Mexico: Legion of Christ & Scientology Compared

This is a translation of a lengthy article in Spanish posted on April 10, 2011 on the website of the Mexican weekly magazine Milenio Semanal, issue 701. The author compares the Legion of Christ and its sociopathic founder, Mexican Catholic priest Marcial Maciel (1920-2008) with Scientology and its sociopathic founder L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). Mexican ex-Scientologists Daniel Asse and Rafael Gómez, as well as former Legionary of Christ Nelly Ramírez were interviewed for this article. Credit goes to mnql1 for the translation.

Marcial Maciel and L. Ron Hubbard: A Comparison

by Fausto Alzati Fernández
April 10, 2011
M Semanal Magazine, Issue 701

Few things enslave more than the promise of freedom through a metaphysical vision. There are striking parallels between the Legion of Christ and Scientology, which employ similar techniques of manipulation and brainwashing.

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Pinky: “Gee Brain, what are we going to do tonight?”
The Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky — try to take over the world!”
— Pinky and the Brain

“I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”
— Lafayette Ronald Hubbard

How to explain what happened on November 18, 1978 in Jonestown? There, 918 persons committed mass suicide on the orders of their leader, Jim Jones. How to understand the faith of a mother willing to give the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid to her children? Would there be Stalinism or suicide bombers without an expansionist credo? The process of coming to believe in something — which we all do daily, one way or another — is fascinating and sometimes disturbing.

How does an ordinary neurotic go from everyday anxiety to releasing poison gas in the subway to, in his mind, save the world? As incredible as this may sound, the way in which a person enters a cult seems to follow a fairly well-charted pattern. “It’s as though you had a fruit that is sweet on the outside and, as you go make your way toward the center, it becomes more bitter and terribly controlling,” says Daniel Asse, who, after 10 years in Scientology, recently filed a criminal complaint against this particular organization for deprivation of liberty. Asse goes on to describe the entry process: “It is very common that once you’ve been lured into one of their supposed self-improvement centers, they go looking for any ruin that you have and, if there isn’t any, they’ll try to concoct one. They give you a personality test and this test will tell you that you’re doing poorly in this or that area … and since no one is Superman, they interpret your personality and they tell you you’re failing in this and that, and then they say ‘we can help.'”

Promising Eden must be one of the oldest sales tricks in the world. Add to this the tactic of depreciating the customer’s product or opinion; in sales jargon, this is called “throwing the prospect off-balance” and this is achieved with a precise dose of guilt and doubt. In this approach, shame is substituted for anxiety and a remedy is then offered. A person who goes in as a curious visitor emerges with a new master, someone who knows better than the person what is best for that person. Isn’t this one of the major immediate benefits of a cult: existential irresponsibility? No need any longer to endure the ambiguities and complexities of life because there is someone, an organization, that will take charge.

SEEKING TO PLEASE GOD

Nelly Ramírez, who after 12 years in Regnum Christi (a faction of the Legion of Christ) left, barely two years ago, and wrote El reino de Marcial Maciel (“The kingdom of Marcial Maciel”) says: “I wanted to please God, and not doing so made me feel afraid; I wanted to do His will.” She pauses between sentences, as though something were happening between the lines, reflecting a deprogramming process that has only just begun. Nelly describes how “The Will of God” is the central concept of the indoctrination she received, and she explains the various methods by which she was depersonalized and turned into a “slave”, a “machine”. She recalls the rigorous protocol, the uniformity in the manner of dressing, behaving, and even thinking and feeling. “Emotions have to be hidden. The most important thing is to please the superiors of the Church, even at the cost of one’s self.” The superiors of the Church or the Order are soon considered as direct extensions of the Will of God, as if that will were not subject to interpretation or as if they have an exclusive chat line with God on their Blackberries.

Scientology is not very different, except for a slight variation: the goal is not exactly to pursue the will of God, but to deify one’s own will: to become a god (doesn’t the look in Tom Cruise’s eyes during interviews say it all?). The premise is that, by rising through Scientology’s elaborate and expensive pyramid of levels of “spiritual development”, the candidate leaves behind the impressions and traumas that have accumulated over billions of years of existences, thus reaching the state of Clear. Once this is done, the goal is to facilitate the development of the special powers that every human being has, powers “now available to any person for the modest sum of ….”

There is no state that does not stem from earlier causes and conditions, but the fiction of the opposite is common in metaphysical thinking; an origin is suggested to a person and then a goal is put forward: to liberate oneself and, in the process, to save the world. Good sales “branding” seeks the loyalty of customers, so it is not enough to “go Clear” or to seduce God by doing His will; the product must be promoted to others. This requires manufacturing the conviction that when “everyone” adheres to their particular beliefs, then “everything” will finally be “fully” resolved. Whether it be to establish the Kingdom of Christ on Earth (whatever monarchy means in this day and age) or to make the entire planet reach the state of Clear, leaders encourage their members to promote their agendas with fervor. Considering that they were founded less than 100 years ago, the world-wide funding, membership, institutions, buildings, support and programs that both the Legion of Christ and Scientology have been able to amass is nothing less than astonishing.

