The Bogey Of A Cult

Lagos-For some top shots in Obasanjos's government, the fear of the Church of Scientology ensures freedom from problems.

Robert Minton, retired American investment banker and debt buy-back guru is undoubtedly a man of means. His business dealings with Nigeria's debt buy-back scheme between 1988 and 1993 must have left him well-heeled, as the deal is alleged to have run into billions of dollars. However, when the details of the deal came to light, Minton accused the whistle-blower, ex-footballer, John Fashanu of being a tool in the hands of the scientology organisation. This is a vendetta on scientology's part against me: Fashanu has been hired by the scientologists to tarnish my reputation," said Minton, who also explained that he was being hounded as a result of his sponsorship of a multi-million dollar law suit against the group for the death of one of their members, Lisa Macpherson. A Nigerian journalist who did several stories attacking Fashanu and the group, had his telephone bugged and his character assassinated, with agents of scientology telling his neighbours that he is a fraudster working for a gang that is fleecing Nigeria

Recently too, when TheNEWS published a story on the alleged involvement of the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Alhaji Mahey Rafindadi Rasheed, in an advance fee fraud scam (popularly known as 419) in the US, another senior official of the apex bank pleaded that his name should not be acknowledged, as according to him, there were signs of the dreaded scientology group's involvement in the case. For him, the fear of the scientologists is the beginning of a stress-free life.

The Church of Scientology has grown into one big movement that many people love to hate. No other contemporary religion has endured a more turbulent past or a more sustained attack on its existence than the Church of Scientology. Since its establishment nearly 40 years ago, the movement has leapt to attain a worldwide status that has attracted not only a new generation of faithful and supporters estimated at about 6.5 million worldwide but also detractors, and is further reaching into many societies to gain legitimacy and new members. Accused of using mind control to bamboozle its members, the movement is wealthy, (with an annual gross income worldwide put at well over $100 million) and feisty. It is largely shrouded in mystery and shuns publicity, but carries out its seemingly clandestine operations through agents that infiltrate high society, government circles, law firms, newspaper houses and community agencies. Its common practice is to ruin persons perceived as unfriendly to the goals and aspirations of scientology. And contrary to the teachings of Christ on turning the other cheek, the church's doctrine smacks of large doses of vindictiveness. A spokesman of the church once said: "We step on a lot of toes, we don't turn the other cheek." The movement's founder and guiding light (now deceased), L. Ron Hubbard, who was a science fiction-writer, philosopher, scientist, interplanetary traveller, psychologist and film-maker expounded a theory that still serves as the dictum for his disciples. According to Hubbard, "truth is what is true for you."

By this, he was ostensibly urging all means necessary to achieve the overall objectives and interests of the scientologists. The man, described in his lifetime as reclusive, mysterious and press-shy, was widely regarded as mentally unstable and an expert in hypnotism. He was born 13 March 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska, USA, and although scientology publications claim that Hubbard graduated in Civil Engineering from George Washington University as a nuclear physicist, the university's records show that he attended for only two short years, during the second of which he was on academic probation and failed physics. Hubbard's Ph.D was said to be from Sequoia University in California, although there is no proof of the existence of any accredited institution in California by that name, that grants doctorates. Hubbard died 24 January 1986, but his spirit still fires his movement.

What is Scientology? Interestingly, not even the vast majority of followers of the movement can provide an accurate answer to the question. Unlike with the Bible or Koran, which form the scriptures of Christianity and Islam, not one book in the Church of Scientology comprehensively sets forth the movement's religious beliefs. Instead, Scientology's theology is spread across the voluminous writings and tape recorded discourses of its founder since the 1950s. There are conflicting reports on the reason for and origin of Scientology. However, it is easy to discern that its focus is on individual life force, presenting man as a spiritual agent that can determine his own salvation. The route to this self-awareness, Hubbard theorized, is Dianetics (which incidentally was what his movement was called until 1952).

