The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

Mutants, Mystics, and Scientologists (Thoughts on Jeffrey Kripal, Gnosticism, and Sci-Fi Spirituality)

Call me a slow learner, but it took me until my early forties to realize that some of the best and most inspiring things in life, besides girls, are the things I was obsessed with as a 10-year-old boy (i.e., just before I discovered girls).

At 10, I was a typical nerdy 1970s kid, curled up with sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks when I wasn’t glued to the TV in the wood-paneled basement rec room in my corduroys watching Star Trek reruns, Space 1999, or Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of. Later, out of some horrible, misguided sense of teenage conformity and the bogus need to “grow up,” I ended up setting aside all that, put Dune and Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and my Alien graphic novel away in a box, and took up more respectable interests like science without the “fiction” attached.

But eventually, and especially after having two UFO sightings less than a month apart in 2009, I allowed all those “immature” things to flood back in—science-fictional realms like aliens, bigfoot, ESP, and all domains of the paranormal and Fortean. I have not only taken them seriously but also made them my compass in recent years, and it has been one of my best and, frankly, most mature choices in life. To use Joseph Campbell’s overused phrase, I now, at long last, follow my bliss. (I highly recommend following your bliss, although I acknowledge that it is harder to really, authentically do than Campbell made it sound—there are so many competing pressures…)

I’ve been gratified to discover that my pre-adolescent sci-fi obsessions actually harmonize very well with my more mature and respectable interests, like Eastern religion. Meditating on the unknowable is a tried-and-true Zen technique, and meditating on alien civilizations, interdimensional beings, and the (im)possibilities of machine sentience, as well as luxuriating in the alien/future mindscapes of sci-fi artists like H.R. Giger and Richard Powers and the novels of Philip K. Dick, is as true and effective a path to Kensho as finding one’s original face or chewing the bone of “mu.” After an intense period in which I had been rereading Jacques Vallee’s Invisible College, thinking and writing about the Alien films, and also studying the collected admonishments of the 9th-century Zen teacher Lin-Chi (Rinzai), the latter master chose to burst out my chest, Alien-style, to both kill and admonish me one evening as I descended into a Maryland Metro station in the rain. It was a sweet enlightening joke that kicked me into a mildly ecstatic state for a few days. Among many other things, this experience proved to me that, if only as a line of thinking and inspiration, sci-fi and Fortean realms are truly a gnosis.

I was delighted to discover I was not alone in the impulse to seek gnosis through reclaiming my pre-/pubescent sci-fi bliss. Many of my generation seem to be discovering that the secret science-fictional surreality behind the unreasoning mask of consensus reality is where it’s at, philosophically and spiritually. Jeffrey Kripal, professor of Religion at Rice University, is a scholar of this trend, and his most recent book, Mutants and Mystics, concerns mystical experiences and how they nurtured 20th century imaginative literature and comic books. Even when I was a kid, there was something undefinably holy to me about the best science fiction (such as Alien), and Kripal effectively illuminates what that holy thing always was.

Dick, Gnosis, and Human Potential

I encountered Kripal’s Mutants and Mystics about the same time I was delving into the newly published, massive Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. who happens to be one of the case studies in Kripal’s book (Kripal also served as one of several editors on Exegesis). Dick famously had a mystical/ecstatic experience that spanned several months in the early 70s and served as the compass of his life thereafter. He devoted thousands of journal pages (the Exegisis itself) as well as a trilogy of novels (beginning with VALIS) to accounting for and making sense of this experience. Triggered initially by dental anesthetic and possibly also megadoses of vitamins, his experience followed a familiar pattern in the annals of religious experience: feeling “zapped” by an energy beam, which opened overwhelming floodgates of information and awareness about everything from a then-unknown but potentially fatal birth defect in his son (then confirmed by a doctor) to the spiral structure of time and reality. (Fans of entheogen prophet Terence McKenna should read the Exegesis and see if it doesn’t remind them uncannily of McKenna’s near-contemporaneous Amazonia experience, down to their independent parallel insights about the structure of time.) If you feel unprepared to tackle the 900-plus page Exegesis, R. Crumb depicted the gist of it, graphically, in a few pages.

