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Thursday, June 30, 2005
Tom Cruise's Latest Meltdown Leads to a Serious Look at Scientology
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you have likely heard about Tom Cruise's latest televised meltdown, in which he strongly and almost menacingly disagreed with Today Show host Matt Lauer about the benefits and risks of psychiatric drugs and the mental health field in general, which Cruise is strongly against as a member of the Church of Scientology.
Cruise's position on the matter first drew public attention when he said that it was "dangerous and irresponsible" for Brooke Shields to take a prescription anti-depressant and see a psychiatrist after she was diagnosed with a severe case of postpartum depression following the recent birth of her child. Postpartum depression is a very real and very serious medical condition that has led to the death of many new mothers, which is what made it so galling to much of the American public for Cruise to be offering his unsolicited advice on what Brooke Shields or anyone else should or shouldn't be doing to manage their own personal health.
A Basic Summary of What Cruise Said in the Interview
It was when this subject was brought up by Matt Lauer on The Today Show that Cruise's demeanor changed and the conversation became heated. Here's a brief summary of the interview in the form of excerpts from the Washington Post:
"Anybody who watched the actor's performance on NBC's Today Show witnessed an unsettling transformation. The movie star, who has long embraced Scientology, launched a full-bore assault on the psychiatric profession, sticking to a script that his church has been promoting for decades. Cruise looked like a man possessed, leaning insistently forward in his chair, hammering Lauer when the host suggested that some people were actually, you know, helped when doctors prescribed psychiatric drugs. Lauer sparred with Cruise specifically over whether it made sense for Brooke Shields to have sought therapy and taken antidepressants for postpartum depression -- a decision that Cruise had previously criticized.
Forget medical research: "There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in a body," said Cruise, who prescribed vitamins and exercise for depression. "The thing that I'm saying about Brooke is that there's misinformation, okay? And she doesn't understand the history of psychiatry. She -- she doesn't understand, in the same way that you don't understand it, Matt."
"Psychiatry is a pseudoscience," he told host Matt Lauer, later saying: "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."
And the meltdown continued: "Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, you don't even -- you're glib. You don't even know what Ritalin is," Cruise said. "If you start talking about chemical imbalance, there's no such thing as a chemical imbalance. You have to evaluate and read the research papers on how they came up with these theories, Matt, okay? That's what I've done."
Lauer called Cruise's command of the subject "impressive," but noted, "I'm not prescribing Ritalin, Tom. . . . I'm simply saying I know some people who have been helped by it."
At one point, Lauer seemed fed up: "You're telling me that your experiences with the people I know, which are zero, are more important than my experiences. . . . And I'm telling you, I've lived with these people and they're better."
Cruise then accused Lauer of advocating Ritalin."
What Cruise Said That is True, and What He's Overlooking
Is Tom Cruise correct in his statement that psychiatric drugs are prescribed far too often? Absolutely. Prescription drugs in general are prescribed too often, and it's a serious problem. If that were all Cruise was saying, I would have no problem with that statement, and neither would most people. What most people have a problem with is the fact that Cruise takes it a step further by echoing the teachings of the Church of Scientology and saying that people should not seek or obtain any therapy or medication for any mental health reason, period.
While it's an accurate statement that psychiatric drugs are prescribed far too often (especially to children), it would be intellectually dishonest for Cruise or anyone else to make that statement without also acknowledging the equally huge problem of people who don't seek any form of help for mental health-related problems. The majority of people with depression, bi-polar disorder, or other mental health problems never seek help, and many of them end up dead as a result.
In fact, if everyone in the world who suffers from a mental disorder were to take Tom Cruise's advice and not seek any form of therapy or take any medication for it, people would die as a result. One of the most in-depth articles that I have seen on this particular aspect of the story was written by columnist Ken Braiterman and published this week in the New Hampshire Union-Record. Here are some brief excerpts from the article (accessed via Google News):
"Tom Cruise's irresponsible, ideology-based denunciation of psychiatric medicine could actually kill somebody. Is he suggesting that people with mental illness should think themselves well or die trying? ... Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression are life-threatening illnesses. Ten percent of people with schizophrenia, 15 percent with bipolar disorder, and 20 percent with major depression commit suicide. These percentages do not include people who were never diagnosed because they never sought help, people who kill themselves one day at a time through substance abuse, or people who die in preventable accidents because the illness has impaired their judgment ...
Should we as a nation waste those lives because of an ideology Tom Cruise learned from Scientology? Where this discussion becomes a matter of life and death for some people is when a group like the Church of Scientology claims it has a mental discipline that will enable people to stop taking their medicine, or not seek treatment. The implied message is that if you are taking medicine you are not as good and strong as you can be. This is pure stigma. Encouraging people to stop or avoid treatment can ruin their lives and families — or kill them."
