Scientology the cult of disbelief

The Daily Telegraph, UK/July 11, 2007
By Michelle Cazzulino

Arthur and Lawana Beals knew their son Gary was in trouble. He had been tormented for years by voices in his head but he had always shunned their advice to seek psychiatric care.

On March 15, 1989, the 32-year-old broke. Grabbing a butcher knife, he stabbed Lawana before turning the knife on Arthur.

Bleeding from her injuries, Mrs Beals tried to defend her husband before fleeing the house and calling police. Arthur Beals was dead by the time authorities arrived.

Three years later, Beals, having pled "guilty but mentally ill" to manslaughter, appeared before a parole board hearing where he blamed his religious affiliation for his actions leading up to the murder.

Beals said he had been advised by the Church of Scientology against seeking therapy. According to him, the organisation's members talked him out of accessing psychological help while "bleeding dry" his bank accounts.

"If I wouldn't have got involved with Scientology, I wouldn't have committed this crime," he said.

After Beals' remarks were published by the Salt Lake Tribune, the response from the Church of Scientology was swift and scathing. In a letter to the editor, the Church of Scientology's executive director Joava Good pointed out that the Parole Board had subsequently rejected Beals' appeal and claimed his statements relating to the church were "baseless and false".

"The church was never an issue in his prosecution or sentencing," she said.

In Sydney, the church's practitioners are again on the defensive about its teachings after it was claimed that a 25-year-old woman accused of murdering her father and sister and critically injuring her mother last Thursday had been forced to stop taking psychiatric drugs because of her family's belief in Scientology.

Australian Church of Scientology vice-president Cyrus Brooks told ABC Radio any link was a "bit of a red herring", although he continued to reject the notion that anti-psychotic drugs could be beneficial to a person suffering from mental illness.

"True therapy would enable a person to find out for himself the source of his troubles and give him the ability to improve conditions in his own life and relationships and environment," he said.

Other high-profile Scientologists are equally steadfast. In 2005, Tom Cruise denounced psychiatric medicine, describing it as "pseudo science" and became embroiled in a stoush with Brooke Shields after he criticised the actress for using anti-depressants.

Singer Kate Ceberano has described Prozac as "the scourge of this planet" and has been outspoken about the need to stop prescribing such drugs to children: "We . . . believe psychiatry kills. And I think it does - it kills the mind and kills self-determinism and kills the right for a person to be an identity."

Such views have seen the church criticised as a "dangerous brainwashing cult" and a blend of "sci-fi mumbo jumbo".

Among the teachings of its founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard, was the claim that a galactic dictator named Xenu, who lived approximately 75 million years ago, tricked billions of aliens into travelling to Earth (Teegeeack) where he blew them up with hydrogen bombs.

The aliens' souls (thetans) were caught by Xenu who forced them into cinemas to watch a series of movies that included elements of Christianity and psychiatry.

The thetans then cursed the bodies of the survivors. The only way one can become clear of thetans is through the Church of Scientology.

This version of events may have its detractors but it has also attracted millions of members worldwide, with reported revenues in excess of $400 million and assets totalling more than $500 million.

The Church has put the money to use defending its reputation - in 1991, Time magazine ran a cover story describing the church as "The Cult Of Greed", prompting its members to launch a $416 million libel suit. The Church was unable to prove its allegations.

For people like Brain and Mind Institute executive director Professor Ian Hickey, it's the church's inability to prove its claims about psychiatric drugs that's most troubling.

"Those who are at greatest risk are those who may not be able to make judgments for themselves and may rely on this information," he said.

"It's outdated, highly stigmatised, highly prejudicial advice that basically trades on people's fear of psychiatric illness."

His arguments were echoed by Sydney University Professor Chris Tennant, who went on Sydney radio yesterday morning to refute Cyrus Brooks's claims.

Mr Tennant urged people to think twice before adhering to the church's teachings: "It's a tragedy to hear this mumbo jumbo being proselytised by this group," he said.

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