Chris Shelton was born into Scientology and can’t understand scholars who don’t see it for the cult it is.
photo by: Skeptiko
Alex Tsakiris: [00:00:00] Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris and as you may recall a couple of episodes back, I had an interview with Ohio State Comparative Religions Professor, Dr Hugh Urban, and what I found particularly interesting in that interview is the rather strange way, in my opinion, that many academics deal with cults like Scientology, or as they sometimes like to refer to them, new religions like Scientology. And as I explained in that episode, and as we’ll talk about today, I found that particularly strange in the case of Scientology because as we explored in that interview, we have direct provable links between Scientology and occult practices, number one. But also with CIA dabbling with extended consciousness, with programs like MKULTRA, MKOFTEN, and even Stargate, which we’ve talked about a lot on this show. So after the interview, one of the things I wanted to do was unpack both parts of that with someone who’s actually experienced the reality of Scientology and that led me to today’s guest, Chris Shelton. Someone who, at a very young age was indoctrinated into Scientology through his parents. Sometimes I think we forget how long Scientology has been around, it’s kind of multigenerational. So imagine as a very young kid, instead of going to Sunday School, you’re going to Scientology. It’s not like somebody corralled you in off the streets of LA and took you into some hokey experiment, like we always see, this is your parents going there and saying, “Hey, maybe this is the way to go.” So, Chris has gone on to create a very successful YouTube channel and a podcast called Sensibly Speaking, where he regularly interviews experts on cults, mind control and other related topics that are important to people who found themselves in this rather unfortunate situation. So Chris, welcome, thank you very much for joining me. Welcome to Skeptiko.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:02:35] So, as I was pulling together that intro, I had in the back of my mind that there might be some places where you don’t exactly agree with me and that’s totally fine. You do kind of come from this critical thinker, it’s a codeword for atheist skeptic kind of thing.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:02:59] Well, I just say that because I’ve dealt with so many blockaded, closed minded atheists who kind of wave this flag of critic
al thinking. Oh gee, like everyone else is uncritical and you’re critical. I mean, doesn’t everyone claim to be a critical thinker? I think they do. I think there are people
in Scientology, they’ll give you a real scientific explanation for what they did.
But I don’t want to get too kind of far afield here because I do want to serve that first purpose of, you were nice enough to look at the Hugh Urban interview and you shared, “I could only get through about half of it Alex because it got pretty hard,” and I understand that.
But I want to get to the big picture stuff of your bio and just back to, what do you think when you hear an academic like that talking about these new religions, like Scientology?
Chris Shelton: [00:03:59] Yeah, exactly. They specifically refer to them, there was this coined term New Religious Movement, or NRMs, and this is something that has been circulating in academic circles or the academic world for at least a decade now. I can’t remember the name of the person whose brainchild that was, but the problem with describing high control authoritarian groups, what people call cults or destructive cults specifically, and I’ve gone into great detail about that on my channel is that it ignores the abusive aspect of these groups and the academics tend to shy away from, in all of the literature that I can find, and I’ve read pretty extensively of it. In fact, I even did an entire video series breaking down a book called Scientology, which was written entirely by academics, who all come at it from the viewpoint of Scientology being a new religious movement that deserves religious freedom and recognition and analysis from at a professional level. But who then proceed two merely regurgitate Scientology’s promotional materials in their academic studies and papers.
And this is what I’ve taken them to task for, because if you’re going to objectively look at a new religious movement, call it a new religious movement, then you better be able to back that up with some evidence. Because we’re talking studies now, we’re talking actual papers that are written by academics for academics in the world of academia. These are not popular works, these are not printed for the public at large. So these are people who live in the world of having to publish or perish.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:05:55] Hold on, because you kind of touched on a couple of different things there that we need to pull apart. One is, the abuse and we need to talk about that.
Can I back you up just a minute and have you talk about your bio, so that people understand, like I said, I mean, you’re kind of raised into this Scientology thing.
Chris Shelton: [00:06:21] Of course, sorry, I just launched right into that. But yes, I am a former Scientologist, and years professionally, like I worked for the organization for 25 of those years. I was raised in Scientology before that. I count my Scientology time from the point that I was 15, but I was actually raised with it, my parents got involved when I was four years old. So I don’t have a living memory outside of Scientology you see. I remember a couple things from before I was 4 years old, but for the most part now, Scientology’s always been there. The concepts have always been there. The terminology and of which there is a great deal, has it always been there. I was raised with these ideas and it was really not a whole lot different, my experience, from, I think, being raised in any kind of, what I would say is a strongly religious family. Scientology is not a casual thing, my parents worked for the organization, they were deeply involved with it up until the late 80s. They got out in the 90s, I was then all in. So then I was the Scientologist in the family, and they had kind of both gotten out. But they drifted away, and I stayed in.
