Scientology and psychiatry: Even the Hitler Zombie wouldn’t touch this one

i-0320a1e9f6e8b252e3893a61ce24b722-227306143_d7f4a9a3ca.jpg

When I learned of this, I had been highly tempted trot out everybody’s favorite undead Führer for a little fun with the Church of Scientology‘s latest antics. Indeed, when you find out what I’m about to discuss, you’ll see why it was a candidate for the loving chomp of his rotting jaws. Heck, I even started to do the whole Hitler zombie schtick that regular readers all know and some even love (or at least tolerate–well, most of you, anyway). As I typed away, though, I was having more and more trouble. My conscience was feeling more and more troubled. After all, I’ve lovingly crafted maybe 15 or so of his adventures over the last couple of years, sending him away for a while when I think he’s overused, then bringing him back when a truly egregious example of argumentum ad Nazi-ium pops up. Through it all, though, he’s almost taken on a life (or unlife) of his own, and in recent months I’ve tried to use him very sparingly. Given that the target I was thinking of setting him loose on this time included prominent members of the Church of Scientology, I just couldn’t do it.

Really, the Hitler Zombie deserves better fare than the brains (such as they are) of Scientologists. I just couldn’t subject him to such a repast. I just couldn’t. Even the Hitler Zombie, rotting corpse of one of the most notorious mass murdering dictators in history with a penchant for eating brains, has standards, albeit low ones given the identities of some of his former victims. (D. James Kennedy and Ann Coulter, anyone?) Yet even he can’t tolerate Scientologists, particularly as it relates to this story, found via Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt’s blog.

The story I’m talking about is, of course, that of British reporter John Sweeney, who while making a documentary about the Church of Scientology, was stalked and harassed:

Scientology works. That is the message from celebs like John Travolta and Tom Cruise – who is, some say, keen on recruiting new Hollywood arrivals David and Victoria Beckham to what he calls his religion.

Others back the Church in various ways: Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley of the City of London police helped open a new £20 million Scientology centre in London, and the authorities in the City of London have granted it cut-price rates.

If you are interested in becoming a TV journalist, it is a fine example of how not to do it. I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine … it makes me cringe

But start asking questions and you see a different face of Scientology.

While making our BBC Panorama film “Scientology and Me” I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a “bigot” by star Scientologists and been chased round the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers.

Back in Britain strangers have called on my neighbours, my mother-in-law’s house and someone spied on my wedding and fled the moment he was challenged.

i-43845c042b0bb45df1d3ae4223f55145-Piod_museum_entrance.jpg

All of this led Mr. Sweeney to a bit of a breakdown while going on a tour of Scientology’s Psychiatry: An Industry of Death museum in Los Angeles, a video of which Scientology has been spreading around and posting on YouTube. He explains what set him off:

Scientology has two faces – nice and smiley, and sinister and dark. If you do not believe me, go and see their exhibition in Los Angeles, Psychiatry: Industry of Death. You enter through a door that is a mock-up of a torture chamber.

Scientologists want “the global obliteration” of psychiatrists, who they say were to blame for the rise of Nazi Germany.

To prove their point, they showed me hideous images of people having needles stuffed in their eyeballs, of patients undergoing electric shocks and having their brains operated on.

Sickening, nasty and wholly unconvincing – modern psychiatry, for all its faults, is not Nazi and to press the point in the way that Scientology does devalues the horror of the Holocaust.

Ironically or not, it was in the “Mind Control” section of the exhibition that I lost it.

As often in life, I snapped over something completely different and quite trivial.

Top Scientologist Tommy “Don’t mention the word cult” Davis had been goading me all week, and on the seventh day I fell into his elephant trap. He shouted at me and I shouted back, louder.

Of course, that is the Scientology M.O., to harass and intimidate its critics, its foes, or anyone who investigates it too closely. It is regrettable that Mr. Sweeney lost his cool, but understandable if you read the rest of his story describing the making of his news report Scientology and Me for the British news show Panorama and this statement by the producer.

Oddly enough, I had never heard of Scientology’s infamous anti-psychiatry museum before. I almost wish I had learned of it before I visited Los Angeles last month to attend the AACR Meeting. While I was in L.A., I was even in the area of the museum, because one of my favorite places of all to visit, a place that I check out any time I’m in the L.A. area, Amoeba Music, is a mere 0.3 miles away on Sunset Blvd. Had I known of this museum, I almost certainly would have paid it a visit in order to see just how low the Church of Scientology would go in its rabidly fanatical hatred of psychiatry and anything to do with it (particularly since the price of admission is free; I certainly wouldn’t pay money, particularly money that would go to the Church of Scientology, just to indulge my morbid curiosity). The best I could do was to browse the museum’s website, run by the Scientology-run “Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights.”

