The Table Podcast

Respectfully Engaging Scientology

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Michael J. Svigel discuss respectfully engaging world religions, focusing on Scientology.

Respectfully Engaging World Religions
  1. Respectfully Engaging Atheism
  2. Respectfully Engaging Sikhism
  3. Respectfully Engaging Shintoism
  4. Respectfully Engaging Animism
  5. Respectfully Engaging Judaism
  6. Respectfully Engaging Hinduism
  7. Respectfully Engaging the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  8. Respectfully Engaging Islam
  9. Respectfully Engaging Jainism
  10. Respectfully Engaging Buddhism
  11. Respectfully Engaging Scientology
  12. Respectfully Engaging World Religions
Timecodes
Resources Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health Self Analysis Phenomenon L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at The Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And my guest is Dr. Michael Svigel who is Chair of the Systematic Theology – well, do they call it Systematic –
Michael Svigel
Theological Studies, now.
Darrell Bock
Theological Studies. Yeah, I remember –
Michael Svigel
Systematic and Historical together.
Darrell Bock
– they keep changing the name on me.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, right.
Darrell Bock
They just want to remind me how old I am. So, anyway, of Theological Studies. And we’re in the series on World Religions, and our topic today is Scientology. So, this is the – one of the newer kids on the block, if I can say that.
Michael Svigel
Relatively, yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, we’re going to talk through this. And, Michael, I’m going to let you tell a little bit of your story, because you aren’t – this isn’t just a theoretical exercise for you.
Michael Svigel
Right.
Darrell Bock
So, how did a nice guy like you get to a place like this?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, that’s a great question, and I’ll give you a short version of it. You know, I grew up in northern Minnesota. We didn’t have a lot going on; we had to make our own fun. And I was –
Darrell Bock
[Chuckle]
Michael Svigel
Yeah. So, I was struggling as a teenager, as most teenagers do, with – oh, all kinds of problems, mostly brought on by bad decisions, sin, but I didn’t want to accept that. I was looking for a way out.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Michael Svigel
And at that time, there were commercials being run – this was in 1987-1988 – commercials being run for Dianetics.
Darrell Bock
You really are a young guy.
Michael Svigel
Yes, I am.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
Thank you for pointing that out.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
And so, I became attracted to what Scientology – or at the time it was just called Dianetics – what it was offering me and got involved in that and started in on that for about a year-and-a-half. The plan was when I turned 18, I was going to officially join up, was planning on going to – all the way to L.A. to go to school there and join up. And –
Darrell Bock
This was like an R.O.T.C. or something?
Michael Svigel
Kind of.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, right. Well, when you’re – when you’re underage, you know, you can only do so much. But for about a year-and-a-half now – so, I was never officially a member of the Church of Scientology, but I like to say I was engaged to be married in my mind to that.
Darrell Bock
And you knew what it was about?
Michael Svigel
I increasingly became more and more aware of the depths of its doctrines and teachings. I came from a very nominally Christian background, not a lot of strong doctrinal or moral foundation. And so, I was always on the lookout for the latest fix. So, that was my – how I got involved in that.
Darrell Bock
So, where in Minnesota are you from?
Michael Svigel
Far, far – in almost Canada, frankly.
Darrell Bock
Almost Canada?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, far North, the Iron Range.
Darrell Bock
You barely have a passport? Is that what you’re saying?
Michael Svigel
[Chuckle] That’s right. We’re still a part of the union, but barely. Yeah, and so, there wasn’t a lot going on there. The nearest actual Church of Scientology location was down in The Cities, and that’s where I had visited –
Darrell Bock
It’s the Twin Cities, I take it?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, right.
Darrell Bock
The Cities are the –
Michael Svigel
Yes.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, Minneapolis-St. Paul for those who are just trying to [crosstalk] –
Michael Svigel
Exactly, right. So, I was able to – they had an 800 number, and I had kind of a guy that I would mentor with, and read the literature, and got more and more involved with friends and things on my own, and involved in some of the auditing sessions and some different things down in the main location when I was able to visit. But the remoteness of my situation did prevent me from getting deep – more deeply involved in it.

And I was scooped up out of that by the grace of God through a high school English teacher who was also a bivocational pastor. And he challenged me, saw me reading some Scientology books and challenged me on that in a public high school, no less.

And it’s very interesting. I gotta tell this part of it. He said – saw me reading Dianetics or one of the L. Ron Hubbard books, and he said, “Oh, L. Ron Hubbard.”

I said, “Oh, yeah. You know him?”

He said, “Oh, yeah. He’s spending an extended vacation in the warmer regions.”

And I said, “No, he died a few years ago.”

Darrell Bock
[Laughs]
Michael Svigel
He said, “That’s what I mean.” So, that was more the confrontational approach to evangelism.
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh, yeah, right, right.
Michael Svigel
And I started arguing with him. And he said to me, “Some day L. Ron Hubbard is going to disappoint you, and when he does, call me.”

And it was through a series of events I ended up getting my hands on one of the first very-difficult-to-find exposés on Scientology. That was very hard to come by in the ’80s. Before the Internet, before you could just google something.

