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Profs looking at tiny groups of American ‘indies’ miss Scientology’s big issues

Chris Shelton continues his look at the state of ‘religious studies’ attitudes about Scientology by working through a new issue of the journal Implicit Religion. Go here for his first, second, and third installments.

The Church of Scientology dominated my mind and my life for the first forty years of my life. That’s a long time and in that time, I experienced all the good and all of the bad that membership had to offer, with an emphasis on the bad because that is, in the main, what Scientology delivers. The clouds of lies that filled my thinking after I left Scientology was like a plague of locusts buzzing relentlessly around my head, always noisy and always at the forefront of my attention. It’s taken years to isolate each of those damn buzzing lies and debunk them.

I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever get them all. It’s always a little difficult for me to maintain perspective about this group since, in the end, it was my abuser. How does one ever become truly “objective” towards the primary source of one’s trauma and guilt? I can’t and I doubt I ever will, and I’ve had to conclude for myself, that is just how it is. But perhaps my lack of objectivity and the sense of mission I feel about exposing Scientology’s abuses to the world is the kind of counterfoil needed to push back against those who are, perhaps, too “objective” about Scientology. And of course, I’m referring to the self-described New Religious Movement academics, professionals in the fields of sociology and religious studies who have decided that groups like Scientology or the Unification Church (the “Moonies”) or the Jehovah’s Witnesses are credible, legitimate religious activities worthy of deep research and to stand on an equal footing with Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. I have a different take and this week, I get to talk a bit more about that in critiquing another NRM scholar’s work.

This week, we are looking at “Toward a Study of ‘Scientologies’” by Aled Thomas, published in the collection of mainly pro-Scientology articles in Implicit Religion, volume 23.2. According to his bio, Thomas is a PhD candidate at the Open University in the UK, and he is fascinated by the existence of the Free Zone and spends a great deal of his research time looking into this, such as his earlier paper “Scientology Beyond the Church: The Practice of Auditing in the Free Zone.” Thomas starts off by commenting on the podcast and earlier articles in the Implicit Religion journal (which I’ve written about here in the last few weeks), picking up on the suggestions that Doherty proposed for future studies of Scientology. Thomas agrees with Doherty’s “urging of scholars to move beyond the NRM/Cultic debate that has previously dominated the field, and move towards a collaborative research programme.”


Personally, I’d like to see a multi-disciplinary and more objective approach to Scientology, but I don’t know that it’s possible to move it beyond the “NRM/Cultic” debate, as Thomas describes. As I wrote in my last article, Scientology is analogous to the Mafia and pretending otherwise is not engaging with the truth of the situation no matter what metric you care to use to measure the Church of Scientology. At the end of the day, it’s a criminal enterprise disguised as a religious movement.

However, Thomas has an interesting proposal in his article which is worth talking about. Instead of arguing endlessly about whether the official Church of Scientology is a destructive cult or whether it has social or cultural value, he instead suggests that the study of Scientology should expand and “…scholars moving forward in research on Scientology should carefully engage with the notion of ‘Scientologies,’ including both the Church of Scientology (CoS) and Free Zone/Independent Scientology (Scientology outside the CoS) and integrate it within their research.”

Of course, some might wonder why we need more than one Scientology since we can’t even seem to agree much about the one we do have. I think there’s validity to that argument. However, Thomas brings up an intriguing and quite factual point: Scientology as a subject is not defined solely by what L. Ron Hubbard and Church of Scientology have to say about it. This is readily apparent in any Reddit or Facebook group where Independent Scientologists show up and start talking about what they think Scientology is, what it means to them and how they practice it. One quickly finds that Hubbard’s notions about Standard Tech and Keeping Scientology Working are just fantasies that more than a couple of his followers never really subscribed to, if they even understood them in the first place. Thomas’s view of the Indie/Free Zone experience is that it is important, as he writes here:

“…it becomes clear that the Free Zone has become a significant voice in contemporary Scientology in the digital age, particularly in its use of the Internet to make its presence known….we must avoid top-down institutional dictations of ‘what Scientology is’ in favour of a bottom-up approach that considers the realities of everyday life for Scientologists across Scientologies – an approach which can extend to the use of Hubbard’s tech in non-Scientologist spaces.”

It is certainly true that Scientology could be broken down in lots of different ways. One could consider the “philosophy” of Scientology as separate from how the official Church or the Free Zoners practice it, i.e. what do the actual “Source materials” say, what can be inferred from Hubbard’s truth claims and what do these things tell us about him, his group and other philosophies? These and hundreds of other research questions could be formulated, and quite intensive studies could be done. Given the scores of contradictions and inconsistencies baked into every level of Scientology, I doubt that any of these studies would be very useful to the world at large, but they could be done. It would be very difficult, at the end of the day, to pin Hubbard down to a core set of unalterable ideas about Scientology because he truly was all over the map. Even his “axioms” (self-evident truths) are far from self-evident or true.

