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With Scientology at war in Clearwater, religious studies types still seeking its warm & fuzzy side

[Some ordinary Scientologists]

With all of the amazing news happening lately, Scientology’s true nature is finally getting through to the larger public: The church has the knives out in Clearwater, Leah Remini is laying Scientology’s abuses bare on television, and so many other things are exposed here at the Underground Bunker every day. So you’d be forgiven if you were unaware that there’s a very different story about the church being told elsewhere.

It’s pretty easy to ignore, but the religious studies academics continue to examine Scientology in their papers and conferences, few of which are worth mentioning. Except for Reza Aslan, few academics make much of an impact on Scientology media coverage.

One exception is Ohio State University professor Hugh Urban, who in 2011 came out with a highly readable history of the church that attempted to put its many controversies and court cases into a formal academic frame. We enjoyed that book and interviewed Urban at the time, and found him to be quite an interesting guy.

He also wrote one of our favorite examinations of Scientology and the occult for the academic publication Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, and he encouraged us to publish some of L. Ron Hubbard’s infamous “Affirmations” while we were at the Village Voice.

We were less enthusiastic when Urban took some shots at Lawrence Wright’s 2013 history of Scientology, Going Clear. Urban carped about Wright relying on the accounts of ex-Scientologists (a common religious studies complaint, though ex-church members continue to provide consistent accounts that are rarely, if ever, proven to have been untrue), but he also made a point that we often find in the writing of religion academics. Urban criticized Wright for focusing on the celebrities of the church, and he complained that there hadn’t been more work done on “ordinary” Scientologists. Well, point taken, but we find that religious studies academics tend to fetishize the idea of a mythic “ordinary” Scientologist who isn’t caught up in the craziness of David Miscavige and his ruinous campaigns of intense fundraising and terroristic disconnection.


Somewhere, these academics assert, there must be examples of simply content Scientologists who are the real, pure example of the faith.

Yeah, let us know when you find them.

In our experience, the “KSW policy” — Keeping Scientology Working — means that you’re either in Scientology all the way or you aren’t in at all. Miscavige’s Scientology requires constant dedication, constant vigilance, and the suppression of conscience. The idea that there’s an idyllic Scientology that represents its “true” nature isn’t reflected in Scientology’s texts, its marketing, or in its social media. Still, these professors keep on searching for their white whale.

We were reminded of that again when it was brought to our attention that Urban has a new paper at Nova Religio, this time about something we’ve also taken a close look at, Scientology’s Original OT 8. He points out that OT 8 doesn’t get nearly the attention of OT 3 and its “Xenu” material, which, he says, isn’t close to the craziest thing in Hubbard’s writing. (We certainly agree. We’ve been very partial to OT 2 and its trillion-year-old mental implants, and the wacky notion of OT 4, that you have to dry out your body thetans, who are a bunch of intergalactic junkies.)

Urban is fascinated by how crazy Original OT 8 was, with Hubbard revealing to his followers that he was the future Buddha, but he was also the Antichrist, and that he would return to earth in the guise of a political leader.

Urban’s right, it’s very wacky stuff, but for some reason he doesn’t point out that this document was given to Scientologists for only a very short time, a few months in the summer of 1988, and only on the private cruise ship the Freewinds. The document turned out to be disastrous, and Miscavige quickly replaced it with New OT 8, which is still the highest auditing level on the Bridge to Total Freedom (though Miscavige continues to make noise about releasing OT 9 and 10 soon).

We definitely like some of the points that Urban makes in the paper, as he focuses not so much on the content of Original OT 8, but on the notion that so much of Scientology is about secrecy.

We agree with him that the secrecy of the upper OT levels was a strong selling point initially, but eventually that secrecy became a liability as these materials got out to the public and were mocked.

But then Urban goes further and says that the upper OT levels are now “irrelevant” as the church no longer really promotes them.

Say what? Here are the actual paragraphs themselves…

Most ordinary Scientologists know and care little about the advanced OT materials, and few Scientology spokespersons will even acknowledge things like the Xenu story. In a famous interview with ABC News Nightline in 2009, for example, Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis was asked repeatedly about the OT materials and the Xenu story; after refusing to answer any of these questions, he grew increasingly agitated and finally removed his microphone and walked off the set.89 (Davis later left the Church of Scientology.)