Darrell Bock
Wasn’t on Wikipedia.
Michael Svigel
Right. No, nothing like that. So, I got a copy of the book. I read the book, and I thought, “You know, if just a fraction of this is true, I’m in trouble. This is not the religion for me.” And I called him up, and he’s the one who then led me to the Lord and discipled me early on.

So, that’s, in a nutshell, my experience. So, about a year-and-a-half I was moving deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper into – on the path of Dianetics into Scientology.

Darrell Bock
And then you got deflected.
Michael Svigel
I did, thank God.
Darrell Bock
So – okay, so, the way the series works is we basically ask three core questions.
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm?
Darrell Bock
What’s at the center of this religion; how is it structured? What are its emphases? How is it like and unlike Christianity? And then the second set is, you know, what makes this attractive? What’s the draw?
Michael Svigel
Right.
Darrell Bock
And then the third is how does the gospel speak into that draw? Or another way to ask the question is if you meet someone who’s – that’s where they’re coming from, how do you begin to address them with regard to the gospel?

So, let’s do this in part. Let me do a little bit of table setting here. Early 1950s, L. Ron Hubbard – basically science fiction writer?

Michael Svigel
He’s a science fiction – yeah, like a pulp science fiction – yeah.
Darrell Bock
M-kay. And he produces a book – I think it’s in 1953-1954 called Dianetics.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I don’t even know what – does that word mean anything by itself do you know, or is it –
Michael Svigel
It’s allegedly derived from the Greek dia and then news for – through the soul or through the mind.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I’m processing that and going, “Does that work?”
Michael Svigel
You’re the Greek scholar. It doesn’t really –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, so, anyway – okay, so he writes this book which becomes a pretty widespread best seller. It draws a lot of attention.
Michael Svigel
It does, right.
Darrell Bock
Has anyone figured out what the draw of it was?
Michael Svigel
You know, it was – it billed itself as the modern science of mental health, kind of a revolution. It was a – it was a – in the hands of laypeople, a popular level kind of approach to self-help or other help. So, you were able to take the power of mental health out of the psychoanalyst’s hands, the psychiatrist, the institution, and put it in the hands of normal people. And so, it had that popular appeal.

It also – you know, when I picked the thing up and read it, it was easy to understand, but you could tell there was a lot of depth there. And it was – it drew you in.

Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Michael Svigel
It was also based on some – it was kind of a mixture, I think, of some commonly accepted psychological principles, some very pragmatic approaches to therapy – gestalt therapy and some other things, but also what we might call fringe psychological theories. And so, it was sort of a mixture, and it really had – it was something that you could immediately start trying and had that very practical aspect to it.

So, I can see why it would be attractive, especially in the ’50s, ’60s, when people were looking for alternatives to institutionalized religion and Christianity.

Darrell Bock
And I take it that the payoff, if I can say it that way, is that it kind of helps you think about your identity a little bit and kinda how you function as a person. Is that –
Michael Svigel
And it helps you explain why you’re having problems, why you’re feeling this way, why you act this way. It gives you a theory for behavior and then a solution to it – a very practical solution. And I will say this, Dianetics, too, is not – there’s very little indication that this is a religion.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Michael Svigel
So, when you first are introduced to Scientology through Dianetics, the religious and spiritual overtones are virtually nonexistent, and it feels compatible with any kind of religion. So, it’s – you only get into the spiritual and the metaphysical stuff as you go deeper.
Darrell Bock
That’s interesting. So – ’cause that’s actually my next question, which is – you know, originally it was just this book Dianetics and Scientology wasn’t connected to it. Do you – do you know the history of how that transition took place and what’s going on there?
Michael Svigel
Some – just by what I’ve read.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
At the time, obviously, I didn’t know the difference. You know, it was – it started out as a very L. Ron Hubbard-oriented – but apparently a lot of people were involved in the formation of some of the theories and practices of Dianetics. As he kind of took it off in a more spiritual direction, some speculate it was in order to be a nonprofit religious organization and avoid paying taxes and such. I don’t know if that’s true, but the point is he did take it into a more spiritual direction and incorporate the science and the metaphysical, and now you get the best of both worlds.

So, now with Dianetics and some of the things – their drug treatment kinds of programs, or the self-help sort of approaches – anything that you enter into it through a – what looks like a harmless psychological pop self-help sort of approach is very quickly going to get into the metaphysical and the spiritual. So, very clearly people realize this is a religious organization.

Darrell Bock
So, people today will refer to the Church of Scientology to make that kind of an indication.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, and with L. Ron Hubbard, that was something that came several years after introducing Dianetics as the modern science of mental health.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So, let’s step back here. We’re talking about the contents now of Scientology.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
What – I mean is there a theology in there of any sort?
Michael Svigel
Sure. Oh, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And are there some technical terms associated with this?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, there are several. You know, again, as I was introduced to it – I was slowly introduced into the idea of thetans and past lives and this sort of thing. It’s a – it’s kind of an amalgam of Hinduism. The idea of reincarnation is very – a major part of it. We have multiple incarnations throughout our history for – going back possibly trillions of years. We – the anthropology, the doctrine of humanity is very core there. It’s a very human centered theology.

