"The Empire of Salvation"
Is Scientology a religion or merely a cunning business?
December 5, 1994
by Wolf Lotter
The operation was discrete, delicate and productive. In search and seizures of almost three dozen offices and branches of the "Scientology Church Austria" and of adherents' residences, Viennese and Salzburg tax investigators filled up a truck with bookkeeping records in the second week of November. The investigators were convinced they had a lead "to something," said an agent, "that we can follow up on."
The Scientologists concerned were outraged, but their payment receipts, which they see as a fixed component of "confessional confidentiality," were confiscated. The tax office, on the other hand, thinks shameless money-laundering lies behind the confessional practices of the Scientologists. They suspect that in the "Orgs," which is what Scientology calls its churches, accounts were manipulated for the purpose of avoiding having to pay tax. The tip they received was said to have come from church management.
Certainly there is a need for clarification. Nevertheless there is doubt as to whether the operation was actually a strike against the "church" or rather just against its individual members. The organization's explanation about these incidents is always the same: it says unfortunately they do not have control over the black sheep, there are swindlers in other churches, too, the "church" itself can not be blamed for that. An investigating officer spoke from his years of experience, "They have the money and we have an open Scherm*."
In Germany the game was recently reversed. After known Scientology corporations like "U-Man" and "Choice International" expressed their intentions to operate as private employment agents, Labor Minister Norbert Bluem issued an order to the employment offices last September; since then Scientologists are not permitted to operate as employment agents, as Bluem believes, for good reason, "There are established findings to the effect that members are completely subjugated by the Scientology Church and pursue primarily the church's goals - even to the point of disregarding the legal system."
In interviews and talk shows, Bluem, the CDU man, is even more direct. He says the leaders of the "cult" are "criminal" and that they take turns laundering money and brainwashing. In the very important German-speaking market, which is right behind the USA as Scientology's most significant colony, things are not going so well for the teachings of science fiction author Lafayette Ron Hubbard, who elevated his "Dianetics" pocket book best-seller to the "religious philosophy of Scientology" exactly forty years ago. In the USA, however, the world is treating the church alright. Business is running better than ever.
The cash registers agree, as shown by the luminous figure flashed from an electrical sign at the Los Angeles Testing Center of the Church of Scientology on Hollywood Boulevard. 16,453,328! the bright red number blinks the number of Hubbard's pocket books of salvation sold.
In front of the Center, young, friendly people try to talk to unflinching passersby. As in the other more than 1,000 Scientology missions around the world, they offer a free, comprehensive "personality test." It asks questions like whether you are "a slow eater" or if you "sing or whistle for fun."
That's how simple the first step to happiness is - together with the march over the "Bridge to total personal Freedom." Everywhere in the city there are oversized posters which say "that Scientology really works."
Scientologist Tom Cruise ("Interview with a Vampire") along with his wife Nicole Kidman, for example, never pass up a chance to advertise Hubbard's teachings.
John Travolta, lead actor of the Hollywood comedy of the year, "Pulp Fiction," hangs onto an "E-Meter". This device measures skin resistance, functions similarly to a lie detector, and the auditors use it to take down the confession of their flock. Scientology and Dianetics are "invaluable," Travolta believes.
Pulp fiction novels are also how the career of the church founder began. His teachings are a mix of psychoanalysis, Christianity, Hinduism, science fiction and rock solid performance mentality - which has earned the "church" the name of the "Cult of Capitalism." Its vocabulary comes from the McCarthy era: a discussion is called "war," critics are "enemies" or "suppressives," and the religious teachings are pluckily called "Tech." All that has brought on just as much criticism as has the rigidly led management or the high cost of entrance into Paradise. That which calls itself "religion," critics remind us, is nothing more that a staging area for a proper commercial enterprise whose purpose is revealed in Hubbard's most cited sentence, "Make money, make more money, make others make more money." Scientology says that it has yearly profits of about 300 million shillings from the sale of courses, books, cassettes and films; critics estimate it ten times that. The toll fees on the "Way to Happiness" (Scientology book title) become fixed donations - and are levied in the amount of from several hundred to several tens of thousands of shillings. An attempt, which has been in process for years, to expose Scientology as a clever business empire instead of a religion, has proven to be extremely difficult.
