Wednesday, 1 February 2017

FAIR GAME - Scientology in Australia STEVE CANNANE

FAIR GAME: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia


ABC Books, 2016, 378 pages

Review by Phil Shannon


L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer and founder of the ‘Church’ of Scientology, employed ‘body-routers’ to lure passer-bys (‘raw meat’, he called them) off the street and into the offices of his cult with the enticement of a free, and quite bogus, personality test and then relieve his victims of their money with ever more expensive courses, in much the same way (‘look, all I wanted was a personality test’) that, in Day at the Races, the race-track swindler, Chico, hooks a hapless Groucho (‘look, all I wanted was to place a bet on Sunup’) into buying Chico’s entire library of higher-level code books of hot race tips.


ABC journalist, Steve Cannane, in Fair Game, examines the Australian franchise of Scientology in all its nuttiness, from Hubbard’s batpoop crazy theology (‘Operating Thetans’, Xenu the evil galactic overlord, the residue of exploded aliens gumming up people’s minds with ‘engrams’) to the pseudo-scientific psychological techniques (‘E-meters’, ‘auditing’), all matched in bonkers inventiveness by Hubbard’s personal mythology (including Hubbard the severely-injured war hero who saved Australia from Japanese invasion and who was only saved from death through the power of his own mind).


Hubbard’s (drug-induced) fantasies took shape in 1950 with Dianetics, a new ‘science of the mind’ (later evolving into Scientology) which occupied a brazenly outlandish niche in the self-help market.  Hubbard’s was a calculated craziness, however.  The man who claimed to have visited the Van Allen radiation belt, Venus and Heaven did know his way around Planet Profit - two points of Hubbard’s twelve-point policy governing Scientology’s financial matters were ‘MAKE MONEY’ and ‘MAKE MORE MONEY’.


To the desperate, the ambitious and the greedy, Scientology acted as a psychological placebo.  Any improvements in one’s life were purely fortuitous, but Scientology racked up enough spurious hits to recruit tens of thousands of followers and turn the enterprise into a global multi-billion dollar racket.  Forbes magazine placed Hubbard in their top 400 wealthiest US individuals in 1985.


Hubbard’s wealth came from suckering the gullible into expensive books and courses by targeting an individual’s greatest weakness or desire.  Particularly susceptible were anxious students, business chancers with big investments gone putrid (James Packer, son of Australia’s richest man), injured or striving sportspeople (Sydney’s elite rugby league players), musicians (Chick Corea, Kate Cerebrano) and Hollywood celebrities including Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Penelope Cruz, Kirstie Allen and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson).


Hubbard (a foaming anti-communist) also perfected classic capitalist exploitation of his workers who typically slogged away for just $50 a week but his most remunerative scam was gaining tax-exempt status as a religion.  The US government had deemed Scientology a spiritual organisation, whilst, on anti-discrimination grounds, the federal Whitlam Labor government formally recognised Scientology as a religion in Australia (reinforced by the High Court in 1983).  The most credulous of Scientology’s victims were secular governments.


The Australian federal government, for example, ignored its own Department of Immigration advice in 1955 that the American missionaries Hubbard sent to spread Scientology in Australia were ‘clearly charlatans’.  It ignored a Victorian government Board of Inquiry that found Scientology to be an exploitative con.  It ignored the three states which banned Scientology from 1965 (bans which, although Cannane disagrees on free speech grounds, were warranted because Scientology’s belief system is part of a package deal along with its financial fraud and personal harm).


Ignored, too, was Julian Assange’s publishing, through Wikileaks, of thousands of pages of leaked Scientology secrets, including how it attempts to silence its defectors and other critics through surveillance, litigation, harassment and dirty tricks, including criminal infiltration of government agencies and the Australian Labor Party.


Ignored, too, was the mounting testimony of Scientology’s abuses of its members, a crime spree that included forced abortions, physical violence, emotional and sexual abuse, human trafficking, slave labour, embezzlement and blackmail.  The Rehabilitation Project Force (a ‘voluntary program of spiritual rehabilitation’, for PR purposes) is a virtual gulag of brutal punishment centres, including one in Sydney, which imposes hard labour, semi-starvation, forced confessions and intense ideological ‘re-education’ upon those elite Scientology lieutenants who deviate in any way, real or imagined, from the supreme leader or who threaten the cult’s reputation.


Australian governments have continued their three-sensory-impaired-monkey stance towards Scientology.  The Rudd Labor government, with the Liberal ‘opposition’ in tow, stifled calls for an investigation into Scientology because they feared opening up the tax-free status of the more orthodox churches to public critique, and may have doubted whether these religions, with their long record of abusive practices, would pass a proposed public interest or community benefit test.  The momentum of publicity, however, has seen steep declines in Scientology recruitment and membership (to around two thousand in Australia).


Scientology’s survival is not just about government-sanctioned protection of an obviously fake, personally harmful, money-hoovering ‘religious’ cult, for if Australian governments are too timid to take on an easy target such as Scientology, then the vote-garnering power and wealth of the vastly bigger traditional religions, and their industrial-scale scam of taxpayers’ billions through the tax and education systems, won’t be challenged any time soon.

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