An Open Letter to: Scientologists, Ex-Scientologists, and Critics of the Church of Scientology

[Note from Geir Isene: James Lewis is a notable academic in the field of New Religions. I met Mr. Lewis in Oslo a couple of months after I left the church and see him as a very level-headed person in this landscape where we all to often find polarized views on both side. This Open Letter from him is significant. Please spread the word]

By: James R. Lewis

[This letter may be re-posted, as long as it is reproduced in full, without alteration. JRL]

I am an academician and a specialist in the field of new religious movements. Particularly during my early career, much of my research focused on the alternative religions that have been labeled “cults,” and on the controversies in which they have been involved. Though I have sometimes been criticized as a “cult apologist,” in point of fact my views on such groups are nuanced and often critical (in this regard, refer, for example, to my online essay, “Safe Sects?” It should especially be noted that my views on these matters generally conform to the consensus views of mainstream scholars of new religions (i.e., my views are not unique to me). As an academician, my primary audience has been other academicians. Thus, over the years, I have ignored the often ad hominem criticisms that have been leveled against me online by individuals involved in the cult controversy.

However, two things have happened in recent years that have prompted me to address these matters – particularly as they involve the Church of Scientology (CoS) – in a more personal way: (1) My edited collection on Scientology, published by Oxford University Press in 2009, had the effect of raising my profile in the cult controversy. (2) As the result of the defection of large numbers of upper level Scientologists, the Church of Scientology has received increasing media attention – which has had the effect of calling further attention to my Scientology anthology. Thus it seems that circumstances have been pushing me to set forth some of my views on CoS – both academic and personal – in a public way. Hence the current “open letter,” which I hope will be widely distributed (and not quoted out of context).

I should preface my remarks by noting that academicians are ill-suited to participate directly in public controversies, in part because, as a group, we do not think in sound bites. Also, in almost any controversy, all sides of the conflict tend to boil issues down to black-and-white, good-vs.-evil terms, and sometimes adopt a belligerent attitude of “you’re either for us or against us.” I anticipated this reaction when, in the introduction to the Scientology anthology, I asserted that “This volume will…likely end up pleasing no one engaged in the Scientology/anti-Scientology conflict….”

Predictably, critics trashed the book as a public relations exercise, “obviously” paid for by the Church of Scientology. However – as any informed observer could easily have anticipated – CoS hated the collection, particularly the Xenu chapter, which one of my former contacts in the Church characterized as “blasphemy.” Another chapter described CoS’s attempts to suppress scholarship that the Church viewed as presenting Scientology in a negative light. And there were other critical evaluations peppered throughout the text. But, because the book as a whole was not a negative exposé, many anti-Scientologists dismissed the whole collection as a “whitewash.” For its part, the Church of Scientology soon stopped communicating with me altogether, meaning that I have probably been re-categorized as an SP as a direct result of my book.

In this Open Letter, I will not rehearse the social-scientific analysis of the cult controversy that is the consensus view of mainstream new religion researchers. Rather, I will focus the discussion on my evolving understanding of the Church of Scientology.

Neither I nor the great majority of new religions specialists view ourselves as defenders of groups like Scientology. Rather, we are interested in understanding social-psychological processes and the dynamics of social conflict. The fact that many of our analyses undermine the more simplistic accusations leveled against controversial new religions makes it appear to critics caught up in black-and-white thinking that we have made a conscious choice to defend “cults.” However, to the extent that we have chosen to defend anything, we understand ourselves as defending good science against bad science, and, in some cases, as defending religious liberty against the threat to religious liberty posed by the least sophisticated forms of anti-cultism.

My orientation to the study of new religions is informed by the fact that, for three years in my early twenties, I was a member of a controversial new religion, Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO (I have recently described my defection from 3HO in an online article, “Autobiography of a Schism” Though I held certain negative feelings toward my former organization after my exit, these feelings were on par with the feelings one might have about one’s ex-spouse following a divorce (i.e., bad, but not extraordinary). Additionally, I had a number of positive experiences during my term of membership in 3HO that served to balance out my negative experiences.

When I first became interested in the cult controversy as a subject of academic inquiry in the mid 1980s, I was struck by the uniformly negative picture painted by “deprogrammed” ex-members of controversial groups – a picture that contrasted sharply with the mixed evaluation I had formed of 3HO. I suspected these negative evaluations were shaped, at least in part, by the deprogramming experience itself. So I surveyed former members – both deprogrammed and non-deprogrammed – and found that the data strongly supported my hypothesis. (In this regard, refer, for example, to my “Apostates and the Legitimation of Repression,” Sociological Analysis 49:4. 1989, and my “Reconstructing the ‘Cult’ Experience,” Sociological Analysis 42:2. 1986. Parts of these papers reappeared in my Legitimating New Religions. 2003.)

I first made contact with the Church of Scientology during this period for the purpose of locating former Scientologists to whom I could send questionnaires (this never worked out because of CoS’s ill-conceived policy of disconnecting itself from ex-members). A few years later, the Scientology organization became enthusiastic about the conclusions I had reached, and later referred to my research in some of its legal cases – in large part due to the fact that this research called into question the hostile testimony of deprogrammed former Scientologists.

CoS subsequently decided that I was an ‘ally’ (a quasi-technical term within the universe of exotic Church jargon). From that point forward, I was sometimes (but not frequently) asked to write letters of support, usually in response to specific conflicts. I was also once asked to testify as an expert witness in a Scientology court case (to which I agreed, though I never did testify). Additionally, during the years I lived in Santa Barbara, California, I attended various Church events, particularly events at the Hollywood Celebrity Center. Finally, during the ten years I lived in the Midwest, I regularly invited Scientologists from the Chicago Org to speak in my university classes. (As part of my approach to teaching courses on new religions, I invited representatives of many different groups to speak in my classes – not just Scientologists.)