Because while they are members Scientologists gladly and mostly willingly pay cash; only after breaking away from the church are there complaints. Austrian former Scientologist Hermann Mueller says he donated something over four million shillings to Scientology organizations all around the world. To date he has received only a fraction of his money back. Because the national missions, churches and organizations act as independent corporations, the man had to sue for his money back in dozens of organizations between Florida and Denmark - an expensive and hopeless undertaking.
The donations are invested primarily in real estate, such as the Hollywood Guaranty Building in Los Angeles, the headquarters of the organization. The building is watched like Fort Knox by their own private police, and it once served as a bank for film stars. Charlie Chaplin once had an office here; the Scientologists are particularly proud of that.
In a multi-media exhibition, Scientology founder Hubbard is presented as a world wonder. He was a philosopher, adventurer, an enthusiast of early flight and a pilot through immortal souls. That left him plenty of time to write hundreds of pulp fiction stories; it's surprising there weren't more, as "Ron wrote 96 useful words a minute," as Judy, who gave the tour of the exhibition, gravely assured us.
In the lobby of the headquarters there is mounted a plaque with hymns of praise for Ron & Co. Austrian painter Gottfried Helnwein said, "Scientology is the greatest breakthrough in the history of research into human thought and behavior!" Yes, and less than a year ago Helnwein, who says he has converted to the Jewish faith, gave a sworn statement in which he said that he no longer had anything to do with Scientology. The people in Los Angeles don't know a thing about that.
Hans Janitschek, former secretary of Socialists International, also imparted a hearty welcome to the "Operating Thetans," as the Hubbard apostles of the highest degree of development call themselves: "Spiritual forces are re-awakening, and Hubbard's vision will be there to help form events."
On the top floor of the headquarters, Kurt Weiland, a bear of a man, is planning events. He was born in Graz, Austria, and has a sold career of Scientology behind him. He is one of six directors of the Church and is chief of the Office for Special Affairs (OSA). The mission of this office, according to Weiland, "We do public relations, legal and press work."
His representative, Klaus Buechele, from Vorarlberg, helps him out. As do other members of the Sea Org, which is the elite organization of Scientology, the OSA bosses live in an apartment complex in Hollywood owned by the church, and their children go to church schools. Besides these benefits he receives "only pocket money, like a monk," said Buechele.
Ex-Scientologist Larry Wollersheim, who split in a dispute, does not view the role of the lead Scientologists so piously. For instance, OSA is nothing more than a "Scientology intelligence service, similar to the KGB or CIA," said the director of FactNet, an organization that aids cult victims. Defamation through "Black Propaganda," in which negative details of the private and professional lives of "attackers" are published, are part of the house speciality, according to Wollersheim, who is suing Scientology for millions of dollars, "I'm still ashamed today that I took part in that." The former Scientologist reported that he was held prisoner on a church ship. "They wanted me to see reason." The procedure which internal and external critics experience stems from Hubbard himself, [rendered back to English from German] "In the people you are watching, localize the potential source of trouble who spreads rumors. Then find the 'suppressive' and 'suppress.'" (Policy Letter of 15 May 1965, issue II). "Old hat," Weiland responded, "that's all exaggerated." He said Hubbard had formed his words "pointedly." And that probably went for every sentence the Master said about measures against "suppressives." There could be something to "the thud of an enemy hitting the sidewalk or the whole enemy camp going up in flames as a birthday present."
Only in one case has the church admitted to criminal actions. The Scientology founder's wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, with her comrades in spirit, broke into state agencies like the FBI in the late 1970s, and half the church management ended up in prison. But what about rumors that money makes its way to the pockets of Scientology management? That penal camps exist, or that critics are targeted for defamation?
None of that is true, or another way of saying it: it cannot be proven.
The most important recruiters for the church, the artists and film stars, do not want to believe the reports from the Scientology dissidents either. That is not exceptionally surprising. For them Scientology maintains magnificent luxury quarters like the Celebrity Center, a former first-class hotel, in Hollywood.
