned can be scary, because you may see the person visibly switching from the glitter-eyed hypnotic pallor to a pink-skinned true cheerfulness, as the cult-cloned identity shifts.

Introduce non-cult activities. For every hour spent on thinking, there should be an hour spent on physical activity (and, yes, I know Problems of Work says this, too). Go swimming, bowling, cycling. Watch movies, eat out. Spend as much time as possible with non-Scientologists and encourage conversation about their beliefs.

After a while, it will be possible to introduce The Shrinking World of L Ron Hubbard (“Hey, I found this weird thing on the Internet, where Ron was interviewed back in 1968”). This always proved to be a case cracker in my work. Hubbard’s teeth are evidently rotten. He blinks constantly (out TR0) and he contradicts himself — he’s had two wives, but “no second wife,” and the eager “yes” to his followers believing in reincarnation after his own reluctance to answer the question. After that it’s all downhill — Singer’s Cults in Our Midst and Hassan’s Combatting Cult Mind Control leading to Blue Sky and Bare Faced Messiah. Then Cialdini’s Influence and Aranson and Pratkanis’s Age of Propaganda.

I’m sure that my astute readership will have much to add to this list. Remember, as Hubbard said, to “keep the analyzer whirring.”


Posted by Tony Ortega on December 6, 2014 at 07:00

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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, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

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, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ


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