Dianetics entails investigations into the realm of the spirit. Scientology has its roots steeped in the eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. The religion contends that harmonious integration with other life forms, the physical universe and ultimately the supreme being, leads to self realisation and increased spiritual awareness. The teachings of Scientology basically centre on the belief of an immortal soul or "Thetan," that passes from one body to the next through countless reincarnations spanning trillion of years. According to Scientology, the "Thetan" is the individual life force, the soul, the person himself. Hubbard propagated that when a person dies, his or her thetan goes to a "landing station" on venus, where it is programmed with lies about its past life and its next life. However, to avert this unsavoury destination, the man offered his followers an easy way out. He told scientologists to simply select a location other than venus to go, when they kick the bucket. It is no wonder that when Hubbard died, the scientologists regarded it as a "triumph of galactic proportions." In their view, their guiding light had discarded the body that bound him to the physical universe and was off to the next phase of his spiritual exploration, on a planet a galaxy away. They all shouted "hip hip hurray" with great joy and fanfare. In death, Hubbard left behind an organisation that would continue to function as though he were still alive, as Scientology is determined that his words shall live forever by using state-of-the-art technology (well worth over $15 million) to protect Hubbard 's original writings, tape recorded lectures and filmed treatises from natural and man-made calamities, including nuclear holocaust.

Scientology pastoral counselling could be easily mistaken for an accounting procedure. This is known as auditing. Here, an individual (called Preclear) is allegedly helped through confessional unburdening (in stages) to recover his complete self-determination by an auditor, using inter-personal communication and other carefully devised questions and skills. At the end of this structured exercise, "when no part of the mind remains , not under the individual's own control and direction," a state of supra-human awareness and ability (the state of clear) has been achieved. Expectedly, the auditing sessions cost money and usually range between $25 (about N3,000) for the early stages, to $5,000 (N600,000) for advanced stages and $12,000 (over N1 million) to reach the state of clear.

These funds, alongside contributions from its mainly wealthy supporters and members as well as sales of literature, make up the source of the church's wealth. And the movement has snapped up for itself, the high-up in society. According to Hubbard when he was still on earth, scientologists should target prominent individuals as their "quarry" and bring them back like trophies for Scientology. John Travolta, a famous American actor is the church's most famous celebrity. Travolta credits Hubbard's teachings as giving him confidence and direction. Singer Al Jarreau, Elvis Presley's widow, Priscilla and their daughter Lisa-Marie (who was once married to pop star Michael Jackson) make up Scientology's celebrity top list. Nigeria's John Fashanu, as well as special adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman are said to be members of the Scientology organisation. Indeed, Lukeman is said to be a member of the international council.

Race or Creed is no barrier to becoming a scientologist as the church's article of faith states that all men of whatever race, colour or creed are treated with equal rights. But perhaps the Scientology movement's greatest "enemy" could be said to be the United States government, with which the group has been having a running battle for about two decades, over tax exempt status of the church, alongside other frictions.

The church has consistently moved swiftly and sometimes deadly to defend itself against attackers. Such enemies, labelled suppressive persons (SP in Scientology jargon) or those that actively seek to suppress or damage Scientology are designated "fair game." Their punishment ranges from loss of property to injury by any means, either by trickery, legal action, deceit or outright destruction. For scientologists, the best form of defence is attack: Total attack through exposure is Scientology's watchword; harassment and not victory, the prize. A stinging indictment of Hubbard and his movement and a condemnation of their tactics in silencing critics came from a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Breckenridge: "In addition to violating and abusing its own members' civil rights, the organisation over the years with its "fair game" doctrine has harassed and abused those persons not in the church whom it perceives as enemies. The organisation clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder."

However, Scientology has risen in stoical defence of its teachings and tactics. "Scientology seeks a civilisation without criminality and has worked toward this goal through programmes to reduce crime, and drug abuse as well as re-educate former criminal offenders," said spokesman for the movement. Faced with the groundswell of opposition, on one hand and influential backers on the other, the last obviously, has not been heard about the Church of Scientology.