Here is where Cruise, Travolta, Anne Archer and Kirstie Alley feast, and where Priscilla Presley and daughter Lisa-Marie parley next to her husband Michael Jackson. Half of Hollywood, so goes the legend, frequent the location. In the glow of the Celebrity Center, which is reserved exclusively for celebrities, German film script writer Anita Mally ("Insel der Traeume") tells me about the great tolerance which reigns in Scientology: "A large family without hate."
The joy of the "family" was great when the Internal Revenue Service acknowledged Scientology and its sub-divisions as tax-exempt organizations - Miscavige said it was "a victory for a new civilization."
Scientology expert Wollersheim finds that ridiculous: "In the USA, practically every group which asserts it is a religion is quickly acknowledged. The question is why the agency refused to do that for Scientology for almost forty years."
After their "victory" in the USA, the Scientologists also hope to gain acknowledgment as religion along with the associated tax-exemption. That probably will not happen, and not just because of the current debate. Two years ago the CDU decided that membership in Scientology was incompatible with membership in the party.
In Spring of this year the German Interior Ministers Conference stated that Scientology was an "organization that, under the guise of a religious community, combined elements of commercial criminality and psycho-terrorism against its members with commercial activities and a sectarian wrapper. The focus of their operations appears to lie in the field of white-collar crime." (Decision from Usedom, May 6, 1994.) In response Scientology mobilized - in the truest sense of the word - in Germany. Signed by OSA-Europe commissioner Buechele, a "Call to Arms Germany" was undertaken as a defensive measure in Ron's usual style. Bluem and other "church" critics were flooded with lawsuits.
But the most serious action against the Germans is Scientology's million dollar advertisement campaign in US newspapers like the Washington Post and USA Today. There they unfurl the persecution of German Scientologists by the government and talk about a "New Holocaust." Impressive pictures of SA marchers, book-burnings and Reichstag meetings make the comparison. In the meantime German Chancellor Kohl has been included in the picture.
SPD Representative Renate Rennebach, who has formed an inter-party alliance with Bluem to monitor Scientology in Germany, says that the advertisements show "shamelessness and tastelessness, this defamation campaign creates a need for us to act immediately. The teachings of Scientology firmly communicate that, first, society, and then the entire world, be organized and live according to Scientology's views." That means, according to the SPD representative, nothing less than the "dissolution of our democratic system by the totalitarian, fascist Scientology system; religion has nothing to do with it: it is counter-constitutional and needs to be prohibited."
In Austria, where about 7,000 Scientologists, according to experts, belong to the missions, which are organized as associations, the effects of the dispute in Germany are evident. A parliamentary inquiry by the Greens to Social Minister Josef Hesoun in the area of private employment has stirred up measures like that taken up by Bluem in Germany. Madeleine Petrovic, the Greens ombudsman, has had close, personal experiences with the "Operating Thetans." After she and her colleague, Christine Heindl, called for information about the cult's dubious practices in parliamentary hearings, the "Platform for Religious Freedom," supported by the "Initiative Neue Linke" (a "fascistoid, rightwing group," according to Petrovic), Sahja Yoga and Scientology, created several leaflets. The title of one of them: "Greens Witch-hunter pursues the Final Solution to Freedom of Opinion."
An excerpt from the leaflet: "Greens Representatives Heindl, Petrovic, as well as their more cowardly friends, are responsible for any future case of annihilation of the existence of welfare or of violent attacks." Petrovic handed the document over to the state police. Naturally nobody in Austria wants to ban Scientology - "that would only be doing them a favor" (Petrovic).
Parliamentary president Heinz Fischer, who strongly supports distributing information about Scientology, does not give a ban on Scientology a second thought: "We take what Scientology does seriously, but we're not going to let them throw us into a panic."
* Austrian word for chamberpot
"Footsteps of the Nazis"
Scientology Boss David Miscavige on money, faith, opposition and his dispute with the German government
David Miscavige, 34, boss, since the death of Scientology founder Ron Hubbard in 1986, of the controversial Church of Scientology, based in Hollywood, gave "profil" magazine the first print media interview in which he responded to the accusations against his organization.
profil: Scientology is described as particularly powerful. How many members to you actually have?
