I wanted to revisit the Rolling Stone article on Scientology from earlier this week, partly because it generated a tremendous amount of discussion, but also because I want to highlight an aspect of the article that I overlooked the first time around. Greg Churilov, a Scientologist who posted numerous times criticizing the Rolling Stone article and people commenting negatively on Scientology, said the Rolling Stone writer should have spoken to actual Scientologists before writing the article. Churilov said the article was merely a rehash of "rumors about Scientology" that have been proved false "time and time again."
Many journalists covering Scientology cite two problems: the unwillingness of Scientologists to speak to reporters, and the difficulty of disproving "rumors" when they come from Scientology documents.
Speaking to actual Scientologists was the strongest aspect of the Janet Reitman article. I regret overlooking placing blockquotes of Scientologists speaking in the article. Nevertheless, this is a blog, we have plenty of space, and I believe they're worth visiting now.
First, Reitman spent some time with Natalie Walet, a 17-year-old Scientologist who was born and raised in the group. Reitman revisits Natalie's story several times, using her conversation with Natalie in an adequate attempt to explain the Scientologist's belief system and way of life:
Natalie has a long way to go before she reaches OT III. Although virtually everything about the OT levels is available on the Internet, "I don't look at that stuff," Natalie says. She believes it is mostly "entheta," which are lies, or negative information about Scientology meant to undermine the faith. "You know, sometimes in school, kids would hear I'm a Scientologist and be like, 'No way -- are you an alien?'" Natalie says. "I don't get mad about it. I just go, 'OK, let me tell you what it really is.'"
Natalie's view of Scientology is the one church officials promote: that it is not a religion about "space aliens" but simply a set of beliefs that can help a person live a better life. And Natalie appears to be the poster child for Scientology as a formula for a well-adjusted adolescence. Articulate and poised, she is close to her family, has a wide circle of Scientologist and non-Scientologist friends and graduated from high school last spring as a straight-A student. "I'm not saying that everybody must be a Scientologist," she says. "But what I am saying is that I see it work. I've learned so much about myself. LRH says, 'What is true for you is what you observe to be true.' So I'm not here to tell you that Scientology is the way, or that these are the answers. You decide what is true."
Two other interviews, one conducted with Tommy Davis, a 33-year-old Scientologist who helps run a celebrity center in Hollywood, and another with Mike Rinder, the fifty-year-old director of the Church of Scientology International's legal and public-relations wing, delve into a common complaint of Scientologists that reporters are quick to run stories of disillusioned Scientologists in an attempt to slander the group. Where this motivation comes from, I am unaware.
This section from which the following paragraphs come from is particularly interesting, and if you don't have time to read the whole article, I recommend at least reading this section. Here are the key parts from the section (heads up: the article contains a handful of those four-letter words, particularly from Rinder, but the following paragraphs do not contain any). Reitman describes visiting Gold Base, which she describes as "the heart of the Scientology empire":
In my ten or so hours at Gold, I am aware of being taken on an elaborately orchestrated junket, in which every step of my day has been plotted and planned. I don't blame the group for wanting to present its best face; at least half of my conversations with Rinder and Davis pertain in one way or another to what Scientology perceives as a smear campaign on the part of the mainstream media. A chief complaint is that reporters, eager for a story, take the words of lapsed members as gospel. Davis says Scientology gets little credit for the success of its social-betterment programs, which include Narconon and also literacy and educational programs. "Look around," says Davis. "People are out here busting their butt every day to make a difference. And one guy who leaves because he wants to go to the movies gets to characterize the whole organization? That sucks."
Scientologists do not look kindly on critics, particularly those who were once devout. Apostasy, which in Scientology means speaking out against the church in any public forum, is considered to be the highest form of treason. This is one of the most serious "suppressive acts," and those who apostatize are immediately branded as "Suppressive Persons," or SPs. Scientologists are taught that SPs are evil -- Hitler was an SP, says Rinder. Indeed, Hubbard believed that a full 2.5 percent of the population was "suppressive." As he wrote in the Dianetics and Scientology Technical Dictionary, a suppressive person is someone who "goofs up or vilifies any effort to help anybody and particularly knife with violence anything calculated to make human beings more powerful or more intelligent."
Given this viewpoint, I wonder why anyone with connections to Scientology would critique them publicly. "Makes them famous," Rinder says. "They do it for their fifteen minutes."
So there you have it: the words of an influential Scientologist out for the public to examine.
While pinning a Scientologist down for an on-the-record discussion of Scientology, which would include both the group's merits and drawbacks, the challenge of reporting on Scientology is compounded with the threat of legal action. Apparently Scientology sued Time magazine for just over $400 million for a 1991 cover story on the group and while a federal judge eventually tossed the case out of court, it wasn't cheap for the magazine to defend against.