Here's Why Scientology's a Cult
It's important for people seeking spirituality not to be led astray in the marketplace of ideas.
Steve McIntosh J.D. is a leader in the integral philosophy movement and author of the new book on spiritual experience: The Presence of the Infinite (Quest 2015). Steve is also author of Evolution’s Purpose (SelectBooks 2012), and Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (Paragon House 2007). He currently works as President and Co-Founder of the nonprofit social policy organization: The Institute for Cultural Evolution. In addition to this think tank, and his work in philosophy, McIntosh has had a variety of other successful careers, including founding the consumer products company Now & Zen, practicing law with one of America’s largest firms, working as an executive with Celestial Seasonings Tea Company, and Olympic-class bicycle racing. He is an honors graduate of the University of Virginia Law School and the University of Southern California Business School, and now lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and two sons.
Steve McIntosh: Every form of spirituality we can identify — whether it’s traditional religious forms of spirituality, a kind of a materialistic, scientific worldview or progressive spirituality in all its many phases as in the last 50 years that have emerged within American culture and elsewhere — have both dignities and disasters, right. The spirituality brings out the best and the worst in humanity. And so every one of these major categories, the religious, the secular, and the progressive have very beautiful and important expressions. And they also have dark expressions which we do well to avoid. And I certainly feel that scientology is a dark expression of progressive spirituality or maybe even secular spirituality. It’s not really clear how to categorize it, but it is a cult and we see cults of all kinds. Whenever you’re dealing with something that’s ultimately true and real, people can go astray. They can be pulled into forms of organization which are diabolical. The signs of a cult include a particularly strong personality who wants everyone else to conform. It can include intense commercialization in which it seems more like a business than a form of spirituality. I think that the best way we can protect ourselves on the spiritual journey is by taking an integral view of spirituality. Seeing how spirituality evolves and seeing how it can become stuck, how it regresses. And so if we look at scientology, we can see that there’s a lot of negative fruits. A lot of lives have been ruined. A lot of falsehoods have been projected. And so using this test of their fruits we’d be able to determine right away that’s a kind of spirituality we would do well to avoid. Ultimately I think spirituality is a personal affair and while we can socialize our spirituality and being part of a spiritual group, spirituality in its essence is really about our own spiritual growth and our own experience of that which is beautiful, true and good. And so maintaining our prerogative as agents of evolution and as indeed agents of our own spiritual growth is one way we can protect ourselves from the ways that we can be led astray in the spiritual marketplace of ideas.
Steve McIntosh is an author and leader in the field of the integral thought, which means he spends a lot of time thinking about the many different forms of spirituality. He sees three classifications for spirituality — the religious, the secular and the progressive — with each having their own important quirks and beauties. Scientology falls somewhere between secular and progressive, but on the darker end of the spectrum as far as spiritual expressions go.
How can we form the determination that scientology is a cult? First, the presence of the cult leader, a particularly strong personality who wants everyone else to conform. Second, the commercialization and business-like structure of the organization. Third, the ultimate evaluation of scientology's "fruits" and the negative effects it has had on people's' lives.
Spirituality, according to McIntosh, is a personal affair. That said, we should be wary of negative expressions of spirituality so that people are not led astray in the "spiritual marketplace of ideas."
McIntosh's new book on spiritual experience is titled The Presence of the Infinite.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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