Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Decline and (Probable) Fall of the Scientology Empire!

The title of this post is the title of my multi-book review article in the current issue of Skeptic magazine, which is primarily about last year's Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman and The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion by Hugh Urban.  It's a very long article for a book review in the magazine, running from pp. 18-27 with a couple of sidebars and a couple pages of footnotes. What I had in mind when I started writing it wasn't what I ended up with--my envisioned article would probably be more like a book that tells the story of Scientology's two wars with the Internet, which Reitman only devoted a few paragraphs to.  (If that never happens, the best place to find the information in question is in the writings of Village Voice editor Tony Ortega, who has done more than anyone to cover those topics.)  I also would have liked to have done a bit more analysis of Urban's book, which I think is a bit wishy-washy in places in the name of academic objectivity, and makes a few promises at the beginning that it fails to deliver on as though it were rushed to completion.  But I think it came out OK, and I recommend Reitman's book as the best and most up-to-date single overview of Scientology and its history, and Urban's for its coverage of Scientology's battles with the IRS for religious tax exemption and its contribution to explaining what Hubbard was up to when he created Scientology.  I think Hubbard died believing his own nonsense, because some Scientology doctrines literally became true for him--he was the one person in Scientology who really could dream things up and make them happen around him, through the efforts of his devotees.

I also hoped to devote a bit more space to what I allude to in my first footnote, referencing John Searle's The Construction of Social Reality, pp. 90-93 and 117-119, about how institutions can quickly collapse when collective agreement about social facts is undermined, as seems to be happening at an accelerating pace within the Church of Scientology.

(All posts on Scientology at this blog--65 so far since 2005--can be found here. An overview of my involvement in Scientology's battles with the Internet is in my 2006 "Scientology Sampler" post, which was updated with a 2009 post, "Scientology v. the Internet history lesson.")

UPDATE (26 January 2012): Tony Ortega, editor-in-chief at the Village Voice and prolific investigative journalist on the subject of Scientology, says very nice things about my article and Michael Shermer's associated article in Skeptic at his "Runnin' Scared" blog, where there are lots of comments.

This issue of Skeptic should be available in all Barnes & Noble stores beginning around the first of February.