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Is it really possible to study Scientology and ignore the people who were damaged by it?

Chris Shelton continues his look into a new academic volume, an issue of the journal Implicit Religion dedicated to Scientology. Here’s his previous piece.

Today we are examining the second article of the recent special edition of Implicit Religion, this one penned by Dr. Bernard Doherty of Charles Sturt University in Australia. He is a religious studies scholar who has published on Christianity and whose interests (according to the university website) are “wide-ranging and include New Religious Movements, Patristics, Australian religious history, Church and State issues, religion and the media.” I’ll note as I did in my article last week that this man has no qualifications or apparent understanding of psychology or even sociology, and thus is approaching the analysis and criticism of Scientology purely from a religious studies perspective.

This article is interesting because it’s an effort to “highlight some of the internal and external factors which work to make the study of Scientology a potential minefield for scholars of New Religions.”

Doherty has some suggestions for how this might be more effectively done, and I thought I’d offer my thoughts as a former Scientologist on what he had to say.


Doherty begins by citing the increasing body of work about Scientology by former members and journalists (he even mentioned Tony by name) as well as recent academic articles on the topic. He
seemed particularly taken with a 2018 publication by Donald Westbrook called Among the Scientologists, which he claims is proof that scholars no longer need to be afraid of Scientology, “though considerable challenges remain, both within and outside of the academy.” He got that much right.

He then makes four “modest proposals” as to how Scientology research might be advanced in the future, while acknowledging that these are more idealistic goals than they are achievable ends.

“Firstly, scholarly discussion must take place without fear or favour among scholars according to scholarly convention and unimpeded, so far as is realistically possible, by unreasonable attempts at moral suasion regarding publication and research by outside stakeholders from Scientology or from ex-members and critics.”

Here Doherty is simply suggesting that academics not take sides, but that ship has already sailed and personally, I don’t see any way of getting it to come back to port. Early and continuing scholarship by supposedly “objective” scholars has been shown (by me and others) to be nothing more than pro-cult propaganda pieces where the words of the cult leader’s PR department are uncritically repeated in academic prose and offered as the “truth” of what these groups are about. This led, naturally, to protests from former members, media outlets and some other scholars who weren’t blinded by their own biases to refute the pro-cult scholarship and thus began the “Cult Wars” which continue to this day.

“Second, a generational transition and willingness to work to put to rest past conflicts between scholars and scholarly paradigms in a spirit of mutual academic endeavor.”

Doherty acknowledges the problems presented by the Cult Wars and suggests a solution: “Rather than extending such conflicts into the future, however, I believe a younger generation of scholars who have not been directly party to these controversies need to open doors for dialogue here and take up the baton of scholarship rather than crying foul over perceived past injustices or perpetuating mistrust.”

Unfortunately to my eyes, this kumbaya message is nice, but highly unrealistic. Why? Well, how am I as an “apostate” supposed to fit into this respectful dialogue that Doherty proposes is supposed to occur?

The majority of New Religious Movement (NRM) scholars outright refuse to listen to former members or even consider they have anything relevant to add to the discussion. That’s not only unhelpful, but it’s also outright punitive and frankly, only serves to reinforce the trauma of the former members and empowers groups like Scientology to continue to get away with human and civil rights violations because the victims not only aren’t believed, they aren’t even listened to. This hardly presents a well-balanced or fair marketplace of ideas since all the critical and firsthand experiences of these former members are left out of the scholarly analyses of these groups. When this is done with malice aforethought, which it most certainly is when one considers the Church of Scientology’s attitude towards its critics, all this does is serve to help cults like Scientology continue to pull the wool over the eyes of said scholars. So, there is simply no way that this or any of Doherty’s goals can be achieved until this gross imbalance is settled within academia itself.

It should be noted that one of the reasons so many former members such as myself and others have written our own first-hand accounts or published our own video testimonials of our experiences was because we have been so ignored and insulted by NRM scholars. It was clear no one in academia cared to listen to us or take what we had to say seriously, and this not only didn’t make any sense, but it made it abundantly clear that NRM scholars were grossly biased in favor of traumatizing cultic groups like Scientology. They readily repeated Scientology’s lies but refused to consider we were telling the truth, and then those scholars had the nerve to say we were the ones muddying the waters and making objective research of these groups impossible. You have to give it to some of these guys; they really have some very big balls to say some of the things they say and expect to be taken seriously.