I was, of course, aware of CoS’s unpleasant history, particularly its often vicious attacks on perceived enemies. But, as I got to know Scientologists on a personal basis, I was informed – and came to believe – that the illegal and truly onerous attacks had been discontinued following the dissolution of the Guardian’s Office in 1983. (Unfortunately, the systematic harassment of high-profile ex-members and other critics has become de rigueur in recent years.) And while I disliked certain aspects of Scientology – particularly certain aspects of the Scientology organization – my personal experiences with Scientologists over the course of the past two dozen years have been generally quite positive. As a result of my recent book and as a result of this letter, they may never speak to me again, but I still like and respect almost everyone I knew within the Church.

One aspect of the organization that particularly impressed me was the Church’s social outreach activities, such as the Literacy Crusade and Criminon. Though often dismissed by critics as “front groups,” or as elaborate PR exercises, it is clear that, at Source, these activities are serious enterprises. At several junctures over the years of my acquaintance with CoS, I even requested support for undertaking an academic study of these enterprises. These requests were always denied (for which, in hindsight, I am exceedingly grateful).

I was not prompted to re-think my basic evaluation of the Church of Scientology until relatively recently. This came about as a consequence of several different factors:

(1) The defection of large numbers of long-time, high-ranking Scientologists, who reported intensive abuse at the highest levels of the Church. I am aware that CoS’s position on this has been to deny everything, and to accuse these ex-members of conspiring to concoct a negative picture of events. I find the official response unconvincing.

(2) The sacking of Heber Jentzsch. I knew Heber from when I first began to communicate with CoS in the mid 1980s. I respected him and came to regard him as someone I could trust. Retrospectively, I can now see that my evaluation of Heber significantly shaped my evaluation of the Church. So when he was taken off the front lines and consigned to some dungeon (figuratively speaking) in Gilman Hot Springs, it served to confirm, to my mind, what the high-ranking defectors were saying.

(3) The marketing of “new editions” of L. Ron Hubbard’s basic works. New, slightly “corrected” editions of Hubbard’s basic books have been issued, and Scientologists have been asked to purchase as many sets of volumes as possible so that complete sets can be donated to libraries across the globe. This has been done in the name of the utopian ideal of “clearing the planet.” But placing books in libraries seems an ill-conceived strategy for spreading any sort of message in a digital age. I was a guest at a Scientology workshop not too many years ago where I observed the very hard-sell tactics used to unload these multi-volume sets. It was transparent that this was a fund-raising ploy rather than an effective strategy for disseminating the message. Though I know Scientology has regularly been accused of using unethical methods for raising money, I felt that this was a particularly disingenuous tactic – and yet another symptom of the dysfunctionality of the Church’s top leadership.

This Open Letter is not an apology for anything I have written in the past on Scientology or on the cult controversy. I stand by, and am quite happy with, my body of work up to this point. Rather, in light of new information I have been receiving on the Church of Scientology, there are certain aspects of my scholarship that I would like to clarify and supplement as they bear on the current controversy.

In the first place, I should say that the only article-length paper I have ever written on CoS is my chapter on the growth of the Church in the Scientology anthology. In that piece, I criticized the claim that Scientology was the “fastest growing religion in the world,” but I also painted a picture of an expanding organization enjoying healthy growth. Though the statistics I collected (from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) did not go beyond 2001, more recent data from the 2006 New Zealand and Australian censuses have continued to support this picture.

However, current events have completely overturned my evaluation of the CoS as a rapidly expanding religion. The relatively recent defection of large numbers of long-time, high-level Scientologists – some of the organization’s most experienced administrators and others with expertise in delivering the highest levels of Scientology technology – bodes poorly for the future of the Church. In particular, the pattern of solid growth I analyzed just a few years ago seems suddenly to have ground to a halt.

According to the pseudonymous ‘Plockton,’ who claims to have contacted ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) researchers directly, the ARIS estimate for the number of Scientologists in the U.S. for 2008 was 25,000. (I referred to ARIS data in my chapter on the growth of Scientology.) This contrasts sharply with the 55,000 figure from the 2001 ARIS survey. (“2008 ARIS Study on Scientology Membership in US – Important Data.” Posted March 28, 2009 at: The drop in total numbers was likely less dramatic than these figures indicate (due to sampling issues discussed by Plockton in his posting).

In 2011, there will be new national censuses in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, all of which will produce figures for total numbers of self-identified Scientologists. So by 2012, it will be relatively simple to contrast these numbers with prior census data. The figures derived from these comparisons will indicate whether membership in the Church of Scientology is growing or declining. Assuming the latter, these statistics should decisively refute David Miscavige’s claim that, under his leadership, CoS has become “the fastest growing religion in the world.”

Secondly, I have seen my research on former members of controversial new religions misrepresented. To clarify what should already have been transparent: The central point of comparison in my several articles on new religion apostates was between deprogrammed ex-members and other ex-members who left their respective movements on their own, without outside intervention. As mentioned earlier, I found a highly significant difference in the post-involvement attitudes of these two sets of apostates, a difference that called into question the veracity of statements made by deprogrammed ex-members about the religious groups to which they had belonged. My questionnaire data had nothing to say about individuals who defected without this kind of an intervention, except that they were likely more objective about their membership period than their deprogrammed counterparts. So, to be perfectly clear: anyone who cites my conclusions about deprogrammees as a way of dismissing the testimony of voluntary defectors – including the testimony of individuals who left the Church of Scientology – is either consciously misrepresenting my work or stupid.

Finally, another criticism leveled against the Scientology anthology was that it should have included a chapter on ex-Scientologists, and perhaps another chapter on the Freezone. I think this is an appropriate critique. I will therefore be undertaking systematic research on former Scientologists and on the Freezone – research that will be reported in future publications. If any ex-CoS members reading this Open Letter think they might be interested in participating in this project, please contact me at:

82 thoughts on “An Open Letter to: Scientologists, Ex-Scientologists, and Critics of the Church of Scientology

  1. Long letter, deserving of a long answer! One quick point though on my specialist subject (demographics):

    Lewis made the same fundamental mistake as almost everyone did over the ARIS figures – not understanding statistics, he repeated them without qualification. They don’t show what he thinks they do since they have high error rates, over 100%, as noted in the OCMB thread he refers to. The raw data can now be ‘officially’ found in an Excel file at

    “The drop in total numbers was likely less dramatic than these figures indicate”

    OK, he STILL doesn’t understand statistics. I’m no expert, but I did make the effort to do a bit of research on this! The most likely numbers ARE 55,000 and 25,000, that’s what surveys tell you, no more and no less. You can’t just say ‘likely less’ without any evidence, that isn’t Science.

