There are faith-based humanitarian organisations who are in Haiti now and are doing a brave and necessary job. And then there are the Scientologists. It appears that John Travolta has pledged supplies, medics and ‘volunteer ministers’ from the Church. Apparently these last will be there to provide ‘spiritual assistance’ to earthquake victims.
Now, the history of Scientology suggests that any aid the Church provides will be extremely conditional. Marina Hyde provides the context:
L Ron [Hubbard] personally decreed the strategy he called ‘Casualty Contact’, in which he advised Scientologists to scan newspapers for reports of accidents or bereavements, searching for ‘people who have been victimised one way or another by life’.
Stipulating that one way to do this was to trawl hospitals, Hubbard declared of the ambulance-chasing Scientologist that, ‘He should represent himself . . . as a minister whose compassion was compelled by the newspaper story concerning the person [. . .] However, in handling the press he should simply say that it is a mission of the church to assist those who are in need of assistance. He should avoid any lengthy discussions of Scientology and should talk about the work of ministers and how all too few ministers these days get around to places where they are needed. It’s straight recruiting!’
Casualty Contact has since modulated into the Volunteer Ministers programme, whose yellow tents are increasingly visible at high-profile disaster sites, and often enlivened by special appearances by their celebrity adherents. Within these tents Scientologists administer the aforementioned Touch Assists, whose purpose is to ‘speed the Thetan’s ability to heal or repair a condition with his body’.
After 9/11, aid agencies at Ground Zero voiced concern that the Volunteer Ministers had displayed their leaflets around the disaster site and operated in the restricted area without authorisation until this was pointed out to the police, who then denied them access. Two days after the tragedy, and presenting themselves as an organisation called National Mental Health Assistance, representatives of the Church of Scientology duped Fox News into running the church’s freephone number for five hours on the bottom of the screen, apparently in the belief that it was the official outreach hotline. Fox News removed it after an irate intervention from the real National Mental Health Association.
‘The public needs to understand that the Scientologists are using this tragedy to recruit new members,’ the president of the NMHA stated. ‘They are not providing mental health assistance.’
Au contraire, say the Scientologists, who claim they provide a unique brand of ‘meaningful help’ during catastrophes. They were there after the tsunami, after Katrina – with added Travolta – and in Beslan, before being asked to leave after the local Russian health ministry judged their techniques unhelpful to already severely traumatised children.
And of course they were there after the 7 July attacks, when an undercover BBC investigation taped the leader of the London branch of the Church’s anti-psychiatry movement laughing that their role in the immediate aftermath of the bombings was ‘fighting the psychiatrists; keeping the psychs away [from survivors]’. One survivor who happened to have mental health training voiced his shock that Scientologists had attempted to recruit him and others.
What sort of numbers they’ll do in Haiti remains to be seen, but hats off to Travolta and the church leaders for deploying in this way. As for Scientology’s most famous face, do recall ‘the Mr Cruise response to 9/11’ – setting up the First New York Hubbard Detox project where firemen who had breathed in the World Trade Centre dust were encouraged to submit to the ‘Purification Rundown’, discarding their medication and taking endless saunas along with high doses of niacin, much to the despair of their doctors.
From the creepy to the ridiculous, there’s this item on ABC about an American group called Faith Comes By Hearing that is sending Bibles – ‘solar-powered audible Bibles that can broadcast the holy scriptures in Haitian Creole to 300 people at a time.’
The Faith Comes By Hearing organisation says its Bible, called the Proclaimer, delivers ‘digital quality’ and is designed for ‘poor and illiterate people’.
It says 600 of the devices are already on their way to Haiti.
The Albuquerque-based organisation says it is responding to the Haitian crisis by ‘providing faith, hope and love through God’s word in audio’.
The audio Bible can bring the ‘hope and comfort that comes from knowing God has not forgotten them through this tragedy,’ a statement on its website says.
Apparently, this gadget will work in jungle, in desert, and on the moon.
Update: Jon from Faith Comes By Hearing has appeared in the Shiraz comments:
Thanks for your thoughts on the solar-powered audio Bibles. I can see where you may think this is not a good approach, but our organization has been working with the Haitians since 1986, providing them free audio Scriptures in their own language.
The moon comment was someone making mention that they didn’t require electricity. That was a dumb bullet point on the website, thanks for letting me know. We took it off.
Besides, these audio Bibles are still in the states enroute to dozens of relief groups who have called ASKING for them. The Haitians have been preyed upon for a long-time by those interested in exploiting their natural resources and impoverishing their people. We believe the people of Haiti are that nation’s most precious resource and we desire to empower them with the Scriptures in which they believe in a format they can use. Roughly half the nation is unable to read, so giving them the Bible in a format they can use–audio, is completely reasonable.
Faith Comes By Hearing