So, we are, as it were, essentially spirit beings trapped in this body. The goal, ultimately, if there is an eschatology, is to be released from the body or freed from the bodily constraints. And we are, as it were, divine beings of some sort. So, that’s sort of the core of it, and you can see the goal, then, is through the various processes to actualize that and to be released ultimately from our bodies.

Darrell Bock
So, you said thetans – or thetans?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, thetan. It comes from theos or the – for –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, we’re gonna – you’re gonna be drawing on –
Michael Svigel
The word theta.
Darrell Bock
You’re going to be drawing on my Greek all through it.
Michael Svigel
That is. Yep, yep. I figured you’d like that. That’s basically the goal – the ultimate goal of Scientology. This is about where I started to get off of the thing – get out of it, when I realized some of this stuff – is to be an operating thetan, to be basically free from bodily constraint and be able to do things out of body –
Darrell Bock
So, we’re really spiritual beings –
Michael Svigel
We are.
Darrell Bock
– and the material world is kind of –
Michael Svigel
It’s very similar to ancient Gnosticism in many ways.
Darrell Bock
That’s exactly where I was going next.
Michael Svigel
It’s a dualistic –
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
Yep. So, there’s nothing really new per se, but it was kind of a repackaging of a Gnostic kind of theology and worldview.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. You know, because Gnosticism – one of the things that has happened in our world today are that Gnostic ideas and Gnostic views have manifested themselves in a variety of ways today.
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
I mean the whole draw of The Da Vinci Code in the first decade –was rooted in similar kinds of things. And this whole idea of the spiritual is what counts and the material denigrated –
Michael Svigel
Right.
Darrell Bock
– is another element of that. So –
Michael Svigel
But, let me back up, though, to just the basic entre into the religion, though, is a very, “We can help you with your problems.”
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
And – right, so it’s a very –
Darrell Bock
So, it almost sounds psychological.
Michael Svigel
It is; it’s very much like a – you know – as you know, in the ’80s and ’90s, self-help sections of bookstores kept growing.
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
Michael Svigel
Religious sections kept shrinking.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
And it was –
Darrell Bock
And Karl Menninger was writing Whatever Became of Sin?
Michael Svigel
Exactly. Yeah, yeah, right, yeah. So…
Darrell Bock
Yeah, m-kay. So –
Michael Svigel
It fit right in there.
Darrell Bock
Okay, now there’s another – we talked about thetans; let’s talk about another technical term that when you hear it you go, “Okay, how does that have anything to do with a religion?” Auditing.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Okay, auditing –
Michael Svigel
It has nothing to do with the IRS.
Darrell Bock
Okay. That’s right. So –
Michael Svigel
Auditing comes from, obviously, auditory, hearing or listening. The core religious, I guess, if you would call it “practice” or we might even call it “psychological counseling” aspect of Scientology, which I did participate in, was what they call “auditing.” You could use this thing called an E-meter, which is sort of like a basic polygraph/lie detector, but you didn’t need this.

And what it was was simply one person with another person. One is the “auditor,” the other one is the “auditee,” the person who’s going through it. And you would go back, in your mind, and relive or recount, ultimately, traumatic episodes in your life experience.

Let’s say you were in a car crash in the age of seven. And the auditor would lead the person back and have you go through it and describe as many of the feelings but more physical aspects of that – what you heard, what you saw – and then retell it and retell it and retell it.

And the idea is, in circumstances where you endure pain, suffering – emotional or physical, your data that is collected through your senses is dumped into your unconscious mind and sealed up in there and then starts affecting you in your waking moments.

