Purposeful Blindness

Brought to our attention by Mormon Coffee friend, Spartacus, NBC’s Rock Center aired an exposé on the Church of Scientology earlier this month. In “The Defectors,” journalist Harry Smith interviewed four former Scientologists: Haydn, Lucy and Katrina James, and Paul Haggis. Mr. Smith also interviewed Lawrence Wright, author of the new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief.

Spartacus found this program compelling; he noticed parallels between the experiences of those who left Scientology and those who have left Mormonism. Whether or not you also see the parallels, “The Defectors” is a very interesting look at a controlling religious organization’s power over its members and the difficulty people experience in trying to break free. The first 11-minute segment is embedded below, and the second segment, focusing mainly on the experiences of the James family, can be found at the Rock Center website. I provide a brief rundown of Paul Haggis’ experience here.

Paul Haggis had been a happy Scientologist as he moved up the Scientology ladder until he reached the OT3 level, which “introduces Scientologists to key tenets of the church’s beliefs.” When he learned that Scientology holds to a doctrine that says human bodies are hosts to aliens from outer space, he was stunned. “This is madness,” he thought. Yet he didn’t leave the church.

Harry Smith asked Paul Haggis, “Why do you stay, then?” Mr. Haggis responded, “It’s a part of your life at that point. Your kids are in school. Your friends, your wife. It’s what you know.”

Harry Smith wanted to know how the Church of Scientology is able to convince people to remain loyal to the group. Mr. Haggis said, “It’s just this long, slow walk toward believing. It’s the idea of being part of a group that is ostracized and hated. It bands you together against the outside world.”

So even though Mr. Haggis couldn’t easily embrace the odd doctrines he was encountering, he remained a Scientologist for a long time, eventually reaching the highest level of OT7.

In retrospect, Mr. Haggis said he was “purposely blind.” Harry Smith suggested, “You chose to be blind,” and Mr. Haggis agreed. “Of course we choose – anybody within a group like this has to choose to be blind,” he said.

But this self-imposed blindness didn’t last for Mr. Haggis. He began really questioning Scientology when he discovered something that seemed not merely odd, but inconsistent with what he understood the church to stand for. After 30 years as a member, he decided it was time to research the Church of Scientology. What he found troubled him deeply. He resigned his church membership and, eventually, publically exposed the church’s abuses. “I was ashamed of my own stupidity,” he said, “of how I could have been purposely blind for so many years.”

Author Lawrence Wright, who included Paul Haggis’ story in his book, explained that people join Scientology for good reasons, mainly because they want help with life’s challenges. But, he said, “at the deeper levels, as you go further and further into the church, the distortions become more and more apparent.” Mr. Wright explained that Scientology abuses its own members, “shaking them down for money, wreaking vengeance on people that disagree with them, punishing its critics…”

The Church of Scientology responded to Mr. Wright’s book, saying it is an “…error-filled, unsubstantiated, bigoted anti-Scientology book…”

The church responded to Mr. Haggis in a similar way, saying his investigation was “a sham” and labeling him, “The Hypocrite of Hollywood.”

And in response to the James family, whose heartbreaking and frightening story is told in the second Rock Center segment, the Church of Scientology told NBC, “Haydn James is an unreliable source; he is bitter and has an ax to grind…”

Harry Smith asked Paul Haggis, “Is Scientology a cult?” Mr. Haggis replied, “Of course it is. It’s a system of belief that…you’ve got all these folks inside this fortress who won’t look out, and won’t look at any criticism and can’t bear any investigation and think that everyone is against them. How would you describe that? It’s a cult. Of course it is.”

What do you think? Is Scientology a cult? If yes, what makes it so?

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A few Mormons describe leaving the LDS Church:

Lynn Wilder: Free Indeed
Lynn Wilder Video Interview (uncut)
Michael J. Barrett – Excommunicated for Publicly Confirming LDS Teaching
Angela Haisten’s Testimony Out of Mormonism to Christianity
Dave’s Testimony Out of Mormonism into Christianity (video)

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Purposeful Blindness

  1. Mike R says:

    I think that because the term ” cult” has been used in so many ways these days that the general
    public does’nt pay much attention to it , except perhaps when some small bizzare group ends
    up involved in murdering one of it’s own or an outsider etc. I think that Mr. Haggis has a lot
    in common with Mormons , especially those who have like him climbed up to a high level within
    the powerful organization that is Mormonism . Because Mormonism is structured in part by
    having those well entrenced in the organization being forbidden to divulge to new converts or
    investigators some of it’s more important doctrines/rituals , therefore upon finding these
    out later can be easily dismissed in a “purposeful blindness” type of mentality because so much
    of their life has been invested in the organization by then . But thankfully after much soul
    searching many do walk away from the organization , and in the case with Mormonism these
    decent people have come to realize that they were simply detoured by men whose claims of
    being personally directed by Jesus was finally seen to be only an empty claim which detoured
    sincere people into joining an elaborate and powerful man made religious organization .
    The problem has never been the decent and sincere rank and file Mormon people, rather it
    is MormonISM.

