I picked up Dianetics in an effort to understand more about American religions. Did I read all 500+ pages? Was I thoroughly fascinated? Am I ready for...moreI picked up Dianetics in an effort to understand more about American religions. Did I read all 500+ pages? Was I thoroughly fascinated? Am I ready for my e-meter reading? Yes, yes, and no.
This review is mostly about the rhetoric of scientology and why (in my opinion) it is so persuasive.
The actual book looks like a cross between a scientific reference book and scripture. The layout allows for quick reading and contains a glossary of terms and a short section on Dianetics and L. Ron in the news. The books boasts about its spot on the NY Times bestseller list. The book promises that Scientology is eclipsing the known world, converts are pouring in, and that science is confirming every aspect of Dianetics.
The book is written in a scientific style. Terms are presented, defined, and then used in examples. Half of the book is an explanation of the scientific background for Dianetics and then second half is a manual for auditing (a type of therapy). As a self-contained work, L. Ron is very convincing. He is a master of rhetoric, appealing to both the intellect and the emotion. At the end of the book, one feels that L. Ron has explained life in a revolutionary way. You feel equipped to embark on a career as an auditor. Mr. Hubbard constantly urges readers to "get busy and build a better bridge." The tone is uplifting throughout, promotes peace (there is never "justification for war"), and focuses on the good derived from obtaining "release" and becoming "clear." The "Auditor's Code" pleads that auditors not judge their applicants, listen thoroughly, not diminish emotional experience, express kindness. The book uses lots of power words, like: war, voyage, chaos, fundamentals. Everything is focused on the emotional experience of the individual. Every problem (from the common cold to bad eyesight) (there is "no national problem in the world today which cannot be resolved by reason alone" - presumably the reason of Dianetics) is overcome through Dianetics.
Although the idea of engrams is interesting, it has not been confirmed scientifically, despite the repetitive insistence to the contrary from Scientology. Engrams are just the beginning of Mr. Hubbard's inventions. Just as there is no outside, third-party evidence for transubstantiation, the law of attraction, or that native Americans are really Israelites. The religious have their internal, spiritual confirmations on each of these "facts" but there is no real world analogue. For my part, I'm skeptical that these are manipulations for praise and profit.
Despite the science, the uplifting tone, and purported emotional peace, I felt that Mr. Hubbard was thoroughly manipulating me. In my opinion, our mental and emotional lives are too complex for science. Religion rushes in to fill those gaps. And the fragility of our emotional lives can lead us to believe in things that are not true, rational, or just. In other words, we are wide open to manipulation and our minds too readily dwell in bias. As discussed in Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman, our minds search for a unified explanation of the world, cherry pick evidence, and reject contradictions. Overcoming these manipulations requires deeper thinking, comparing our ideas/values/religious ideas to reality and conflicting information, and identification of methods of manipulation and bias.
One common method of manipulation is maintaining a closed system. All religions reject information from outside sources. They have the same screed: society hates us because we have the truth, they reject and defame our prophets/leaders, you can't rely on their information. So as a religious convert, you are stuck reading the material sold at your church's bookstore. From the Scientology perspective, they offer a myriad of texts. One can obtain a doctorate in Dianetics. And judging from reviews of Dianetics, there are some extraordinary intelligent people invested in the cause. Dianetics states that it is based on "considerable research" and is scientific fact, not a theory, and is as "real a discovery as gravity." (Page 192). Throughout the book, Mr. Hubbard insists that it is based on scientific research but there is never a footnote.
A Scientologist can claim that Scientology is good and wholesome, there is nothing destructive or hateful about it (I could almost agree). And whether you believe it as absolute truth doesn't matter; just look at the good that it does/can do in the world. They could urge you to focus on the positive aspects -- just see the many testimonials, the charitable work, and the magnificent buildings (pictures in the back). A Scientologist friend urged me to keep reading more, keep investigating, open my mind and heart, and it will eventually become clear (no pun intended). But I am troubled by the lack of third-party evidence, the allegations of leader worship and abuse, of high financial contributions, and the thorough defamation of members turned detractors. Scientology, as with all religions, seek the emotionally vulnerable, make a convincing internal arguments, create systematic distrust in the outside world, and require absolute obedience and high financial contributions. Whether this good is worth the high cost, is up to the individual.(less)