One could separately study the performance or practice of Scientology and compare/contrast that with what Hubbard wrote or how the lived experience of Scientologists differs from the lived experience of a Christian or a Muslim. One could look into the lifestyle and daily or routine practices Scientologists engage in, i.e. how do they do Scientology and what does it mean for them in their own individual lives? What’s it like living a life striving to walk a definite but financially costly path to achieve “spiritual freedom?” What do they really hope to gain?

These could be interesting studies but, as Thomas and other NRM scholars have wistfully and only half-heartedly acknowledged, the Church of Scientology is not transparent or open and will not provide researchers with Scientologists to talk with or interview without first “preparing” those Scientologists to carefully express only what the Church wants them to say. Yes, the NRM scholars do know that the Church of Scientology is blatantly dishonest with them and openly tries to deceive them yet still refuse to consider that there might possibly be something deeper and more nefarious going on with this group than religious studies. I constantly wonder how they could be so naïve, but I digress.

My primary critique with Thomas’ approach of breaking this subject down into “Scientologies” is that this topic is not quite the simple binary Thomas supposes it is. He proposes that there are two “real” Scientologies to study: the official Church and the Free Zone/Indie movement. Even though other NRM scholars have advised Thomas that the FZ is a tiny, fringe thing and really just a kind of curiosa rather than a separate subject of study. Yet, I would point out to Thomas that the FZ/Indie movement represent just the latest schism in Scientology and his idea is, as usual, hopelessly naive.

You see, there are many groups over the years which have taken some or even most of Scientology, given it new labelling or changed some of the concepts around and then renamed it something new. If you’ve ever heard of Werner Erhard and his brainchild EST, then you have seen at least one such example of Scientology being ripped off and a whole new group started using some of its pieces. EST evolved into Landmark, then Landmark Forum and now Landmark Worldwide. That’s just the trajectory of one squirrel group. We have seen a host of such groups, many of which the Hubbard himself officially identified and labelled starting in the early 50s. He even implemented “Project Squirrel” on December 2, 1966, to get the Guardian’s Office to ‘investigate every SP engaged in Squirrel actions or anti-Scientology actions’ and turn them in to the police when any criminal activity was found or bring suits against them in court to cease their squirrel activities.

How many of these groups does Thomas want to study? Also, how are scholars going to study how Scientology is utilized in “non-Scientology spaces”? Is any classroom where a teacher tells a student to look up a word in a dictionary an instance of “Hubbard’s tech in non-Scientologist spaces”? I’m curious what Thomas imagines this kind of study is supposed to look like given that almost all of Scientology was derived, if not outright copied, from earlier sources in psychology and the occult.

I will resist the temptation to go into detail about how “squirrels” in Scientology are tantamount to religious heretics and even apostates from the point of view of Scientologists. That may draw too many unwelcome comparisons to how NRM scholars such as Thomas are totally okay with interviewing, surveying, or studying “squirrels” but they won’t give us former Scientologists (apostates) the time of day or listen to a word we have to say. I will just say I find Thomas to be as hypocritical as every other NRM scholar on this point and leave it at that.

In essence, that is all Thomas had to offer and, as you can tell, I don’t think much of his proposal. But I want to be clear that the reason for this is not because I have a chip on my shoulder about Scientology or even about NRM scholars. It’s because I have a thing for the truth.

The truth is that the Church of Scientology is a money-making scam, not a valid or credible religious movement. Treating it with the same degree of importance and legitimacy as mainstream religions is a huge mistake and one that I think these NRM scholars will continue making for many years to come. My battle with them is only just beginning. The victims of Scientology deserve to be heard and their stories taken seriously, especially by those in the halls of academia. It is time the tide turns in our favor and I hope that my work on this will help accomplish that.

— Chris Shelton



Leah Remini podcast: Aaron Kaufman

Says Mike: “This week we talk to filmmaker Aaron Kaufman. He is known for producing Robert Rodriguez films, and more recently for directing the documentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses for Vice TV Crusaders. Aaron was raised a JW and his doc focuses on the data base of sex abusers the JW’s have which they have refused to make public. Plenty of scientology parallels in this discussion.” Listen to the episode right here!


Derek Lambert and Karen de la Carriere

Marking the death of Lisa McPherson, 26 years ago on December 5.



Bonus items from our tipsters


This new Ideal Org is going to rock!