    The 2008 ARIS figure is 25,000 +/- 106%. The public are accustomed to error rates of +/- 4%, so this figure should NOT be quoted without its error rate. Trying to be totally clear, ‘25,000’ is highly inaccurate but ‘106%’ is accurate, being obtained by a mathematical formula. Also, a high error rate does not mean the ARIS team made errors – same word, different meanings.

    A sensible way to be accurate is to say ‘less than 50,000’. Given the new, unexpected troubles (Anonymous, Independents) that have hammered the Church since 2008, it would be most surprising to me if this was not lower now – but I don’t have any direct demographic evidence yet.

    1. Note: The error could not possibly be +/- 106% as -106% means that there would actually be a negative number of Scientologists. The numbers are dropping, but not That low 🙂

      1. Yes, it is possible to have error spreads greater than 100%. Go read the thread Lewis references on OCMB. What this means is that if the survey had been repeated there was a greater than 95% chance (the extra 6%) that it would have come across no Scientologists at all.
        If you prefer to think graphically, imagine a normal distribution curve (the bell shape). In this case one side of the curve goes over the zero point because the error is so high. It is not a graph of ‘numbers of people’ it is of probability.

        Statistics is in this case counter intuitive. Please don’t try to apply ‘common sense’ to it or argue with me, do the research yourself.

        1. But there were Scientologists answering the survey with a “yes”, hence not possible to have “no Scientologists at all”, let alone a negative one.
          I believe there would be a noncentral t-distribution.

          1. But there were Scientologists answering the survey with a “yes”, hence not possible to have “no Scientologists at all”, let alone a negative one.

            I think you are confusing what the ARIS result represents in its mathematical sense. It isn’t actually a representation of the number of Scientologists, rather it is a representation of the probability of what the results would be, based on the available data, if the survey were to be repeated.

            If you were to repeat the survey there is a significant probability of getting a zero value, hence why the ARIS result covers a range including zero.

            1. I know, I know. I am simply debating the fact that it simply couldn’t be -106% as they did in fact talk to someone who said they were Scientologists. Tell me you didn’t think that was a bit funny. So, I say noncentral t-distribution. Go “hehe” and move on.

          2. Tell me you didn’t think that was a bit funny.

            Actually no, I didn’t think it was funny (I assumed you mean ‘funny’ as in ‘peculiar/strange’). Probably due to being as anal as Hartley.

            Or to put it another much more obscure way – Pat Michaels has no error bars.

            So, I say noncentral t-distribution.

            Statistically speaking your distribution has to be symmetric in cases like this one. Imagine you did a survey and got a result of X respondents to a given question. What would the probability that a repeat of the survey would give an answer greater than X? What is the probability of an answer lower than X? These two probabilities will be equal in the absence of additional information.

    2. Just a clarification on the ARIS survey:

      The 2008 survey is based on responses from 54,461 individuals. The estimates given are an extrapolation from that sampling. The purpose of the ARIS survey is to identify shifts in patterns rather than provide accurate counts of membership.

      You can read the official results and analysis of the ARIS survey in their own official report here:

      To attempt to use this survey for any other purpose than to compare shifts in patterns is erroneous as the numbers provided in the Excel spreadsheet are simply extrapolations based on a population sampling.

      A substantial percentage of respondents refused to answer the questions, and an even greater number responded with “no religion.”

      “The U. S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every five Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.”
      ARIS survey results 2008

      The criticism of Lewis’s use of these statistics is unwarranted. CAREFULLY read what he says:

      “According to the pseudonymous ‘Plockton,’ who claims to have contacted ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) researchers directly, the ARIS estimate for the number of Scientologists in the U.S. for 2008 was 25,000. (I referred to ARIS data in my chapter on the growth of Scientology.) This contrasts sharply with the 55,000 figure from the 2001 ARIS survey. (“2008 ARIS Study on Scientology Membership in US – Important Data.” Posted March 28, 2009 at: The drop in total numbers was likely less dramatic than these figures indicate (due to sampling issues discussed by Plockton in his posting).”

      He uses this survey data exactly as intended — to identify a pattern of change and he is COMPLETELY aware that this number is an ESTIMATE based on a SAMPLING. He then goes on to say that the new census will be available in 2012 and can then be used as a more certain set of statistics for establishing the relative growth or decline of individuals self-declaring as Scientologists. Important note: The ARIS survey makes no distinction between card carrying IAS members, Freezone Scientologists or self-declared independents with no affiliation with any group independent or otherwise.

      1. Sorry – I wasn’t clear there. In ‘Scientology’, he compared the 1990 and 2001 ARIS Scientology figures and claimed this indicated strong growth. This claim was repeated in the book’s blurb: “…the Church gained ten thousand members in the United States…”. It was statistically unjustified, the figures only show it is more likely than not that growth occured.
        The same goes for the 2008 figure – it shows a probable fall but no more than that. In Statistics it is the established custom to say results are ‘too close to call’ when such an overlap occurs.

        When the 2008 figure appeared I posted round the forums shouting at people NOT to say “the cult is collapsing – here’s the proof” without qualification and failed to convince anyone.

        The statistics methods here are counter intuitive, and I’m not throwing mud at Lewis in particular but at almost everyone, which makes me Mr Unpopular and Pedantic of course!

        “Statistics are like a drunk with a lamppost: used more for support than illumination” – Winston Churchill.

      1. Is this supposed to be an intelligent comment contributing to a debate. If so, the please rephrase because I am struggling to see the value in your post.