Cruise Actually Serves as an Advertisement for Psychiatric Drugs
The most ironic thing about Tom Cruise's appearance on The Today Show is that he's a self-proclaimed expert on mental health, and yet he showed himself once again to be the exact opposite of a well-adjusted, mentally stable person. From jumping up and down on couches on The Oprah Winfrey Show in an attempt to prove that his relationship with Katie Holmes is not a publicity stunt; to laughing maniacally at anything Jay Leno or David Letterman said, as if they had just told the best joke of all time on his appearances on The Tonight Show and The Late Show; to losing his temper at the drop of a hat on The Today Show, Cruise has demonstrated that whatever he's currently doing for his own mental health is not working.
Author Pamela Wilson, a self-described advocate for children and families, took it a step further by writing on BellaOnline (accessed via Google News), "It could be that his outspoken behavior has a positive effect for families. He might have done more to advertise the prescription medications available for treatment... by his discussion with Matt Lauer than all the drug companies combined, especially if mothers recognize the symptoms that their children share with him, and discover one of those medications does benefit their son and daughter. Mothers take on enough responsibility, guilt, and stress without having to worry about what a movie star thinks about the choices they make in giving themselves and their children the best possible life."
The Church of Scientology's Long Battle with Psychiatry
It's easy to dismiss all of this as the rantings and ravings of an overzealous celebrity, but to actually take an in-depth and serious look at Scientology only raises more questions about the religion.
Scientology has been at odds with psychiatrists and psychologists since it was founded by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950's, as detailed in a lengthy article by Salon.com's Katharine Mieszkowski. Mieszkowski writes, "Scientologists have maintained that the very notion of mental illness is a fraud" because of the views of Hubbard, "who proclaimed that psychiatry was an evil enterprise, a form of terrorism, and the cause of crime."
In an article called "Today's Terrorism" published by Hubbard in 1969 and quoted in the Salon article, Hubbard wrote, "The psychiatrist and his front groups operate straight out of the terrorist textbooks. The Mafia looks like a convention of Sunday school teachers compared to these terrorist groups... The psychiatrist kidnaps, tortures and murders without any slightest police interference or action by western security forces."
In addition, the Washington Post reports that Hubbard wrote in an internal policy statement: "Our war has been forced to become to take over the field of mental healing on this planet in all forms." This kind of mentality was supported more recently in 1995 by the church's current leader, David Miscavige, who told the International Association of Scientologists in Copenhagen that the church's two main goals in the coming years were to "place Scientology at the absolute center of society and to eliminate psychiatry in all its forms."
Mark Plummer, who was a Scientologist for 14 years, further supports the notion that the organizers of Scientology want to eliminate the mental health field as we know it. Plummer told Salon's Mieszkowski, "Their goal is to take over entirely the field of mental health... Their beliefs stem from Hubbard's dogma that psychiatry is evil. Scientology teaches that psychiatry views people as 'meat bodies' without a spiritual aspect, and that Scientologists alone should be allowed to treat mental illnesses."
In addition, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which was founded by Hubbard in the late 1960's, states on its web site, "No mental diseases have ever been proven to medically exist." The CCHR's stated purpose is to "investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights." According to the Salon article, the CCHR's Los Angeles headquarters features an exhibit called Psychiatry Kills that "links psychiatry to Nazism, apartheid, and school violence... the shooting spree at Columbine High School is blamed in part on anger management classes that the shooters allegedly attended."
Mieszkowski's article also details what people are supposed to do if they are becoming a Scientologist and have ever taken a recreational or prescription drug in the past. According to the Scientology handbook, Answers to Drugs, purification treatments offered by the Church of Scientology include "sweating out drug residuals and other toxins by taking saunas and jogging," in addition to "taking the vitamin niacin, oils, and other minerals, a detoxification service which is available under expert supervision in Scientology organizations around the world."
So, Tom Cruise's radically anti-drug positions are not just the feelings of one celebrity. Cruise is merely echoing the teachings of Scientology. More than anything else, Cruise's positions on drugs are a symptom of what happens, and what myths are believed, when one takes the church's teachings on drugs at face value. For example, it should come as no surprise that Cruise recently said in an Entertainment Weekly interview that "the drug methadone was originally called Adolophine" because "it was named after Adolf Hitler," a statement that was refuted in the same article by Entertainment Weekly.