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Did you know you can get an email every morning when we post our daily Scientology story? We know some of the folks who come to the Underground Bunker aren’t here to talk about the politics of the day, and that’s why we created a daily politics feature over at our other blog, The Lowdown, and we ask readers to take their political discussions over there. And if you drop us a line at tonyo94 AT gmail, we’ll put you on the list so you get a morning reminder that a new Scientology story has been posted — and only for our Scientology stories.


Source Code

“Auditing itself depends to some degree on miracle healing. And the longer you sit back waiting for the process to do it, and the longer you sit back waiting for Ron to do it, the less it’s going to happen. You’re not going to make Clears waiting for something else to do it. You’re going to do it. If you don’t do it — look, who else is there! There’s the pc and he’s been an aberree for the last 15 trillion, squillion years, hasn’t he? He’s been spinning ever since they pulled his last temple down on his head or whatever happened. Well, if he could get out of the bank just at a whoooo, he wouldn’t be your pc, so he can’t do it. And when you’re in an auditing room all by yourself with just the pc, you know, and a couple of chairs or couch or something, you look around real carefully and find out who else in that room is going to do it! Nobody going to do it but you.” — L. Ron Hubbard, November 9, 1959


Avast, Ye Mateys


“THIS PORT: This is a very upstat area and our general relations with the shore are very good. We will be here for 15 days or more, at this or some other dock, as we are getting heat into the tween decks and holds and having some other repairs done. So if you have any extensive work or actions that need doing, now is the time to do them. As the World Health Organization is not all that good in restricting epidemics and although there is nothing particular wrong here, you are warned not to eat fresh fruits without peeling them and fresh uncooked foods ashore. Also do not drink any fresh water that has not been chlorinated.” — The Commodore, November 9, 1971


Overheard in the FreeZone

“Apparently, and there’s evidence for this in my researches, aliens or beings from outside this dimension abduct people and tinker with their DNA, giving them DNA that makes them more prone to certain actions like enslaving others. Then these aliens don’t have to physically invade a planet, they just tinker with the locals’ DNA and these guys then go setting up a New World Order and they are Earthlings who are doing it to their own planet! Hubbard seems to be talking about this sort of stuff in the OT 8 Truth Revealed Briefing. He refers to beings exterior to time and how they work through others in order to take over certain areas of the MEST universe. This is my best guess as to what he is trying to explain in that document.”


Past is Prologue

1995: David Milligan continues his battle for the Internet domain “” “I will continue to use for the next 90 days, during that time I will be offering mail service for a flat fee of $90.00 CANADIAN for the set-up of a E-Mail account and an aliases such as ‘’ or ‘’ this will be an actual valid return address for your E-Mail. The funds will go to pay the provider of the E-Mail service and to start a legal fund to fight the attempt to take this domain from me, if I win I will continue to provide the mail service to all Net users. My stand on this is, if RTC chooses not to negotiate a resolution to this dispute I would like to challenge the Trademark rights in court, I believe that the current Trademark laws do not effectively deal with the use of a name as a address on the Internet.”


Random Howdy

“How long did it take for the Shakers to cease to exist? As far as I’m concerned that’s the basic scenario we’re looking at here. The feds aren’t going to do anything about Scientology ever and there’s not going to be any Jonestown event (thank gawd) so what does that leave except a fade out to non-existence?”



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 held November 2, awaiting a ruling.
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] How Scientology can prove us wrong about L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘sheep-dipped’ valor
[TWO years ago] The Scientology-‘Ancient Aliens’ tie-in we just know you were waiting for
[THREE years ago] Someone is faking Lawrence Wright emails — and this one is about the Underground Bunker
[FOUR years ago] French-kissing Wilt Chamberlain: Adventures of a teenager in the skeezy world of Scientology
[FIVE years ago] How a new independent ‘church’ is trying to wrestle away control over the word ‘Scientology’
[SIX years ago] Scientology on the high seas: When L. Ron Hubbard was still making tech ‘breakthroughs’
[SEVEN years ago] Scientology Sunday Funnies: Kirstie Alley is now Super Powered!
[EIGHT years ago] Luis Garcia Responds to Scientology’s Arbitration Scheme
[NINE years ago] SHOCKER: Court Punishes Scientology For Acting Like…Scientology


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 2,479 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,984 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 2,504 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,524 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 1,415 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,722 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,590 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 3,364 days.
Doug Kramer has not seen his parents Linda and Norm in 1,694 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,168 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 3,484 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,050 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,969 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 4,137 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,718 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,979 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 3,015 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,730 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 2,255 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 610 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,785 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 6,336 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 3,485 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,805 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,660 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,779 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 2,135 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 6,438 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,544 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,942 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,818 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 2,401 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,896 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,150 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 14,259 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 9, 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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