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Greek church calls BS on Scientology: Why doesn’t this happen more often?
[Today’s guest post is by historian Chris Owen]
The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church – the church’s ruling body – has issued a warning to Greeks about Scientology infiltrating public institutions, such as schools, under the guise of drug awareness activities. In a statement released on 5 September, it said:
The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, with a sense of responsibility, informs the Christ-filled multitude that the “Church of Scientology” which was operating in Greece in the form of an association under the name “Centre of Applied Philosophy of Greece” (K.E.F.E.) by two decisions of the Greek Justice (7380/1996 of the Athens Court of First Instance and 10.493/1997 of the Athens Court of Appeal) as “an organization with practices that are medically, socially and morally dangerous and harmful.”
In recent years it has been active under other names and under the front of seemingly innocuous actions, such as self-improvement seminars or sales seminars for businesses. Today, following a similar project in the past, known as “Narconon,” it is attempting to intervene in the public sphere, seeking partnerships with public and social bodies and schools, under the pretext of a new programme to tackle the major social problem of drugs under the name “The Truth about Drugs.”
The promoter of this action appears to be the Scientology “Foundation” entitled “A World without Drugs” (headquarters 6331 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 710, Los Angeles, CA 90028 United States) and with a domestic implementing body, coming from the same area of this organization, the “Citizens’ Initiative for a Drug-Free Greece (Drug-Free World GR) (see websites www.notodrugs.gr, facebook.com/drugfreeworld.gr/, instagram.com/drugfreeworld.gr).
The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece stands with great respect, responsibility and prayer and recognizes the diligent and brave efforts of our fellow human beings who are struggling to break free from the tragic world of various addictions. It acknowledges and commends the valuable assistance and the diligent actions of the various scientific institutions and communities that assist in the rehabilitation of our fellow human beings.
At the same time, it calls on the public, social and private bodies active in the sensitive area of drug rehabilitation not to become unwitting sponsors or promoters of a religious organisation with socially dangerous activities. Its polemic and aversion to the medical branch of psychiatric science is, after all, well known.
It goes without saying that no method and no mask of social contribution can distort the reality, as reflected in the judgment of the Greek Justice, which is not the only one, that Scientology is: “an organization with medically, socially and morally dangerous and harmful practices.”
The church’s intervention is the latest episode in a long-running clash between Scientology and the Greek Orthodox Church. Scientology has had a long history in Greece, dating from as early as the 1950s, and hosted L. Ron Hubbard’s Sea Org fleet in the late 1960s before Hubbard was expelled from the country. From 1983 to 1999, Scientology operated under the guise of the “Center of Applied Philosophy of Greece”. Notably, it didn’t call itself a church, and even claimed in a 1995 letter that Scientology was not a religion and that its members identified religiously as Greek Orthodox Christians.
Nonetheless, KEFE was very much part of the wider Church of Scientology and followed the same aggressive strategy of seeking influence and attacking opponents as any other Scientology organization. It faced pressure from the Pan-Hellenic Parents Union of Parents for the Protection of Greek-Orthodox Culture, the Family and the Individual (PEG), which was supported by the Greek Orthodox Church and its Synodic Commission on Cults and Para-religions, headed by Father Antonios Alevizopoulos.
Scientology’s intelligence and public relations organisation, the Office of Special Affairs, systematically targeted PEG and the Greek Orthodox Church’s leadership. It carried out surveillance against them and compiled extensive files on those it considered enemies. OSA listed the Greek Orthodox Church’s revered head, Archbishop Seraphim of Athens, another archbishop, two other Greek Orthodox bishops and Alevizopoulos as among Scientology’s top twelve enemies in Greece.
Documents later seized by Greek law enforcement officers revealed that in April 1994, OSA Int in Los Angeles had ordered a “Greece Handling Program” targeting Alevizopoulos and Seraphim for their role in the (supposed) “Greek Orthodox ARM [Anti-Religious Movement]”. It instructed that intelligence was to be developed and used to “expose the criminal activities of Alevizopoulos and Seraphim.”
