Scientology termed 'destructive cult'

The Oregonian/July 27, 1979
By John Painter Jr.

Scientology exercises are extremely dangerous and specifically designed to tear apart the fabric of the mind, a professor of clinical psychiatry from the Harvard University Medical School testified Thursday.

Dr. John Gordon Clark Jr., who also is a neurologist, labeled Scientology a "destructive cult" and said its procedures caused plaintiff Julie Christofferson Tictchbourne to develop the mental condition of dissociation, a dramatic narrowing of a person's consciousness.

Clark's testimony followed that of Margaret Thaler Singer, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, who testified that Mrs. Titchbourne was suffering from a stress syndrome that has impaired her recall, use of language and concentration.

Both appeared as plaintiff's witnesses in the Multnomah County Circuit Court trial of Mrs. Titchbourne's multimillion-dollar damage suit against three Scientology organizations and four Scientologists. Her complaint alleges that the defendants deceived her, committed fraud and exhibited outrageous conduct.

In discussing Scientology and its practices, Clark said its exercises were "utterly mutilating to a person's mind," He added "Taken to its extreme, you can teach someone to kill."

Ms. Singer said Mrs. Titchbourne suffered from an "emotional numbness" similar to that suffered by other members of "coercive, high-pressure, mind-control cults."

She said the plaintiff suffered periods of dissociation and hallucination, and because of Scientology's "repartenting and behavior reconstruction," slipped into low-level trances that the witness characterized as "trancing out."

Clark said the techniques used in Scientology produced results similar to a Rev. Billy Graham revival meeting where people hit the "sawdust trail," but with one significant exception.

After the revival, people were allowed to go home and sleep, awakening in a normal state the next morning. Scientology, he said, "didn't let it go."

Mrs. Titchbourne's experience was not atypical, Ms. Singer said, explaining that she is studying cults and their impacts on young people. She said she had interviewed 405 present or former cult members in her research.

Current cults have sophisticated recruitment techniques, she said. She said she found no special maladjustment in the cultists she interviewed. It was not a deficiency in the young people, but the slick recruitment techniques that resulted in young people joining cults, she said.

And, she testified, young people with middle and upper class backgrounds were particularly vulnerable because they weren't "street wise" and were more open to the refined approaches developed by cults.

Ms. Singer said Scientology and other modern cults had a number of similar characteristics. Among them:

  • A self appointed, charismatic, determined leader.
  • Group veneration directed toward leader.
  • A double set of ethics - honesty within the organization, dishonesty without.
  • Authoritarian structure.
  • Dual goals of fund raising and gaining recruits, rather than the more altruistic goal of bettering society.

Ms. Singer testified that cults varied in their procedures but produced similar ends. Recruits are cut off from family and friends, isolated from their histories, persuaded to reject their pasts, trapped in a strange language and pushed into feeling ever-increasing guilt, she said.

The psychologist said she did not know how long Mrs. Titchbourne's symptoms would last, but that similar problems persisted in clergymen imprisoned in China and prisoners of war in Korea for as long as five years after her original study of them. She said she could not estimate whether Mrs. Titchbourne had suffered permanent impairment.

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