Miscavige: Today there are from eight to ten million Scientologists worldwide. In addition to that there are approximately half a million people yearly who try out Scientology for the first time.
profil: What kind of religion is Scientology?
Miscavige: We share the dream of peace and salvation with all other world religions. But we Scientologists concentrate on the individual person. We are based on the far older 10,000 year tradition of Buddhism. Scientology is an applied religious philosophy, something that you can use in the here and now, not just a belief system. Our founder, Ron Hubbard, left behind ten thousand pages and 3,000 lectures that explain Scientology. In order to understand it, though, you would have to study it.
profil: But do you also believe in immortality?
Miscavige: Yes, we believe that man is an immortal, spiritual being whose experiences extend beyond one human life and who has practically unlimited possibilities at his command.
profil: What is the goal of your organization, what do you really want to attain?
Miscavige: The goal of Scientology is a world without war, without crime and without mental illness. We work towards that in that we concentrate on the individual person, because by doing so we can improve the entire world. We appeal to people who are doing well, but who ask, "Why am I not as happy and successful as I could be?" Those are the people for whom Scientology is meant. And that also differs from other groups whose attempts to help people are directed at mentally ill and unstable personalities.
profil: Aren't you interested in those who are less developed, whom you describe as mentally ill?
You can't look at it that way. We are a new, expanding group, and we don't have the resources to really help all the confused and mentally ill people in this world. In our judgment we will attain our goals quicker if we now help capable people to become yet more capable. In this way we can increase the number of members we have, and after we do that then we can effectively help all others with Scientology.
profil: Critics say that Scientology is only about big business.
Miscavige: In the USA we are acknowledged as a tax-exempt religion, as a charitable organization. No single person profits from the donations we receive. And you can believe me when I tell you that the American tax agency checked us out from top to bottom, and they did that after we had been at war with them for forty years. It was the most comprehensive review of an organization in the history of that agency. So when they attest to our charitableness, who could doubt what they say?
profil: But is there any doubt that Scientology costs people a pile of money?
Miscavige: The people who say that are not Scientologists, but our enemies. The most important point is and remains that nobody personally gets rich. Scientology is in the building-up phase. It does cost much money to get established: we need buildings for our churches and have to finance materials on Scientology. And not only that, but because we are new, all the material still has to be distributed. And then there is still one more point: in the Catholic Church there is one priest giving services on Sunday who is responsible for a couple of hundred, or even for a couple of thousand people. We, on the other hand, have our clergy consult with Scientologists one-on-one, and naturally that costs more money. The Roman Catholic Church had 2,000 years to accumulate their wealth, and they have and still do use their donations for upkeep.
profil: There are people who give up to a million shillings a year for Scientology.
Miscavige: That only shows how important Scientology is for them and how much they appreciate the value of our teachings for this world!
profil: That means Scientology has accumulated approximately 30 billion shillings and your yearly sales are more than five billion shillings.
Miscavige: No, the yearly sales are about half that. That value of the properties which house our churches and missions, we estimate at close to five billion shillings. That, in essence, is the value of our assets.
profil: You are the chairman of an organization by the name of the Religious Technology Center. What is the purpose of that establishment?
Miscavige: to maintain the purity of the teachings of Scientology and of the religion all over the world....
profil: ...and to manage the marks and trademarks of Scientology. Isn't that very unusual for a religion?
Miscavige: But the reason for that is that we must ascertain that people in Malaysia and in Los Angeles all get the same Scientology teachings, that has to be organized and managed. And we don't want something described by our founder, Ron Hubbard, getting lost. In Christianity and some other older religions some things have gone missing.
profil: But critics say that you not only exercise extreme control over your teachings, but over your members, too. What happens to someone who wants to leave your organization?
Miscavige: Nothing! Anybody can leave Scientology how and when he wants.
profil: Do you mean to say that there is no harassment at all?