  2. falcon says:

    I read the MRM article about Michael Barrett that’s accessed by one of the links above. He got into trouble by talking/writing about things that the hierarchy did not want openly discussed. It didn’t appear to me that these things were of “sacred” Mormon rituals. It’s pretty much information that Mormons would rather people not know because it’s odd.
    Mormons don’t think it’s odd because they are fully (some more than others) indoctrinated in the sect. There are far too many Mormons that are blissfully ignorant regarding the religion they belong to.

    This is what Lyndon Lamborn, a former Mormon, has to say on the topic:
    ‘There comes a time in the life of many Church members when the desire to know the truth about the Church becomes stronger than the desire to believe the Church is true. Before you read further, you must ask yourself this question: Is knowing the real truth more important to me than the comfort the Church/gospel brings me? If it is, you are invited to read on. If it is not, stop here. Reading further will be waste of your time. This is obviously not a trivial question, nor a trivial subject.”
    There in lies the challenge for a Mormon. Does he/she want to maintain a testimony in the Mormon church as to its truthfulness or do they want to really seek the truth? I think it’s easier, sometimes, to shut one’s eyes to the truth and go on believing in a person or an institution rather than face the consequences that inquiry might bring.
    I don’t have anything invested in Mormonism so it’s easy for me to say, “Go for the truth!”. But for someone whose life and identity is embedded in Mormonism, remaining ignorant may seem like the better choice.

  3. falcon says:

    In watching the NBC clip that’s accessed above, I couldn’t help but think how much the stories sound like those I read/hear from exiting Mormons. For example, the difficulty of leaving, even when you know it’s not true, because your life and identity are all wrapped-up in the sect.
    I think an organization is a cult if it’s controlling too much of your life and if there are heavy sanctions and punishments if you leave. The hierarchy of ascending up a ladder to more knowledge and wisdom is also a hook in these sects.
    In Mormonism the idea of becoming a “god” is way too intoxicating. My guess is that this is one facet of the religion that is kept secret from prospective members. Is there a missionary lesson where all of this is laid out? I remember talking to a Mormon convert who upon learning these things and being involved in some temple rituals, jumped ship. His wife, who had been a life long Mormon, left also.
    There comes that decision point where a person has to go further or exit.

  4. falcon says:

    What’s that old saying, “turning a blind eye”? What exactly does that mean? Well it means, generally, the same thing as “sticking your head in the sand”. It’s that psychological/emotional tactic also known as “out of sight, out of mind”. Really what these little sayings describe is something we know as “denial”. It’s a coping mechanism that folks use when they don’t want to face the truth. They ignore reality.
    The problem is that ignoring problems don’t always make them go away. Often times they fester and become seriously infected. Infected flesh stinks. It can become putrid. People have been known to lose limbs and even die if the infection becomes too severe.
    This can happen emotionally and spiritually as well as physically. Ignoring problems, denying them, pretending they don’t exist can have serious repercussions.
    In the case of false religious systems like Mormonism, the end result is spiritual death and separation from God for all of eternity. God tells us who He is through His revelation the Bible. He lays out the case for the guilt of mankind due to sinfulness and lawlessness. But He also provides the solution which only He can. That solution is a “not guilty” verdict for those who will accept the gift of eternal life which He is offering free through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
    Joseph Smith’s invented religion can’t provide anything except a form of religion that does none of what it claims. About the only thing it does is keep people busy and spending their money with nothing to show for their efforts in the end.

  5. falcon says:

    One of the constant refrains we hear from former Mormons is something along the lines of, “How could I have been so blind?”, “I feel so dumb!”, “Why didn’t I see it?”. At least part of the problem initially is that often times people just don’t know. The problem comes when new information becomes available and they don’t know what to do with it. Should they ignore it or investigate further? Of course the Mormon church will tell them to ignore thoughts and information that is unsettling saying it isn’t “faith” producing. Well that’s a news flash.
    It seems, for those who begin to discover that Mormonism is a false religious system, that it takes nine months to a year to cycle through the information. Husbands and wives are often studying on their own unbeknownst of what the other is up to.
    For someone who is happy in Mormonism, information that the religion isn’t true, won’t probably make much of an impression so there’s no need to turn a blind eye. They’re already blind.

  6. Tom says:


    I stewed for some time–about four. Once my very, very TBM wife started trusting information about early LDS history and started reading the New Testament on its own without the Mormon doctrinal overlay, it took her less than a year. It was interesting.

  7. Tom says:

    That’s “about four years.”

  8. falcon says:

    Do you think there’s a form of “hysterical blindness” when it comes to Mormons and their inability to “see” the truth of Mormonism? This phenomenon is seen with soldiers in battle. This was depicted in an episode of “Band of Brothers”. There was nothing physically wrong with the soldiers eyes but the trauma of the battle rendered him unable to see.
    I think there’s a form of trauma in these groups that we call cults. It’s at least a form of spiritual abuse. Folks in this sort of environment lose their ability to see spiritually and process information in a normal fashion. They just can’t “see” it; the “it” being the over whelming evidence that what they’re believing and who they are following aren’t true.

    Glad to hear you and your wife made it out. It would be interesting to hear your story.

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