I recently posted an article showing why success stories are not sufficient to prove that Scientology auditing actually works, even though there are many people who claim to have received life-changing “wins” while using this technique. That’s because of the nature of establishing the statistical validity of a hypothesis. The essence of the argument is that “the plural of anecdotes is not data.”
But here’s another reason that we can be fairly confident that auditing is a relatively ineffective tool for fueling personal growth: “independent Scientology,” the practice of L. Ron Hubbard’s “tech,” should be a much bigger movement than it actually is.
When I first fell down the rabbit hole of Scientology watching in 2011, I read many stories of ex-Scientologists who claimed, in the wake of auditing, to have achieved life-changing results such as deciding to leave a bad marriage, etc. I concluded that auditing techniques, while dubious, could deliver results in some percentage of cases, though the success rate was likely to be far lower than evidence-based psychological techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
I never believed any of Hubbard’s theoretical basis for a lot of the “tech” like the absurd idea that thoughts have mass. But I figured auditing might be a little like chiropractic, which was originally based on a ludicrous and completely discredited theory of subluxation. Today, it’s a form of massage or physical therapy that gives people relief from a variety of musculoskeletal symptoms, even if some followers claim benefit far beyond what the manipulation techniques can actually offer.
2011: Indies Seemed Like They Might Make It
At the time, Marty Rathbun’s blog (no link as I don’t want to give him traffic in support of his current activities) was the epicenter of what I thought might become a viable independent Scientology movement. I was very familiar with internet-based collaboration communities such as the open source software movement, which had proven the ability to create high-quality commercial software that in many cases was more reliable and easier to use than equivalent commercial products. The Linux operating system, created under this model, powers the vast majority of web servers (which are themselves open source products). Virtually all smart phones (both Android and iPhone) are built on a Linux operating system kernel.
Successful open source communities have not only the ability to attract lots of like-minded programmers, but also have very sophisticated mechanisms, both formal and informal, to settle disputes without collapsing into name-calling but retaining effective, rational decision-making capability.
So I figured that if the “indies” were able to harness open source internet collaboration and governance techniques, they might be able to create a viable “virtual corporation” that could succeed in taking business away from the official Church of Scientology. A central virtual organization would be a branding mechanism so that anyone interested in auditing would know where to turn, and a back-end governance facility would allow people to evolve the “tech” consistently in a way that served customers better than the hidebound frozen “tech” that Hubbard laid down.
Now, in retrospect, I understand a hidden assumption I was making (and perhaps one that indies were making as well), but which turned out to be wrong. I thought that auditing was the thing that kept people in the cult — they put up with the abuses that they saw in order to get the value that they perceived was available in auditing. It thus seemed reasonable that an organization that offered auditing by similarly trained people would be attractive to members who wanted the benefits without the cost. I thus thought this would be perhaps the best path of significantly shutting down the cult’s revenue stream.
A Lot of Water Under the Bridge But No Progress
The independent Scientology movement never took off. The various independent Scientology groups seem to be in a state of near-terminal decline.
- The Freezone, perhaps the oldest still-operating splinter group, attracts only a couple dozen members to its annual conference, after several decades in operation.
- Ron’s Org, founded in 1982 by “Captain Bill” Robertson, who worked closely with Hubbard, is on the ropes, if it still exists.
- I haven’t seen much of anything from other independent groups; if they’re still functioning, they don’t seem to be in outreach mode. For example, the “Elma Free Zone” in rural Washington state, has a web site offering progress on the “Bridge” but hasn’t had a blog post in almost four years. (If you have any data on how any indie groups are doing, I’d love it if you’d pass it along.)
- The Dror Center in Haifa, Israel was formerly the official Haifa Mission. They broke away from the cult in mid-2012, in a landmark move that no other official groups have repeated. Despite presence in Israel’s biggest college town, their numbers haven’t changed materially in nearly six years. And no other groups, either missions or orgs, have joined them. The most recent blog post on the group’s site was from September 2016, nearly 18 months ago. Head Dani Lemberger said that they were seeing some new non-Scientology members joining and going “on lines” along with other growth moving up nicely from their establishment as an independent entity through the end of 2014.
- I might have expected the South Africans to set up an indie group, given their “Back In Comm” blog that was active for a few years, but that blog went silent over two years ago and I haven’t heard of any evidence of an indie group there. I had predicted at the time that the geographic isolation of South Africa and potentially Australia/New Zealand would give them a sense of autonomy that might spur creation of indie groups, but that clearly hasn’t happened.
Many attempts to unify the various groups have collapsed in infighting. Efforts to generate unity, including groups named iScientology, the Association of Professional Independent Scientologists, Milestone 2 and FICoS (First Independent Church of Scientology) quickly collapsed as infighting between various people and factions often caused fatal schisms within weeks.