But before sending a devotee out into the world to “save” people, the devotee must demonstrate total conviction. To achieve this, the person has to be broken completely. For example, neophyte Legionaries and Scientologists are subjected to taking orders from children and teens to destabilize their values and their sense of self. In addition to long prayer sessions or staring into the eyes of another member for hours, rejecting any form of critical thinking, there is a gradual denial of the validity of and access to outside information, especially information that is considered antagonistic. For Scientology, anyone who works for the press (including your humble servant) is considered a “Merchant of Chaos”, while the Legion insists to its prospects that frequent opposition from family can be a manifestation of the evil one.

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On November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana, 918 people committed suicide on the orders of their leader, Jim Jones Photo: AFP

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CONFESSION AND “AUDITING”

The goal is to eliminate any form of doubt once and for all. One strategy for this purpose is confession or, in the case of Scientology, so-called “auditing” (using a galvanometer referred to as an “E-Meter” that measures the toxins in the psyche). Newcomers to the Legion are obliged to give increasingly rigorous accounts of themselves to a superior, while for Scientologists, “spiritual” advancement depends on a continuous and painstaking process of telling a senior member everything that one has experienced, thought or desired, in order to “go Clear”. Asse says: “In the beginning, you get benefits, but I say that anyone who speaks with another person about their problems and receives attention will feel better.” Except that, in this case, notes are taken and a file is created for all this data: personal information — containing sexual details, for example — with which a person can be easily manipulated or blackmailed.

Absolute conviction demands another requirement that is perhaps more essential and among the most controversial ones: the cancellation of otherness. Both organizations have fierce disconnection policies. In the case of Regnum Christi, Nelly Ramírez says that, after she joined, the contact between her and her family was minimal and was reduced to a couple of days per year, often with a senior member of the congregation present. Even though she was encouraged to write letters to family members, she says these letters were rarely mailed but were without fail read by her superiors. Scientology offers those who are “thirsting for spiritual power” the option of having their family join its ranks with devotion: “You have to try talking to them and, if that doesn’t work,” Asse recalls, “You must disconnect from them as though they were dead. For everyone’s good.” Even if family members do join, their relationship is soon mediated by a higher-ranking member and they are likely to end up separated. The few human interactions that remain viable are of two types: with the uninitiated or “wogs”, as Scientology calls them, as long as it’s for the purpose of roping them in, and with people who at best can be recruited, saved, inspired to donate or tolerated (ignored). On the other hand, interactions within the organization are interfered with by mutual surveillance that leads to isolation and total paranoia. The Legion’s internal vows preventing any criticism of superiors were recently repudiated by the Vatican. The breaking of all emotional connections leaves a follower with nothing but the path of acceptance to the will of the leader and the hierarchy that transmits it.

In this respect, the testimonies overlap almost perfectly: “In these circles, having doubts about the organization or your superiors is considered a failure before God and you also have to confess this to your superiors,” explains Ramírez. For his part, Asse emphasizes that, “If there is any kind of antagonism, you’re a heretic. You cannot question what the founder or a superior did or said. They can humiliate you or yell at you, or whatever, but you can’t answer back. This is how they operate. They are persons who have no scruples.”

To dedicate themselves to the fulfillment of their goal and to ensure personal and world salvation, the Consagradas of the Legion take perpetual vows (chastity, poverty and obedience) and promise to hand over all of their money after a certain number of years of service, while members of the Sea Org (the equivalent of the Ministry in Scientology) sign a billion-year contract (literally — they believe in reincarnation) to serve the cause of Scientology, possibly donating what they have. Here lies one of greatest — and most painful — paradoxes of this type of cult: few things enslave so efficiently as the promise of freedom.

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Headquarters of the Scientology organization in Mexico City

MACIEL AND HUBBARD

None of this would be possible were it not for the figure of the chief of the chiefs. Dissecting Marcial Maciel or L. Ron Hubbard generally leads to some sort of debate about their personal fetishes and charisma (things that go together, don’t they?), because rare is the holder of power that isn’t at the mercy of all kinds of perversions. However, two prominent similarities are worth noting: both were considered by their followers as “The Father” or “Our Father”; I can’t even imagine the self-worshipping confusion that Maciel experienced whenever he led a mass with the congregation reciting the “Our Father” on its knees before him. Both Maciel and Hubbard lived the same way we mortals picture the narcos living today: a life of impunity and immunity. One was under the umbrella of the Vatican, while the other was at sea in international waters as a fugitive from international justice, but both built a cosmology based on fiction — literally, in Hubbard’s case; his books were rejected again and again as novels until he decided to convert them into the basis for his doctrine, complete with evil aliens, extermination of planets and souls wandering through hidden dimensions — and they went on to inhabit that fiction without any reservations. Aside from the unrestrained disregard for others that stems from exacerbated narcissism, perhaps better understood as megalomania, another ingredient of the formula is the abuse of opiates in one case and barbiturates in the other. Sociopaths such as Maciel or Hubbard lived in a world where others were mere objects; what they did then was to duplicate themselves, to replicate the way they think and act in every echelon of their organization.