In its promotional materials and websites, Scientology now typically emphasizes the more public and ‘‘exoteric’’ aspects of the Church, such as its ability to help personal lives, build families and further careers, as well as its outreach and charitable work.90 Its online materials prominently feature the work of outreach groups such as the Volunteer Ministers, who help with disaster relief and various problems of daily life. This is not some esoteric or obscure elitist religious practice. According to the Volunteer Ministers website, ‘‘Scientology offers practical solutions to help you improve conditions in your life and the lives of those around you,’’ ranging from ‘‘resolving marital strife’’ to ‘‘managing a company for optimum success.”

While the tantalizing power of the OT levels was advertised and promoted quite prominently in the 1960s through the 1980s, they now are more often downplayed in favor of the more public and non-controversial aspects of the Church of Scientology. In sum, the secret itself has largely receded from the promise to reveal the deepest mysteries of the universe to a kind of embarrassing anachronism that means little to most practicing Scientologists today.

Most “ordinary” Scientologists care little about the OT levels? Which Scientology is he watching?

It’s true that David Miscavige has increased the promotion of the church’s front groups (Volunteer Ministers, CCHR, United for Human Rights, etc.), particularly in ads that are seen by the larger public. And he’s also placed a big emphasis on having all members focus on (or even redo), three low-level experiences: Student Hat, the Purification Rundown, and the Survival Rundown.

But based on the publications and promotions that we watch closely here and that Mike Rinder watches even more intently over at his blog, Scientology is still all about going OT.

Just as one small example, last year one of our readers managed to get into the Houston stop of the “Flag World Tour,” a recruitment drive that is constantly traveling from org to org around the world. The point, of course, is to get Scientologists committed to going to the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, the only place in the world that a Scientologist can do OT 6 and 7, as well as such exotic upper level offerings as the L Rundowns and Super Power.

This is still very much the focus of Scientology, pushing even beginning members to think about putting away money so they can get to Flag eventually and go up the bridge to become Operating Thetans. For all of the focus on other things as well, this hasn’t at all let up.

Urban wants us to think that the OTs are being “downplayed” now, but he offers no evidence of it. And it’s just not true. It might fit the religious studies idea of “ordinary” Scientologists content to commune with L. Ron Hubbard in some happily religious way. But the reality hasn’t changed. Scientology is about pressure, it’s about snitching, it’s about control.

That’s the church that we know so well and which is exposing itself with its bullying in Clearwater and that’s being exposed by Leah Remini and here at the Underground Bunker, whether the academics can see it or not.

Here’s Hugh’s piece, which he uploaded to Like we said, there’s good stuff in it, and we agree with him that original OT 8 doesn’t get enough attention. But we’ll point out again that it was only offered for a few months in the summer of 1988…


And we’re going to add Chris Shelton’s comment:

Urban clearly isn’t looking at (and maybe doesn’t have access to?) the promotional materials put out to Scientologists by Scientologists such as the International Scientology News, Advance magazine, Source magazine, etc. These publications push almost nothing but getting to Clear and OT and talk incessantly about the vague but tantalizing “OT powers” that Scientologists will “unleash” when they free themselves of their body thetans. It’s the carrot for all Scientologists and the only reason they put up with the never-ending fundraising and visits to their home at 11pm to be talked out of yet more money for their “spiritual eternity and freedom.” You think anyone is dedicated to the cause of Volunteer Ministers or The Way to Happiness so much that they put up with Ethics Officers interrogating every aspect of their personal, business and social lives? C’mon man, Scientologists frankly couldn’t care less about that “wog” stuff except to the degree they get commendations which help them get through their OT Eligibility steps so they can get onto those vaunted OT Levels. I don’t mean to imply Scientologists are all malignant narcissists, because they aren’t, but there is no other prize in Scientology – there is no other reason to do it except to get to OT. No one is seriously in Scientology to “feel better” or to “be a little happier.” They’re in it to win it and for them, the “way out is the way through” which means putting up with a lot of nonsense so they can be “cause over life.” Hugh Urban has studied this stuff for years yet somehow he hasn’t realized this most basic truth about Scientology and why people do it, which speaks volumes about how when someone doesn’t get it, they really don’t get it.


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HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,734 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,837 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,331 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,371 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,083 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 609 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,698 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,838 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,158 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,133 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 489 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,791 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 898 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,300 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,173 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 754 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,259 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,503 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,612 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on April 28, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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