Darrell Bock
So, there are negative thoughts –
Michael Svigel
The idea is to unbury that, bring it to the surface of consciousness, and then free you from its effects.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
Essentially. There’s a more complicated explanation, but that’s the best way. That’s what auditing is trying to do.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So, it’s bringing out – it’s kind of purging yourself of these negative – of this –
Michael Svigel
Which they called engrams, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Okay, engrams.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so –
Michael Svigel
Things written in your unconscious that you’re not aware of.
Darrell Bock
Okay. And it –
Michael Svigel
I think that’s a fairly fair estimate –
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Michael Svigel
– even though it’s an oversimplification.
Darrell Bock
And so, it’s to free you of the impact of these engrams?
Michael Svigel
Yeah. Very similar to – I guess to psychoanalysis in many ways, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Okay. That was the next place I was going.
Michael Svigel
Very similar.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and very – and kind of a, if I can say it, almost a different form of confession.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I mean, you know, where I take it the issue is less my responsibility for these things as to how these bad things have impacted me.
Michael Svigel
Impacted, right, right.
Darrell Bock
M-kay.
Michael Svigel
You are the victim of these things whether you know it or not.
Darrell Bock
So, you become a consummate victim who is purging these negative thoughts that impact you in negative ways.
Michael Svigel
Exactly. And very quickly a – the explanation that – the example that we would always use, whether it’s realistic or not, you’re a toddler. You fall down; you get dust in your face from the carpet, and you start crying and sniffling. Well, years later, you have a dust allergy. So, there are certain things that trigger these reactions – psychosomatic reactions. Every time you smell dust, your unconscious mind is bringing back the tears and the sniffling –
Darrell Bock
That was a bad day.
Michael Svigel
– and now you have allergies. Right. And you don’t even know where that came from until you can uncover it and release it. And the idea is you’ll be clear eventually of these engrams, and you will have no more negative psychological, emotional, or physical effects from these things.
Darrell Bock
So, we aren’t talking about something that’s like the – we’re talking about, you know, how this is like and unlike Christian faith –
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
We aren’t talking about something that’s like a salvation, but we’re talking about a freeing emotional –
Michael Svigel
A liberation from – yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Interesting.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And then there’s apparently a structure – so, you’ve got these auditors. Are there – is – are there equivalents to ministers, or are these auditors [crosstalk] –
Michael Svigel
Those would be – that would be basically – yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
M-kay.
Michael Svigel
That would be their – that would be their core actual religious process, yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, when you – I mean when you go or participate in a Church of Scientology, this auditing process is the primary thing that’s happening?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, basically, mm-hmm. There are other exercises once you –
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
But that’s the core thing. Because until you’re considered a clear – that was my goal starting out, up the scale to a 4.0 clear.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
After that, though, there are more levels.
Darrell Bock
M-kay. So, what’s a – so, “clear,” let’s explain that. That’s –
Michael Svigel
You clear from all of your engrams, including prenatal and your birth.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
Anything that has affected you. So, you’re clear of those; they’re no longer having any effect on you.
Darrell Bock
They really assume you have a pretty good memory.
Michael Svigel
Right, yeah.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs]
Michael Svigel
Yeah. So, then after that, you can continue up the scale, and there are other kinds of exercises similar to the auditing, but you’re not – well, frankly, unlocking engrams from past lives as well.
Darrell Bock
M-kay.
Michael Svigel
That’s where it starts to move into the – obviously the metaphysical.
Darrell Bock
So, is there any worship associated with this, or is this simply –
Michael Svigel
No.
Darrell Bock
– a self-understanding exercise?
Michael Svigel
There’s no worship. I mean we did regard – even my shallow exposure getting deeper into it, L. Ron Hubbard was a messianic kind of figure who has kind of built this bridge to the truth and discovered this thing or rediscovered this thing. But there’s no worship of L. Ron Hubbard; there’s no worship – they claim, and in many cases it’s true – they are compatible with any religion. They have claimed that. I found they were not compatible with evangelical Christianity. When I became a Christian, that was incompatible.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
So – but for the most part, they will say, “Well, I’m a Catholic Scientologist,” or, “I’m a Buddhist Scientologist,” or – because, as you can see, it’s –
Darrell Bock
It’s not competing [crosstalk] –
Michael Svigel
It’s not competing with the worship of a different God, per se.
Darrell Bock
Right, m-kay.
Michael Svigel
Which makes it attractive in some ways.
Darrell Bock
Right, right. Well –
Michael Svigel
I don’t have to give up the religion of my parents to be a Scientologist.
Darrell Bock
Now, I imagine that you’ve pondered this question in one form or another, and that is this movement has actually kind of caught on in pockets of Hollywood.
Michael Svigel
Sure, mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
And, you know, we’ve got prominent figures who’ve been associated with this. In fact, when I told my wife that we were doing this podcast, she says, “You know, the cover story on People magazine this week is on someone who’s trying to leave the Church of Scientology and has been pursued by the church because they’ve been so public about their distancing of the faith.”
Michael Svigel
Mmm, that’s good to know.
Darrell Bock
Which is a whole nother dimension of this. There’s someone who watches over, I guess, the public image of Scientology or whatever.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And is it the psychotherapeutic aspects of Scientology that you think make it attractive to someone in Hollywood? I mean are – can – do you have any explanation for –
Michael Svigel
Yeah, I really don’t know. I think it – I mean the thing is centered in L.A., and so – and its early –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I’ve driven by the main church on the highway –
Michael Svigel
Right, yeah. Its earliest pockets of followers were from there, and so it had an influence in Hollywood. I don’t think there’s any – I don’t think there’s any reasonable explanation for that, probably just sociological explanations. I would say most people – I’ve talked to people in Hollywood, and they say, “Look” – they don’t they have kind of a neutral attitude toward religion. As long as you don’t mess with production –
Darrell Bock
[Laughs]
Michael Svigel
They really care mostly about making money. Right?
Darrell Bock
About the film. Yeah, yeah.
Michael Svigel
Whether you’re a Christian, Buddhist, Scientologist – as long as you don’t start messing with the production, it’s fine. And so, I think, though, it’s just certain key famous actors and actresses, at least in the ’80s, were used as PR magnets. So – and they really don’t like – well, what religion does like bad press? Right?
Darrell Bock
Right, right, right, right, right.
Michael Svigel
But the critics and such, calling it a cult and calling it these kinds of things are, you know, really upsetting, I suppose, to any religion.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. So, you’re – so, someone who’s involved in this – I’m talking about your past involvement –
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
– they’re reading and auditing. I mean is that basically what’s happening?
Michael Svigel
We’re reading books. There’s some self-evaluation exercises you can do. There are other kinds of thought. I remember one time we were – I was led through a series of questions like, “What could you have done today?” And then you say. And then they ask it again, “What could you have done today?” And this was – this was just – these things where they’re intended to expand your creativity, expand your mind – you know, you’re growing now, and you’re –
Darrell Bock
Have you be more self-aware.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, being more self-aware. Yeah, exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, m-kay. So, it sounds like –
Michael Svigel
It was fun.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
I mean it’s just interesting kind of fun –
Darrell Bock
A different kind of therapy.
Michael Svigel
A different way of, yeah, spending your time.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Well, okay, so we’ve kind of gotten the flavor of what Scientology is and how it works, and some of the terminology that’s associated with it, that kind of thing. And the one thing we didn’t raise – we talked a little bit about anthropology and about the – kind of the – almost the therapeutic qualities of Scientology. We didn’t talk a little bit about any sense of eschatology or afterlife or anything like that. How does – does Scientology approach those questions at all?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, it does in some ways. Ultimately, the major emphasis is on a quality of life now, at least initially. But ultimately, the goal is an escape from bodily constraints, bodily existence, and to be – and I mentioned in the – before the break that it’s very similar to Gnosticism. The idea is that you are – you have been trapped. You are essentially a spiritual being trapped in a physical body universe. The goal is to be freed from that.

