Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Scientology - Ex-Members

If someone leaves a religion and then bad mouths it they are called an "Apostate". How reliable are their stories about the religion they are leaving? It's an important question because in order to accurately evaluate information you need to have a measure of the reliability of the source. Can you trust the source or is the source suspect?

When it comes to ex-members of religions, and especially new religions, religious scholars have come to very definite conclusions. You can read two papers by religious scholars here:

"In short, on the face of things, apostates from new religions do not meet the standards of personal objectivity, professional competence, and informed understanding required of expert witnesses."
The Reliability of Apostate Testimony about New Religious Movements (pdf)
The Reliability of Apostate Testimony about New Religious Movements - New Religion website
The Reliability of Apostate Testimony about New Religious Movements - Religious Freedom Watch
By Lonnie D. Kliever, Dr. Phil., Professor of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.

"Neither the objective sociological researcher nor the court of law can readily regard the apostate as a creditable or reliable source of evidence. He must always be seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to both his previous religious commitment and affiliations, the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim but subsequently to have become a redeemed crusader. As various instances have indicated, he is likely to be suggestible and ready to enlarge or embellish his grievances to satisfy that species of journalist whose interest is more in sensational copy than in a objective statement of the truth."
Apostates and New Religious Movements (pdf)
Apostates and New Religious Movements - New Religion website
Apostates and New Religious Movements - Religious Freedom Watch
By Bryan Ronald Wilson, Ph.D., University of Oxford, England


C.D said...

This argument really doesn't have much merit.

Just because someone is an apostate doesn't mean their story has no crediblity or that they have nothing to say, even for modern religions.

To say that someone who is an apostate should not be listened to, due to lack of credibility by the very nature of being an apostate, is quite a false line of thought.

To believe such a line of reasoning would be to claim that apostates of the "The Peoples Temple" as run by Jim Jones should not have been listened to.

Such beliefs would mean that apostates of Heavens Gate should have been regarded only with the highest supicion, due to their very status as an apostate.

Similarly, former members of the Branch Davidians as run by David Koresh should have been regarded with great skepticism, as after all they were apostates, and had nothing good to say.

However this line of thought does not, and should not hold up.

Of course an apostate would have bias if they felt they have been wronged after experience in an organization. And rightly (if they were indeed wronged) they should. But such bias rarely exists upon entering an organization. Indeed few individuals are willing to devote time and money to a cause they feel is unworthy of such effort. Therefore any criticism of an apostate should be regarded in earnest, as typically only after considerable experience do individuals feel the need to become apostate.

There are of course less dramatic cases, such as the loss of members and litigation of/from ISKON (the Hare Krishna movement) after it was revealed that workers at a Hare Krishna school in Dallas had physically abused students for years. Those apostates went to the press, and they sued, but that didn't mean they were simply after money or that they're stories had no merit. Indeed federal investigations did indeed uncover abuses worldwide.

Put simply, just because someone doesn't have something nice to say, doesn't mean they shouldn't be listened to.

Grahame said...

Hey CD,

I don't disagree with you. But I think it is important that when you are given data you don't just blindly believe it. I think it is important to know that experts in the field of religion have found apostates to be unreliable. These scholars have investigated a lot of apostates, not just one or two isolated examples. So their findings are based on a broad survey. These experts are unbiased third party observers. Their only vested interest is in looking good to their academic peers. They are much more reliable than, for example, me, who has a vested interest in supporting my religion.

Any data you get needs to be evaluated rather than blindly swallowed. You need to know what the source is of the data. You need to know the reliability and track record of that source. You need to know if the source has a vested interest in what they are reporting.

Knowing as much as you can about the source of a piece of information is very important. E.g., you wouldn't give much credence to an article by a white supremacist saying that the Holocaust never happened.

If someone with a vested interest is reporting something then you need to know that he has that vested interest. There are many sorts of vested interest, some financial, some ideological, but whatever it is you need to know about it.

So, I am making it known that according to impartial religious scholars, apostates are not reliable sources of information on the religion they have forsaken. It is your choice to accept or reject what these scholars have to say.