Note: The film Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief will be available on HBO starting March 29th. I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently it profiles former members who reveal details that have elicited a very angry response from the Church of Scientology. I thought I would use the occasion to reprint a SkepDoc column that originally appeared in Skeptic magazine (Volume 18: Number 3) titled “Scientology’s War on Medicine.”

Scientology has openly declared war on psychiatry and is ambivalent if not openly hostile towards the rest of medicine. Its “mind over matter” philosophy promises that attaining the “Clear” state will eliminate illness.

Recently there has been a spate of exposés of Scientology, ably reviewed by Jim Lippard on eSkeptic. They offer some shocking revelations. Defectors from Scientology have described kidnappings, deliberate lying, unnecessary deaths, human trafficking, thought control (“brainwashing”), coercion, violations of labor standards, violations of human and civil rights, and other crimes. Scientology has been protected from prosecution by its designation as a religion and its vast wealth and influence; but if even a fraction of these accusations are true, Scientology has much to answer for.

Initially people are attracted to Scientology because it provides answers. Your problems are due to past experiences holding you back. Scientology can help you deal with those problems and the upper levels will reveal the secret of life itself.

Mark VIII E-Meter, from the Wikimedia Commons

Mark VIII E-Meter, from the Wikimedia Commons by Colliric

Members are audited with an E-Meter (similar to a lie detector) and one-on-one attention. The auditing process is similar to psychotherapy in that it encourages people to think about their problems and work to overcome them. In Scientology, ideas are not immaterial: they have weight and solidity. The E-Meter locates and discharges mental masses that are blocking the free flow of energy. Memories are blamed and traced back in time even into past lives. Patients keep repeating the details of the experience until they are drained of any emotional charge. Once the painful experiences and associations are drained off, there are astonishing results: asthma, headaches, arthritis, menstrual cramps, astigmatism, and ulcers simply disappear. The reactive mind is replaced by the rational mind. In one case a boy’s IQ supposedly rose from 83 to 212.

Scientology believes no memory is ever erased: every sound and smell can be completely recaptured. Even prenatal memories and past life memories remain. The fetus remembers if the mother attempted to abort it and develops psychological problems because it knows it is living with murderers. Cells are sentient and remember painful emotions. “Engrams” become a physical part of cellular structure, controlling behavior like a post-hypnotic suggestion. This understanding of memory is incompatible with current scientific knowledge.

Then there is a second stage of Scientology where people pay for ever more expensive classes, are indoctrinated into the mythology, progress up the church’s ladder of OT (Operating Thetan) levels, and may even join the elite Sea Org, signing a billion year contract.

The Scientology myth was originally a secret revealed only to those who reached the OT III level, but it is now public knowledge. The universe began 4 quadrillion years ago. Evil lord Xenu and his psychiatrist co-conspirators froze individuals (thetans), sent them to the planet Earth, dropped them into volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Freed from their bodies, the thetans were trapped in an electronic ribbon and subjected to brainwashing with a colossal motion picture device which implanted them with all the world religions. Free-floating thetans attach themselves to living people, as many as millions of them in a single body. These “body thetans” have to be eliminated to achieve spiritual progress. If not cleared by Scientology, these thetans will blow themselves up and destroy civilization as they have done many times before. Only Scientology can save humanity from the cycle of self-destruction.

We are all thetans (Scientology’s term for the soul), immortal spiritual beings that are incarnated in innumerable lifetimes. Auditing is not just to resolve psychological problems but to “recall to the thetan his immortality and help him relinquish his self-imposed limitations” – to emancipate a person from the laws of matter, energy, space and time (MEST). Bored thetans had created MEST universes and then forgot they weren’t real.

When you become “clear” of body thetans, you have a flawless memory able to recall anything you have ever studied; are less susceptible to diseases; rarely have accidents; and are free of neuroses, compulsions, and psychosomatic illnesses. As you progress to the higher OT levels you will be able to levitate, travel through time, control the thoughts of others by telepathy, and have total command over the material universe. With these superhuman powers you can make a traffic light turn green or emit an electric shock that can put out someone’s eyes or cut him in half.

Only one problem: there never were any “clears.” Attempted demonstrations of these powers consistently failed. When auditing was independently tested, it failed (Hubbard claimed they didn’t do it right). Auditing may indeed help people, but its results have never been validated.

