All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.
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Cyberspace exposure of galactic ruler counters group's bid to shed cult image
The remarkable tale of Xenu and the volcanoes is echoing across the anarchic Internet. Scientology is not pleased.
In the 44 years since U.S. science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard set up the nucleus of what would become a multinational organization, the group's inner teachings have been cloaked in secrecy, revealed only to a few adepts and protected by formidable copyright laws.
Premature exposure to the esoteric material could prove hazardous, the organization warns.
But in a fashion that might astonish Mr. Hubbard, who died in 1986, cyberspace has changed everything.
Amid galaxies of Scientology-related material, much of it hostile to the Hollywood-based organization, numerous Web sites are devoted to what Scientology regards as its most sacred texts.
Atop the list is the saga of the galactic ruler Xenu, whose act of mass murder millions of years ago, Scientologists believe, is a key source of mankind's difficulties.
It seems doubtful that such beliefs will affect the groups's current application with Revenue Canada for charitable status as a religion. People, after all, may believe what they wish.
But in an era when Scientology is anxious to shed a cultish image and secure mainstream recognition as a religion, Xenu and his ilk could prove a liability.
"Cyberspace is an enormous problem for Scientology," said Stephen Kent, a University of Alberta sociologist who has spent years examining the group. "Opponents around the world share information quickly and often humorously."
They do it with cartoons, anecdotes and essays that mock Mr. Hubbard's credentials and the organization's claim of eight million adherents. There are court judgments. There are defectors' accounts. There are ostensibly top-secret internal directives from Mr. Hubbard, impossible to verify.
And there is the legend of Xenu (sometimes called Xemu), to which only those at very advanced stages of Scientology instruction are privy.
Xenu goes unmentioned in Scientology's publicly distributed leaflets and magazines. Indeed, the group says it has filed five violation-of-copyright lawsuits to thwart the posting of confidential material on the World Wide Web, with two successes so far.
As well, Scientology officials have more than once secured U.S. court orders permitting them to seize their foes' computers. Scientology cites the U.S. Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which prohibits the dissemination of material that "derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from being generally known to the public."
Last year, an amendment to the U.S. Copyright Act toughened the penalties for infringements, a move in which Scientology says it was instrumental.
Toronto Scientology president Janet Laveau said: "This is out-of-context materials that have been taken and twisted and perverted. . . . What they are putting out is incorrect information. . . . The real materials are not open to the general public. They are considered to be some of the sacred materials of the church.
"It would be a little bit like taking a parable from the Bible and altering that and then saying, 'This is what all Christians are about, this is what all Christians believe.' "
It is not just dissidents who post Scientology material on the Web. Last month, The Wall Street Journal printed a story about a confidential Scientology tax deal with the U.S. government and provided extra information through its Internet edition.
"That was appalling, horrendous," said Rev. Al Buttnor, a Toronto Scientology minister. "What is the fanatical interest with a minority religion?"
But the Internet, where anyone can say anything, and say it to an unknown audience, is not where the Xenu legend got its first large airing. It got it in the pages of the Los Angeles Times 12 years ago during a lawsuit in which a former Scientologist claimed that the organization promised him enhanced intelligence and business success if he took costly training.
When the court file was opened briefly for public inspection, Scientologists tried to stop outsiders from seeing it by swarming the courthouse, lining up at wickets and swamping clerks with requests for copies. But the Times got a look at the disputed documents.
It said they suggested that many human ills date from an atrocity 75 million years ago while Earth was part of an overcrowded confederation ruled by Xenu.
The tyrant solved the population problem by rounding up excess beings, transporting them to volcanoes on Earth and dropping hydrogen bombs on them. (An erupting volcano graces the cover of the Scientology primer Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.) The victims' spirits gathered in clusters and attached themselves to humans, whom they haunt to this day.
On the Internet, there is much discussion of Xenu and these parasitic spirits ("body thetans") and whether they can be removed by Scientology procedures that involve re-experiencing the explosions that turned the volcanoes into cauldrons of fire.
"Stop cruelty to body thetans now," one of the satirical Web sites urges. "They are extremely cheap, requiring no food, and can be taken anywhere, hence no kenneling bills or quarantine. They leave no unsightly mess on the carpet and are extremely loyal, staying with their host for lifetime after lifetime."
Despite their warnings about unauthorized material, Ms. Laveau and her colleagues do not disavow the Xenu legend, nor suggest it is no longer taught. Scientology doctrine is based exclusively on the writings of the late Mr. Hubbard and does not change, Mr. Buttnor said. "If it gets modified, it doesn't work. So we want to keep it pure."
Canadian content over the years has included actress Karen Black and talk-show personality Dini Petty, who quit the organization in the mid-eighties, concluding that it had become "pretty much money-oriented," she said in an interview.
Some of those figures have lent their names to the cause. But there are now many other voices to be heard, as the Internet relays not just text, but interviews, critical statements and radio and television programs.
"Scientology opponents are making constant use of real audio," Prof. Kent said. "People transfer audio sounds into digital bits that then get posted, downloaded, and played back on people's computers."
Scientology, for its part, has its own network of Web sites. But its enthusiasm for the Net seems muted.
"Cyberspace poses problems for everyone," Ms. Laveau said. "It's such a powerful medium. If it's used responsibly, it's such a wonderful tool."
She and other Scientology officials urge great caution in believing what their critics dispatch into cyberspace.
At Scientology's U.S. headquarters, spokeswoman Karin Pouw said: "On the volcanoes, et cetera, there is the mythology on one hand and there is religious practice, belief and theology on the other. The two are distinct, and please do not mix them."
Does she believe the story of Xenu and the volcanoes? "That is not really something I will answer," she said.
Some other Web sites, whose source is unclear, take aim at some of Scientology's more prominent critics, posting their photographs in a rogue's gallery, along with a range of defamatory comments.
Meanwhile, the organization's authorized sites offer material covering Scientology's drug-treatment programs, its work inside prisons, its vilification of conventional psychiatry and Mr. Hubbard's numerous science-fiction publications.
Mr. Hubbard and his achievements are described and praised at great length. Yet for the Scientology critics, there is scant distinction between his novels and his doctrines.
"This is all utterly Hubbard's invention — completely," said defector Gerry Armstrong, who tells of spending years as the founder's legal officer aboard the Scientology ship Apollo.
Mr. Armstrong, high on the organization's list of enemies, fled to British Columbia, he says, because of harassment from the group.
"But you have to understand the tremendous controls that are put on people. If you have even a doubt about Scientology, that doubt gets completely suppressed. You certainly cannot talk to anyone about those doubts. The goal is domination and control. What makes a Scientologist a Scientologist is unswerving obedience."
If so, that would explain Scientology's warnings about what it terms "the promise and the perils" of cyberspace.
"While millions visit the online world for information, enjoyment and services, an unscrupulous few furnish it with a dark side," one official Scientology message warns. "Privacy invasions, lawlessness, intolerance and theft. They could ruin cyberspace for everybody."