        1. This is the same person who was a hired apologist/defender of the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan.

          That’s the cult that released poison gas in the subway, resulting in many deaths of innocent people. He was paid by this cult – to pose as a “religious expert,” etc. – and to be their defender.

            1. Another unintelligent reply. Here’s your yellow card. Take care of it, it’s the only one you get.

  2. He makes a distinction between the evaluations of deprogrammed and non-deprogrammed ex-members. I wouldn’t mind seeing what differences he found, however, I can’t think of any insider stories in the last few decades that have been from deprogrammed ex-members of Scientology.

    1. Both programming and deprogrammimg seems to imply external reality being forced on a person. A person who has finally realized the circumstances within a cult, and has left on his own, would retain his or her own reality and rationality.


  3. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

    1. There is thruth in that. Maybe less bad things would happen if we would take an open stance on them and not go with the it’s “somebody else’s problem”.

      I felt attacks on Wikileaks to be despicable and sent in little money in support of Wikileaks. Scientology taught to not read newspapers, to not pass on bad news. I do not agree with the idea of “just ignore”, “by opposing you create the problem”. The world in which we live is the result of many things, including great battles that defeated slavery in the US, apartheid in SA, gave us the right to ge an education, etc… Someone fought for these things from which we benefit today, they didn’t just happen.
      About Scientology, we benefit today from the result of a wealth of information and freedom that are direct result of hard fought battles in more dramatic times fought by the old guard. It wasn’t safe then, to expose and talk about the bad deeds of Scientology but thanks to them, it is much more safe now.

    2. Anon, you are right about “neutrality” in a sense, as long as you mean one should choose to be proactive and stand for something positive, rather than just choosing to support one side in a war against the other side.

      “Neutrality” connotes to me being a spectator or uninvolved observer, someone who is refusing to take responsibility for any outcome – like the people who watched a young woman being murdered and did nothing.

      But being responsible does not necessarily mean one chooses one side over another in a war. One may stand and instead work for peace, understanding, and an end to war. Refusing to choose a limited side in a conflict does not necessarily mean one is being “neutral”, because one can be actively working towards a solution.

  4. 1. That’s a lot of writing to say Scientology isn’t doing so well as it used to.
    2. My OT abilities being “senior to science” tell me the census number is <25,000. (joke – no, really I'm not kidding – oh shit, now arguing with self…ignore this part.)

  5. I doubt you can answer this Geir, and I do not have the time to go trawling through his work (which I have not read before) – but – what does he define as “deprogrammed”?. His definition needs to be examined , since he has suggested a causal link between deprogramming, and “fanatical” apostates, while suggesting that those who left without “deprogramming” are more objective. This is quite an assertion, and attributing cause in social science is always tenuous. Also, the research which he claims verfies this causal hypothesis needs to be able to be replicated in order to ensure its validity and reliability.

    1. As you indicate; I cannot answer this question. Hopefully Mr. Lewis will see this comment and answer the question.

    2. I would say that there would be lot of shades of deprogramming… from letting the person look at what is really happening within a cult to forcing a person believe how bad the circumstances are within a cult. So, there is a spectrum of enforced reality. However, one may safely say that that this whole spectrum would lie south of a person realizing all by himself what is really happening and then leaving the cult.


      1. Thanks, but it still does not answer my question – I am questioning the research methodology because attributing cause means your variables need to be VERY clearly defined. It is a social science thing, don’t worry, when I have some time I will trawl the net to see if I can find how Lewis defined this, to see whether his methodology is up to standard or not. If it is, no problem, if it is not, then that discredits his findings. For me, the validity or otherwise stands or falls on the answer to that question. Thanks anyway. K.

        1. Lewis seems to use ‘deprogrammed’ to mean ‘left with the aid of external help’. From what I can understand this doesn’t always entail deprogramming in the traditional and disturbing sense of the word (in fact it rarely does), and can include things like family and friends getting involved to help a person leave.

          It is worth pointing out that Lewis’s interpretation of the different biases in these two groups is likely misplaced. People who have external help to leave tend to have suffered the more drastic of the abuses (hence why the outside forces are so concerned in their wellbeing to the point of actively trying to get the person out). In Scientology, as you know, you will also have instances of coaching and drilling to handle such external influences, which would only help foster a more hostile view when the person finally leaves (since they will experienced clear evidence of being manipulated). The folks who leave of their own accord tend to believe things like the freeloader debt, which should serve to illustrate why this second group tends to be less hostile (they often still haven’t contextualised their experiences – think of a sex abuse victim who still doesn’t recognise that what they experienced was wrong). When Lewis’s definition of ‘deprogrammed’ is applied to the context of Scientology the problem with his interpretation becomes clear. To put an illustration on this, how many ex-members do you know who left after being coached and drilled only for those ex-members to have legitimate resentment for that manipulative coaching and drilling? Lewis completely ignores factors like this (ironically committing the very same type of simplistic thinking he accuses others of).

          It is also worth noting Lewis appears to be using data from other groups, who may be very different than Scientology, in order to generalise his result. By applying that result to Scientology, while ignoring the specific reasons behind ex-member claims not present in those other groups, Lewis is making a major methodological error.

          1. You: “People who have external help to leave tend to have suffered the more drastic of the abuses (hence why the outside forces are so concerned in their wellbeing to the point of actively trying to get the person out)”

            This is purely an opinion. I have first hand seen clear evidence of no such connection (in the 10 or so instances I have witnessed it was almost the opposite in fact).

          2. I stand over what I wrote. The most common case that motivates family and friend action in my experience has been instances of extreme financial hardship. The second most common case has been those involving SO.

            I have to yet to talk to a single family member or friend who has attempted, or is currently attempting, to free a loved one where those family members or friends could not articulate sound demonstrable reasons for their concerns based on what they observed in their loved one and their loved one’s circumstances. If you really are claiming the opposite is true, which would be a case of where actions are taken for no demonstrable reason, then I have call you out.

            1. I have seen my share of hysterical parents going off the rails when their son or daughter spent less than a week in a church.