Although Dick regarded this experience as enormously important in his life, it also baffled him and was not without its outrageously paranoid and fearful dimensions. The “familiar pattern” it followed was that of traditional capital-G Gnosticism—the basic insight of which is that our ordinary world is an illusion sustained by a malevolent intelligence that is at odds with the higher, “good” creative or loving force in the universe. Although there were many ancient Gnostic sects with different views, they by and large saw the consensual world we live in as a deception perpetrated by a malevolent demiurge—the God of Genesis who badly wanted Adam and Eve not to eat the apple of gnosis in the Garden of Eden and who punished them for doing so. The real Creator, Gnostics have always felt, wouldn’t behave that way.

Christianity has been riven from the start by the conflict between institutionalized faith and direct experience (gnosis) of the divine. The faith side has always prevailed outwardly—the first coup being the excision of the numerous early Gnostic texts from the canon when the Bible as we know it was compiled in the 2nd century. Branding the whole personal-experiential side of Christianity as heresy was an important and necessary strategic move to ensure the Church’s institutional growth and spread, according to Elaine Pagels. Yet the lingering dissatisfaction with second- and third-hand experience (i.e., “faith”) would perpetually generate backlash movements and revivals, such as Catharism in Medieval France and then the Protestant Reformation, as well as various newer, American-born movements that have all been aimed at getting back to direct personal experience of the divine, bypassing worldly priestly middlemen and faith-based dogmas. The self-avowed Gnostic literary critic Harold Bloom wrote a few excellent books about these movements back in the 1990s, and Kripal seems to be following in that Gnostic-critical tradition with his studies of science fiction and the paranormal. (Bloom himself clearly detected a sci-fi-Gnosticism link, having been obsessed with and even writing a sequel to David Lindsay’s bizarre Gnostic allegory A Voyage to Arcturus.)

One of the strange and ambiguous directions sci-fi Gnosticism leads into is the human potential movement—which I was also sort of steeped in during my teenage years, being both a child of psychologists and a voracious teen reader with little chance of having an actual girlfriend. Kripal shows that sci-fi and comic books’ obsession with extraordinary powers is linked closely to the concerns of real-world self-help gurus, parapsychologists, remote viewers, and the types of people who founded and visited Esalen during its heyday in the 1970s. There is a shared sense through these various marginal realms of writing and research that humanity is on the brink of a new transformation in our evolution. The sense is that we are moving toward an X-men-like world of “mutants” living quietly in our midst and possessing an arsenal of Fortean “wild talents.”

To his great credit, Kripal takes all this very seriously. He is essentially spreading an incredibly liberating (if you were once a 10-year-old boy) gospel that our teenage sci-fi intuitions about our hidden capabilities were all true, and we should embrace them and actually take them seriously and learn to apply them in life. As an academic, he has to discuss all this in scholarly, heavily-footnoted way, but he doesn’t try too hard to curb his personal enthusiasm. He wants to move these transmutative experiences and wild talents out from the furtive seclusion of an easily disregarded literary ghetto and awaken us to their actuality and their potency in the real world. He clearly agrees with and, I am sure, participates actively in, this self-transformatory agenda (his many hints about Tantra, and the fact that he apparently spends a lot of time at Esalen, are clues to his own self-transmutative priorities).

I’m right on board (minus the Esalen): There’s a lot more in heaven and earth and in our own mental capacities than is dreamt of in consensus reality. The kinds of things the Mentats and Bene Gesserit did in Dune?—these are all achievable skills. People can and do achieve even weirder things that mainstream science can’t explain and doesn’t want to acknowledge, and you can find guides to these capacities if you pay attention to marginalized literatures, Renaissance Hermeticists, Eastern practices, and 70s self-help paperbacks in used bookstores, and (in some cases) do a little creative reading between the lines. Direct insight into the workings of cosmos and mind are possible to everyone, with a little discipline—just becoming aware of the methods available is the first step. It’s a whole new world.