The Founding Text of Scientology
The founding text of Scientology is L. Ron Hubbard's book, "Dianetics." Many different versions of the book have been published over the years, but the core principles that Hubbard wrote about when the book was first published in 1950 are still many of the core principles of Scientology in 2005.
In another article in Salon's excellent and very in-depth multi-part series on Scientology, Laura Miller reviewed the original 700+ page book in an attempt to understand Hubbard's core beliefs. One of the basic underlying beliefs is that the human brain itself is "utterly incapable of error," but through thousands of times of being reincarnated in different bodies, flaws in the brain called "engrams" are soldered into the circuitry of the mind. Engrams, which are described as parasites, are supposedly created in the mind when one is unconscious and at the same time suffering from any kind of pain or fear.
One can only become a "clear" (which is an optimum individual devoid of any engrams) by cleansing one's self of all engrams through a process called "auditing," which is done with a help of a higher-level Scientologist using a device called an "E-Meter." The most significant engrams are supposedly created prenatally, starting with the moment of conception and continuing through the body's development in the womb as a fetus.
It is this specific theme that crops up throughout the book, and is what caused Miller to write that Hubbard himself appears to have been a "very disturbed man" who was "anything but clear of past traumas."
Miller writes of a "sad and scary narrative that must have had particular power for Hubbard," and which is a recurring theme throughout the book. The story that is revealed throughout the book in small pieces is that of a pregnant woman who tries to abort her pregnancy on her own, and of her husband who also tries to abort the baby by constantly punching his wife's pregnant stomach. The baby is still born, only to be physically and verbally abused by his mother as a child, and his grandmother takes care of him when the child becomes sick.
Miller writes that the book is "haunted" by the recurring theme of this "horrific tale," and that "you can glean a picture of Hubbard as a man wrestling with mental illness, who saw his mind as a potentially super-human machine beset by invaders and parasites."
Tom Cruise's Status in the Church of Scientology
Finally, in yet another extremely in-depth article, Salon's James Verini writes about the widespread belief among religious scholars that based on his recent statements and behavior, Tom Cruise has likely reached the level of "OT-VII," which is the second-highest rank in the Church of Scientology, behind only "OT-VIII." The "OT" is short for "Operating Thetan," the Scientology word for soul, followed by roman numerals indicating what level of "OT" someone in the church has achieved (with eight being the highest rank).
Cruise has been a Scientologist for approximately 20 years, but only recently has he started to make statements like this (from a German newspaper interview in April): "I myself have helped hundreds of people get off drugs. In Scientology, we have the only successful drug rehabilitation program in the world. If someone wants to get off drugs, I can help them. If someone wants to learn how to read, I can help them. If someone doesn't want to be a criminal anymore, I can give them tools that can better their life."
J. Gordon Melton, the author of "The Church of Scientology" and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in California told Salon, "In the OT levels,, you're finding out that you're a thetan, that you've come into bodies before. Part of what you're trying to learn is exteriorization, how to get out of your body. You also learn that you carry a lot of encumbrances from past lives." Melton also said that the number of people with OT-VII or OT-VIII ranks is only in the hundreds worldwide.
The Salon article also quotes Stephen Kent, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta in Canada who has written articles about Scientology and Hollywood. Kent says that Cruise's statements and behavior would seem to strongly indicate that he has reached OT-VII, and that the groundwork was laid for something like this to happen when L. Ron Hubbard issued specific instructions in the 1960's to recruit celebrities to the Scientology movement. Kent is quoted as saying in the Salon article, "There was a whole series of policies that talked about celebrities as opinion-makers. He (Hubbard) suggested to get celebrities on their way up or their way down. To get them on the way up meant that if they became famous, they might attribute their success to Scientology. On the way down meant that if their careers got saved they could do the same."
The article says that reaching the highest OT levels in the Church of Scientology would take one to three decades and would cost anywhere from $30,000 to several hundred thousand dollars, which would be a huge expenditure for the average person but is a relatively small amount of money for a movie star. A Scientologist cannot even reach the level of OT-I until he or she has been thoroughly "audited" and declared to be a "clear," as previously explained in the "Founding Text of Scientology" section of this article.
According to the Salon article, referencing a book that was released by the Church of Scientology, "Part or all of OT-VII and OT-VIII teachings must be performed in the church's headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, or aboard the Freewinds, a ship that houses parts of the church's upper management." It is also stated that even lower-level OT members are strongly encouraged to sign covenants of faith that are supposed to last for many lifetimes, with the typical duration of these contracts being one billion years (and you thought Brock Lesnar's six-year no-compete clause was extreme).