          3. I have seen my share of hysterical parents going off the rails when their son or daughter spent less than a week in a church.

            I think it is pretty clear that this scenario is neither what I, nor Lewis, have been discussing. It is also quite dubious to try extrapolating this to the type of case being discussed, especially when every single parent, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, son, daughter and friend I have ever met in such circumstances have a demonstrable basis in their loved ones (and their loved one’s circumstances) for their concerns, have diligently done their research to find out the reasons behind their loved one’s situation and have invested time and effort in reaching out to their loved one. Hardly what could be called ‘hysterical’.

            To be clear, when both I and Lewis use the term ex-member I think you know we are not referring to those who left after a week.

            1. My point is that when such examples as I have witnessed exists as overrepresentation in areas, I can safely assume that you voiced your opinion in your OP rather than promoting any truth backed by evidence. You speculated and put forth that speculation as truth and based further arguments on that. Careful with the logic.

          4. I reiterate – To be clear, when both I and Lewis use the term ex-member I think you know we are not referring to those who left after a week.

            Your point is only as valid as its applicability to the particular cases being discussed Isene. Which, for the above reason, isn’t applicable. And for note, as I have made clear so far, my comments reflect my experience of meeting family members and friends of both current and ex-members. Talking about logic when you use the ‘hysterical’ parent far beyond its applicability is a bit rich imo.

            1. I was illustrating that you based your argueant on opinion rather than fact. Thanks for admitting that. Let’s move on.

          5. Let me expand on how the ‘hysterical’ parent routine usually plays out. Son/daughter joins the CoS and the parent freaks. Either the freaking makes the son/daughter leave or it doesn’t. Then PTS/SP starts to get applied, the upshot of which is to turn every discussion on Scientology into a full scale row. At this point the ‘hysterical’ parent will usually STFU. This situation continues for a while (often years) until the circumstances of the son/daughter have degraded to such a point that the parent can no longer STFU.

            You are discussing the start of this routine, while I am interested in the latter.

          6. How is this speculation considering this is what has been described to me by family members and friends over and over again???

          7. I was illustrating that you based your argueant on opinion rather than fact. Thanks for admitting that. Let’s move on.

            Compare your comment to what it was responding to. An extract:
            And for note, as I have made clear so far, my comments reflect my experience of meeting family members and friends of both current and ex-members.

            How does your comment follow? I don’t understand why you appear to have a disagreement with me while, rather than clarify that disagreement, you seem intent on dragging the discussion into meaningless one-liners that convey no content.

            1. Go back to your OP. No, don’t. Instead let’s move on. You expressed your opinion based on your personal experience and that is now clear and also simply fine.

          8. You guys may be talking about two entirely different things. The meaning of the word “deprogramming” has likely changed a lot over the past 30-40 years, and Lewis likely uses it in the older sense of external anticultists applying pressure on someone who is “in a cult” as the the “anticultists” who were never “in” see it.

            Today it is much more likely to be thoroughly knowledgeable ex-members who are trying to bring someone out. It’s a completely different scenario at times.

    3. Mr. Lewis has conducted at least one online survey to collect data and you can find it online here:

      In this survey you can see the questions he poses that are related to the deprogamming question:

      58. There are a variety of different types of anti-cult ‘counseling,’ from deprogramming (involuntarily locked up with a deprogrammer), exit counseling that persuades someone to leave a controversial religious group, and post-involvement counseling (specifically with anti-cult counselors; not with ordinary therapists). Did you experience any of these forms of counseling?

      Involuntary Deprogramming
      Exit Counseling that persuaded me to leave
      Post-involvement counseling
      Comment (optional)

  6. Dear Isene and Mr. Lewis,

    Thank you very much for writing this letter (and Isene for posting it). I am ex-SO and left in 2000 since I saw all of the arbitraries introduced by the Church.

    It is very good to see you Mr. Lewis, an academician, dealing with this subject in a very objective (not black and white, you are wrong-we are right) way.

    I think this is going to help a lot in the interior controversy that has come up within the church members now and for many years now as to what is going on and if things that are done are ON policy. Though your main interest might be about a New Religion and its growth or not, unfortunately you, too, are falling or stumbling on a very hard barrier. We in Scientology call it a Ridge (it’s like a built up wall, a ridge) and that barrier has been the Off Source orders of the main Church and specific high ranking executives, mainly the Chairman of the Board, David Miscavige, who has been ruling Scientology like a moncarch without respecting policy anymore.

    Therefore and since I keep Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard close to my heart for what they offer to Mankind, I salute your involvement from a higher (academic) and more objective viewpoint and I encourage you and at the same time ask you earnestly to do your best in your research about the Freezone/Independents not as groups but finding why they left, the reasons why, whether they had conflicts over the application of Standard Tech which is the “dogma” of our church and philosophy and its backbone. And you will be amazed to find that most of them had such conflicts and problems: on the application of Standard Tech as it is called. I am one of them and I have evidence that the church of Scientology under David Miscavige misuses Scientology, neglects its basis which is Standard Tech and thus exploitates Scientologists and extorts money from them in the name of L. Ron Hubbard’s technology which they don’t FULLY abide to much less apply.

    So, it was a big relief to see your letter and that now, also we, as ex-es have scholars and academicians have a look into the matter from an objective and scientific viewpoint and not a make wrong critic viewpoint. Thank you very much. If I can be of any assistance please write to me at Theo Sismanides in Athens, Greece

  7. Good to see a clarification of his views. I’m looking forward to seeing results from his future research, including that suggested on the freezone.

  8. Isene, you should state at the outset what you mean with a polarized view, and illustrate what’s wrong with such a view in principle! I cannot see what’s wrong with a polarized view, nor a moderate point of view, because everything depends upon context. In example; I am polarized regarding Nazism, I reject it utterly –period. I also claim that a mousetrap is not good for the mouse, and I take it for granted that nobody propose that a piece of cheese can show that my claim is unsustainable, and thus a more moderate point of view is justified, likewise I claim that Scientology is not good for people whatever good part you find it cannot justify a more moderate point of view! Btw, do you agree with James R. Lewis alleged claim here? I don’t!