Miscavige: There are people who say that. But the interesting thing is that they almost always have been instigated by organizations which cannot tolerate us. For example somebody in Hamburg accused us of putting people under pressure. The state attorney investigated. The charges were dropped.
profil: And what about the criminal activities: If a Scientologist breaks the law, do you say, "That is a black sheep who has nothing to do with us"?
Miscavige: We object to anybody committing a crime, regardless of whether they're a Scientologist or not. But whenever a Scientologist breaks a law, people immediately say that "Scientology is behind it." That is very unfair, because you could use the same argument to say that the Catholic Church is a criminal organization. After all, most people are Catholics.
profil: Most people also watch movies. Scientology and Hollywood evidently have a very close relationship. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Anne Archer, Priscilla and Lisa-Marie Presley are Scientologists. How much influence do you gain in Hollywood by that?
Miscavige: Many of our members are indeed influential, but as a church we do not have any particular influence. And we do not just want to convert celebrities either, even though we have great respect for artists. They have a very important social function: they are role models. In that way they are of great help in our fight against drugs and immorality.
profil: On the topic of influence, has Michael Jackson become a Scientologist since he married Lisa-Marie Presley?
Miscavige: It is not my job to tell people who is a Scientologist, but regarding Michael Jackson, I can give you a clear answer: no.
profil: People say that Scientology also seeks influence in the business world. Do you infiltrate businesses?
Miscavige: That is a classic false interpretation. There is a Scientology organization by the name of WISE, that stands for "World Institute of Scientology Enterprises." The word "Scientology" appears in the name, so it is sheer nonsense to assert that we would want to infiltrate anyone. WISE is an organization for Scientologists who are business people, just like there are Catholic or Jewish associations in that area.
profil: German Labor Minister Norbert Bluem has a different opinion. He has prohibited Scientologists from working as employment agents because they would not be dependable enough for this sensitive activity. Besides that he has made accusations of money-laundering and brainwashing and he describes the leader of Scientology as criminal.
Miscavige: I don't have to stand for that! I am not a criminal and do not engage in money-laundering. That is propaganda, comparable to the procedures in Germany in the 1930s that led to the Holocaust. Bluem should be ashamed of himself. He is walking in the footsteps of the Nazis who were his predecessors in the history of the German government. Besides, that man has never spoken with a Scientologist.
profil: One reason for the attitude critical of Scientology in the German government is the ad campaign that you have been running in the USA on the topic of Germany. When a person looks at these ads, he gets the impression that all of Germany has already been taken over by the Neonazis.
Miscavige: No, that's not what we're saying. But look at what happened in Germany in the 1930s. Why did an entire nation let itself get worked up into murdering six million people in the Holocaust? Propaganda put people into that mental state of mind. Only propaganda, not facts! Like what's happening to us. The Germany government says over and over that we are not a religion. Bluem and his cohorts have not gotten anywhere in the courts. But they are still trying with defamation and by intensifying the propaganda.
profil: Are you really saying that the Scientologists' situation in Germany is comparable to that of the Jews in Germany in the 1930s?
Miscavige: Absolutely. That is 100 percent correct. People also accused the Jews - with the same arguments - of wanting to infiltrate business.
profil: Do you seriously believe that you are the new Jews and that you are threatened by a Holocaust?
Miscavige: No, because our members are not being murdered - but we want to stop things from getting that far. There are attacks on our people. For example children have been thrown out of kindergartens, there are acts of violence, broken windows, bodily injury ...
profil: Even Ignatz Bubis, the chairman of the German Jews, thinks this comparison is in poor taste.
Miscavige: He is simply missing information. I invite him to come to us and take a look at the documents that incontestably prove that Scientologists today are experiencing the same fate as the Jewish citizens in the 1930s. He should only make a judgment after he has informed himself of the situation.
profil: You're only just 34 years old. What else do you have planned?
Miscavige: I think that we have survived our growing pains. Religious acknowledgment in America is the best evidence that we have reached the mainstream of society. I hope that we will be able to attain exactly the same thing everywhere by removing misunderstandings - in Europe, Germany and Austria.
Interviewer: Wolf Lotter