Reblogged from 2011 in honor of the HBO special “Going Clear” airing this weekend.
I’ve joked several times about Mormonism being “Scientology-lite” but until recently I never had the chance or much interest to do a compare/contrast. But I suppose you can’t say that without backing it up, so here goes.
I probably have as much knowledge or interest in Scientology as the general population has regarding Mormonism. I’m familiar with several buildings in my local area, I know some of the absurd parts of the doctrine and I’ve heard rumors. Of course, I know about the celebrity members and I’ve also witnessed several “Anti-Scientology” street protesters (former members I presume) holding placards declaring it to be a cult.
I was recently shocked when over dinner one night a friend and colleague came out as a former Scientologist. She spoke well of several Scientology beliefs and practices and said she still utilizes them. She’s a very successful business woman, but I had to scrape my jaw off the floor as she related her experience…some good, some bad…just like my experience with Mormonism.
Then, last week there was a pretty extensive New Yorker article which profiled Paul Haggis (Hollywood Director, “Crash”), an apostate of that religion. I found that his experience rang true in many respects to mine as a Mormon apostate so I’ve decided to list the similarities that I uncovered in the article. I make no claims that this is a result of extensive research. It’s anecdotal.
I admit that there’s not much to compare as far as doctrine goes, but it’s not doctrine that defines a restrictive religion, or a cult, or whatever you feel comfortable calling it. It’s generally the practices, the procedures and the behaviors of the leadership, of the membership and the manner in which it sells itself to the public (to both members and non-members). So those are the things I’m listing here that are similar between the experiences of two apostates: Paul Haggis and myself. Most of this list includes ideas or statements taken directly from the article that could apply just as much to my experience as they do to his:
In no particular order…
- The church refuses to account for member behavior even when they are quoting or following leaders
- There are a lot of “unwritten laws”
- Members default to defending the church, even to lying or turning back on family members
- It’s all subjective…so how do you “know”?
- Coverts are often “loners looking for a club to join”
- Testimonies are overly effusive.
- There’s “some good” in it, so “what harm can there be?”
- The crazy S#!$ is introduced later … there’s a long process until you are fully entrenched.
- Fascinating, enigmatic founder
- Church underpays its employees
- Requires sincerity for it all to work
- Doesn’t “look” like a cult initially
- Proof is in the lives of its members
- Testimonies often include, “I don’t know where I’d be without….”
- Levels of membership. Focus changes over time.
- Perverse pride in membership
- Charitable but not egalitarian
- Lack of curiosity keeps members in – they are uninterested and afraid of information
- Willed myopia of membership
- Hard to get through “scriptures”
- At upper levels of membership they are deprived of adequate food and sleep
- Members tell themselves they are wonderful examples to the world of good living
- Inability of membership to laugh at themselves
- Certain processes are confusing and unsatisfying
- Members project unambiguous, non ambivalent view of world
- “If it changes me for the better, who cares if it’s true?”
- Arrogance of membership with lots of superlatives used in sales pitch
- Church avoids “overt political stands” but membership is almost entirely homogeneous politically
- Apostasy is all the apostates’ fault. All disconnection to family and friends is blamed on that decision
- Wives tend to stay and denounce husbands who leave
- Church discipline (kicking people out) is seen as “for their own good”
- Members consider membership “safe” and a “protection”
- Members maintain positive exterior, but a very reproachful interaction with former members
- Public image of religion is MOST IMPORTANT
- There’s a difference between public tenets and private interaction
- Greatest fear is expulsion from religion
- Church holds the power of eternal life
- Members are taught to handle internal conflict within church’s own justice system
- Big Brother type files kept of high level apostates
- Members attack apostates’ character rather than address the issues
- Church doesn’t live up to its own standards for its members
- Special service is supposedly to “help people” but most of the time and energy is really just spent on serving the purposes of the organization
- Sells itself as “fastest growing religion”
- Members think it “does more good”
- Critics are vilified and suspected of “anti” sentiment
- Members sacrifice a lot with little to show for it
- Original books are changed and church denies the changes are significant
- All or nothing claims, “base stories are true or else it’s ALL a lie”
- Shame in leaving, “Everyone else could see it was a sham, why couldn’t I?”
- Apostates who leave claim they feel “alive” and can think clearly for the first time in a long time (or ever)
I must also say that I think the “-Lite” portion applies here because there are some serious accusations of institutional violence in Scientology and of literally being held hostage that don’t apply to Mormonism in my experience.
But a comment on the Mormon Expression version of this post made the following excellent point:
“The thing that really struck me in the article is that Scientology is in its Brigham Young phase both timewise and in their organizational behavior. I think if we compared some of the organizational things that are more extreme in Scientology, the Mormon church was a lot more like that under Brigham Young.”