    1. 1. No need to overspecify here. You probably know what I mean by “polarized view” in this context. And I believe close to 100% of the readers would too. Any specification would distract from the letter itself.
      2. It is not a matter of whether I agree with Lewis or not.
      3. Your statement “I claim that Scientology is not good for people whatever good part you find it cannot justify a more moderate point of view!” is an extremist viewpoint. An absolutist view of Nazism is likewise unproductive in the context of academia.

      1. You probably know what I mean by “polarized view” in this context. And I believe close to 100% of the readers would too. Any specification would distract from the letter itself.

        This doesn’t wash when, as is pretty clear from the letter, terms such as “polarized view” appear to be used in order to ignore a body of legitimate criticism. Specifying in this instance would help illustrate the misuse of these terms.

        Let me be blunt here. The ‘new information’ Lewis refers to is hardly new, and a body of ex-members have been chanting this sort of information for years. Compare the SP list from old St. Hill with the recent defections. Compare the 2007 rereleased basics with the 1989 and 1998 versions. What is really new is not the information but that, apparently, Lewis is no longer ignoring using meaningless phrases like “the counter-cult-movement” and “black and white thinking” and similar meaningless vagaries.

        Respectively, specification on the use of these terms is years overdue.

    2. A non-polarized view would be a non-judgmental view. You just look at the phenomena objectively, and connect dots among the manifestations arising all over.


    3. Mr. Lewis is a sociologist and he is well respected. His work is published and is subject to peer review.

      Sociologists use two broad methods of research per the article on Wikipedia on sociology:

      “Quantitative designs approach social phenomena through quantifiable evidence, and often rely on statistical analysis of many cases (or across intentionally designed treatments in an experiment) to create valid and reliable general claims

      Qualitative designs emphasize understanding of social phenomena through direct observation, communication with participants, or analysis of texts, and may stress contextual and subjective accuracy over generality.”

      Here is the link to the full article with a complete description of the main research methods of sociologists:

      Mr. Lewis clearly states that he has used qualitative methods and his open letter acknowledges the necessity of using quantitative methods to further his research along with further qualitative studies.

      He is studying a social phenonema, he is not rendering court judgment, nor is he making any statement about the veracity, integrity or validity of Scientology. He has simply reported the results of his interviews and his current analysis of his results TO DATE. It is clear that his research is ONGOING.

      He is not alone in taking a very balanced view of religion and its peculiarities. The advent of the International Human Rights movement has triggered considerable study of issues relating to religious freedom, including the effort to define religion, religious discrimination and persecution. There is a very scholarly treatise on this subject entitled “The Complexity of Religion and the Definition of ‘Religion’ in International Law” published in the Harvard Human Rights Journal. Its long, but EXTREMELY informative and it explores issues that extend well beyond the very very very small (almost insignificant) world of Scientology proponents and detractors.

      Here’s the link:

    4. Cheese is good for the mouse. Trap is bad for the mouse. Simply take the cheese out of the trap and feed the mouse. That would be a good deed.

      The quote is from a book published by CoS and omits Time. At the time Lewis wrote those words, they may have been more true than not. When did he write them? And then, when was the quote published in the CoS book? There is often a lag of years in such situations.

    5. Good find. But likely they’ll have to retract this feather in their cap quote they lured earlier out of Jim.

      I think it best to also allow scholars to change their views on Scientology as time marches on.

      It’s clear to me, from emailing with Jim Lewis, for almost two years now, that’s he’s more well informed today than he was when Scientology OSA people like Jacqueline Kevanar, and other OSA PR people were getting “ally” scholars to write favorable things about Scientology.

      As one of the Sea Org members who watched and at that time, I felt some pride that we got the scholars “on our side” and making positive statements, today I’m in for full transparency, and I send these “apologist” scholars new news, and help then see what “we” did behind the scenes.

      That Jim Lewis is even reaching out, is a huge positive.

      I’m curious if Scientology will take out his positive quote lauding them, now.

      Jim’s “Scientology” anthology has Xenu mentioned smack dab in that 2009 edition. My favorite chapter is Chapter 4, by David Bromley.

      I hope independent Scientologists WILL get in touch and help any surveys and research Jim Lewis, and any of the other “apologist” scholars seek to do now in this NEW climate.

      They call it hagiography, and they knew Scientology was into doing a hagiography coverage of Hubbard, and they knew they were being caught up in it.

      Too bad there weren’t MORE ex members to wise them up years ago!

      Imagine what the OSA Programs look like for seducing scholars! Ha! I’d like to get those Scholars Seduction Programs files out into the public domain so the scholars could see how they were being worked by OSA years ago!

  9. Hmm. This letter got me thinking, and it makes a few things clear for me. In particular, how people are ticking that many call “cult apologists”.

    Lewis may be right from a scientific PoV when he calls into question the testimony of those who were deprogrammed against those who left on their own volition – after all, deprogramming is using the same tools used in cults to try and reverse the effect of cults.

    I gathered from his own letter however, that for an extended period of time OSA was using him in court cases against the Co$:

    “CoS subsequently decided that I was an ‘ally’ (a quasi-technical term within the universe of exotic Church jargon). From that point forward, I was sometimes (but not frequently) asked to write letters of support, usually in response to specific conflicts. I was also once asked to testify as an expert witness in a Scientology court case (to which I agreed, though I never did testify).”

    I like science. I believe it is the way to more knowledge. And not that the conclusions at which he came in his scientific work must all have been wrong. But I take issue with that in the past he let himself be willingly used as a tool to cover up crimes and abuses as perpetrated by organised Scientology in the same way that I take issue with scientists that work for war criminals having an idea to what end their work is being used and still defending their regime.