In any case, this museum is about as bizarre a thing as I’ve ever heard of. Andrew Gumbel of Los Angeles Citybeat described the museum thusly:

But it is one thing to assert that psychiatry has had its abuses, quite another to say the profession in and of itself is evil. The “Industry of Death” museum goes one step further even than that, all but asserting that psychiatry is responsible for everything evil in the world. Psychiatry is the key to understanding Hitler, not extreme nationalism (“no man in history has been more prominent in the psychiatric dream of world domination …”). Psychiatry is responsible for plummeting educational standards in the United States, not chronic underfunding, and it is to blame, too, for rising health insurance premiums. Psychiatry lies behind the recent rash of school shootings. It is even responsible for 9/11. “Suicide bombers are … assassins manufactured through drugs and psycho-political methods,” one of the displays asserts. “Careful psychiatric indoctrination and treatment can make the most barbaric act rational.”

It’s hard to talk about errors of fact in such assertions (although, note to Ms. Filidei: Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a pediatric surgeon, not a psychiatrist) when the assertions themselves are characterized by a glaring failure to provide even the most basic factual corroboration. This is the classic stuff of paranoid conspiracy theory: grab every negative tidbit you can, disregard anything that even smacks of the positive, throw it all together and conflate it into something bigger than the sum of its parts. Suddenly, psychiatrists are all evil, their diagnostic manual a colossal hoax from start to finish; there is no justification for the theory that chemical imbalances cause mental health problems; Ritalin is never appropriate, for children or adults; in fact, there may be no such thing as mental illness in the first place.

Not content with their little museum, Scientologists invaded a science fiction convention in Anaheim in 2006 (which is where the pictures that decorate this post were taken), as described by Cory Doctorow, who described it thusly:

The exhibit was a nightmarish round of blaring video-screens playing the kind of ominous music that you hear on America’s Most Wanted during the atrocity re-enactment, each screen competing with the others to fill the room with a cacophonous, stomach-churning gumbo of scary sound-effects. The visuals showed photos of Hitler (a favorite graphic emblem of the Church — they used it to smear Time magazine after a critical piece appeared there) and atrocity photos. The Church’s connection to the “Council” wasn’t mentioned anywhere.

(Video of the “museum” here.)

Now you can see why I was tempted to set the undead Führer on the Church of Scientology. The blatant smearing of all of psychiatry with the Nazi regime and the Holocaust was just begging for such a treatment. (Can you imagine a Hitler Zombie attack on, for example, Tom Cruise, the most idiotic celebrity Scientologist of all?) But, as I said, I just couldn’t do it.

Instead, I’ll point out the utter ridiculousness of some of the claims made by the exhibits in the museum, such as the claim that psychiatrists follow a long-standing “master plan” for world domination and that Hitler and the Nazis were manifestations of that plan. Indeed, Scientologists blame the Holocaust on psychiatry. They also blame psychiatry for suicide bombers, school violence, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and the deaths of many celebrities, such as Kurt Cobain. In fact, looking at the exhibit, it’s hard to find an evil in the last 150 years that Scientology doesn’t blame on psychiatry. In Scientology, psychiatry itself is given the role that is usually reserved for Satan in Christianity: That of the Evil One, the implacable Foe of the just, the enemy that all believers must resist.

Of course, the entire museum, like Scientology’s standard anti-psychiatry drivel, is an obvious fallacious attack on modern psychiatry that emphasizes the very worst excesses of the profession from many decades ago and tries to equate modern psychiatry with these horrors. Modern psychiatry is nothing like Nazi psychiatry or even like psychiatry of 50 years ago, and Scientology’s emphasis on the evils of psychiatry and its urge to slime it based on old excess reveals its agenda. After all, you could say a lot of nasty things about pretty much all of medicine at various times in history. In the 18th century and even into the 19th century, for example, bloodletting and treatments with toxic metals to induce vomiting were common, often doing far more harm than good. Other specialties have done a lot of damage over the long history of medicine as well. Remember, it wasn’t psychiatrists who conducted the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Even in the Nazi regime itself, it wasn’t primarily psychiatrists who met trainloads of Jews at the gates of Auschwitz to do a snap medical judgment to decide who would live as slave laborers and who would go straight to the gas chambers. Infamous Auschwitz physician Dr. Josef Mengele was not a psychiatrist, nor was Dr. Horst Schumann or Dr. Carl Clauberg, a gynecologist who performed horrific experiments at Auschwitz in which he tried to sterilize women using X-rays. Aren’t these specialties, or the Nazi medical profession in general, just as guilty as German psychiatry for the Holocaust? I would argue yes. Yet we don’t see Scientology attacking the gynecologic medicine and surgery of today because Dr. Clauberg fried the ovaries of many women (along with the surrounding abdominal organs) with radiation in nasty experiments, resulting in agonizing complications and deaths. Elsewhere during World War II, I point out that Japanese doctors who performed horrific experiments with infectious diseases on prisoners and surgically dissected some of them alive during World War II were not psychiatrists; yet we don’t see Scientology attacking the specialties of infectious diseases or surgery of today because of these past abuses.