In the meantime, there is the cyclic – the cyclical reincarnation thing that we are a part of. So, I would say it’s very similar, in some regards, to Buddhism or Hinduism, with an emphasis on reincarnation. And the goal, ultimately, is escape from that. Not nirvana, not a melding with the oneness of the universe; it’s very individualistically oriented. But the goal is to an escape ultimately. There isn’t a dying and going to heaven. There isn’t resurrection. It is really escape from the constraints of the physical realm.

Darrell Bock
So, it’s conceivable, then, that some of the people, when they’re being audited and that kind of thing, can not only reflect on this life, but they might reflect on a claim of having had a previous life or something like that, that that can go on.
Michael Svigel
Yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And as – like I mentioned about – I was getting deeper and deeper into it for about a year-and-a-half, and toward the end, that was a major topic that came up that really challenged me. I had never really believed in reincarnation, and when this came up – the idea of past lives – and clearing out past lives and the effects that those are even having on you. It’s one of the things that really started to cause me to doubt whether this is really the modern science of mental health or just a religion that – do I really want to be a part of that?
Darrell Bock
In wrestling with that, I mean there’s almost an endless dimension to it in terms of the way in which it can capture your attention and then, “Well, okay, all right, so we’ve done a good job of thinking about this time around, and we can” –
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– “now let’s go and delve back into the past.” And the deeper and longer – the deeper it goes, the longer it goes.
Michael Svigel
The longer you can go. There is, in a sense, an endless path. At the beginning you think, “Well, if I just get to level four, I’ll be clear and, you know, I can move on.” Well, actually, there are multiple levels of – to, you know – an operating thetan and these abilities and the depth, and going all the way back almost an infinite regression backwards through past lives.

So, you know – and as people get involved in it, they’re spending time, they’re spending energy, they’re – they have – they’re giving up relationships in order to be more involved in the church, they’ve spent a lot of money. It’s really hard, when you start to realize that maybe you – this was a mistake. It’s really hard to back out of that. You know? And – yeah, it’s very difficult.

Darrell Bock
Okay. So, that’s kind of the character of Scientology. Let’s talk a little bit about the other elements, which is – so, what is your sense of the attraction of Scientology? I mean the – what is coming across to me, I think, pretty clearly is people are given a sense that they can understand themselves better.
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm, yep.
Darrell Bock
And so, that seems to be the big driver in a lot of ways.
Michael Svigel
Yeah. One of the – a couple terms that stick out – I mean it was called the modern science of mental health. They had really flashy commercials on TV. So, they had a really great – and still do – a pretty glossy, flashy PR campaign. And so, they knew how to – they also targeted – they targeted people, I realize, that were above average intelligence, had some – weren’t in a super bad condition, like crazy people –
Darrell Bock
Right.
Michael Svigel
– people who had minor problems and could easily be helped and assisted. So – and they targeted them with terms like “truth.” I will tell you one thing that had really appealed to me is it appealed to my pride.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Michael Svigel
Not only was it going to solve my problems, which is a – obviously an appeal if you have a – if you’re a teen with all kinds of problems, but you were being given the truth that L. Ron Hubbard and the Dianetics Foundation and Scientology had unveiled, and everybody else was wrong.
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
Michael Svigel
The psychiatrists were wrong; the psychologists were wrong; the medical community – everybody else was wrong. We alone had this truth and this bridge to freedom. And there’s something really attractive to that as it’s, you know, stroking your pride.
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
Michael Svigel
And it gives you something to argue about with other people.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Michael Svigel
And so, that’s going to attract a certain kind of person – usually with people with strong personalities. And it did; it attracted me.
Darrell Bock
Is there any – you know, in the Christian experience, of course, community is an important thing.
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
Is there any kind of community dimension to this, or is it pretty much a privatized therapy?
Michael Svigel
Both. Both. So, there are things you can do on your own. They had a book that I had gone through and others had gone through called – Self-Analysis I think it was called, and there were exercises you could go through. But you also had the camaraderie of, “Look, we are the community of the truth of the restoration of humanity here,” and we really thought we could ultimately bring people to a – we would end wars and end poverty and end addictions.