“They call it the fastest growing religion in history. Many of their numbers are altered, but even if it were half as much, it would indicate a great expansion,” explains Rafael Gómez, who was once a member of the Sea Org and held senior positions within Scientology (the “Personality Test” flyers handed out on the streets to recruit people, he says without boastfulness, were his creation). “We’re talking about an institution that is designed to expand using the basic principles of marketing from the 1950s … they teach you how to fleece people.” Rafael first made sure that I am not working for them and that the interview was in a public place. He scans the surroundings and goes on to detail how Scientology staff dedicates itself to studying books on marketing and sales that have been withdrawn from the market because Hubbard bought the rights to them. Here again, one can’t avoid noting the coincidence: in her story, Nelly recounts how she was trained at the age of 12 at ECYD (Education, Culture, and Youth Development) to raise money for the Legion, which uses and distributes literature that belongs exclusively to the organization.

“Hubbard was convinced that succeeding in something requires controlling masses of people, and that controlling masses of people means that you need to have control over their minds, individually,” continues Rafael. I can’t avoid thinking of Hubbard’s involvement with Aleister Crowley, the Ordo Templis Orientis, the strange death of John Parsons, the celebrities, the punishments and humiliations to which believers submit themselves in the name of “ethics” in Scientology. “It’s the most modern system of slavery that exists: everyone is in it of their own will, but it’s a fraud,” concludes Gómez.

From the emotion carried in his voice, I understand the danger that lies in naively approaching these organizations or any of its social fronts: schools, social support programs or rehabilitation centers. A similar emotion is evident in Ramírez’s voice when she says, “Had I known all this, what it’s about and how it works, I never would have joined. The information they hid from me hurt me.” She has rejected her former faith, as did Daniel and Rafael, who are now considered “suppressive” by the organization to which they dedicated 10 years of their life. They have been insulted, blackmailed and threatened, and the only miracle they attest to today is that they had the good fortune to find a way out of these traps.

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In July 2010, David Miscavige, leader of the Church of Scientology, opened the largest Mexican center, located at the intersection of Balderas and Juárez Avenue. Photo: Rodolfo Angulo / Cuartoscuro

ADDICTIVE PSEUDO-RELIGIONS

L. Ron Hubbard Jr., after escaping the clutches of his father’s church, said in a 1983 interview in Penthouse: “Scientology and all the other cults are one-dimensional, and we live in a three-dimensional world. Cults are as dangerous as drugs. They commit the highest crime: the rape of the soul.” Considering the source of this statement, one wonders whether the reasons for condemning the trafficking of narcotics might also apply to the effects of cults. Don’t they generate harmful and addictive products that break up families and ruin careers? A state cannot consider itself secular unless it educates its people about religion and religious thought, from a historical and general perspective. Otherwise, it is leaving people at the mercy of the highest bidder.

I propose, in this case, considering what the German government has done in relation to this type of organization: because of Germany’s brutal historical experience with Nazism, Germany’s constitution remains vigilant about groups with fanatical inclinations, especially when there is so much evidence of its dangers and criminal activities. Not only has Scientology been flatly refused status as a religion, which it is seeking (for exemption from taxes and from rules concerning consumer rights, worker rights and proving the validity of the products and services they put on the market), but in addition to several attempts at prohibition, Germany has also chosen to implement campaigns to inform people about this and other cults. As with drugs, deprogramming is both improbable and traumatic, so the best option is prevention. The European Union has founded and has long supported institutions engaged in research and dissemination of information on such organizations dedicated to fraud. Posters can be seen on the streets and in public transportation there are pamphlets that offer information about Islamic fundamentalism and organized crime as well as about Scientology. This might be too much for the Mexican case: how do the movements of our political leaders and the reigning power structures differ from these cults?

Footnote by author Alzati Fausto Fernández:

I wish to express gratitude for the courage of Nelly, Daniel, Rafael and the many others who have taken on the task of reporting their experiences in and out of organizations of this nature. The Web has a wide range of resources for persons who are interested in these subjects and wish to find as much information as possible before making a decision or to help a relative or friend who is in the clutches of a cult (http://www.regainnetwork.org, http://www.xscientology.com.)

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