(Submessage: Start meditating, or doing Tantra; start practicing lucid dreaming and recording your synchronicities; learn about and practice the ancient mnemonic arts; read up on remote viewing and Psi research; etc., etc., right now—you are wasting your life and your mind on TV trivialities if you don’t.)

The Big But

As fascinating and cool as higher states of consciousness and the cultivation of our dormant potentials can be, there is a dark, paranoid as well as elitist aspect of big-G Gnosticism that typically gets downplayed in modern attempts to reawaken interest in this ancient strand of thinking.

From Carl Jung to Pagels to Bloom and now Kripal, the emphasis tends to be on small-g gnosis (the Greek word for wisdom or intuition)—that is, personal direct experience of higher, divine reality. This part is all well and good, but it is not unique to big-G Gnosticism, being shared by many other wisdom traditions both Eastern and Western. What defined many ancient big-G Gnostic sects is the further sense that our entrappedness in the material consensual world is the product of an ancient conflict between lesser and higher divinities. The Gnostics were those “in the know” about this secret state of affairs. In their view, the public myths and doctrines of mainstream religion (and in our age, science) are part of a deceptive conspiracy on the part of a lesser god, trapping and limiting the imagination of humanity and thereby disempowering or even enslaving us. If it sounds like The Matrix, well, that’s exactly what it is. The Matrix is a modern Gnostic myth.

There’s an important distinction to be made here, between seeing consensus reality as error or ignorance and seeing it as the product of somebody’s (or some thing’s) willful effort to pull the wool over our eyes or entrap us. Failure to draw this distinction has led a lot of writers toward confusion on what Gnosticism is and how it differs from other wisdom traditions.

For example, since Pagels’ pathbreaking The Gnostic Gospels in the 1980s, there has been the popular idea that the ancient Gnostics were at least comparable to—and maybe even directly connected with—the Buddhists of the Indian subcontinent. This purported equivalence drove a lot of secular Westerners like me, who were ironically more familiar with Eastern religions, toward the enthusiastic study of “our” lost indigenous Western mystical heritage. For a long time, based on Pagels and Jung, I thought of myself as a “Gnostic” because it seemed to make Jesus into a figure much more like the Buddha—an enlightened human and guide, not literally the son of a white-bearded humanoid divinity demanding unquestioned faith from believers.

Pagels’ most compelling piece of evidence for this sophisticated, Buddhist-sounding Mediterranean spirituality was a beautiful, oft-quoted passage by an early Gnostic writer named Monoimus:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is who within you makes verything his own and says, “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, rests without willing, becomes angry without willing, loves without willing. If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.

If you leave out the word “God” (and “him”), it sounds like it could have been written by any Buddhist teacher, ancient or modern. It particularly reminds me of the 14th-century Japanese Zen teacher Bassui, who ceasely advised his pupils and readers simply to look for who it was in them who answered when their name was called, and who it was who was listening when he addressed them. “What is the use of trying to understand the verses of the sutras? Throw out all those interpretations of the teachings quickly and look directly within. Who is the master who sees and hears right now?”

Unfortunately, the quote about abandoning the search for God in externals is basically all we have of Monoimus, whose words appear lumped with other Gnostic writers in the 2nd-century AD manual, Against Heresies. And he may have been something of an outlier. Many other works in the ancient Gnostic canon tend toward a more Revelations-style arc of fall and redemption occurring in Time and History, and often emphasizing the famous “fall of spirit into matter” as something done to us against our will and enforced by intermediate semi-divine agents such as the famous “Archons.”

This historical and conflictual dimension of ancient and modern Gnosticism is very un-Buddhist, as is the famous Manichean spirit/matter dualism…unless that redemption arc and our imprisonment be understood purely figuratively. But it doesn’t seem to be figurative. The fact that the annals of religious experience contain so many revelatory experiences pointing toward a violent fall-and-redemption narrative suggests that Gnosticism was (and is) a fairly coherent vision, rooted in a very singular sort of experience that has repeated again and again down through the ages. It is thus quite distinguishable from the varieties of breakthrough experience that Buddhist practitioners are familiar with as the benchmarks of the progress to enlightenment in that tradition.