But there was also the one-on-one aspect of the auditing process. How often do we, as Christians, sit down across from the table and try to hammer out and work out each others’ problems? Not very often.

Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
And so, there is something like that that’s really missing.
Darrell Bock
There’s interpersonal –
Michael Svigel
Yeah, that interpersonal. And we’re struggling in this together, which was – it felt good, frankly.
Darrell Bock
Now, you’ve raised another category that often gets associated with religion, that is probably worth probing here, and that is is there any kind of social ethic or anything – I mean is there a benefit of being a “cleared?” Does it clean you –
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– up to be able to serve people in other ways or that kind of – that dimension? Or is there some –
Michael Svigel
Ultimately, yeah. Although – you know, I had a – I had a girlfriend at the time who was really bad off, and I was told a number of times by my mentor to, “Just forget about her, she’s beyond help, and” – you know?
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
Michael Svigel
“She’s on psychoactive drugs; she’s on medication; there’s nothing we can do for her.” So, there was a point where it hardly becomes worth working on some people. So, that was the impression I got.

On the other hand, they do have – they did have and still have drug addiction recovery type things and helping social action and such. One thing, they were very much opposed to abortion. They’re pro-life. They had certain very strict standards in certain areas of morality. So, yeah, it was – there was a moral code. It wasn’t quite Christian, but it was – you were living a certain way and expected to – yeah, function at a certain level of morality.

Darrell Bock
Now, because it’s coming out of the ’50s and then went through the ’60s and ’70s in its development, this is – I think it’s a natural question – that is I take it that one of the attractions is almost – besides self-awareness is almost a self-actualization that comes out of it.
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
That you put yourself – because you understand who you are better, you put yourself into a position of being a better person.
Michael Svigel
And you become more confident, more successful. Your reaction time is increased physically as well as mentally. You’re more alert; your more – and so, that’s what’s kind of promised, that you are going to be able to use – there’s a film, back in the day – Phenomenon or Phenomena it was called, with John Travolta, where he gets zapped, and for the first time he’s able to use his mind at its full capacity.

That really was a metaphor, in some sense, for – John Travolta, of course, being a Scientologist – it was a metaphor for what they were trying to accomplish. We’re using this much of our brain instead of this much, and what Scientology is promising is you’re going to be able to use much more of your senses and your brain and be in more control of your life. That’s very attractive –

Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
– to a lot of people.
Darrell Bock
So, now let’s talk – let’s turn the page here and talk about how the gospel walks into this. And in one sense, it seems to me, the gospel can walk right into this desire for self-awareness –
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
– and can talk about who we are as people –
Michael Svigel
What is my real problem, right?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
Michael Svigel
Yep, mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
All those kinds of things that that door looks to be completely open as a way of approach.
Michael Svigel
Absolutely. And, now, in Scientology, I was told that we were basically neutral – or good –
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
– and ultimately, in some sense, divine. And we have this clutter that we need to clear out. That was the truth of humanity as it was told to me.

Christianity came at it with acknowledging the same problems. I had relationship problems; I had sin problems; I had all kinds of issues. But the truth from Christianity that was shared with me was diametrically opposed. It was a complete alternative. In fact, you know, the guy who led me to the Lord said, “You know, someday I want to share with you the other side of that.”

Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
Michael Svigel
You know? And so, the problem of humanity and suffering and limitations and agony that we’re in is fully acknowledged. The solution is different.
Darrell Bock
[Crosstalk] it’s the pursuit of self-understanding.
Michael Svigel
Self-understanding and what – why am I behaving this way? Totally legitimate question. And so, we can come in and say, “Look, the problem is not that you’re basically good and have a bunch of clutter. The problem is sin.
Darrell Bock
Well, you got clutter, but [laughs] –
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
You got clutter, but –
Michael Svigel
You got clutter.
Darrell Bock
– it’s not inflicted on you.
Michael Svigel
Right, exactly. The problem really is sin.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
And so, for me to take – make that change from my problem is engrams – you know, a faulty functioning of my reactive mind and my – you know, that sort of blaming something else – I had to take the blame myself and say, “Actually, I’m a sinner. My relationship –”
Darrell Bock
I call it “owning your own junk.”
Michael Svigel
Owning my own junk, exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
Michael Svigel
And, you know, making that – coming to that conclusion, that was the truth.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Michael Svigel
That was the truth. That was a very important step. I would also say, too, the idea to escape from these things that are influencing me and to be released to a life that is fulfilling, happy, joyous, that’s something, too, that Christianity offers.

