Respectful Insolence

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When I learned of this, I had been highly tempted trot out everybody’s favorite undead Führer for a little fun with the Church of Scientology‘s latest antics. Indeed, when you find out what I’m about to discuss, you’ll see why it was a candidate for the loving chomp of his rotting jaws. Heck, I even started to do the whole Hitler zombie schtick that regular readers all know and some even love (or at least tolerate–well, most of you, anyway). As I typed away, though, I was having more and more trouble. My conscience was feeling more and more troubled. After all, I’ve lovingly crafted maybe 15 or so of his adventures over the last couple of years, sending him away for a while when I think he’s overused, then bringing him back when a truly egregious example of argumentum ad Nazi-ium pops up. Through it all, though, he’s almost taken on a life (or unlife) of his own, and in recent months I’ve tried to use him very sparingly. Given that the target I was thinking of setting him loose on this time included prominent members of the Church of Scientology, I just couldn’t do it.

Really, the Hitler Zombie deserves better fare than the brains (such as they are) of Scientologists. I just couldn’t subject him to such a repast. I just couldn’t. Even the Hitler Zombie, rotting corpse of one of the most notorious mass murdering dictators in history with a penchant for eating brains, has standards, albeit low ones given the identities of some of his former victims. (D. James Kennedy and Ann Coulter, anyone?) Yet even he can’t tolerate Scientologists, particularly as it relates to this story, found via Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt’s blog.

The story I’m talking about is, of course, that of British reporter John Sweeney, who while making a documentary about the Church of Scientology, was stalked and harassed:

Scientology works. That is the message from celebs like John Travolta and Tom Cruise – who is, some say, keen on recruiting new Hollywood arrivals David and Victoria Beckham to what he calls his religion.

Others back the Church in various ways: Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley of the City of London police helped open a new £20 million Scientology centre in London, and the authorities in the City of London have granted it cut-price rates.

If you are interested in becoming a TV journalist, it is a fine example of how not to do it. I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine … it makes me cringe

But start asking questions and you see a different face of Scientology.

While making our BBC Panorama film “Scientology and Me” I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a “bigot” by star Scientologists and been chased round the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers.

Back in Britain strangers have called on my neighbours, my mother-in-law’s house and someone spied on my wedding and fled the moment he was challenged.

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All of this led Mr. Sweeney to a bit of a breakdown while going on a tour of Scientology’s Psychiatry: An Industry of Death museum in Los Angeles, a video of which Scientology has been spreading around and posting on YouTube. He explains what set him off:

Scientology has two faces – nice and smiley, and sinister and dark. If you do not believe me, go and see their exhibition in Los Angeles, Psychiatry: Industry of Death. You enter through a door that is a mock-up of a torture chamber.

Scientologists want “the global obliteration” of psychiatrists, who they say were to blame for the rise of Nazi Germany.

To prove their point, they showed me hideous images of people having needles stuffed in their eyeballs, of patients undergoing electric shocks and having their brains operated on.

Sickening, nasty and wholly unconvincing – modern psychiatry, for all its faults, is not Nazi and to press the point in the way that Scientology does devalues the horror of the Holocaust.

Ironically or not, it was in the “Mind Control” section of the exhibition that I lost it.

As often in life, I snapped over something completely different and quite trivial.

Top Scientologist Tommy “Don’t mention the word cult” Davis had been goading me all week, and on the seventh day I fell into his elephant trap. He shouted at me and I shouted back, louder.

Of course, that is the Scientology M.O., to harass and intimidate its critics, its foes, or anyone who investigates it too closely. It is regrettable that Mr. Sweeney lost his cool, but understandable if you read the rest of his story describing the making of his news report Scientology and Me for the British news show Panorama and this statement by the producer.

