The Church of Scientology vs Books

“Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!”

Stephen Hopkins, as portrayed by Roy Poole, in the motion picture 1776

In my whole life, I’ve never read or even heard about a book so that was so dangerous that it shouldn’t be read, not only read by myself, but read by anyone.

Throughout history, there have been books published that the powers in-force at that time deemed that the book in-question should not be read by anyone, ever, and that all copies of the book should be destroyed. Occasionally, the authors themselves were often imprisoned or even put to death.

One of the most famous incidents of book banning was The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. His book was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeinei of Iran and Rushdie himself was sentenced to death. The banning and death sentence did little harm to Rushdie’s career, as his book became a best seller in the West and Rushdie himself experienced a vitalized career in the Western nations and he became a cause celebre for years after the event. To this day, whenever he publishes a book or appears at an event, it makes the news.

When the book was banned, I actually went out, bought a copy,  took it home and read it. To be completely honest, I hated the book. I found its plot disjointed and the use of profanity and insults aimed at the main character to be so over the top, that I gave the book away to the first person I could find that wanted it. Hunter S. Thompson wouldn’t have written a book like that and he had little in the way of inhibitions about writing anything.

So, the banning of the book had the exact opposite effect that the Ayatollah had wanted. Instead of destroying his career and silencing him forever, one way or another, it turned Rushdie into a celebrity in the West.

Before we Westerners get too comfortable viewing ourselves as advocates for Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech, let’s remember that we have something of a history of banning books here too. The American Library Association maintains a list of books that have been frequently challenged and subjected to banning by local and state governments. Among the top challenged books, you’ll find the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; and Mark Twain’s Advetures of Huckleberry Finn. There are other books on the list, written by authors I do not recognize. But, they are on the list because they have been so frequently challenged as to make such occurances noticable at the national level. One book for which being challenged is not a surprise is Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, as it is seen as advocating that homosexual couples can raise children just as well as heterosexuals and it has frequently been singled-out for condemnation by the Religious Right.

Some books are just plain awful, while others are written simply by authors who don’t know how to write without interjecting a lot of sex or profanity. But, whatever the nature of the book, banning it simply draws more attention to it and makes people want it more, regardless of whether the book is good or bad.

But, it is not only governments that can try to ban books. Churches and corporations can try the same thing, usually by filing lawsuits against the author, publisher or retailers who offer the book for sale. One example of this is the Church of Scientology.

The Scandal of Scientology by Paulette Cooper
was one of their most famous attempts to silence a book critical of their organization. The book earned Ms Cooper the attention and wrath of members of the church. The book earned Cooper negative attention from members of the Church, and she was subsequently the target not only of litigation but a harassment campaign known as Operation Freakout, the goal of which was to deter Cooper from criticism of Scientology by having her incarcerated in a mental institution, imprisoned or silence her completely. Members of the church sent itself forged bomb threats, purportedly from Cooper, using her typewriter and paper with her fingerprints on it; further plans included bomb threats to be sent to Henry Kissinger. The Church’s campaign was discovered when the FBI raided Scientology offices in 1977, as part of the investigation into the Church’s attempts to illegally infiltrate the United States government in what was called “Operation Snow White“, and recovered documents relating to the operation. Libraries in Canada were even sued for stocking the book on the shelves.

Ms Cooper wrote about her experiences with the Church of Scientology’s attacks on her and you can read her account online. Even though the book itself is no longer being sold online, you can sometimes find a copy of it on eBay or you can read the book online at Operation Clambake.

Due to the ultimate failure of silencing Cooper, you might think that Scientologists wouldn’t repeat their mistake. After all, they made Cooper’s life a living hell, bu the book is still around and – with the on-going Project Chanology campaign launched by the group known only as “Anonymous” – it is being read now more than ever.

However, being bitten by the same dog twice doesn’t seem to phase them. A recently-released book “The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology” by John Duignan, with Nicola Tallant. Prior to the book’s publication Scientology spokesman Gerard Ryan told the newspaper Irish Mail on Sunday that the Church wouldn’t take any legal action against the book. However, claiming that the book libels a Scientology member, the Church sent a legal letter to Amazon’s offices in the United Kingdom, customers who had pre-ordered the book were informed that the book was unavailable “for legal reasons” and the book’s listing was removed from their website. Book retailers Waterstone’s and W H Smith were also sent the legal letters.

However, here in the USA, the only apparent delay in Amazon selling the book was simply waiting for the book shipment to arrive and it is currently available for sale.

The Church of Scientology has lots of money and they have used some of it to attempt to silence critics. Lawsuits, even when they have no legal merit, are a good way to shut some one up when you have more disposable income than they do. However, such acts do nothing to enhance the public image of any organization, the Church’s image gets hurt every time they do this and it gives fresh motivations to their critics to continue their campaigns.

The harder the Church of Scientology tries to suppress this book or any work critical of them, the harder their opponents will work to bring such materials into the public eye.

Remember during the Reformation, when the Catholic Church decided to attempt to silence Martin Luther, rather than to address the issues he had brought up in his 99 Theses, the harder Luther worked to expose the Catholic Church and Luther found willing allies to work to break the power of the Roman Church. Even longer before that, the Roman Empire put thousands of Christians to death, yet Christianity flourished and, eventually, took over the Empire.

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

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