Interestingly, as I was going through the process of Dianetics and the Scientology stuff, my relationships with friends and family were getting no better.

Darrell Bock
Hmm.
Michael Svigel
In some ways I was being moved farther and farther away from those things, the relationship –
Darrell Bock
Because you become more self-focused, I would take it.
Michael Svigel
I was, and more focused on the religion itself.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
When I became a Christian, those relationships – the broken relationships that originally drew me to Scientology, that were not healed, began to be healed.
Darrell Bock
Mmm.
Michael Svigel
Because now I’m approaching it from a perspective of humility, my own brokenness, deferring to others. And that’s when my family – my relationship with my parents, my relationship with friends began to be redeemed. And so, Christianity offers redemption, not just escape, not just separation from the physical world and the body, but a redemption, a re-owning, and a re-appropriation of that in a positive direction that was revolutionary for me.
Darrell Bock
So, this guy had said to you, “You know, when he begins to disappoint you, give me a call.” Did you give him a call?
Michael Svigel
I did. I had – I probably wouldn’t have. I mean I made fun of him, laughed at him. But a couple months later, it was – I was – it was Easter weekend. I was at a Star Trek/Dr. Who/Sci-Fi Fantasy Convention down in The Cities.
Darrell Bock
Which is a whole another – another conversation.
Michael Svigel
Yes. But I was there, and that’s where I stumbled upon this first printing book that was an exposé of Scientology called L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? Grabbed the thing, read the thing in that weekend. And I – that’s where I realized, you know, “Wait. What did he – what did he say? He said – ah, ‘Someday L. Ron Hubbard will disappoint you. When he does,’ call him.”

So, I got home and called him up, and he said, “Yeah.” And I was still in high school; he was a teacher. He said, “You know, ask your parents if it’s okay; come over and we’ll – and I’ll share with you the other side of this.” And I didn’t ask my parents’ permission.

Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
We didn’t have that kind of relationship.
Michael Svigel
So, I drove over to his house, and he and his wife shared with me. And, you know, I was – he was praying for me. Okay? I had other people in my life praying for me that thought I was – or knew I was going down the wrong path.

So, I don’t want to – want anybody to think that there wasn’t a spiritual, supernatural element to this. But the Lord, through these people’s prayers and through orchestrating these things – at a Sci-Fi Fantasy Convention, of all things –

Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Michael Svigel
– the Lord was intervening and orchestrating these things to point me to a place – I like to say, you know, had he shared the gospel with me a week earlier, I would have laughed at him. You know, a week later, maybe I would have found some other offbeat religion, you know, to follow. But the Lord orchestrated those things.

And so, as far as approaching people who are in any different religion, any different worldview, there is a level of blindness, of unwillingness/stubbornness that can only be addressed through prayer and fasting. And I would say we need a certain –

Darrell Bock
Certain things are above our pay grade.
Michael Svigel
They are definitely – yeah, we can proclaim, we can answer questions –
Darrell Bock
And we’re asked to be faithful.
Michael Svigel
– and we can tell them, “You know, here’s the problem, here’s our solution,” but if we’re not bathed in that in prayer and – you know, the Lord has to do His work. And that was, I think they key to my conversion.
Darrell Bock
So, do you have any sense that this teacher who shared with you knew very much about Scientology, or was he just being faithful to the Christian message that he had?
Michael Svigel
Amazing question.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Michael Svigel
This guy had a daughter that had actually – and I think even to this day – gotten sucked into Scientology and was – and is still involved in it. So, he already was aware of its dangers, already was aware of, you know, what can happen when somebody gets drawn away from it, and was aware of its tenets. Even back in the day, when it was very difficult to find negative press on it, he was aware of this.

And so, when he saw me there, getting deeper into it –

Darrell Bock
He knew.
Michael Svigel
I can imagine he was on his knees, you know, trying to –
Darrell Bock
Interesting.
Michael Svigel
You know? So, yeah. But as I tell you, he was aware. He was aware of the dangers, and he knew how to deal with it. That line – someday L. Ron Hubbard is going to disappoint you; when he does, call me – that was ingenious. I mean because he knew eventually there would be –
Darrell Bock
A moment.
Michael Svigel
There was going to be some doubts, right?
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
There’s going to be some conflicting, you know, worldview issues that I was experiencing. And even though he knew I wasn’t in no position to listen at that time, this is one thing, too, with our evangelism and our engaging with people about their faiths, is we do need to have a longer view and be patient as well, understanding that our job is not to browbeat them into the kingdom, but to proclaim.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Michael Svigel
And we have a better truth, a truth that’s actually true.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and it’s –
Michael Svigel
And be confident in the work of the Spirit.
Darrell Bock
And it’s a truth we can be patient about.
Michael Svigel
Mm-hmm, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And yeah, I agree. I think that the – you know, most of what we do, when we talk about sharing and mission here, is engaged in what – at least when I was involved in the church early on – what’s called “friendship evangelism” where you just come and you’re just – you’re relating to people, and you’re showing – you’re showing the authenticity of the Christian faith.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And that is a long-term deal. You know?
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I mean, you know, that’s – my own testimony is is that it was the faithful life of many people living out their Christian life that got my attention –
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– and said, “There’s something going on with the way that they’re living, and the way that they’re viewing life, and the way they’re able to deal with the hard things of life that’s different.”
Michael Svigel
Yeah. And, you know, it’s kind of funny. After I converted and accepted Christ and he began discipling me, you know, I had a little clean up to do because I had been, a couple of weeks earlier –
Darrell Bock
You had to get clear –
Michael Svigel
A couple of weeks earlier, I was trying to wrangle all my friends into Scientology. And so now, it was kinda – you know, you’re tucking your tail between your legs, and you’re kind of sheepishly going back – that was an exercise in humility, because I had to say, “Everything I said before, totally wrong. But this – this is –”
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
And interestingly –
Darrell Bock
So, why should we believe you now?
Michael Svigel
Exactly. You know?
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Michael Svigel
So – but interestingly, when I – when I did go back to them, they said, “You know, we didn’t really buy that Scientology stuff anyway. We were just trying to not, you know, make you upset.” They were very open to it because, again, you know, I began praying for them. I began sharing with them.