Oddly enough, I had never heard of Scientology’s infamous anti-psychiatry museum before. I almost wish I had learned of it before I visited Los Angeles last month to attend the AACR Meeting. While I was in L.A., I was even in the area of the museum, because one of my favorite places of all to visit, a place that I check out any time I’m in the L.A. area, Amoeba Music, is a mere 0.3 miles away on Sunset Blvd. Had I known of this museum, I almost certainly would have paid it a visit in order to see just how low the Church of Scientology would go in its rabidly fanatical hatred of psychiatry and anything to do with it (particularly since the price of admission is free; I certainly wouldn’t pay money, particularly money that would go to the Church of Scientology, just to indulge my morbid curiosity). The best I could do was to browse the museum’s website, run by the Scientology-run “Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights.”

In any case, this museum is about as bizarre a thing as I’ve ever heard of. Andrew Gumbel of Los Angeles Citybeat described the museum thusly:

But it is one thing to assert that psychiatry has had its abuses, quite another to say the profession in and of itself is evil. The “Industry of Death” museum goes one step further even than that, all but asserting that psychiatry is responsible for everything evil in the world. Psychiatry is the key to understanding Hitler, not extreme nationalism (“no man in history has been more prominent in the psychiatric dream of world domination …”). Psychiatry is responsible for plummeting educational standards in the United States, not chronic underfunding, and it is to blame, too, for rising health insurance premiums. Psychiatry lies behind the recent rash of school shootings. It is even responsible for 9/11. “Suicide bombers are … assassins manufactured through drugs and psycho-political methods,” one of the displays asserts. “Careful psychiatric indoctrination and treatment can make the most barbaric act rational.”

It’s hard to talk about errors of fact in such assertions (although, note to Ms. Filidei: Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a pediatric surgeon, not a psychiatrist) when the assertions themselves are characterized by a glaring failure to provide even the most basic factual corroboration. This is the classic stuff of paranoid conspiracy theory: grab every negative tidbit you can, disregard anything that even smacks of the positive, throw it all together and conflate it into something bigger than the sum of its parts. Suddenly, psychiatrists are all evil, their diagnostic manual a colossal hoax from start to finish; there is no justification for the theory that chemical imbalances cause mental health problems; Ritalin is never appropriate, for children or adults; in fact, there may be no such thing as mental illness in the first place.

Not content with their little museum, Scientologists invaded a science fiction convention in Anaheim in 2006 (which is where the pictures that decorate this post were taken), as described by Cory Doctorow, who described it thusly:

The exhibit was a nightmarish round of blaring video-screens playing the kind of ominous music that you hear on America’s Most Wanted during the atrocity re-enactment, each screen competing with the others to fill the room with a cacophonous, stomach-churning gumbo of scary sound-effects. The visuals showed photos of Hitler (a favorite graphic emblem of the Church — they used it to smear Time magazine after a critical piece appeared there) and atrocity photos. The Church’s connection to the “Council” wasn’t mentioned anywhere.

(Video of the “museum” here.)

Now you can see why I was tempted to set the undead Führer on the Church of Scientology. The blatant smearing of all of psychiatry with the Nazi regime and the Holocaust was just begging for such a treatment. (Can you imagine a Hitler Zombie attack on, for example, Tom Cruise, the most idiotic celebrity Scientologist of all?) But, as I said, I just couldn’t do it.

Instead, I’ll point out the utter ridiculousness of some of the claims made by the exhibits in the museum, such as the claim that psychiatrists follow a long-standing “master plan” for world domination and that Hitler and the Nazis were manifestations of that plan. Indeed, Scientologists blame the Holocaust on psychiatry. They also blame psychiatry for suicide bombers, school violence, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and the deaths of many celebrities, such as Kurt Cobain. In fact, looking at the exhibit, it’s hard to find an evil in the last 150 years that Scientology doesn’t blame on psychiatry. In Scientology, psychiatry itself is given the role that is usually reserved for Satan in Christianity: That of the Evil One, the implacable Foe of the just, the enemy that all believers must resist.

