Scientology under the Christmas Tree

In order to ward off apparently imminent bankruptcy, the sect is advertising books as Christmas presents.

Berlin, Germany/November 23, 2000
By Jochen Foerster

The Christmas season is book-buying season. Ideal for publishers and book dealers to advertise in grand style the best-sellers of the season, new books or Christmas stories as the ideal present for under the Christmas tree.

Scientology has now also apparently made this insight its own. On poster surfaces in the major European cities, the notorious sect group has been mass advertising one of its founder's works for days - L. Ron Hubbard's "The Fundamentals of Thought."

The name of the sect itself is not to be found on the posters other than on the book covers; instead there is a quote by Hubbard who is honored by the powerful US group as a bringer of salvation, "It doesn't matter where you're going. What matters is how you get there." The line does not allude to the positioning of the cadre-like organization and to spiritual torture in Scientology, it is also symptomatic for the new advertising strategy: if Scientology had first established itself in Germany mostly by recruiting pedestrians, now the sect is using ever more perfidious tactics - according to press reports, adherents are placed in restaurants, seniors homes, driving school and even kindergartens; in Hamburg establishments are disguised as exhibits and film demonstrations.

With solid success to be sure, one compares today's membership figures with those in the USA, where Hollywood stars like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman are among Scientology's supporters, where the power of the sect supposedly extends to the uppermost circles of government and their private intelligence services recruits an abundance of volunteers for the so-called "Purification Rundown."

Microsoft has recently even published free software to delete a component of its Windows 2000 system - it had been learned that a company managed by Scientologists had produced the program.

The current poster campaign, according to experts, is not just part of the attempt to find a subtler form of advertisement.

What's at stake is commercial survival of the German branch. According to community and church sect commissioners, the organization is suffering under heavily dwindling membership and is also headed for bankruptcy. "Financially, the organization is doing very poorly," says Hamburg's Scientology commissioner Ursula Caberta.

The end of Scientology Deutschland is not in the foreseeable future, said Berlin's Evangelical sect commissioner Thomas Gandow, "The organization has been declared dead before. But then it comes back all the more radical."

The post campaign is not illegal - the organization may advertise as anybody else according to law. Which is also what annoys the poster marketing company, "Scientology is not banned in Germany. We may not act as censor," said its spokesman Andreas Schaefer.

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