I've long been a fan of John Sweeney's reporting, including a piece I re-watched recently on the Nazi re-enactment group the Second Battle Group, who I've encountered myself and found just as dubious as he did. But I think he achieved a kind of apotheosis with his Panorama documentary on Scientology. Since then he's become one of the "Church's" staunchest critics, and written an interesting and - given the cult's tactic of 'Fair Game' - quite brave book on it, 'Church of Fear'. It's well worth a read.
In particular, I found some of what he had to say in the book triggered memories of my own, which have had a major impact on making me into the person I am today. In particular the 'arguing in relays' technique that they used on him was also used by some fundamentalist Christians of my acquaintance who gradually converted most of the Sixth Form at my school, and left myself and two friends rather defensively founding our own mock-diabolic anti-Christian society as a kind of pressure valve. Although I walked away from religion at age 11, I think a lot of my antipathy for it comes from those years, at age 16-17, when I was forced at every break and lunchtime to defend what I believed in (or rather didn't believe in) over and over again, in a manner that was draining both physically and emotionally. A lot of my friends succumbed.
But I've also seen the impact that Scientology can have on peoples' lives.A friend of my father, a successful industrialist, ended up spending vast sums on Scientology's bogus courses. It provoked a rift in his family which led to marital trouble, financial difficulties for his company and basically nearly ruined what from the outside had had been a pretty idyllic life.
And I've also had my own minor personal run-in. At University, a friend of mine and myself dropped into the local Scientology centre for a laugh on a bored Saturday afternoon and took their 'Free Personality Test'. I answered mine as a kind of role-play, as an imagined character who was probably a borderline psychopath. The volunteer giving me my results looked genuinely shocked at the results of the test, but of course parroted the Party line that "only we can can help you". I laughed it off and thought no more about it, but for the next few weeks both myself and my friend were followed, around town, even occasionally on campus... it was genuinely quite weird and more than a little unsettling. Eventually they seemed to lose interest and give up, but this was only a tiny taster of what they put Sweeney through, and watching his documentary brought a lot of that flooding back. I could totally empathise with him losing it at the rather weird Scientology android who had been given the task of breaking him down.
So when I found that my father had been given a copy of 'Dianetics, the Modern Science of Mental Health', I probably vented a bit at him. He is a clever man with an inquiring mind, but he left school at 16 and occasionally doesn't have the background in science or history to sniff what is bogus and what isn't, and so is prone to falling for a lot of the 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail', 1421 - China discovers America, and all of that nonsense. Thankfully Dianetics proved to be too heavy going for him.
So I've got form, I guess is what I'm saying. But after reading Sweeney's own account of his breakdown/blow-up at the Scientologists during their 'psychiatric holocaust' exhibition, I was prompted to watch That Clip again on YouTube. I'd watched it before, but this time I took a look at who had posted it, and noted that they had done so complete with links to Scientology-run websites, and when I was inclined to post something sarcastic about that underneath - as you do - I suddenly discovered that the poster of the clip also moderated all comments on it. Yep, it's a Scientology propaganda piece. Well, what a surprise. Again, it's only the tip of a whole iceberg of media manipulation and lawsuits that the cult uses to try and police its image in public.
Ironically, if it hadn't been for that, I probably wouldn't have posted this blog entry. But I don't like feeling censored, and Scientology are all for censorship. They seem to have plenty to hide. So here's to John Sweeney. I hope his book is a success. And I hope you all read it.