I don’t think the struggles of the movement are due to some masterful infiltration campaign masterminded by David Miscavige and the OSA goon squad. Several high-level auditors, ex Sea Org and others pointed out to me one key facet of Scientology culture that’s extremely hard to stamp out, even in many people who have made significant progress in freeing themselves from other undesirable aspects of the persona the cult generated. Scientology is an utterly hierarchical organization, and many people believe the position they attained in the cult may make their opinion more right than others. They can’t shake the sense of certainty that’s at the core of the appeal of cultic groups, which over time becomes increasingly toxic.
There is so much contradictory material in Hubbard’s canon of “scripture” that each side can grab onto material that directly contradicts other policies, and can work themselves into paralysis trying to resolve the irresolvable. People collaborating to build a normal organization can often find ways to compromise and build a consensus understanding of issues to create a broad coalition of supporters. But Scientologists believe that Hubbard’s work is the “only workable path to saving the planet,” so even minor disagreements of minutiae may mushroom into significant problems.
A Class VIII auditor who’s trying to create an Independent Scientology practice will insist that he’s automatically worth more per hour than a Class V. His longer years in the cult also lead him to believe he’s inherently right about other matters as well. It’s hard for ex-Scientologists to collaborate and to come to a consensus decision. It’s hard to agree when you’ve spent so much time in a steeply hierarchical organization whose members have been programmed to compete with each other over every little thing.
The lack of agreement on “theological” points is also due to the contradictory details in so much of Scientology tech. Hubbard threw most of Scientology together lazily and in great haste, and never tried to iron out contradictions, which one would expect to happen in a “faith” that was designed to last. I suspect he figured he’d keep Scientology going as long as possible, and didn’t really care what happened to it after he did, as long as he made tons of money along the way. While he was still running things, he could just issue edicts on the spot to resolve any contradictions, which the flock would take as Holy Writ. But now, there’s no final arbiter to bludgeon factions of the Indie movement into agreement on what constitutes “standard tech.”
Also tellingly, several leading “independent auditors” who were prominent a few years ago are no longer engaged in the practice, at least not under the banner of “independent Scientology.” Mark Shreffler and Marty Rathbun were highly-trained auditors and neither appears to be offering those services any longer.
At one point, several people in the “indie” community maintained an “indie 500″ list of people who left the cult and who had declared their intent to practice independent Scientology. This list grew by only about 75 members since 2012, and the page hosting it hasn’t been updated with any new additions betwen March 2017 and the date of publication of this article.
Some Independent Auditing Exists But Not Enough
We know that in some areas with a lot of ex Scientologists, there are former Church of Scientology auditors who continue to offer auditing. Based on the conversations I’ve had, it appears that this is a casual, informal effort, perhaps of old friends helping each other out to get through upsets and tribulations of life. It doesn’t appear that this is an attempt to provide rigorous services for “Bridge steps,” but more friends helping each other out.
For the most part, these independent auditors appear to be practicing the “old school” style of auditing, and don’t appear to be implementing the bureaucratic processes such as pre-planned programs authored by and reviewed by a separate case supervisor, and all the rest of the byzantine Hubbard bureaucracy.
We believe that a less formal structure for auditing means that there is no intent on the part of these auditors to build an independent Scientology movement. This may be due to concerns about persecution by the cult, but it may also be that these auditors don’t see enough demand to organize themselves together to become a real business.
We can speculate that a contributing factor in the perceived lack of opportunities for independent Scientology auditing as a money-generating career have dropped as the likelihood of a catastrophic event driving a mass exodus from the cult is remote. There simply aren’t many potential bombs on the level of Debbie Cook’s New Year’s Day memo from January 2012. The exodus driven to leave by the content of that e-mail could have driven several thousand people out of the cult in 2012 and 2013; that would have been a significant boost to the pool of prospective customers for independent Scientology. As that one-time event ran its course, the pipeline of new departures likely slowed to a trickle.
Conclusion: Auditing Is Not a Strong Enough Glue
Over the last seven years, the less committed members left the cult early on; those leaving today were, until they decided to leave, more committed than those who already departed. While I think the rate of decline has slowed, you would expect that a higher percentage of recently departed members would become indies if auditing was a central, or perhaps the most central positive aspect of their Scientology experience. That’s clearly not happening.
I suspect those now leaving have been traumatized more than those who left five years ago with the increasingly draconian treatment of staff, who now make up a larger percentage of departures. If that’s true, it’s less likely that they’ve built up a reservoir of positive memories that will lead them to seek comfort in auditing for therapy or even “Bridge” progress.
People leaving today have been deprived of TV and Internet for many years, through filtering software and admonitions not to look at those media, more so than people leaving 10-20 years ago. So reality is a far bigger jolt than in the past.
And the lack of a central marketing and promotion organization to attempt to rehabilitate the brand image of something tied to Scientology is keeping the indie groups from attracting anyone from outside.