As in other cults, confession and re-education are used to control thought. Past lives provide misdeeds to confess. Instead of providing consolation, confession exploits vulnerabilities and steers people into thinking about their faults. The cult keeps its victims in a suggestible state and vigorously suppresses questions and doubts. Exit costs make the prospect of leaving more painful than staying.

Scientology was invented by a science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard. He was a liar, fantasist, bigamist, and adulterer; charismatic, vindictive, with sexual and psychological problems that he revealed in the Affirmations, a secret memoir which the church now claims is a forgery. One ex-lover described him as manic-depressive with paranoid tendencies and delusions of grandeur. At one point, concerned that divorce would hurt his reputation, he proposed that if his wife really loved him, she should kill herself.

Hubbard began to develop his ideas in Dianetics, a book that Nobel physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi said “probably contains more promises and less evidence per page than has any publication since the invention of printing.” The book empowered people to become practitioners themselves. Hubbard said, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.” A religion could maintain control of devotees permanently with a series of veiled revelations and levels.

Scientology discourages any use of medication. Pain and other symptoms are treated by “Assists.” For the Contact Assist you repeatedly press the injured part of the body against the object that hurt it until the pain goes away. There is also the Touch Assist; one person who was treated as a child said her mother wouldn’t stop prodding her with a finger until she said she felt better. So of course she said she did. John Travolta once did an Assist on Marlon Brando at a party; he touched Brando’s leg, both closed their eyes, and Brando said it helped.

Assists can supposedly awaken unconscious persons, eliminate boils, reduce earaches and back pain, and make a drunk sober.

At age 7, Jenna Miscavige was assigned the post of Medical Liaison Officer, responsible for treating sick children and providing vitamins to the healthy. Scientology allowed vaccinations but didn’t permit the use of medicine for the treatment of pain or fever. The church doesn’t believe in comforting children, believing they are adults in young bodies and can handle pain like an adult.

Hubbard chastised subordinates for wearing eyeglasses, tried to convince them they could see without them, and said needing them was a transgression against Scientology.

OTs should not have accidents and illnesses; when one woman developed a cold sore, she was consigned to a condition of Treason.

Hubbard had his own (untrained) medical officer. He was afraid of doctors. When a motorcycle accident left him in severe pain from broken ribs and other injuries, he refused to go to the hospital and even refused pain pills, complaining that they slowed down his heart.

Operating Thetans supposedly didn’t get sick, but L. Ron Hubbard had poor hearing, poor vision, was obese, and had numerous physical and psychological problems. His lame excuse was that he was at such a high level he couldn’t get down to the power level of a body. When he died following a stroke, they said that he didn’t die, but intentionally dropped his body to move on to a higher level of existence. He is expected to return some day. Every Scientology facility maintains an office furnished exactly as he liked, even down to a pair of slippers.

Hubbard theorized that one wealthy Scientologist was not making progress because he had taken LSD and it must still be in his system. He put him to work swabbing the decks on the Sea Org ship to sweat it out of his system. That was the beginning of the Scientology drug treatment program, Narconon.

A fundamental feature of Narconon is the Purification Rundown, a 3 week program to eliminate toxins. Patients spend up to 8 hours a day in a sauna; they exercise and take massive doses of vitamins, especially niacin. Niacin causes skin flushing and tingling sensations which they interpret as evidence of toxins being purged. One woman said Novocaine from previous dental work began to surface and her mouth went numb for 90 minutes.

Psychotic episodes were treated with the Introspection Rundown: solitary confinement, vitamins, calcium and magnesium. 1995 Lisa McPherson suffered a mental breakdown and died following 17 days of this treatment under guard in a Florida hotel. She lapsed into a coma and died en route to a hospital where there was a doctor affiliated with the church (the ambulance bypassed several closer hospitals). Church officials lied in sworn statements to police, claiming that she hadn’t been subject to an Introspection Rundown. A defector later confessed that he had destroyed incriminating documents. The medical examiner determined that the cause of death was a pulmonary embolus: a clot had formed due to the worst case of dehydration she had ever seen, following 5 days without any liquids. Church lawyers pressured her attorney, threatening a legal battle, and she changed her ruling to say the death was “accidental.” Shortly thereafter she retired and became a recluse.