In other words, although it shared the priority placed on personal experience, Gnosticism was actually very different from Buddhism, and it produces a very different vision of human potential and human responsibility.

I’m wary of reducing religious experience to brain processes, but speaking metaphorically at least, I would describe Gnosticism, with its information- and language-centered ecstasies and its dualistic, us/them, occasionally paranoid thinking, as a “left-brained” religion. An astrologer friend put it for me in much more congenial, archetypal terms though, describing Gnosticism as solar and male. By contrast, Buddhism and other Eastern traditions seem to produce more nonconceptual, nonlinguistic experiences and intuitions about the underlying kinship or identity of all things. If Gnosticism is left-brained, male, and solar, then Buddhism (or at least the flavors of Buddhism I am familiar with) would be right-brained, female, and lunar.

This is the crux: Gnosticism is Promethean, wildly creative, violent, anxious of being late on the scene, and suspicious of being deceived. The covert theme of Gnosticism is “kill the father,” as Harold Bloom intuited, and indeed Bloom made this the basis of his whole critical theory about “strong poets”—they are driven to create out of an incessant need to be original, more original than their literary influences. That Gnosticism goes hand in hand with prolific visionary writing seems completely natural, making as much sense of Kripal’s brilliant genre writers “authorizing” their own worlds as it does of Bloom’s more canonically mainstream strong poets.

The Real X-Men

Ancient and modern conspiracies, secret societies, and superpowers make for great stories–conflict is at the heart of storytelling, after all, so it is no wonder that the Gnostic vision has fueled so much great science fiction, from Lindsay to Dick to the Alien and Matrix movies, not to mention comic books. But over the years I have come to think Gnosticism per se is a highly problematic recipe for worldly as well as personal salvation. To see why it may not be the best recipe for helping (let alone saving) society, it may be helpful to imagine what real X-Men would look like—and lo and behold, we don’t need to do much imagining. Twentieth-century sci-fi Gnosticism actually produced an exemplar—and oddly, it’s an exemplar that is only incidentally mentioned in Kripal’s book on sci-fi and human potential and is completely ignored by Harold Bloom’s books on indigenous American religion. It’s like neither of these brilliant scholars wanted to really face this 400-pound gorilla in the room.

That 400-pound gorilla (and I will probably be sued for calling it ONLY 400 pounds) is L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. Scientology has become a cheesy, litigious Hollywood embarrassment, and thus it tends to be dismissed by serious thinkers, but its origins, secret teachings, and practices place it firmly in the landscape both Kripal and Bloom have done so much to map in their books.

People forget that Scientology had its beginnings in an apparently genuine religious awakening, just like Mormonism and other religious movements ancient and modern, and also just like the various artists and writers in Kripal’s Mutants and Mystics. Essentially, Scientology is what happens when a sci-fi writer with much less talent than Philip K. Dick has an ecstatic mystical experience of similar proportions and also has the charisma, guile, gumption, and money sense to spin his gnosis into a full-on religion and erect himself as its prophet.

The story is told magnificently by Lawrence Wright in his recent book Going Clear. Basically, three and a half decades before Philip K Dick began receiving Gnostic data downloads after a dental extraction, L. Ron Hubbard had what he described as a near-death experience in a dentist’s chair, during which his disembodied consciousness drifted through a huge ornate gate where the secrets of existence were laid out for him like a smorgasbord. As with Dick’s initial experience, it was more than Hubbard could assimilate or handle at the time, but subsequent experiences deepened his understanding and became the source of the cosmic and personal-development teachings that are now doled out in piecemeal, initiatory fashion to the paying elite of Scientology Church insiders.

