The Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE)
I recently got back in touch with someone I’d known from the “old days,” a person who was heavily involved in ABLE activities for many years. ABLE, for those not familiar with the acronym, is the Association for Better Living and Education, the Scientology entity responsible for overseeing the “secular applications of L. Ron Hubbard’s work.” They run Narconon, Applied Scholastics, Criminon, and The Way to Happiness Foundation.
We’ve been having an interesting discussion about ABLE and what really goes on behind the scenes. My friend, like most ABLE staff I’ve known, was sincere and dedicated, with a genuine desire to help others. And the ABLE programs have been key in giving Scientologists the hope and reassurance that what they were doing in Scientology really was making a difference in society – with drugs, education and improving morals. Even at the Int Base, when life around me was insane and chaotic, I would reassure myself that it was all worth it, in part because of these ABLE programs.
And the Church certainly features these programs in their PR and promotion efforts. If you look at the latest version of their website, you see the ABLE programs bannered across the top, as “Global Social Betterment and Humanitarian Programs Sponsored by the Church of Scientology.” Tommy Davis, when confronted by accusations of Church abuse, violence and human rights violations, is quick to bring these programs up, questioning the motives of anyone who would dare “attack” an organization that is doing this much good in society.
But what’s the reality of the Church connection to ABLE?
Follow the Money
When the Church of Scientology says that they “sponsor” these programs, one might assume that means that they support them financially, much as any other church maintains homeless shelters, orphanages, or women’s centers. Actually, that’s not true.
The ABLE activities are each set up as their own profit centers. They are expected to make their own money. They receive no funds from the Church, in fact, quite the opposite. Each of these organizations is expected to tithe a percentage of their income to the Church of Scientology, for the privilege of using LRH materials. So not only does the Church not support these organizations, but they, in fact, make money from them.
And anyone going out on a project to get Study Tech or TWTH implemented in a pioneer area? They pay their own way, or they get the money from fellow Scientologists. The VMs who went to Haiti? Paid for by individual Scientologists, not by the Church.
And what about the “IAS support” we read about in Impact Magazine for these activities. Well, I can tell you about that based on my own inside experience. The IAS reges have difficulty getting people to donate money to pay lawyers and private investigators (what the money is really primarily used for). It’s much easier to get money from Scientologists if they think it is going to a “big dissemination campaign.” So every year, a huge campaign is created, just before the yearly IAS Event, preferably with a strong visual element like TV ads or a big new facility. It is then shown off at the event to spark donations. They collect millions. Then a few hundred thousand is spent on whatever the campaign was. A few TV ads are put on the air for instance. One year they produced a bunch of bright yellow VM tents. The rest of the money – the bulk of it – goes into IAS coffers where it is used for, well, whatever David Miscavige wants to use it for.
One veteran ABLE staff member relays this experience: “The IAS regged a lot of Scientologists, telling them that their monies were being used for Chilocco. I remember them incorporating the pitch into their reg talks. The actual amount that they gave to ABLE was something like $100,000. They may have changed this later, but it was clear to us that they were milking it for what they could and forking over crumbs.”
Then someone writes glowing Impact Magazine articles carefully worded to make it sound like everything these ABLE sectors do is because of the IAS.
So are these ABLE activities part of the Church or aren’t they? Well, it depends on who’s asking and who you ask.
ABLE is trying to get their programs implemented in public schools or trying to get government acceptance or grants. Therefore it is important that they are not religious. So they take great pains to say that they are not connected to the Church of Scientology, they simply use L. Ron Hubbard’s writings. Scientology is not mentioned at all on the Applied Scholastics or Way to Happiness or Narconon websites. They try to distance themselves from the Church, and when someone brings up the Scientology connection, they deny any direct involvement with the Church. For instance, when a TWTH group in Israel, Association for Prosperity, was accused of being a Scientology front, they hotly denied it, stating: “Claiming our organization is connected with Scientology just because our director-general studied Scientology is like saying that other nonprofits are hi-tech because volunteers work in hi- tech.” And this is typical of the denials issued by ABLE groups when asked about the Church connection. To achieve their goals, it is important for them to not have a direct connection to the Church of Scientology.
Yet if you look at the Church statements and literature, it’s quite the opposite. The Church banners these programs across the front page of their website, and brags to anyone who will listen about “our” programs to handle drugs and illiteracy, about how “we” are distributing TWTH, how “we” are getting study tech into schools, and so on.
Identity crisis anyone? Are they, or are they not, part of the Church? As I say, it depends on who you are and who you ask.
What’s the reality? Well, anyone who has ever been on one of David Miscavige’s executive inspections of ABLE – as I have – knows what goes down. ABLE, by the way, is located next door to ASI, where Miscavige frequently hangs out. And when he stomps through ABLE, shouting out questions and threats, the staff there (who are Sea Org Members) quake in their boots and fall all over themselves complying to his every whim. Oh, the Church runs ABLE all right, with an iron fist. And everyone at ABLE knows the truth – it is most definitely a part of the Church of Scientology.
And that’s why you see Org reges prowling Narconons for prospects. That’s why you see Church executives harrassing Narconon directors orABLE staff and accusing them of “out ethics” because they won’t turn their reserves over to buy $100,000 worth of Dianetics books.
One can imagine the cognitive dissonance. My friend stresses that that ABLE staff are motivated by a desire to help handle ruins in society, not to make money for the church, and when they say that they are not part of the church they truly do believe this. Yet they see evidence on a daily basis that they are, in fact, Church controlled and micromanaged.
Meanwhile, who takes credit for every “win” in these sectors? And who exaggerates those wins and even lies about them? David Miscavige and the Church of course. Just as they lie about their own statistics and numbers, they lie about ABLE numbers, groups and connections. Remember that speech given at the New Year’s event in 2007, where David Miscavige claimed that the distribution of the booklet is aided by “corporate tie ins,” mentioning 7-Eleven, Coca-Cola, Philips, and Dell by name as companies who use this outreach to augment their “Third World image problems.” After a video of the speech was released to YouTube in February 2008. A spokesman for Dell told the Los Angeles Times: “We’ve got no affiliation with the Church of Scientology … it’s not our practice to disseminate religious materials of any kind”, and representatives from Philips and 7-Eleven also told the Los Angeles Times that their companies do not disseminate religious materials.
So let’s see – the Church of Scientology doesn’t financially support these ABLE groups, but takes money from them. They provide no real management or guidance, but instead harass them for more and more money. And they then take credit for everything ABLE does. And lie about the numbers and expansion.
Gee, sounds like exactly how they treat the Orgs.