One former Sea Org member said he went psychotic on OT III. He said he lost his sense of identity when he found out that thousands of individual alien beings were struggling for control of his body, trying to give him cancer or drive him insane.

One auditor was declared a “Suppressive Person” and had a nervous breakdown. Instead of treatment he was punished and made to do manual labor. He escaped, killed his wife, and committed suicide.

Anyone who questions Scientology doctrine is sent to RPF (Rehabilitation Project Force). There they are subjected to terrible living conditions and an inadequate diet, and are made to do manual labor; it has been compared to the prison camps of the Soviet Gulag. One Sea Org man was forced to shovel up asbestos in a renovation project with no protective gear, not even a mask. A woman was made to weld without protective glasses; she burned her eyes and got no medical attention at all. A severely handicapped MS patient who was unable to talk was sent to RPF.

Medical treatment is often cruel and inadequate. A woman who had incapacitating migraines kept auditing herself on the E-Meter in lieu of treatment, because she felt responsible for her pain. A little deaf mute girl was isolated in the Sea Org ship’s chain locker for a week because Hubbard thought it might cure her deafness. Yvonne Gillham, a Sea Org member, died of a brain tumor that would have been operable with earlier diagnosis. She blamed herself for her symptoms and refused to take pain meds because it might interfere with her auditing.

Scientologists are persuaded to wean themselves off any medications. John Travolta’s son was taken off his seizure meds, which may have contributed to his death. A young man taking Lexapro was labeled as a drug addict and his father was ordered to lock his son’s Lexapro in the trunk of his car. The patient killed himself with his father’s pistol. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Brooke Shields got through post-partum depression with the help of antidepressants. Tom Cruise erupted with fury on a talk show, dissing psychiatry and saying she should have treated her depression with diet and exercise.

Despite their aversion to prescription drugs, Scientologists are curiously gullible about alternative medicine. John Travolta is enthusiastic about bee pollen. David Miscavige, the current president, follows the Blood Type Diet and takes his personal chiropractor along when he travels. Hubbard invented Dianazene, a mixture of nicotinic acid and vitamins taken daily with milk and chocolate to cure cancer and sunburns. He recommended a baby formula of boiled barley and corn syrup that he picked up in Roman days in a former lifetime. He was fanatical about taking vitamins.

Hubbard blamed psychiatrists for helping Xenu commit genocide 5 billion years ago. Scientologists hold psychiatrists responsible for modern wars, racism, ethnic cleansing, and terrorism, including the Holocaust, apartheid, and 9/11. Hubbard called psychiatry the sole cause of decline in the universe. He said if psychiatrists “had the power to torture and kill everyone, they would do so…they are psychotic criminals…” He accused them of trying to institute world government by manipulating human behavior. Scientologists accused Osama bin Laden’s deputy, a “psychiatrist,” (actually a general surgeon) of controlling his thoughts. Another “psychiatrist” who allegedly masterminded the Madrid train bombings was actually a used-car salesman who had nothing to do with the incident. Scientology maintains the exhibit “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” in Hollywood, featuring errors of psychiatry like madhouses, lobotomies, electric shock, and drugs for spurious diagnoses. Scientology aims to eliminate psychiatry in all its forms, claiming that no mental diseases have ever been proven to exist.

When TIME magazine criticized Scientology, they claimed Eli Lilly had ordered the article in retribution for the damage Scientology had caused to their “killer drug Prozac,” which supposedly causes people to commit mass murder and suicide.

Scientology lobbyists even got legislation passed in Florida that would hold schoolteachers criminally liable for just suggesting to parents that kids might have a mental health condition such as ADD. Fortunately the governor vetoed it.

Hubbard claimed to have obtained a perfect understanding of human nature by self-examination and to have an exact science. Nonsense! There is no science in Scientology. Crispian Jago has created The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense: overlapping circles for quackery bollocks, religious bollocks, pseudoscientific bollocks, and paranormal bollocks; he put Scientology at the center where all these overlap. I agree: that’s exactly where it belongs.

Note: My source for much of this information is Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. Further details and full references can be found in the book.





  • Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so),  and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel.  In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.

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Posted by Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so),  and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel.  In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.