Among the more infamous of Hubbard’s cosmological insights is the notion that we are immortal souls possessed by spirits (Thetans) who were imprisoned in a volcano by the malevolent “Xenu” millions of years ago, after an ancient cosmic war. This is Gnosticism, pure and simple. On the other hand, so is the more practically useful (and less crazy) insight that our everyday conditioned perceptions keep us trapped in a depressing, disempowered state that it is nevertheless possible to transcend through personal effort and deepening of our awareness.

The corruption, brutality, and shallow materialism of the modern Church of Scientology, as well as the literary shortcomings of its founder, should not detract from the interesting and valid insights Hubbard appears to have had. At least back in the early days, Hubbard’s ideas attracted numerous not-too-shabby minds to Scientology—people like William S. Burroughs, for example. I have no doubt that many of the experiences of Hubbard himself as well as those of his followers (following a perfectly sound methodology that boils down to achieving a relaxed state using a galvanic skin response meter) are genuine.

Part of Hubbard’s originality (in keeping with the “strong poet” tendency to misread and redefine one’s predecessors) was in redefining processes that were long understood by meditative and Tantric traditions (as well as the psychoanalysts he despised) and repackaging them with modern, sciencey and science-fictioney labels. Clearing away the “body Thetans” impeding our happiness and potential can be redescribed simply as the use of a biofeedback device to hasten and habitualize certain relaxed, meditative states that facilitate heightened self-insight (and even paranormal abilities—Kripal does note that a couple of the early lights in remote viewing were Scientology members until becoming disillusioned with the Church). In other words, Hubbard found it expedient to give new names to the things he picked up from the smorgasbord of psychological and philosophical teachings he had read, and thereby made himself into a prophet of something ostensibly new under the sun. Church members don’t detect Hubbard’s intellectual debt to early-20th-century psychiatry and the world’s wisdom literature because they are discouraged from reading outside their founder’s massive oeuvre, and many are recruited early enough in life that they lack wide-enough reading with which to triangulate their experience.

The point I want to make, though, is that, from all accounts, Scientologists do behave a lot like X-men. They walk the earth with a sense of having greater powers and correspondingly bigger destinies than the rest of us. This is on embarrassing display in the infamous viral Scientology video of Tom Cruise expounding his weighty sense of responsibility as a sort of Scientology Superman. And in Going Clear, Wright describes similar X-Men like scenes, such as John Travolta’s spontaneous healing of Marlon Brando’s leg injury at an L.A. dinner party using Scientology abilities he had recently acquired. I don’t doubt that some of these powers are actually genuine; partly they may accrue from the sense of self-confidence that Scientology nurtures in at least its highest-profile adherents. And there may be more to it too—who knows. In other words, as easily parodied as Scientology now is, its underlying ideas about human potential are not at all far from the science-fictional, Gnostic underground stream Kripal describes, and I don’t think its teachings, its metaphysics, and its experiences (even if facilitated by e-meters) are probably any less powerful for those touched by them.

All this has two implications: The first (small) one is that, to get a more complete and balanced picture of mutation and mysticism in 20th century America, you need to read Wright’s book after you’re done with Kripal’s. (Seriously—it’s equally riveting.) The second (more significant) point is that we need to critically consider Gnosticism (versus other forms of gnosis), ask what it is, and place it in the larger world context of spirituality and human development. Because as inviting as it is on one level, the big-G brand of gnosis does have a dark side.

The Dark Side of Being “In the Know”

In the varieties of religious experience, (small-g) gnosis can arrive with a sense of bliss and love and laughter and cosmic oneness, but, alternatively, it can carry an overtone of threat; it can also inspire a critical arrogance and an almost addict-like need to know more. Philip K. Dick was not a happy person, and his overwhelming experience nurtured a sense of paranoia and menace even as it gave his life meaning (and saved his son’s life). Hubbard doesn’t seem to have been very happy either; we can see from his personal history and the history of his church the paranoid and negative directions his thoughts led, and the isolationist, paranoid, elitist direction his religion went in, right from the start.