“Third, a more coherent and organized research program which draws on multiple fields of expertise and recognizes the contribution of all serious and rigorous research.”

I have made this same suggestion myself, but I sense a degree of disingenuousness in Doherty here. He suggests giving voice to “different perspectives and not to allow academic processes to be subtly hijacked to silence ‘dissent.’” Well, that’s fine and it sounds like he might be open to now hearing from us ex-members, for example, but then he follows with a diatribe lamenting the problem with “heavy-handed attempts at moral suasion.” I can’t tell for sure as he doesn’t tackle the question directly, but it appears from his language that Doherty wants to retain the status quo when it comes to accepting any input from those of us who understand these groups better than these NRM scholars ever will. I think that’s a real shame.

“Fourth, increased reflexivity and moral accountability amongst scholars whereby we acknowledge our individual blind-spots and embrace some kind of scholarly common good model.”

This basically calls for NRM scholars to eat a little humble pie and not take themselves or their views quite as seriously (or perhaps egocentrically) as some of them have done. I would certainly agree with this approach as it is abundantly clear in reading the literature on Scientology from my own well-informed perspective that most of these people are utterly clueless what Scientology is or how it is done, even after they have done their own literature reviews and published peer-reviewed papers. The plain fact is that most of those papers do little or nothing at all to forward or increase understanding of the Church of Scientology and its practices.


Personally, I believe the reason why NRM scholars miss on Scientology is because they, like all of us former members did and like many in the media do, they actually believe it is a religious movement. It’s not and it never was that. This can be read as just another biased view of an angry former member with an axe to grind, but I’ve actually been contemplating this problem for the last nine years and given it a great deal of study and discussion. Is Scientology a valid religion and should it be studied as such?

The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is a resounding “No.” It’s a con job that is disguising itself as a religion, using what Jeffrey Augustine so rightly described as “religious cloaking” to hide its true purpose: to bilk as many marks as possible of as much money as possible while chewing them up psychologically so they are not fit to fight back or even recognize what is being done to them.

Scientology is a traumatizing, mind altering practice with uniformly negative long-term results using almost any metric you care to bring to the table: finances, psychology, interpersonal relationships, or professional life. All of these areas and more are negatively impacted the longer a person remains a Scientologist. The exceptions are few and far between, even though many faux- exceptions are trotted out from time to time to make it appear Scientology is a legitimate, spiritually focused and charitable movement. It is none of those things and the sooner NRM scholars and other academics realize that and stop giving it the legitimacy it never deserved, the sooner we will see honest and objective scholarship of Scientology.

— Chris Shelton


Derek Lambert and Karen de la Carriere



Bonus items from our tipsters

Proof that Scientology works!



The hardest working celeb in Scientology!



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Source Code

“We have learned that it does no good in America to advertise. It doesn’t do any good to advertise. We get everybody we get by word of mouth. You understand, I’m merely talking on percentiles. Something like three out of fifty or three out of twenty-five come in because of ads. That is our average for all over the country.” — L. Ron Hubbard, October 18, 1956



Avast, Ye Mateys

“Talks: Thanks for the thanks I get on the talks. These Tapes (last 3 and onward) are to be copied and sent to other ships and added to AB Checksheet as the first items. LECTURE: THERE WILL BE NO LECTURE TONIGHT, Saturday or Sunday. They will resume Monday night. Two more are scheduled in the series — Monday and Tuesday.” — The Commodore, October 18, 1969


Overheard in the FreeZone

“In one’s own subjective universe, anything is literally possible and time does not have to go forward and many universes can occur together — as many as a mind can invent. But that is not how the Eighth Dynamic and its visible physical Universe of the 6th Dynamic works. Therefore I am wary of the science fiction and intelligence agency campaigns to mess with our minds and entice us into doubting that we are at cause and in control to some small but significant extent, of our own reality in this larger Reality.”