The Role of Aliens in High-Level Scientology Teachings
Where this gets much more bizarre and unbelievable is that according to the same Salon article by James Verini and a separate article by ABC News, in addition to countless other articles, members at the OT levels of Scientology are taught about the role of alien beings in the past, present, and future of the Earth.
Though they have leaked out en masse over the years (starting in the 1980's), these revelations are only taught by the church to members who are at a level of OT-III or higher. However, the church's official web site still talks about the concept of a "space opera" with the statement, "The space opera has space travel, spaceships, spacemen, intergalactic travel, wars, conflicts, other beings, civilizations and societies, and other planets and galaxies. It is not fiction and concerns actual incidents."
The ABC News article says the following about the teachings that start at the OT-III level: Members at this level and higher are taught "the story of Xenu, a galactic warlord from 75 million years ago, who buried billions of people from other planets in Earth's volcanoes. The souls of these space creatures constantly interfere with humans, and one of the missions of Scientology is to help shed these spirits."
Critics of Scientology point out that even if you believe every other aspect of the story, many of the specific volcanoes that Hubbard lists in the OT-III documents were only formed in the past 75 million years, and would not have even been in existence 75 million years ago.
If you want to get a better sense of just how bizarre the teachings are at the OT-III-and-higher levels of Scientology, there are numerous web sites devoted to the subject, from pro-Scientology, anti-Scientology, and neutral points of view. An actual manuscript of the specific teachings that start at the OT-III level can be found on this page in the section called, "Space Opera as Theology: Scientology's OT III."
A far more detailed listing of the OT-III documents can be found on this page. This link is to a web site created by Karin Spaink, who was sued by the Church of Scientology for being among the first to publish the OT-III documents. Spaink has emerged victorious in court multiple times, upholding her right to publish the documents. According to the Scientology teachings outlined on that page, someone at a higher OT level (which may include Tom Cruise) would supposedly be able to "act independently of his physical body, and could cause physical events to occur through sheer force of will... and would be capable of dismissing illness and psychological disorder in others at will."
Also, much more in-depth analysis of the world-view that emerges when people believe the teachings that begin at the OT-III level can be found on this page. While the Salon article quotes a scholar as saying that some Scientologists take the story of Xenu literally and others don't take it literally at all, the page at the above link says that taking it literally is not optional at the higher levels of Scientology: "In order for scn (Scientology) to 'work' at the upper levels, the person must accept the OT-III incident as a literal and factual matter. If the person does not experience the fragmented condition as a 'conscious and literal fact," or if he cannot accept Hubbard's interpretation of the psychological phenomena expected at this level, the person is labeled a 'bypassed case' and is sent back to re-do his lower levels."
A Single Statistic Can Cause a Lot of Credibility Damage
I had planned to publish the official Scientology response from Scientology.com to some of the issues discussed in this article, such as the church's views on psychiatry, but it's hard to take anything on the official Scientology web site too seriously once you have visited their "Statistics" section (which you can see here). It's one thing if an organization is going to say, "Our religious beliefs are different than yours," and I can certainly respect that, but it's another thing altogether to insult someone on a common-sense, statistical level that has nothing to do with religion.
To demonstrate the benefits of Scientology in getting people off of recreational drugs, or "street drugs," the Statistics page says that 38.5% of members did not use street drugs prior to joining the Church of Scientology. After joining the Church of the Scientology, 100% of members do not use street drugs currently. That's right... 100 percent.
Okay, that's a bit ridiculous, but maybe they just mean that the vast majority of members no longer use street drugs, which is a claim they could certainly make. Nope. Right after making the 100% claim, the web site actually goes out of its way to emphasize the point by saying, "In a drug-ridden culture, it is a fact that all Scientologists are drug-free."
I'm sorry, but that would be like if the Catholic church said, "No Catholic priest has ever molested a child, ever... not one... zero percent have done it, while one-hundred percent have not done it." In both cases, of course it's a very small percentage and of course you would hope that all members would adhere to the ideal of the church, but to actually come out and say, "It is a fact that all Scientologists are drug-free" shows a strong disconnect from reality that only serves to damage the credibility of anything else the church says.
In any case, what started as a simple article about Tom Cruise's latest public meltdown turned into much more for me, as I learned a lot more about Scientology than I ever thought I would. While I disagree with the vast majority of Scientology's teachings and find most of it to be unbelievable, I also want to stress that I respect everyone's right to believe whatever they want to believe, and I'm not trying to bash anyone's religion here. Unlike Tom Cruise, I'm not going to say that someone doesn't know what they're talking about just because they disagree with me.
Labels: Politics / Current Events Commentary
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