    Heber Jentzsch may have been an extraordinary spokesperson, winning people’s hearts. Does this make the abuse that happened under Miscavige right, while Heber still was spokesperson?
    He admits he was wrong in his view about the Scientology Organisation and still he refuses to see anything wrong in this behaviour at that time, in spite of the bad indicators that he saw even back then; after all, scientifically, his method was flawless. Talk about the ivory tower.

    1. Lewis may be right from a scientific PoV when he calls into question the testimony of those who were deprogrammed against those who left on their own volition – after all, deprogramming is using the same tools used in cults to try and reverse the effect of cults.

      Questions as food for though. How many ex-members would qualify as ‘deprogrammed’ to the extent that can you could legitimately draw the parallel to cultic tactics as you do here? How many ex-members does Lewis categorise as ‘deprogrammed’, and how many ex-members does the CoS apply the term towards?

        1. My questions were not concerning Lewis, but the misuse of the term ‘deprogramming’. Lewis’ study mentions 23% as being ‘coercively deprogrammed’.

          1. Ask him what? My questions, for the second time, where not concerning Lewis. Ffs Isene, Lewis mentioned the same misuse of the term in his letter that I am trying to highlight with my questions.

        1. I can quote it for you from his study:

          By the mid 1980’s, however, the ground rules had changed considerably. Alongside the various styles of coercive deprogramming, which can vary considerably in their degree of physical force, current deprogramming practice includes at least two varieties-overt and covert (Crawford, 1984:7)-of non-coercive “exit counseling” (efforts aimed at encouraging defection which do not involve kidnapping). Also, in addition to rehabilitation at various live-in facilities, there now exist such options as re-entry counseling (counselling which is sought out only after defection) and group counseling with other ex-members. Finally, the term “therapy” can refer either to “therapy” by anti-cult counselors or therapy under the guidance of professionals not associated with the anti-cult movement. Thus by 1984 (when the present study was conducted), there was a confusing complexity of possible interventions which effectively frustrated any precise replication of Solomon’s research.

          As a result, this study utilizes a much simpler typology of deprogramming than
          Solomon used:

          1. No exit counseling (NE): Voluntary defection, and no counseling connected with the anti-cultmovement (N=89).
          2. Voluntary exit counseling (VEC): Someformof voluntary counseling at the hands of anti-cultists-i-e.g., exit counseling, re-entry counseling, et cetera (N = 29).
          3. Involuntary exit counseling (IEC): Coercive deprogramming with or without other forms of “treatment” following the deprogramming (N = 36).

          The point I’m raising, and which Lewis himself makes in his open letter, is that the term is misused (mostly by CoS) and applied to far more ex-members than it should be. Compare the above split with how the CoS uses the term.

          Small factoid – only two respondents in Lewis’ survey were ex-CoS. I would question his use of generalising his result to ex-CoS members but that is a different discussion.

          1. The madhair is the Mahdi. Hai There. MuaDib. I See You. (and all that) 🙂 THANK YOU for the above, that has answered my concerns.

            The research is seriously outdated, the sample is dodgy to say the least, the variables are not clearly defined – and do not take into account the new category of defections as a result of reading material on the Internet. The causal link between variables is thus not credible for me.

            However, this is all good, because what this has highlighted, again (as I have said for more years than I care to remember), the *desperate* need for evidence based RESEARCH shaped by scrupulous research methodology in this specific area.

            And really, if we are going to use the word “academic” to add credibility to claims, then at least make sure the flippin’ RM is up to standard…..ya know what I’m sayin’

            Sheesh. 🙂 Its all good (it has got people thinking and talking)

            1. And Lewis is on the roll with this letter to gather the basis for new conclusions. Yes, it is good.

          2. On a Scientology site, with a number of what appear to be Amends Formula write-ups (admissions of past doubts), one proposes that reading “entheta” on the net is the modern form of deprogramming.
            Beware the Labyrinth!

  10. For those interested in actual scholarly and thoughtful sociology on the subjects of “new religions”, cults, deprogramming and the “anti-cult movement” of the 1970s, and all that. I recommend some books and articles by David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe. These were published in 1979 – 1981, but the issues they raised then are still valid and contribute much rationality to the debates about freedom of religion and belief.

    “Strange Gods” in particular is very good. Here is some information from Wikipedia:

    David G. Bromley, Anson Shupe
    Strange Gods, “Moonies” in America, The New Vigilantes

    1. Reliable? Hardly.

      Shupe was a player in Scientology’s takeover of the Cult Awareness Network.

      When asked about how he gathered his evidence against CAN, Shupe admitted that he had never attended a CAN meeting, did not know the names of its officers, had not conducted formal research on the organization since 1987, and had not formally interviewed anyone on the “countercult” movement since 1979. Moreover, he had never subscribed to CAN’s newsletter, although he “was able to obtain copies now and then from various people around the country” (Scott v. Ross,, 1995a, 83-87)

      Bromley’s another member of the Apostasy crowd (see below), ever-willing to dismiss all claims of abuse levelled at a cult.

      To finish, I’ll just leave this here –

      1. Someone Else, I did not use the word “reliable” in my post…. I did say “……. the issues they raised then are still valid and contribute much rationality to the debates about freedom of religion and belief.” I’ll stick with that. Have you read “Strange Gods”? That is the book I am specifically referring to.

        The link you posted to SkepticTank is very good, and the article there seems far more impartial than your post, which seems partisan, giving Bromley and Shupe no credit for anything at all. Are you sure you do not have an axe to grind?

        It’s easy to use big rear-view mirrors from 2011 and dismiss the ideas those sociologists proposed based on their view of the CoS in the1970s; but in fact in, say, 1975, the orgs and missions were booming with hundreds of students and pcs at many locations because the majority of them were quite pleased at the value they were receiving for their investments of time and money.

        The nascent Fascist organization we know today as the Sea Org had not yet taken over the show and were still minority faction.
        It was reasonable at the time to conclude the good of the CoS outweighed the bad; additionally, I think it is a fact that a certain segment of the population is predisposed to be”anti-cultists” from the get-go because they view anything new and different with suspicion and alarm, whether justified or not, these kind raise an outcry at anything they consider to be a social deviation. If their parents and grandparents didn’t do it, it ought not to be. I fit jostles the status quo, they are against it; after all “What will people think!!??