Of course, the entire museum, like Scientology’s standard anti-psychiatry drivel, is an obvious fallacious attack on modern psychiatry that emphasizes the very worst excesses of the profession from many decades ago and tries to equate modern psychiatry with these horrors. Modern psychiatry is nothing like Nazi psychiatry or even like psychiatry of 50 years ago, and Scientology’s emphasis on the evils of psychiatry and its urge to slime it based on old excess reveals its agenda. After all, you could say a lot of nasty things about pretty much all of medicine at various times in history. In the 18th century and even into the 19th century, for example, bloodletting and treatments with toxic metals to induce vomiting were common, often doing far more harm than good. Other specialties have done a lot of damage over the long history of medicine as well. Remember, it wasn’t psychiatrists who conducted the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Even in the Nazi regime itself, it wasn’t primarily psychiatrists who met trainloads of Jews at the gates of Auschwitz to do a snap medical judgment to decide who would live as slave laborers and who would go straight to the gas chambers. Infamous Auschwitz physician Dr. Josef Mengele was not a psychiatrist, nor was Dr. Horst Schumann or Dr. Carl Clauberg, a gynecologist who performed horrific experiments at Auschwitz in which he tried to sterilize women using X-rays. Aren’t these specialties, or the Nazi medical profession in general, just as guilty as German psychiatry for the Holocaust? I would argue yes. Yet we don’t see Scientology attacking the gynecologic medicine and surgery of today because Dr. Clauberg fried the ovaries of many women (along with the surrounding abdominal organs) with radiation in nasty experiments, resulting in agonizing complications and deaths. Elsewhere during World War II, I point out that Japanese doctors who performed horrific experiments with infectious diseases on prisoners and surgically dissected some of them alive during World War II were not psychiatrists; yet we don’t see Scientology attacking the specialties of infectious diseases or surgery of today because of these past abuses.

The Scientology take on eugenics and the Holocaust neglects the fact that much of the German medical profession by and large enthusiastically embraced the pseudoscience of racial hygiene and Nazi eugenics policies. This was particularly true of younger physicians, many of whom joined the Nazi Party before it came to power. Scientologists make much of a supposed observation that 40% of German psychiatrists joined the Party by 1933 (which seems to me to be a highly suspect figure, given that it took until the end of the war for the Nazi regime to get 45% of all German physicians to join the Nazi Party). Even so, as Robert Proctor reports in his book Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis, doctors did join the Nazi party earlier and in greater numbers than any other professional group, attracted by the Hitler’s promise of greater prestige and influence as physicians of the Volk. Odd, then, that we don’t see Scientology blaming German medicine in general for the Holocaust or generalizing the bad behavior of Nazi doctors of other medical specialties to those same specialties of today, as they do with psychiatry.

I wonder why.

It must be acknowledged however, that many Nazi psychiatrists did either participate in or endorse the T4 euthanasia program, which certainly presaged the Holocaust and provided a testing ground for small prototype versions of the gas chambers later used for mass murder. Examples included psychiatrists such as Professors Carl Schneider, Max de Crinis and Paul Nitsche. This observation is the grain of truth behind Scientology propaganda that Scientologists try to use to condemn psychiatry of today. Yet, even here, Scientologists, in their eagerness to paint German psychiatry under Hitler as unrelentingly evil, neglect the whole story, which is more complex. Contrary to the impression of all German psychiatrists being rabid eugenicists and enthusiastic perpetrators of the Holocaust painted by this ridiculous museum, as Robert Jay Lifton discusses in his classic book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, there was resistance in the Germany psychiatric community. It was scattered, unorganized, and mostly covert, which is not surprising given the totalitarian nature of the regime, but it had an effect. Some psychiatrists resisted, even at considerable risk to their careers and the risk of being sent to a concentration camp, most commonly by helping family members of patients marked for “euthanasia” to evade the lethal bureaucracy by diagnosing patients as neurotic rather than schizophrenic, releasing patients home to their families, or exaggerating the patients’ potential capacity for improvement and–most important of all to utilitarian view of Nazi eugenicists–eventually performing useful work for society. Observes Lifton:

Crucial to whatever psychiatric resistance existed was the influence of a few leading psychiatric humanists of the older generation, such as Karl Bonhoeffer. These men became known as opponents of medical killing and, in varying degree, of the Nazi regime in general. In 1939, the politically suspect Bonhoeffer was replaced in the prestigious psychiatric position of the chair of Berlin University and Charitė Hospital by Max de Crinis, Party and SS member. Bonhoeffer then became more active in helping his two sons and his son-in-law, all of whom were eventually killed by the regime for their opposition to it. He involved himself specifically in the struggle against medical killing by helping his son Dietrich, later a celebrated Protestant martyr, in the latter’s contacts with church groups seeking authoritative psychiatric grounds for refusing to turn over their patients to the project.

