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Narconon and Scientology:
a comparison

"Scientific creationism", observes the distinguished American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is a peculiar beast. It claims to be a wholly scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution, but its science is so bad that it instantly rules itself out of contention as a credible scientific theory. If it does not match up with scientific veracity, then what does it match? It attempts to provide a scientific explanation for a supernatural origin of life - supposedly from a viewpoint which is non-denominational. But it does not offer any scientific explanation of, for instance, the Hindu or Native American origin stories. In fact, a close reading of "scientific creationism" shows that the only origin story which it attempts to explain scientifically is the Christian one. It is therefore not an unbiased scientific theory, but is based upon a specific belief held by a specific religion. As such - and as Gould successfully argued before the US Supreme Court in 1987 - "scientific creationism" is little more than a Trojan Horse for Christian Biblical literalism, and therefore constitutionally banned from being taught in American schools.

In this respect, there is a close parallel between "scientific creationism" and Narconon's theories. As we shall see, Narconon's "rehabilitation technology" originated in Scientology, was originally devised for Scientologists and (inasmuch as it can be explained at all) can only adequately be explained in terms of Scientology's religious doctrines. But because those doctrines are so much more obscure than those of Christianity, it is far harder to spot the connections.

Narconon's therapy is essentially a slightly modified version of Scientology's own "religious technology". This can easily be seen by comparing Narconon's study manuals with The Scientology Handbook (1994), an 871-page guide to the basic principles of Scientology, which can be found in many public libraries in the UK and the USA. The seven manuals under discussion are: the Narconon Student Recovery Manual (1976); the Narconon Student Manual (1977); the Narconon Basic Picture Manual (1976); the Narconon Study Manual (1976); the Narconon Objective Exercises Manual (1976); the Narconon Technical Manual (1975); the Basic Manual for Narconon Supervisors, vol. 6 (1975).

The covers of the manuals state that they were produced "From the works of L. RON HUBBARD". Hubbard was, of course, the founder of Scientology. The word "Scientology" appears nowhere in the manuals. At the end of each is a bibliography of the original works from which the manual was produced. The items listed are HCOBs and PABs - the acronyms are not explained, but stand for Hubbard Communications Office Bulletins and Professional Auditor's Bulletins. These are listed in What Is Scientology? (a 1992 reference guide) as being part of "the technical materials of Dianetics and Scientology"; they were written to further the development of Scientology. This fact is not mentioned in Narconon's materials.

The declared aim of Narconon is given as:

"A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings have rights, and where Man is free to rise to greater heights."

[What Is Scientology? (1978 ed.), p. 91]

This, strangely enough, is also the goal of Scientology; and it has been pointed out that Scientology defines the insane, the criminal and the dishonest as including anyone who publicly criticises Scientology or doubts its claims. Brave New World, indeed.

The team which in 1974 examined Narconon's therapy on behalf of the California State Department of Health concluded that the organisation's doctrines were barely-disguised adaptations of Scientology:

"[W]e must point out that any connection between Narconon and Scientology other than coincidental was usually vehemently denied ... Theoretically it is a patchwork of Freudian, Gestalt, Pavlovian, science fiction and Eastern (reincarnation) ideas unequivocably sutured together with L. Ron Hubbard's terminology. Indeed, the initial exercises require in addition to a standard English dictionary, a special Narconon dictionary enabling the "student" to understand the Narconon/Scientology terminology ...

The [Narconon] terminology is strikingly similar and presumably parallels, if not merging, the Scientology hierarchy. The latter presumption was underscored by a lengthy conversation with "members" - "employees" at the Scientology/ Westwood office where it was stated that Narconon was simply the application of Scientology "technology" to the problem of drug addiction. Additionally two patients interviewed on a local methadone program reported that their unsuccessful treatment for heroin use at Narconon was by the application of Scientology techniques and was essentially directed at eventually attaining a "clear" state. Again, any connection with Scientology other than coincidental was vigorously denied by Dr. Gibson and his principal assistants ...

[T]here is little doubt that the religion of Scientology is advocated, openly discussed, and encouraged within Narconon. Since the Church of Scientology is a religion it appears that State money is being directly used to support a church. There appears to be little difference between Narconon and the Church of Scientology. For example, there was one book entitled "The Problem of Work" by L. Ron Hubbard and on the inside cover of the book was a statement "For religious use only." The evaluation team was also given a demonstration of the use of the E-meter.

