A Philosopher's Blog

Fraud, France & Scientology

Posted in Religion by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2009
A visitor to a Church of Scientology public in...
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A French court recently convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud. The church is still allowed to operate in France, but has been warned to stay on “the correct side of the law.”

The basis for this case is the fact that Scientologists use a electropsychometer or E-Meter, to “locate areas of spiritual duress or travail so they can be addressed and handled” and then (the plaintiffs claimed) try to sell vitamins and books to those “tested.” Obviously enough, there is no scientific evidence that this device does what it is alleged to do and hence it seems quite reasonable to regard this sort of behavior as fraudulent.

Not surprisingly, the Church is characterizing this ruling as being an Inquisition. This is, of course, hyperbole. Now, if Scientologists were being tortured and killed for their beliefs, then it would be like the Inquisition. Also, the church is not being persecuted because of its religious views. Rather, it was prosecuted for trying to sell people things using what certainly seems to be a  bogus machine.

While religions are generally granted a great deal of leeway in many countries, fraud and other misdeeds by churches are still crimes. The Church of Scientology certainly seems to be committing fraud and hence should be treated like anyone else.

Of course, the Scientologists might see themselves as being unfairly singled out. After all, churches routinely ask people for money and often imply that such giving will win favor from God. Since none of these churches can prove this claim or even that God exists, all that would seem to be fraud as well.

Of course, many of these folks are no doubt sincere in their beliefs. Hence, they are also deceiving themselves. From a moral standpoint, this does seem to be an important difference. After all, if I sell you a holy relic that I think is real and will really heal your H1N1, then I am not engaging in intentional deceit. I am just mistaken and making money from the fact that you are also mistaken. This is like selling medicine that is believed to work, yet actually does not.

But, if I am selling “holy relics” that I make myself and sell them to people believing that it is all bull, then I am engaging in fraud. This is because I know that what I am selling is not really what I claim it is and I am counting on people believing this deceit in order to make money.

So, if the Scientologists truly believe in their E-Meter and are sincerely trying to help people with their ills, then they would not be acting in an immoral way. However, if they know that the E-Meter is a hoax and are using it to push vitamins and such, then they are acting immorally.

Naturally, I am open to the possibility that the E-Meter works and that Scientology is true. I just need proof. As with divine healing, I’d be happy to help set up a properly controlled experiment to test the E-Meter. But, Tom Cruise would not be allowed to jump around on my couch during any testing. That would freak out my pets.



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  1. biomass2 said, on October 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

    “So, if the Scientologists truly believe in their E-Meter and are sincerely trying to help people with their ills, then they would not be acting in an immoral way. However, if they know that the E-Meter is a hoax and are using it to push vitamins and such, then they are acting immorally.”

    It would seen that the evidence brought in the case is important. To prove the difference between sincerity of belief and intentional immoral/fraudulent acts you get into the area of intent. Wisely, I believe, the French chose not to challenge the concept of the effectiveness of the “E-meter”, since that would be somewhat the equivalent of attacking Joseph Smith’s golden tablets of scripture. It would amount to striking at the heart of the faith.

    But Scientology apparently steps beyond that and, essentially, markets “add-ons”, not unlike the Catholic Church did in the Middle Ages. And apparently they use coercion to sell these extras–
    just as the Catholic Church did in the Middle Ages. The Church sold indulgences with the promise of some forgiveness of sins (implying that, if you didn’t pony up you’d spend a little more time being punished). We’re probably all familiar with Chaucer’s Pardoner (successfully) selling fake relics, promising they would bring riches to the purchaser, while preaching that “The love of money is the root of all evil” and making money off of endeavor.

    So the court attacked the Scientology equivalent of indulgences. From a news article:”. . . two women [testified] that the church harassed them to buy products including vitamins and enroll in classes.” I haven’t read anywhere that tell-tale e-mails have surfaced clearly showing the intent to defraud. That’s surprising since, in this day and age everyone incriminates him/herself on the web to some degree.

    The fact that France did not ban Scientology outright and fined the group less than a million bucks may be an indication that the government didn’t have a strong case. Or it may indicate that the powers of the religion were brought to bear and the religion’s powers proved triumphant. . . O, ye of little faith. . .

    The “church” doesn’t seem to have the membership they claim. If the essence of what they believe is truly fraudulent, they’ll simply wither on the vine like many other sects–though that process will likely take much, much longer (eons?) in the United States than elsewhere. 😦 Wait for the results of the Jessop trial. What took place at his compound all occured, as Krakauer would say, “Under the Banner of Heaven”. . . What happens there will say a lot about where we draw a meaningful line between religion and harebrained and sometimes dangerous eccentricity.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on October 28, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Someone had to do it.

    • biomass2 said, on October 28, 2009 at 3:29 pm

      Lord, lord, lord the burdens this man so cheerfully bears. . . the sacrifices he so readily accepts for his beliefs. He’s “fightin’ the fight”, “carrying [his] load”. He misses vacations where he can “romp and play”, but the fight is still to be fought. He’s on ” the playing field” not “out of the arena.” And the fight “really is “fun!” It’s “a blast.”

      He makes me feel so guilty, and weak, and unworthy.
      I don’t know whether to join his group or shoot myself.