A psychiatrist for whom Bonhoeffer’s influence was said to be crucial was Professor Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt of Kiel…Creutzfeldt went farther than most and is said to have managed to protect most or all of the patients in his institution from the [T4 euthanasia] project.

Bonhoeffer was also known for protecting Jewish colleagues from persecution and helping them to escape through emigration and find jobs when he couldn’t prevent them from being fired.

If you actually needed any further evidence just what utter pseudoscientific crankery Scientology is, you need look no further than their anti-psychiatry museum, where the most obvious examples of its religious nuttiness are on flamboyant display. It’s rather depressing that such idiocy is polluting the environment near one of my favorite places to visit whenever I happen to be in L.A. Now, whenever I happen to make it to Amoeba Music, I won’t be able to forget that less than half a mile away exists a focus of utter religious madness and antiscience.

I’ll just have to buy more tunes, the better to drown out the idiocy as I drive by on my way back to my hotel.

Comments

  1. #1 Flying Trilobite
    May 17, 2007

    Thanks for such a well-written article. So many times people are focussing on the wrong thing: the fact the journalist lost his cool is minor when compared with the subject he was investigating. The same is happening here in Canada over the Air India bombing from so many years ago. Right now airport and police officials are being raked over the coals for how much they knew and did not prevent. This is a well-desereved inquiry, but some people are losing sight that the *bombers* are to blame, not the officials who failed to intercept it.
    Thanks again for an excellent read.

  2. #2 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 17, 2007

    Oh there are videos out there of Scientologists bullying reporters outside their meetings. Sure that guy lost it but you are correct that the focus should be on the bat-shit loony proclamations. I mean come on, they follow a science fiction writers book. They believe in Thetans and Xenu. They’re loony-toons.

    heres that other video

  3. #3 Andrew Dodds
    May 17, 2007

    I watched the program, and I don’t really see that he completely lost it – the Scientology guy was constantly talking over him in a constant stream, what was he supposed to do? What he was saying (although loudly) was perfectly reasonable.

  4. #4 J-Dog
    May 17, 2007

    I know Science Fiction. I read Science Fiction. I love Science Fiction.

    Scientology is NOT Science Fiction!

    Scientology is nothing but Fiction with a Sciencey-sounding name.

    That is all. We now return you to your regular blogging.

  5. #5 AgnosticOracle
    May 17, 2007

    Scientologists invaded a science fiction convention in Anaheim in 2006

    Can we count that as an admission that their religion is fiction?

  6. #6 Bob O'H
    May 17, 2007

    So, was psychiatry responsible for Darwinism, or Darwinism for psychiatry?

    Bob

  7. #7 Bob O'H
    May 17, 2007

    Not content with their little museum, Scientologists invaded a science fiction convention in Anaheim in 2006

    Not the first time they’ve tried that.

    Bob

  8. #8 jre
    May 17, 2007

    Scientology is NOT Science Fiction!
    Scientology is nothing but Fiction with a Sciencey-sounding name.

    True enough, in the literary sense. However, Scientology’s history is intimately intertwined with that of 1950s science fiction — specifically with John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding (later Analog) magazine, from whose readers much of the early Dianetics organization was recruited.

    The writer Alfred Bester had an unbelievably hilarious exchange with Campbell on the subject of Dianetics, which he recounted in a brief memoir: “My Affair with Science Fiction”, included in the collection Hell’s Cartographers. Get it if you can; I picked up a used copy just to savor that story again, and hope to blog on it someday.