Indeed, doesn’t L. Ron Hubbard blend together oddly in one’s mind with Ayn Rand? Both were prolific, horrible writers who, in very thick paperbacks that one either hates or loves, promoted a vaguely fascist picture of what near-future elites could achieve if they put their mind principally to actualizing their own potential. In both cases, one gets the sense that the benefit to society follows only as a side-effect of self-actualization (the standard trickle-down Capitalist view) rather than being intrinsic to it. This, right here, is the key difference between a Super- or X-man and a Boddhisattva, who instead sees the enlightenment of all sentient creatures as intrinsic and necessary to her own advancement. More fundamentally, instead of a Promethean transformation of matter and space and time—the heroic and picturesque image found in comic books—all that is really required for our salvation (at least in the Zen tradition I am familiar with) is a slight shift in perception: seeing how our own minds are the problem and the solution, and gently, non-egotistically, helping others to see that too.

It’s hardly cut and dried. The world is full of would-be Gnostics who walk a thin line—one that is hard to discern at times. I know from experience how readily the critical, experience-rooted, applied-epistemological, “show-me” mind can drift from an interest in higher mental states and cosmic consciousness down various paranoid rabbit holes of belief in worldly if not even divine (or extraterrestrial) conspiracies. Such a mind readily nurtures furtive adolescent male fantasies of small rebellious elites quietly fighting the oppression wrought by evil secret societies, and becomes desperately jealous of the secret knowledge and talents enjoyed by either or both of these invisible colleges. The thing is, that “left-brained” picture of reality is probably half accurate. Exactly half. The world needs paranoids who can see patterns in noise, because sometimes those patterns really are there; there really are conspiracies and elites, secrets and lies, and we need X-men to sniff them out and stand up to them. But such gnoses need to be tempered with some right-brained humility, some lunar gentleness.

Ultimately, our entrappedness—or (shifting to Buddhist language) our suffering—is of another order. It is something we do to ourselves, and can largely be undone by seeing how our perceptions, our self/other dualisms, are just simple human mistakes that don’t require superhuman abilities to correct. This, it seems, is a much more congenial, socially useful, wise viewpoint—much closer, indeed, to the Boddhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism than to the more apocalyptic X-Men vision of supermen gathering in secret, nurturing special powers, and perhaps preparing for a final cosmic showdown with our extraterrestrial or interdimensional prison wardens.

Not that the latter showdown isn’t awfully, awfully fun to think about …



I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at]

8 Responses to “Mutants, Mystics, and Scientologists (Thoughts on Jeffrey Kripal, Gnosticism, and Sci-Fi Spirituality)”

  • I’ll have to put *Going Clear* on my list. Until this post I hadn’t known about Hubbard’s NDE. What I *had* been aware of was his association with Jack Parsons and Aleister Crowley; I’ve assumed since becoming aware of those links that at least some of Sc**ntol&^y’s methods were lifted from OGD and OTO.

    Another thing I hadn’t known until very recently, which seems to be to be related, is that Joseph Smith first met his “angels” through the use of an early 19th century English Grimoire (was it called *The Magus*? Peter Levenda tells us in *The Angel and the Sorcerer*) He was essentially using magic in the attempt to find gold. While it’s possible to call both Smith’s and Hubbard’s experiences “authentically mystical,” it really stands out to me that both of them, early on, were involved in the practice of magic, and that the practice of magic is at the base of both of these American-born “religious” institutions.

    In terms of my own process of coming to terms with my early attraction to science fiction and the ‘weirdness’ associated with it, one stand-out book was Richard Kieckhefer’s *Magic in the Middle Ages.* One of the main theses I remember from the book is that magic, during this period (and others) in the western world, was legally regulated and suppressed *not* *just* because of Biblical injunctions against it, but maybe more importantly, because *people believed that it worked*. A potent sorcerer was a direct and unallowable threat to the King.

    From an unexamined materialist perspective, this is not the first possibility that comes to mind: From the unexamined materialist perspective, magic *can’t* work. For magic to be able to work, some other explanation must be in play, and it seems as though there are basically only two other options: Idealism or some flavor of dualism.

    Once one or the other of these is adopted, then it seems to me that one vexing question with which we are left is, “How come magic doesn’t work a whole lot better than it does? A whole lot more than it does?”

