The Bully Pulpit
When I was a Scientologist, it was a point of pride that we were a tough, combative religion. We used to brag – and the Church still brags – that we were “not a turn-the-other-cheek religion.” If you dared to attack us, we’d attack back. “Attack the attacker” was the mantra.
Recently, I had the opportunity to get another viewpoint on this. I came across an interesting open letter written in 1995 by entertainer Steve Allen to the then-President of the Church of Scientology, Heber Jentzsch. Steve Allen, for those too young to remember, was the original Tonight Show host, before Johnny Carson – a very funny and intelligent man.
In his letter, Allen says:
“If I may make a suggestion to you folks, whatever your purely religious views are, you’re entitled to them and they are more or less in the category of not anyone else’s business.
“But I also suggest that it is not because of those views that your group doesn’t have a very good reputation. There are other churches that, in the opinion of non-members, have some truly bizarre beliefs but no one dislikes the individual members as a result of those beliefs…
“But –again –the same cannot be said of Scientologists. And if I were you it would occur to me to wonder why. So, to save you a little wondering time, I’ll tell you why right now. You have the reputation as just about the worst bullies this side of the National Rifle Association.”
After leaving Scientology, I had to learn the difference between standing up for one’s beliefs and bullying any dissenters into silence. When I first got on to some of the chat boards, I found myself handling people who disagreed with me by attacking them personally. That was what I was conditioned to do. I soon found that was not the way to get across one’s point.
People tend to admire those who courageously stand up for their beliefs. But they condemn those who attempt to bully their detractors into silence. There is a big difference. And it’s a difference the Church has not learned, and probably will never learn.
“Attack the attacker” is the maxim we all learned. But what constitutes an “attack”?
Unfortunately, the Church considers anything that questions the authority of the Church to be an “attack.” And anything which might damage the reputation of the Church – even if factual and documented – is an “attack.”
If a whistleblower reports on abuse within Scientology, that’s an “attack.”
If anyone reports on the factual conditions within the Sea Org – pay, hours, restrictions – that’s an “attack.”
If anyone mentions an incident embarrassing to Scientology – say, the suicide of an OT – that’s an “attack.”
If a reporter dares to even ask about Scientology’s upper level materials – that’s an “attack.”
If anyone criticizes David Miscavige, that’s an “attack” on Scientology itself.
If anyone challenges the efficacy of Scientology or disputes their claims – it’s an “attack.”
And what do you do with attackers? Why, of course, you attack them.
You dig up any dirt you can on them. You find anything you can to impugn their character. And you launch a nasty, brutal campaign of character assassination. The aim is to destroy them, to shut them up, to make it so that no one will ever listen to their opinions again.
Sure, that’s the way to handle all these “attacks.”
Scientologists call it “being tough” or “not turning the other cheek.”
But don’t be surprised if the world calls it by its true name.