    Bottom line: Scientologists are seriously deranged, and the Church of Scientology is a sinister organization,[1] but they make up for it in entertainment value.

    [1] Google for “A Piece of Blue Sky” sometime if you want an eye-opener.

  9. #9 Ruth
    May 17, 2007

    I read on the xenu website that L Ron was declared schizophrenic by a court-appointed doctor. Of course, since L Ron was really a vastly superior, brilliant genius, (and a great writer, too), the Church of Scientology has been battling psychiatry ever since.

  10. #10 Steevl
    May 17, 2007

    Ruth: that may have been a contributing factor, but Scientology’s hatred of psychiatry started with L Ron’s own proclamations against it (apparently when Xenu killed all those people inside Earth’s volcanoes, it was the psychiatrists that helped him). I think it’s pretty clear that the motivation behind it was to prevent his heavily brainwashed followers agreeing to psychiatric help.

  11. #11 Kristjan Wager
    May 17, 2007

    Can we count that as an admission that their religion is fiction?

    I have a bunch of old science fiction magazines from the sixties, which among their commercials have some commercials for Scientology, in which they clearly state that it’s not a religion.

    That’s something people should keep in mind, when they claim that they are being prosecuted in Germany, because Germany won’t grant them status as a religion (with the connected previleges).

    Those magazines are unfortunately in storage right now, but I’ll take a scan or photo of the ad, when I next get hold of one of the magazines.

  12. #12 Lali
    May 17, 2007

    Wandering through Copenhagen one Sunday afternoon, a friend of mine and I stumbled upon an “exhibition” about psychiatry. We thought it could be really interesting (I personally expected a “psychiatric” art exhibition). We are both human biologists and she was then working on her Thesis at a large pharmaceutical company (that specializes mostly in neuro-related drugs). As we entered the exhibition we noticed it was quite high tech, there was a lot of flat screens showing -gruesome- videos. We started watching and after a short while I whispered to her: “This stinks of Scientology”. So we got up and started looking around, I started looking for some sign saying openly “Scientology”, no such luck. Then she suddenly starts laughing out loud and calls me over and shows me this flow chart that -remembered roughly- showed how pharmaceutical companies make up diseases and then make up a cure, then publicize the disease and pay off the shrinks to diagnose it, so they can make money out of selling the cure. As she was reading it out loud and explained it to me, an old man approached and started commenting something like: “Isn’t that right or what?”. They started arguing. I got tired, interrupted and asked him who sponsored this exhibition. He was kind of avoidant and said something about some human rights organization, when I pressed him, he finally said “…and Scientology”. My friend and I looked at eachother, laughed and made our exit. It was an afternoon to remember…

  13. #13 HCN
    May 17, 2007

    Lali, that was a presentation by the “Citizens Commision of Human Rights”, which is part of Scientology:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_Commission_on_Human_Rights

    I ran across them at our local library. I only glanced at them and then walked away. I did not think I would have been as level-headed as Sweeney that week… since it was near a period when my hubby’s extended family was dealing a family member who is bipolar.

  14. #14 EoR
    May 18, 2007

    Here in Australia there are two commercial television channels with competing “current affairs” programs on at the same time. Last night one showed the Sweeney doco, while the other showed a “the BBC are lying bastards – the truth ‘they’ didn’t want you to see – oh, and Scientologists are really really nice ordinary people” segment. It made interesting viewing switching between them. It also proved Sweeney’s and his interviewee’s contention that mentioning the ‘cu-t’* word to a Scientologist will lead to unending intensive harassment.

    *Cult.

  15. #15 Orac
    May 18, 2007

    I have a bunch of old science fiction magazines from the sixties, which among their commercials have some commercials for Scientology, in which they clearly state that it’s not a religion.

    You should not only post them on your blog (and/or send them to me to post here), but send them to Operation Clambake.

  16. #16 Holford Watch
    May 18, 2007

    The quackometer blog argues that there are links and similarities between Scientology and a couple of organisations providing mental health and nutritional advice to kids and adults here in the UK.

    Given the Scientologist position on psychiatry, this is somewhat worrying.