  • The Parsons/Hubbard story is told in Going Clear–and yes, Hubbard’s “religion” took a lot of ideas from the OTO … but also from a lot of other places, most especially psychiatry and psychoanalysis of the period (hence the fierce [read: defensive] anti-psychiatry anxiety in his movement).

    There’s nothing necessarily anti-mystical about magic (if that’s your meaning). Magic as I see it (as an outsider admittedly) is a symbol-based approach to many of the same ends sought by mystics and shamans. Magic in the Middle Ages was just the folk-vestiges of the pre-Christian shamanic traditions that had flourished before Christianity attempted to eradicate them. Claude Lecouteux’s studies of European para-Christian shamanic beliefs are fascinating, and he too delves into the Christian theological objections, but, as you say, the main fear was and still is that these things may be real. If that’s the case, it makes the world a very dangerous place.

    This is one subject of my “Psi of Regret” post, which is really a followup to this one. If there’s some alternative channel of causality where skilled persons can make you sick or kill you without your being able to defend yourself, it behoves everyone to get rid of those people fast. To this day, sorcerers and witches are machete’d and burned in traditional communities all over the world. It’s tragic and regrettable, but it ain’t “irrational,” as some would suppose.

    As for why magic (=shamanism, =psi) doesn’t work better … there too, there are lots of interesting social and evolutionary reasons why they wouldn’t. Think for a second why sociopaths persistently exist in all societies but only ever at a very low frequency in a population, and you have your answer, I think: It’s an evolutionary unstable strategy but rewarded whenever it arises as a mutation. (I address this in that post too.)

  • Were on it right now…..thanks mate………

  • The following comment is a continuation of comments on the post
    . I thought this really belonged more, here.

    Well, spoiler alert, but someone on Twitter posted that the Brooklyn Scientology office saw a surge in new visitors following the documentary, which, if true, verifies that there’s really no such thing as bad publicity.
    I also think it has to do with the core appeal of Scientology, which is precisely that it’s an astro-Gnostic religion that promises (and, I’m convinced, actually delivers, to an extent) superpowers. There’s a huge built-in appeal there. And like all ‘cults,’ it seeks out and appeals to people who, due to whatever educational disadvantage, are not widely read and thus don’t realize that its ideas can be gotten for free anywhere. Except, you can’t buy an e-meter for any reasonable price, even on eBay (believe me, I’ve tried), even though the technology is simple for someone with basic electronics skills (which I don’t have, unfortunately). Even if “clearing body thetans” is BS, the advantages of a neurofeedback device for fast-tracking productive altered states are unmistakeable.

    I think those are all very interesting points. The first time I saw someone suggest that Scientology actually “works,” it raised my eyebrows. Being now about 2/3 through the book, I’m more open-minded about that. I wonder if perhaps what Hubbard put down in Dianetics isn’t a large portion of what “works.” (I have a copy that got remaindered out of one of the Harvard libraries… I need to dig that up.) Are there instructions for how to build an e-meter in Dianetics?

    I find your point about people who end up being drawn to Scientology not realizing that “the good stuff” in LRH (including ‘superpowers’) is lying around all over the place ready to be picked up to be particularly strong.

    When I posed the question, “How did the organization survive?” I was specifically wondering why, during the time that David M. had 50+ of his top executives crammed into “The Hole” (the abuse Wright describes them as taking is mind-boggling to me) continuously re-doing the Org Chart, the whole edifice didn’t crash in on itself because “real work wasn’t getting done” (because no one stayed in one place or one job long enough to learn it correctly, because his top talent was locked into a double-wide, frantically trying to avoid incurring DM’s wrath)?

