Of all the talks we have staged at Edinburgh Skeptics, none has filled me with fear in quite the same way as Martin Poulter’s “How to start your own cult: The Scientology Way”.
Not because the talk itself was frightening, but because of the subject matter. Scientology has a reputation – earned or unjustified – of being rather litigious, imposing and quite, quite creepy. Suggestions of spying on those who oppose them, of bringing lawsuits against them and of doing whatever they can to stop negativity and opposing attitudes towards their organisation. And I say their “organisation” because in the UK they are not considered a religion.
Another cause for concern was that directly above us in the Banshee Labyrinth cinema was the Edinburgh Scientology centre. Right. Above. Our. Heads . I expect there were Scientologists in attendance, indeed the reaction of one or two people shooting daggers at Martin throughout his talk made me look twice at everyone – this is the type of paranoia that Scientology raised in me that night.
What Martin spoke of, to the capacity audience, was not anything particularly new to anyone who has spent any length of time on the Internet. The information he gave us showed the Church and its founder to be questionable, but he did do something I have heard very few people do, and give them some credit for the higher ups at least believing their own stories.
Many people will accuse the Church’s higher ups of “knowing it’s a scam” yet Martin in the Q&A made it quite clear that he felt they genuinely believed it. I’m not sure if this makes things better or worse as far as their reputation goes, but if they do genuinely believe the quite laughable stories of Xenu and associated tales then I actually look at them in a different light – as seriously misguided instead of intentionally deceitful and manipulative (though some may say they are those as well).
All in all I felt Martin actually presented Scientology in a much more favourable light than he could have done, and in a less ridiculing way than others. His talk on Scientology ran similar to talks on Creationism - in that he discussed the beliefs, attitudes and actions of the church without directly attacking or heavily criticising the members themselves. An interesting and potentially controversial talk.
If there were any Scientologists in attendance I would like to thank them for being civil – that too surprised me as I expected any Scientologists to be vocally present.