The Australian, 13 Sep 1968, p8
SHOULD Scientology be banned? It's clearly a despicable racket, trading on the credulity of its victims.
But this is true of many enterprises - commercial, religious, sexual.
On what grounds can one justify banning one brand of deception while letting others flourish?
Two starting points are beyond reasonable doubt. First, Scientology offers no benefits, and is a mixture of phoney psychology and brainwashing, clothed in absurd jargon. Second, it aims to exploit suckers, which it does ruthlessly.
The royal commission in Victoria, after whose report Scientology was banned in 1965, cited cases of victims paying up to $2000 for mumbo-jumbo. Victorians, over a six year period, were fleeced to the tune of $500,000.
South Australia has announced a ban, Western Australia will follow soon, and there's agitation for New South Wales to conform. Britain has refused Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, permission to enter.
There are three pro-banning arguments in the current dispute. The simplest, most popular, and weakest is to stick a pejorative label on what Scientologists profess to believe. Terms such as "pernicious," "ugly," "weird" and the favorite "sinister" are used.
Those who think that beliefs as such, long before they have led to action, should ever be touched cannot be argued with from the point of view of upholders of democracy and the rule of law.
The second major point is the enticement argument: Scientology is said to trap people into committing themselves to the expenditure of large sums of money.
Assuming this to be true, I cannot agree that, by itself and given the culture of industrial society, this is sufficient to justify a ban.
It is a mistake to argue that only "capitalism" rests on enticement, and no point to the obvious parallels between Scientology's "traps" and those of a good deal of advertising.
This is too narrow and partial a statement of the problem. Rather, modern industrial society, regardless of whether its economic system is capitalist or socialist, rests on the constant stimulation and creation of demand, and seeks to commit us - by hire-purchase and credit facilities - into expenditure of large sums of money.
A large proportion of the utilities we get for our money are quite real to us, but are seen as illusory or deceptive by others who do not have the same scale of preferences.
If we were to ban the advertising and selling of products which make someone feel younger, more attractive, more confident, more likely to marry the boss' daughter, a good deal of modern business would collapse.
It's possible to oppose all trading on illusions. But then you must not merely ban Scientology and most advertising and selling in, say, both Australia and the Soviet Union, but go much further:
You would have to lay down, by law, what is to count as real value and what is to count as illusion. In which group is lipstick, Dale Carnegie, the Vietnam policies of the Government and of the Opposition, watching Homicide or Batman, and going to church going to fall?
If we are to ban Scientology because it leads to emotional dependence and traps people so that they are tied to future expenditure, should we also ban the processes which lead up to most marriages?
Millions of women thrive on encouraging emotional dependence, which you can call love if you prefer. A major part of woman's role in our society is to catch or trap her man. He is enticed into a long-range costly enterprise, known as marriage.
Some men and women feel trapped and deceived after the event - others do not. But would this not also be true of Scientologists?
The third, and most serious pro-banning argument was put by South Australia's Premier, Mr Hall, who stated that Scientology is dangerous to mental health.
Honi Soit, Sydney University's student paper, which has been waging a major anti-Scientology campaign, declared: "Just as the law acts to prevent quack cancer cures, we feel it should act to prevent phoney 'mind' cures and releases."
The trouble with this view is its spurious parallel between physical and mental health. This forms the basis of many a general pro-censorship argument. If governments can control poison, why can't they control "mental" poison?
There is a good deal of agreement on the criteria of physical health. But the wider the definition of health the larger the area of dispute. When it comes to mental health, most citizens of course would think most students lack it, and would cite any issue of Honi Soit in support.
There would be a minority who believe that all forms of religion - not merely the small sects - are "phoney 'mind' cures and releases," just as others would classify any kind of "faith," for instance in progress, that way.
The key difficulty is precisely that talk about "quacks," "phoney" or "harm" does not avoid the issue of how criteria sufficiently clearcut to serve as the basis of any legal code are to be arrived at.
Personally, I am quite convinced that Scientology is sheer quackery, quite phoney, and may harm people in terms of my criteria of "harm."
But until and unless the pro-banners spell out their criteria very clearly, so that one can judge their worth, and show that Scientology's victims were not mentally disturbed before they became such, I must, reluctantly, oppose the singling out for banning of one set of deceivers from so many others.