And so, many of my friends, you know, also embraced Christianity. We had a bit of a revival going on there in northern Minnesota.

Darrell Bock
Interesting.
Michael Svigel
So, yeah, it’s – you know, the Lord works as – works through various ways, and in this way it was no major damage done. Not a one of my friends ever became a Scientologist ultimately.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. So, the – I guess the way of – talking about the way into the attraction is to help people see who they really are before God.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And to make clear, unlike Scientology, you don’t fix yourself.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, that’s right.
Darrell Bock
And you don’t bring people – and there aren’t people that you bring around you that fix you. M-kay? That the fix is found in the goodness, grace, kindness, mercy –
Michael Svigel
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
– of God and what he has done through Christ.
Michael Svigel
And I clearly remember the – a distinct moment where, when I switched – realized I was switching worldviews here was the bad news side of the gospel. You know, there’s the good news, but the bad news is about us –
Darrell Bock
Right.
Michael Svigel
– and the idea that, “No, I’m not just dirty, that I just need to be cleared out; there’s something that I can’t fix. Yes, it is something that happened in the past, and I’m – as a result of this fall, and I’ve – I’m a mortal person who’s broken; I can’t fix that.”
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Michael Svigel
And that was a light bulb going on.
Darrell Bock
You know, the interesting thing about this conversation is is that when we only portray ourselves as a victim – the forces are coming at us from the outside, and it’s the outside that’s the problem – we actually prevent ourselves from seeing that which we desperately need and why we are actually ultimately responsible for even the way we react to those outside forces, et cetera. And in the process, you distance yourself from the realization that’s basic that walks you into a world of grace.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
You know, it’s no accident that Scripture portrays sin as a debt –
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– and a debt that I am responsible for having created –
Michael Svigel
And can’t pay, right.
Darrell Bock
– and cannot pay.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And so, you know, there’s a wonderful passage in Scripture that says, you know, “The one who’s forgiven little, loves little, but the one who’s forgiven much, loves much.”
Michael Svigel
Yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And I often like to say that when it comes to the grace of God, if you don’t realize how much it is that you have been forgiven of, you don’t understand the depths of the problem that resides within you – don’t make yourself a victim and say, “It’s all their fault,” or, “It’s all coming from the outside,” but actually own it, and then you recognize it’s something you can’t fix, then you realize what grace and mercy is.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And out of grace and mercy come gratitude.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And devotion and appreciation and an ability, really, to form an identity that allows the allegiance that you have to walk with God. I think it’s a very core element of identity and a core element of building the – kinda the right kind of foundation for the Christian faith.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, and I – and here I was stuck between these very opposite worldviews and truth claims, both calling themselves the truth.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Michael Svigel
And, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” as Christ said, and, “He is the way, the truth, and the life.” I had to reckon with, “Which truth am I going to embrace?” And ultimately, the Christian faith was transformative and redemptive. It was not an escapism; it was a redemptive approach to life and to my existence, my relationships, where I got kinda the opposite feeling in Scientology.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I think it’s one of the – I say one of the dangers and travails of the world that we live in, that when we make everything around us or the environment that turns us into victims, we’re actually, at the same time, cutting ourselves off from the very awareness that we need in order to experience the depths of the grace of God.
Michael Svigel
Right.
Darrell Bock
And it’s one of the ways in which the world deceives us. It deceives us by saying the problems are out there, and you’re simply this neutralized victim that’s been –
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And it’s not that. Well, Michael, I really appreciate you taking the time to come in –
Michael Svigel
Thank you.
Darrell Bock
– and talk with us about Scientology, help us think through what this movement – that’s particularly – probably – well, it’s a worldwide movement, but it started out from the States, of course – and understanding it and I appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
Michael Svigel
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Darrell Bock
And we’re pleased that you could be a part of The Table, and we look forward to having you back again with us soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Michael J. Svigel
Department Chair and Professor of Theology and Church History, patristic scholar, writer, husband and father, accordion player. Passionate about the church and her Lord.
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