      Add’l: At about :04 we find out that this is “Tom cruise Scientology Video (Original *Uncut*)” Note the cuts in the first 1:20 seconds at :40, 1:07, 1:18 and frequently throughout the rest of the piece. Likely a not-so-subtle tongue-in-cheek hint by the video’s creators that Cruise is also capable of minor time-shifts–one of the few powers he doesn’t ascribe to Scientology in this video. 🙂

  3. magus71 said, on October 28, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Though I believe that Scientology is a money making hoax created by a genius huxter–L Ron Hubbard– I think it gets a bad deal when compared to how other religions are treated. I remember that one televangalist used to send out “prayer cloths” with envelopes to send him back tithe money; and plenty of people did. He said that the cloth would be embued with healing powers as occurred in Acts 19:11-12. The same goes for Scientologies best known practionioner–Tom Cruise. I’m really not sure what he’s ever done that was so bad. He was voted the actor that people least would want as a friend. Hmmm. Everyone knew he was a Scientologist before he jumped on a couch. Seems jumping on counches brings a heavy sentence. Better to go rob banks.

    Let’s compare some of the beliefs of the Hindu religion to Scientology. According to Hindu belief, elephants stomp their feet, and that’s how thunder is generated. Maybe the poor pakiderms need some auditing.

    People should be free to believe in false religions–as long as their religion doesn’t require them to kill me. Even then, they can still believe but resist the urge to slay. And Scientology’s doing far less slaying than religion’s ultimate reaver: Islam.

    • biomass2 said, on October 28, 2009 at 5:14 pm

      “False” v. “true” religions. That’s so absolute. Black and white. And a bit presumptuous. Here are some suggestions.

      a/An “effectiveness scale”. Here church members can fill out an annual questionnaire to determine how satisfied they are with the perceived benefits they’ve received from their belief system during the previous year. Questions can deal with prayers answered, relative improvement of sense of well-being, results obtained per dollar tithed, etc. All answers on all questionairres not returned by individuals who died during the year will be recorded as zeroes.
      Most effective=10.

      b/ An historical “harmlessness” scale. Here the church that, over the centuries, has harmed the fewest people receives a ten. Here “harm” would be interpreted an its broadest sense to include physical, emotional, and spiritual wrongs. Irreversible judgments would be rendered by death panels appointed by a group of 1681 citizens ages 14 to 82 randomly chosen from all parts of the world. Low scores would be punished by utter destruction of the offending church and the massacre of its professed and suspected adherents.

      c/ A “wackiness” scale. Lowest scores would go to churches ascribing omniscient, omnipresent omnipotent traits to everyday objects like office staplers or salt shakers, or plasma TVs. Average and above-average scores would go to the most abstract benign force imaginable.

      Now for the hard part. (Note:The words “something(s)”,”it(s)”, “which”, ,”that” and “they” in the following paragraph are used in lieu of any word that can and will never be conceived or created by man or his creations in a vain attempt to name the unnameable.Oops. I’ve already made a vain attempt to label “it” (them) : “Unnameable”. My bad.

      The highest score(s) will be reserved for something that cannot ever be imagined. Something(s) the ways and means of which cannot be interpreted or misinterpreted for purposes good or evil. Something(s) so beyond man’s ken that it (they) cannot be revealed to man because even at its(their) most basic level it (they) cannot be reached by the mind of any living thing or anything springing forth therefrom.

      Afterthought. Likely if it/they are unnameable, it/they would possibly/probably/absolutely be innumerable. That would make the concept of pronoun number virtually meaningless. “Infinity” is a good word, but, though we cannot conceive of infinity we can conceive of a word(s) to represent infinity. Infinity, for example. But,as per the explanation above, there will never be a word to represent “it”/”them”. Only words to unsuccessfully represent who, what, where, when, why, and how “it”/ “they” would be if we could grasp “it”/””them”.

      Conclusion: Damn, it’s not easy finding a religion that would earn a 10 (least wacky) rating.

      If you have other ideas for rating religions ,please turn in your personal suggestions at the front desk before leaving the building.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

      I got a few of those prayer cloth things. They seemed somewhat lacking in power.

      I wouldn’t charge the Hindus with fraud over the thunder thing. Unless, of course, they were deceitfully charging folks to have their elephants bring the rain.

      My belief in freedom of belief urges me to allow people to believe any darn thing (as long as it stays at mere belief). But, as a philosopher I think that people should be critical and reflective and not believe any darn thing.

  4. magus71 said, on October 29, 2009 at 12:57 am

    I don’t fall for the “religion is the root of all evil” bit.

    Check out Mau’s Megadeath stats…..

    • biomass2 said, on October 29, 2009 at 9:37 am

      “I don’t fall for the ‘religion is the root of all evil’ bit.”

      Nor do I. Any more than I’d fall for the Pardoner’s “The love of money is the root of all evil” scam had I lived in Chaucer’s time. In fact, if I could imagine myself a more religious type in some past life–perhaps Cruise could help me with that– I would likely have been there holding the nail while Martin Luther tacked his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. (Now there’s a bit of knowledge just about every kid emerged from college with back in the day).

      However. I don’t think comparison to ghastly political regimes in any way excuses “religion’s” real faults–some of which involve evil acts and ghastly consequences.
      I believe we’ve discussed this at length with previous articles when we were discussing God and right and wrong. To summarize one of the points I covered there: I feel systematic killing or violence in the name of questionable church pursuits (elimination of heretics for example)is evil multiplied.

      Evil takes many *forms*. As a result, its *roots*, among them some religious beliefs and some political regimes, are varied . If you remember the 7 deadly sins–another outgrowth of the medieval period–there’s avarice, greed for power, pride, envy, anger,laziness, lust.We can’t argue with those. Of course, the Church came up with that list, so, not surprisingly, it omitted, for example, lack of critical thinking skills. That could, I imagine, come under sloth(mental), but I doubt the church mentioned it in that context. After all it was Eve biting into the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that got us tossed out of the Garden. . . .

      I wonder if pedophilia is currently a major subcategory under “lust”. . . ?

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