Past is Prologue

2001: John and Claire Swazey posted their Suppressive Person Declare this week. They have been Scientologists and contributors to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. “John and Claire have been associating with SPs for more than 2 years and have continued to do so despite clear Church policy. They have not been availing themselves of the true source data but have been getting false data from the SPs they have been associating with. As of May 2001 they went beyond associating with them and started assisting them in their attempts to attack the Church by spreading Black PR. They have publicly disavowed Scientology and Church management using a broad public medium and have violated the trademarks of the church and the laws of the land. Claire has broadcast entheta about Church management and Scientology, and associated with SPs using a broad public medium for more than 2 years. On the 29th of April 2001 she publicly disavowed the Church of Scientology and Church Management using a broad public medium, as well as giving enemy lines about Senior Management terminals. Claire has also been associating with a Church staff member feeding him entheta and false data about the Church resulting in his no longer wanting to work as a staff member in the Church.”


Random Howdy


“I asked vaLLarrr the Sci troll one time if any new OT levels were released, and they didn’t include Hubbard’s handwriting on some level, would s/he consider them genuine and s/he said ‘no’.”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Next hearing set for November 10. Trial tentatively scheduled for February.
Jay and Jeff Spina, Medicare fraud: Jay sentenced to 9 years in prison. Jeff’s sentencing to be scheduled.
Hanan and Rizza Islam and other family members, Medi-Cal fraud: Pretrial conference December 17 in Los Angeles
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud: Next pretrial conference set for November 19.
Joseph ‘Ben’ Barton, Medicare fraud: Pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing.

Civil litigation:
Luis and Rocio Garcia v. Scientology: Oral arguments were heard on July 30, 2020 at the Eleventh Circuit
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ US Supreme Court denied Valerie’s petition Oct 4.
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: California Supreme Court granted review on May 26 and asked the Second Appellate Division to direct Judge Steven Kleifield to show cause why he granted Scientology’s motion for arbitration. Oral arguments scheduled for November 2.
Matt and Kathy Feschbach tax debt: Eleventh Circuit ruled on Sept 9, 2020 that Feshbachs can’t discharge IRS debt in bankruptcy. Dec 17: Feshbachs sign court judgment obliging them to pay entire $3.674 million tax debt, plus interest from Nov 19.
Brian Statler Sr v. City of Inglewood: Third amended complaint filed, trial set for June 28, 2022.
Author Steve Cannane defamation trial: Trial concluded, Cannane victorious, awarded court costs. Case appealed on Dec 23. Appeal hearing held Aug 23-27. Awaiting a ruling.



We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links, including our four days in Los Angeles covering the preliminary hearing and its ruling, which has Danny facing trial and the potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison.


After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society. Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in a weekly series. How many have you read?


[ONE year ago] The Top 25 People Enabling Scientology, No. 11: Gary Soter
[TWO years ago] Duggans abandon scheme, give $48.8 million in AbbVie stock directly to Scientology
[THREE years ago] Read the ‘disconnection letter’ from a brother telling his sis — Sylvia DeWall — so long forever
[FOUR years ago] Scientology slut-shames Mimi Faust after destroying her family because … it’s a church!
[FIVE years ago] Trademark lawsuit against Scientology’s drug rehab network settles weeks before trial
[SIX years ago] Countdown to Friday: ‘Scientology’s Dirty Tricks’ on the menu in Sydney
[SEVEN years ago] Jon Atack: The question Scientologists aren’t allowed to ask each other
[EIGHT years ago] Scientology Drug Rehab: New Evidence in the Disturbing Case of Richard Teague
[NINE years ago] A Yoga Master’s Question For Scientology OT 8’s: Can You Show Cause Over Matter?
[TEN years ago] Scientology Petition Going to the Wire: Will Obama Be Forced to Say Something?


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 2,457 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,962 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 2,482 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,502 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 1,393 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,700 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,568 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 3,342 days.
Doug Kramer has not seen his parents Linda and Norm in 1,672 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,146 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 3,462 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,028 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,947 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 4,115 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,696 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,957 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,993 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,708 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 2,233 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 588 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,763 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 6,314 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 3,463 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,783 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,638 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,757 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 2,113 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 6,416 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,522 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,920 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,796 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 2,379 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,874 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,128 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 14,237 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 18, 2021 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post 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 new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, 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 can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2020 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2020), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | 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 | Shelly Miscavige, 15 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 | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Tony Ortega at The Daily Beast


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