    After continuing reading, I realized that what I had missed was the utter devotion that members, especially Sea Org, had to both the organization and to the idea that they were working to (and here I borrow language from a different tradition) get off the Wheel of Karma. I also still hadn’t grokked just how totalistic the organization was (slow me!) Even though D.M. had the organization bolloxed up so things shouldn’t have worked, the membership would do everything in their power to make sure things did work. Superpowers aside, the social psychology literature has a lot to say about why people would stay, and why they would work so hard, even while they were being so badly abused (and of course, church doctrine covered the church and D.M. in terms of justifying the abuse.)
    Related, I think, is something that you pointed out in the Mutants/Mystics/Scientologists post: There is an ideological parallel between LRH and Ayn Rand, and the church and its membership sees it/themselves as being “above” the rest of us “wogs.” The word that occurred to me last night was “Nietzscheian.” As reported by Wright, the church and its members were audacious beyond my belief in terms of putting themselves above and outside the law.

    It makes me wonder what the Church might be/do if LRH and Suzan (sp?) hadn’t imbued the church with the ‘attack dog’ mentality early on.

  • The first time I saw someone suggest that Scientology actually “works,” it raised my eyebrows. Being now about 2/3 through the book, I’m more open-minded about that. I wonder if perhaps what Hubbard put down in Dianetics isn’t a large portion of what “works.” … Are there instructions for how to build an e-meter in Dianetics?

    If there ever were, they’ve long since been excised. Those things run into the several thousands of dollars (per the predatory business model of the Church). There are ex-scientologists who give instructions for building them on YouTube, however.

    I find your point about people who end up being drawn to Scientology not realizing that “the good stuff” in LRH (including ‘superpowers’) is lying around all over the place ready to be picked up to be particularly strong.

    Thanks. It’s a basic tactic of all cults and ideologies to discourage breadth of reading/learning. The more you read, the less fanatical you can get about anything (and it frankly scares the daylights out of me that young people today are so reading-averse.) It’s the very definition of any religious fundamentalism, of course: “The only book worth reading is [fill in the blanks].” Hubbard made sure to instill pure hatred for psychiatry and psychology as a way of discouraging people from reading pop psychology etc. where they might find out that he was ripping off Freud and every other mid-century depth psychology approach, in addition to the world’s spiritual literature etc.
    You have to give it to LRH, that despite being batshit crazy and a horrible writer, he was also brilliant and creative. During his tenure, Scientology actually attracted bright people, young seekers (people like Haggis, for instance), who again may have just lacked much wide learning or spiritual experience to triangulate what they were getting from Hubbard’s movement. But when he passed on to the next plane of existence or whatever, there was no longer any intellectual core.
    The announcement of his death is one of the priceless scenes in the film by the way, which is a must-see.

    The word that occurred to me last night was “Nietzscheian.”

    Absolutely, and it also comes across in the bizarre ubermensch mania affected by Cruise and others. Again, see the movie. One of the ex-Scientologists interviewed parodies that intense manic attitude hilariously. It is actually part of their training: to stare at other people aggressively. Basically, as I said in my Psi of Regret post, they build up superpowers by stripping down basic social skills.
    In actual fact, I believe the Church no longer has very many members, surviving purely because of their pay-for-play business model. They have done their best to hide this fact with hilarious badly photoshopped promotional pictures showing vast crowds gathered at their various city headquarters. It really is the North Korea of religions.

  • “as I said in my Psi of Regret post, they build up superpowers by stripping down basic social skills.”

    Spot on, I think. I knew that rang a bell, but I didn’t re-read that post.

    “It really is the North Korea of religions.”


    I *will* see the movie.

  • Thx for this excellent post, Eric. Loved the big-G, little-g stuff… brilliant.

    I find big-G themes fascinating and personally inspiring, but I’m always a little surprised when folks take big-G stuff literally.

    One of the side benefits of NDE science has been the publication of hundreds of accounts of personal encounters with extended consciousness. It’s hard to look at LRH or even PKD the same way after reading what happens to everyday people after they die.

  • Thanks, Alex! I might only question the “after they die” part. Existing tools for detecting brain activity are extremely crude, unable to tell what may really be still happening at the neuronal level even if conventional markers/definitions of life have ceased (like brainwaves or fMRI signals). Admittedly I’m not up on the NDE literature, though; what convinces you people who report NDEs are/were really dead?