Not surprisingly, things did not go well for KEFE when this activity was exposed by three police raids carried out between June and November 1995. Thousands of pages of documents were seized, including highly incriminating OSA reports and orders. The courts ordered the KEFE to be dissolved for misrepresenting its status. They were unsparing about Scientology, stating that it “pursues aims that are alien to the nature and the concept of man as a free being” and that it is “an organisation with totalitarian structures and tendencies which in essence despises man, while acting freely and only in a superficial way in order and exclusively to attract members who are then brainwashed…, with the ultimate aim of creating a directed way of thinking… and which has for years been turned into a prohibited profit-making activity.”
However, the organization simply reincorporated itself as the Dianetics and Scientology Center of Greece (which renamed itself as the Greek Church of Scientology in 1999) and transferred its assets to the new organization.
Even after the court cases against KEFE, Scientology continued to feud with the Greek Orthodox Church. In 2002, it sent churches across Greece a letter on “Freedom of Expression” which attacked the Orthodox Church for its stance on Scientology. This did not go down well either; the Holy Synod responded by issuing a memo to all of its dioceses condemning “the para-religious organization of the self-proclaimed “Greek Church of Scientology” for sending an “extremely hostile, slanderous and abusive [document] against our Church and especially against its pastoral work in the field of dealing with heresy, aiming to disorient and confuse public opinion, due to the condemnatory decisions against it in Greece and abroad.”
Scientology has remained active in Greece since then, although with a lower profile. There is only one Scientology org in Greece, at 9 Asclepiou Street in Athens.
The church claims to have 20,000 Greek members, though this is certainly a gross exaggeration. According to Greek journalist Thodoris Chondrogiannos, the real figure is estimated to be more like 500.
Despite its small numbers, the Greek Church of Scientology is evidently well-funded; it is reported to have bought a building in the central Athens district of Ampelokipi for €2,260,000 (about $2.4 million). This is intended to serve as one of the church’s ‘Ideal Orgs,’ a pet project of Scientology leader David Miscavige. Greek Scientologists have been bombarded with demands to donate money to the project, leading to at least one lawsuit accusing it of bilking members.
A Greek Scientology magazine (Spiritual Horizons, issue 57), invokes the ancient Greek goddess Athena “Giv[ing] Her Power to Fundraising for the Ideal Organization”:
“The first part of the [resource-gathering] event was to find Athena. The OT Ambassadors searched everywhere for her and finally found her sitting sadly under an olive tree. She was sad because her own “Ideal Organization,” the Parthenon, had been destroyed. The OT Ambassadors comforted her by telling her that a new Ideal Organization would be erected in Athens and that would be the place from which the Scientologists would broadcast the technology that would save the world.”
Although the Ideal Org is being advertised as the way towards a new golden era for Scientology, in reality it’s likely to be much like the other Ideal Orgs around the world – a polished but empty white elephant.
The Holy Synod’s more immediate concern, as its statement highlights, is the activities of a Scientology front group – the Citizens’ Initiative for a Drug-Free Greece. This is the local branch of the Los Angeles-based Foundation for a Drug-Free World (FDFW), established in 2006.
Probably not coincidentally, FDFW was created a year after the California Department of Education (CDE) told schools in the state to stop hosting anti-drug talks given by Narconon, an older and better-known Scientology front group. The CDE carried out a review of Narconon’s educational materials which found that they did not “reflect accurate, widely accepted medical and scientific evidence. Some information is misleading because it is overstated or does not distinguish between drug use and abuse.” The reviewers criticised it for using scare tactics, such as telling students that too much caffeine could kill them.
Narconon’s main line of business is providing drug ‘rehabilitation’ services to addicts – an activity which has been highly controversial and has been linked to a series of deaths (see the Bunker’s extensive past coverage of Narconon). As its internal documents have made clear, its goal is explicitly to channel people into Scientology.
FDFW is now the main promoter for Scientology’s “Truth about Drugs” campaign. Its members have given out literally millions of booklets (a claimed 600,000 in Ireland alone) and lecturing in schools. It’s likely that FDFW was established to provide a more acceptable face for the campaign than the increasingly controversial and beleaguered Narconon, which has focused instead on its ‘rehabilitation’ services.