All of the literature and books are directly derived from Scientology and most staff are already or are becoming Scientologists. It would appear that Narconon is receiving state funds for treating "addicts" and is using primarily methods or "technology" of the Church of Scientology."

[Outline for recovery, House Evaluation ("Tennant Report") - by Forrest S. Tennant, Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H., Jane Thomas, R.N., Mike Reilly, and Joseph Shannon, M.D., M.P.H. Submitted to Don Z. Miller, Deputy Director, Health Treatment System, State Department of Health, Sacramento, CA, on 31 Oct 1974.]

This conclusion can only be reinforced by a detailed comparison of The Scientology Handbook and the Narconon manuals, which consist largely of exercises and drills. The Narconon "Communication Drills" are identical to those in the Handbook (see pp. 168 to 184). In Scientology, the drills are taught as an introductory course entitled the TRs [Training Routines] and Objectives Co-Audit Course. Indeed, the material for that course is almost word-for-word identical to the Narconon communication drills. There is one significant change: the word "preclear" ("a spiritual being now on the road to becoming Clear") has systematically been replaced by "another person". The disguising of Scientology links continues in this fashion throughout the manuals.

In a similar fashion, Narconon's explanations of the biological effects of drugs rely on Scientology texts with references to Scientology removed. Hence the Handbook states (p. 259):

"By actual clinical test, the actions of aspirin and other pain depressants are to:

A. Inhibit the ability of the thetan to create mental image pictures

and also

B. To impede the electrical conductivity of nerve channels.

As a result, the thetan is rendered stupid, blank, forgetful, delusive and irresponsible."

The wording in the Narconon Techical Manual is identical, except that the word "thetan" has once again been replaced throughout by "person".

This is a crucial connection between Scientology theory and Narconon practice. The drills and exercises outlined in the Narconon manuals were first developed by Hubbard in the 1950s as part of Scientology. According to Hubbard, people are beings of pure thought, or theta - hence, thetans - quite distinct from the mind or the body. Thetans are trillions of years old but (on Earth at least) have become trapped in "meat bodies". They have actually forgotten altogether that they are thetans.

The Training Routines and drills are therefore supposed to "reorient" a thetan with his forgotten abilities. One TR involves reading extracts from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in an appropriately dramatic inflection. This is an exercise in "duplication"; eventually the thetan will be able to duplicate any aspect of matter, energy, space or time. Another TR involves yelling at an ashtray to "STAND UP!" and "SIT DOWN!". (The ashtray usually fails to comply, so it has to be moved by hand instead.) This is intended to develop the use of "Tone 40", whereby a thetan can exercise total command over matter, energy, space and time, so "regaining" the use of telepathy, telekinesis, et cetera.

Both of these exercises are used in Narconon "therapy". References to thetans and overtly spiritual matters have been deleted; however, the drills only make sense (inasmuch as they make sense at all) when considered in their original context. They do not correspond to any other therapies, in effect being religious teachings in another guise. They lack any obvious relevance to drug education; as the 1991 Oklahoma State Mental Health Board report into Narconon puts it, "[t]he vast majority of time spent in the Narconon treatment plan and course work does not in any way relate to or involve education about drug and alcohol abuse treatment, issues, and/or addiction."

Narconon, therefore, is a drug rehabilitation therapy in the same way that "scientific creationism" is an approach to the search for life's origins. Neither have much scientific credibility, but both rely on an approach based around a particular religious philosophy and both attempt to disguise this fact. The widespread knowledge of the Biblical account of the Creation makes scientific creationism relatively easy to spot. The extremely obscure nature of Scientology beliefs make Narconon's religious affiliation far harder to recognise, despite the strength of the links.

But does it really matter? It certainly does matter in the United States and other countries where there is a constitutional ban on the state funding of religious activities. The 1974 Tennant Report commented that "[i]t would appear that Narconon is receiving state funds for treating "addicts" and is using primarily methods or "technology" of the Church of Scientology," citing this as one of the grounds for the recommendation of three of the evaluation team's members that state funding be discontinued. Other countries have no such ban on the funding of religion-affiliated bodies and Narconon certainly seems to have a good effect on some of its clients. But even here, the organisation is no more open about its links to the Church of Scientology and its doctrine than it is in the United States. It is an undeniable fact that Scientology has a poor reputation in many countries, and perhaps it is for this reason that Narconon downplays its links, in defiance of evidence which can be found in its own literature.


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Last updated 31 August 1998
by Chris Owen (