Another answer to this question is: A cult of course!
The ‘Church’ of Scientology would; unsurprisingly; claim that Scientology is a ‘religion’. Though for the more empirically minded reader identifying the distinction between a cult and a religion, might not be straightforward. Scientology however is no longer represented only by the ‘Church’ of Scientology; it has become, just one of an increasing number of factions, though it is arguably the largest. For many years groups have broken away from the ‘church’, or have been ejected and created a separate identity.
Those that leave or are ejected from the church of Scientology fall into two broad categories: those who see the light, realise it was a scam all along cut there losses and start a new life in the cold light of day, and the ‘true believers’, who cling to the idea that the church has lost it‘s way and that it has abandoned the essence of ‘true’ Scientology. The first category is by far the largest, and I wish them well on the new pathways their lives take them along. It would be reasonable to argue that this group should be as interesting to the anti-cultist as the other. Unfortunately, I find the other group far more interesting.
The other group, the die hard believers, fascinate me, the people that: despite the fraud and outrageous behaviour of the ‘church’ of scientology, the racist, sexist and eugenic ideology of the cults founder Hubbard, and their own treatment at the hands of the ‘church’ of scientology and many other factors, continue to believe Hubbard was Ok and that his Scientology is the salvation of mankind. It is tempting to imagine that the really interesting question is: Why? Why do these people continue to put their faith in what to others seems a broken and bankrupt ideology?
To my mind however the answer to this question is straightforward. Those who have invested money and time and effort into any enterprise are unlikely just to walk away from that enterprise. For one thing, people who invest strongly in something want to see a return on that investment, and if tangible rewards are not evident they will at the very least identify intangible rewards, and at worst invent both tangible and intangible rewards to justify their investment. That other people can’t see the reward is irrelevant to the investor, it is real to them.
A second thing to consider is that those that invest in something, do so for a reason, the perceived reward is identified as fulfilling a need for the investor. The simple example is paid work, the need is for funds to do other things, the investment is in time and effort on the identified task, the reward is the desired funds. For most real people and situations however there are also other factors involved: such as job satisfaction and vocation, family history (A lot of police for instance are the children of police, sons follow fathers into the armed forces, I have met at least two fourth generation midwifes). This is equally true with religion, though if anything the ‘investment‘, is often of a different order.
Part of the dynamics of this is familiarity, human beings predominantly like things to be predictable, in that predictability is safety. Most people like tomorrow to be fairly similar to today, with an acceptable level of variety thrown in to prevent boredom setting in: for want of a better description, a predictable level of unpredictability is desirable. A much stronger dynamic however is attachment: by this I specifically mean Attachment theory, the need of a child, for a strong loving bond with its care giver, usually mother but also a permanent mother substitute. For the interested reader; Google John Bowlby and attachment theory, if you want to know more.
In the context of this discussion however attachment, or rather failed, broken or damaged attachments are important. There are many reasons why an individual might reject the lifestyle of a parent, some of these represent a good attachment, e.g. ‘don’t make the mistakes I did son,’ or, ‘You don’t have to follow my path, carve out your own.’ Those with failed broken or damaged attachments however are vulnerable to organisations such as cults. One thing a cult (and established religions to a lesser extent) and the charismatic leader in particular exploit, is a failed, broken or damaged attachment with an offer of an idealised replacement attachment.
This replacement attachment is facilitated by activities such as love bombing, (Not a tactic exclusive to Scientology) and idealised by the cult to the point of deification of the charismatic leader. This is not to say that this is the only reason people join cults, for example many would be attracted by a sense of shared purpose in a community effort to try and make the world a better place. Something that charismatic leaders exploit by appearing to offer. Not all people who join cults will do so because of a broken attachment, but a proportion of those who join do so for this reason.
It is possible that the die hard believers who will rehabilitate a charismatic leader no matter what belong to this group. This idealised attachment is socially untenable, it may persist for many years, particularly if actual contact with the charismatic leader is managed carefully, (which lets face it almost always is,) and their more unpleasant traits obscured, hidden or explained away. Because it is unrealistic however, at some point a crisis will occur and the charismatic leader is revealed for who they really are, sometimes this crisis occurs for an entire group, more often for individuals, or smaller sub-groups within the cult.
This crisis can have many possible outcomes but there are identifiable dynamics or themes: for one thing many disenchanted realise their mistake and leave, making a new life away from the cult, repudiating its ideology and beliefs. For some the failings of the leader may be rationalised away, e.g. a mortal failing of a god trapped in a human form. Or that the failing is not the fault of the leader but of those in his or her inner circle. For others the leader will be seen as corrupted, not the man/woman they once were, and even as an impostor.
Sometimes the leader of a cult will recognise that this is happening, and pre-empt the issue, some cult leaders offer up simple though brutal solutions, for Jim Jones it precipitated a massacre of his followers, and his own suicide, for David Koresh a confrontation with the evil outsiders, in the guise of the ATF.
For some cults the solutions often become complex, for example with cultures of fear a leader can instil a ‘false loyalty’, where different dissident groups work hard to appear as loyal as any other member of the group. This is best seen in political cults, which have the same fanatical element as religious ones, but which are often significantly larger in terms of followers and systemic power. In situations such as existed in the Nazi party towards the end of WWII, where most party members paid Hitler lip service, but were almost to a man looking for an escape rout. Those surrounding Stalin in soviet Russia were in a similar position. In each of these cases however the culture of fear was maintained by a ‘loyal inner circle’. In this mix there are those who physically leave a cult, but their mind remains in thrall to their own idealised image of the charismatic leader, they have invested to fulfil their need for a replacement attachment.
Sometimes the leader is dropped by the individual or sub-group, but the investment in the ideology remains; this can sometimes take the form of returning to those they feel inspired the leader, the source of the ideology. Sometimes, especially if the leader has become reclusive, breakaway groups re-habilitate the leader, by assuming he/she is dead or otherwise incapacitated and that the message is being corrupted by evil people in the leader’s inner circle. This is often a potent message as there are many examples in history where leaders of various kinds can be said to have been badly represented by their inner circle, so for the ex-cult member this idea has a lot of currency. I wonder where we might find supportive evidence for this.
Well I can think of One poster on ARS that would fit this description of an ex cult member at least. The posts of this particular poster, username of Roadrunner, who currently claims to have ‘retired’ are littered with examples of posts where absolutely nothing of what Hubbard said can be interpreted in any way other than positively, and cannot be understood in any different way. Comments by Hubbard which are blatantly racist, sexist or plain false have to be interpreted as true, and statements with a very obvious distasteful interpretation, must be explained away as referring to ‘primitive cultures’ rather than concerned with race, as if that made Hubbard’s comments any more unpleasant.