FDFW is a lot less open about its links to Scientology than Narconon. As Thodoris Chondrogiannos notes of the Citizens’ Initiative for a Drug-Free Greece, “Ostensibly, the pamphlet and the group distributing it had nothing to do with Scientology, since there is no mention of it. Even on the page of the “Citizens’ Initiative for a Drug-Free Greece” Facebook page. of the group on Facebook there is no mention of ‘Scientology’ or the ‘Greek Church of Scientology’.”
However, as Chondrogiannos points out, FDFW’s activities have been promoted in internal Scientology magazines.
Its headquarters is in the same building as the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition on Hollywood Boulevard. Similarly, the Greek group is co-located with the offices of the Greek Church of Scientology in Athens. The Church of Scientology International has also publicised FDFW’s activities in Greece, specifically attributing them to “volunteers from the Church of Scientology Athens.”
While FDFW’s materials don’t mention Scientology and the organisation doesn’t make obvious recruitment pitches, in the end everything that Scientology does is about promoting the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard and smoothing the way for what the church calls “broad public acceptance.” It’s one of a large number of so-called ‘social betterment’ groups operated by the church, often without publicising its ties to Scientology.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Dave Touretzky, who has been tracking Scientology’s anti-drug groups for years, says FDFW has “the same interest” as any other Scientology front group. “The Scientology term for it is ‘safepointing.’ In civilian terminology that means two things: building a good working relationship with the locals that can be exploited later, and establishing L. Ron Hubbard as a benevolent authority figure in the mind of the public.”
FDFW members have given anti-drug presentations and distributed “Truth about Drugs” booklets in schools in the US and Europe, resulting in several controversies. It carried out an anti-drug tour in Ireland in 2016, seeking endorsements and photo opportunities with unsuspecting mayors who had no idea about its links with Scientology.
In 2017, the Irish government stepped in to prevent FDFW delivering talks and booklets in Irish schools, while in Scotland the charity Mentor UK issued an alert to Scottish teachers advising them to avoid FDFW because of its inaccurate and alarmist approach. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District cancelled a planned series of school talks by FDFW in 2017 after parents complained.
Other FDFW campaigns have gone ahead unhindered, as the Bunker reported from Pulaski County, Missouri in September 2017. It spread its message in dozens of New York City schools and has sought to partner with police departments in Florida, New York and elsewhere.
This is also not the first time that Scientology front groups have attracted criticism from the Orthodox Church in the Greek-speaking world. In November 2012, the Church of Greece’s Holy Synod issued a statement deploring the use of a photo of an Orthodox church, implying the Church of Greece’s endorsement, on the front cover of a Greek version of L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘humanitarian’ brochure “The Way to Happiness.” This publication is distributed by another Scientology front group, The Way to Happiness Foundation International. The Greek Orthodox Church commented that “Scientology concepts, in whatever way they are promoted, cannot be considered a ‘common sense guide for a better life,’ much less as ‘educational tools to smooth out tensions,’ as the organization in question claims.”
In 2019, the Synodal Committee on Cults of the Church of Cyprus issued a statement linking FDFW to Scientology, which it said “operates under various guises and with a variety of parent organizations whose names people do not recognize [as being linked]. Under pseudonymous titles and names it tries to erode all areas of life, even the political and economic spheres.”
Similar sneaky tactics and possibly complaints from parishioners are likely to have triggered the Greek Orthodox Church’s warning about FDFW. As Thodoris Chondrogiannos notes, its members claim on Facebook to have given presentations in Greek schools…
…though it is unclear whether the Ministry of Education and Religion knew anything about it or gave permission (it seems unlikely).
The Greek Orthodox Church’s warning is probably meant to galvanise the ministry into acting against the activities of FDFW and the Citizens’ Initiative for a Drug-Free Greece. The church is less powerful than it used to be, but with 90% of Greece’s inhabitants adhering to Orthodoxy, it still has considerable moral authority.
As for Scientology, it’s a safe bet that David Miscavige is unhappy about this. The OSA representative in Athens has likely had a few bad days. However, after the outcome of its confrontation with the Greek Orthodox Church in the 1990s, it’s to be hoped that Scientology will have learned to be more cautious about how it responds to this challenge.
— Chris Owen
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