The Scientology take on eugenics and the Holocaust neglects the fact that much of the German medical profession by and large enthusiastically embraced the pseudoscience of racial hygiene and Nazi eugenics policies. This was particularly true of younger physicians, many of whom joined the Nazi Party before it came to power. Scientologists make much of a supposed observation that 40% of German psychiatrists joined the Party by 1933 (which seems to me to be a highly suspect figure, given that it took until the end of the war for the Nazi regime to get 45% of all German physicians to join the Nazi Party). Even so, as Robert Proctor reports in his book Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis, doctors did join the Nazi party earlier and in greater numbers than any other professional group, attracted by the Hitler’s promise of greater prestige and influence as physicians of the Volk. Odd, then, that we don’t see Scientology blaming German medicine in general for the Holocaust or generalizing the bad behavior of Nazi doctors of other medical specialties to those same specialties of today, as they do with psychiatry.

I wonder why.

It must be acknowledged however, that many Nazi psychiatrists did either participate in or endorse the T4 euthanasia program, which certainly presaged the Holocaust and provided a testing ground for small prototype versions of the gas chambers later used for mass murder. Examples included psychiatrists such as Professors Carl Schneider, Max de Crinis and Paul Nitsche. This observation is the grain of truth behind Scientology propaganda that Scientologists try to use to condemn psychiatry of today. Yet, even here, Scientologists, in their eagerness to paint German psychiatry under Hitler as unrelentingly evil, neglect the whole story, which is more complex. Contrary to the impression of all German psychiatrists being rabid eugenicists and enthusiastic perpetrators of the Holocaust painted by this ridiculous museum, as Robert Jay Lifton discusses in his classic book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, there was resistance in the Germany psychiatric community. It was scattered, unorganized, and mostly covert, which is not surprising given the totalitarian nature of the regime, but it had an effect. Some psychiatrists resisted, even at considerable risk to their careers and the risk of being sent to a concentration camp, most commonly by helping family members of patients marked for “euthanasia” to evade the lethal bureaucracy by diagnosing patients as neurotic rather than schizophrenic, releasing patients home to their families, or exaggerating the patients’ potential capacity for improvement and–most important of all to utilitarian view of Nazi eugenicists–eventually performing useful work for society. Observes Lifton:

Crucial to whatever psychiatric resistance existed was the influence of a few leading psychiatric humanists of the older generation, such as Karl Bonhoeffer. These men became known as opponents of medical killing and, in varying degree, of the Nazi regime in general. In 1939, the politically suspect Bonhoeffer was replaced in the prestigious psychiatric position of the chair of Berlin University and Charitė Hospital by Max de Crinis, Party and SS member. Bonhoeffer then became more active in helping his two sons and his son-in-law, all of whom were eventually killed by the regime for their opposition to it. He involved himself specifically in the struggle against medical killing by helping his son Dietrich, later a celebrated Protestant martyr, in the latter’s contacts with church groups seeking authoritative psychiatric grounds for refusing to turn over their patients to the project.

A psychiatrist for whom Bonhoeffer’s influence was said to be crucial was Professor Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt of Kiel…Creutzfeldt went farther than most and is said to have managed to protect most or all of the patients in his institution from the [T4 euthanasia] project.

Bonhoeffer was also known for protecting Jewish colleagues from persecution and helping them to escape through emigration and find jobs when he couldn’t prevent them from being fired.

If you actually needed any further evidence just what utter pseudoscientific crankery Scientology is, you need look no further than their anti-psychiatry museum, where the most obvious examples of its religious nuttiness are on flamboyant display. It’s rather depressing that such idiocy is polluting the environment near one of my favorite places to visit whenever I happen to be in L.A. Now, whenever I happen to make it to Amoeba Music, I won’t be able to forget that less than half a mile away exists a focus of utter religious madness and antiscience.

I’ll just have to buy more tunes, the better to drown out the idiocy as I drive by on my way back to my hotel.