        Judging the work of sociologists of the 1970s by what we know today is myopic at the very least.

  11. Perhaps he realizes that the undercurrents which caused all those high level Scientologists to leave were happening inside while he was doing his research, and he missed these undercurrents during his shallow treatment and understanding of the subject matter.

    And now that events are so obviously proving his shallow treatment wrong, he is trying to correct himself so he doesn’t look so bad to his fellow academics.

    “…So, to be perfectly clear: anyone who cites my conclusions about deprogrammees as a way of dismissing the testimony of voluntary defectors – including the testimony of individuals who left the Church of Scientology – is either consciously misrepresenting my work or stupid.”

    This is black and white thinking in itself, as well as a false choice.

    I don’t know about this guy.

    I think the animal he thought he was studying turned out to be something completely different than he reported.

    Hopefully, he’ll get it right next time.

    1. Thing is, those conclusions *were* used, in exactly the way he claimed, by himself and others.

      It was the whole businesses of Apostasy Theory, the idea that ex-member testimony is invalid “because they were just butthurt”

      More here –

      You’ll note the presence of Massimo Introvigne doing his usual attempt to skew dialogue away from abuses perpetrated.

      1. Massimo is a particularly disappointing case. Here is a page that was purged from the CENSUR website:

        Given how abysmally wrong Massimo was in his judgement of the LoC debacle in this piece I am unsurprised it was disappeared. The thing is that Massimo is now heading up a human rights commission on the OSCE. Wonder do they know about his comments when the first LoC cases were coming out and how he considered those victims? Talk about being ill suited for the role.

  12. Some constructive feedback to James Lewis:

    I assume that you are interested in this specific area (Scientology, ex-Scientologists, and so on) or you would not have written your open letter.

    I would invite, or even challenge you, to revisit your hypothesis and conduct new research that could present more reliable findings. Your study was not longtitudinal, and your variables at the time were not sufficiently defined to reliably establish a causal link between “deprogrammed apostates” and “fanatical criticism” in the area of Scientology specifically. Your parameters were too broad.

    Since you undertook your studies, the advent of the Internet has occurred, and Scientologists are forbidden to read negative or “entheta” information about the Church on the Internet, yet many do anyway, while others steadfastly follow the instruction Not To Look. That in itself, I am sure you would agree, as an academic, is odd to say the least – surely a religion should feel strong enough in its ideology not to have to bring about the injunction to its members not to read or critically assess and evaluate information on the Internet?

    The area of the Internet could bring a fresh dimension to your work if you added it to your scope. The research question would apply here as well, because many who have left as a result of reading information on the Internet fall into a variety of catagories – some become fanatical opponents, some rational opponents, others go quietly on with their lives, others turn to the FreeZone, or the Independents.

    It is a rich, untapped research area, so I would challenge you, in the light of your open letter, to consider conducting a specialised study to revisit your hypothesis specifically in relation to Scientology.

  13. Thanks for posting this Geir,

    I did contact James to give my 2 bits worth for his current study.

    Try to quantify numbers will be difficult other than taking respondents at their word. As one poster mentioned, with the advent of the internet, stats in this area could easily be skewed to give a very different picture by anyone submitting info to Mr. Lewis.

    Looking at the numbers in one’s local org to me would be the best indicator of whether the ‘church’ is expanding or not. In my case, the orgs that I have been involved with have dwindling numbers. In fact, 2 of the orgs are not even remotely close to the numbers of members in the ’70s.

    Makes one wonder where all that ‘straight up & vertical’ expansion actually is.

    As for reason for leaving or how one left (deprogrammed, disinterest, etc) – that’s a crapshoot, but I expect for the more recent long-time members it simply not Scientology anymore.

  14. I`ve never been much impressed by the approach of sociologists. They often tend to describe human behaviour in terms of interactions between people or groups of people, but quietly ignore personal motivation which is the very driving force for the interaction they study. The result is often a highly incomplete view of reality which may have some use in some situations but can in other situations give a very one-sided and sometimes wrong impression of the total subject.

    1. My impression from actually studying Scientology is quite different. Internal motivations is covered many places in Scientology. The fact that so many Scientologists does not show this wisdom in their interaction with others is sad.

  15. As someone so correctly stated, Lewis is a sociologist. And, correct me if I’m wrong, Lewis has never been a Scientologist, ergo, never been audited, taken COS courses/training, rundowns, etc. In my view no one, I me NO ONE, can possibly understand the true nature of Scientology unless they’ve been a Scientologist and/or have had their family and friend relationships sabotaged by COS’s forever soldered-in disconnect and Fair Game Policies. Screw Lewis’ statistical analysis and his years of efforts interviewing and getting to personally know “Scientologists”. Scientologists are masters at lying and spinning events to mask the truth of the brutal, vicious, pathological nature of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard’s bogus “religion”. If the masses knew the true extent of the global harm Scientology has done to thousands and thousands of unsuspecting, idealistic, suggestible (majority, the young), the COS
    leaders and their minions would be put on trial for high crimes and the Church of Scientology would be dissolved and banned from the face of the Earth. Behind their carefully programmed facade of intelligence, dedication, concern for humanity and it’s goal of clearing the planet by creating a race of OT VIII homo novi, is really a convoluted diabolical master plan to make humanity the Effect of Scientology’s CAUSE greed-driven goal creating mass confusion, insanity, destruction the family
    unit; to harass, smear, frighten, terrorize those who dare to criticize and/or leave Scientology because of the intolerable emotional, spiritual and, on occasion, physical abuse “those who choose to leave and tell the truth” are subjected to. If Scientology is truly a “religtion” it is squarely in the same class as The Church of Satan ( if you believe in such garbage). The tenants and practices of Scientology are no less harmful
    and pathetic than the Church of Satan. – One who learned in the hardest way possible
    by experiencing all of what I speak.

Have your say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s