By this point I was in my 20s, I worked for the organization in Santa Barbara, and then I moved down to Los Angeles and I joined what’s called the Sea Organization when I was 25 years old in 1995, and I moved down to Los Angeles and I worked for the Sea Organization for 17 years. I finally got out in 2000, the end of 2012. And it was a year later, after getting full exposure to the internet, uncensored, which in the world of Scientology and the Sea Org, the internet is censored in the same way it’s censored in China, it’s filtered. You simply cannot access certain information. So there was a ton of information about Scientology that I never had access to.
So when I left in 2012, when I left the Sea Organization, I was still a believer in Scientology. Within a year of being exposed to all of the truth about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, I was out, and I was so out that I started speaking out publicly against it because I was so outraged about what I had learned, that the church labelled me an enemy. I am now declared a suppressive person by the Church of Scientology, which means I’m not to be talked to or connected to or in any way corresponded with by Scientologists. They completely shut me out of their life. I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost people I’d known for over 20 years overnight because the Church said I am an enemy, “You can’t talk to him anymore,” and they all comply. That’s what happens there.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:09:13] Let me just interject there because one of the things that you said, that’s a cult, do you know what I mean?
Chris Shelton: [00:09:20] Yeah, right.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:09:22] It’s just like kind of crazy. Like we were talking about Dr. Urban who seems like a super nice guy and is an interesting guy and has a lot of interesting pursuits, in terms of comparative religions that are important and are scholarly, but for him to kind of miss, it’s a fricking cult and unless we can talk about it as a cult, then we can’t get to the basics, get some of the fundamental understandings of what that means, how it fits in.
But the other thing I think that I think we miss out on is the opportunity to just slow down and have a little bit of respect for the victims, and I want to talk about that a little bit. I don’t know if that’s even a word that maybe you don’t like or don’t associate with, which I would totally respect. But the thing that I get, that kind of annoys me is that I feel like, man, you don’t have to fricking apologize, which is sometimes what I hear. Like people go, “Oh and I stayed in.” It’s like, you were four years old, that’s all you knew, your parents… Because I know people will say, “Well your kind of partially responsible Chris because you stayed in.” I’m sure you feel enough responsible as it is.
If we don’t understand it as a cult, if we can’t identify it as a cult, then I don’t think we can really respect fully what that was for you, what your experience was. And I’m kind of on a soapbox there but tell me what your thoughts are on that.
Chris Shelton: [00:11:02] Well, I agree with you. Victim is not a word that I issue, I definitely was victimized by Scientology. Anybody who gets involved in Scientology eventually will be, that’s the nature of what it does. That’s why we call it a destructive cult. There are very specific characteristics connected with that. I use that term very advisedly, but I understand that it’s a loaded word, there is a lot of contention about the use of that word. I don’t shy away from it, I think you’re right, I think we have to talk about these groups in proper terminology and destructive cult is a perfectly acceptable term to use when you have a very exact definition for it, which we do. This is not work I invented, I have built my work on the work of people who came before me like [unclear 00:11:48], Steve Hassan, Robert J. Lifton of course, going all the way back to the 50s and 60s, Margaret Singer, there are a lot of people in this line. I stand on the shoulder of giants in many ways with the things that I’ve talked about, including even former Scientologists who’ve come out and spent years studying this and figuring out what happened to them. And like John Atack who’s written books of academic quality about this work and who are routinely ignored by the academics that we’re talking about. They will not give any credibility or credence to our stories because they just assume that all of us have an axe to grind, we cannot be impartial or objective and therefore nothing we say matters. And if that’s not the very definition of prejudicial academia, I don’t know what is.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:12:41] Now Chris, let me give you Dr. Urban’s spin on that because I really want you to respond. One of the primary things I think we can accomplish in doing this is that, so, you talked to those folks and I’ve threw up a slide on the screen. I love Jeff Kripal, he’s great, he’s been on the show multiple times, he’s got a lot of interesting things to say about a lot of these topics. But there is a certain type of my optic mindset when we get into these cults and they don’t seem to be able to break out of it.
So what Dr. Urban says, and I don’t know if you got to this part of the interview, but he said, “Look, there was too much in the public discourse, there is too much just dialogue from people who were survivors, kind of victims, kind of thing, and we had to balance that out. So we had to seek balance.” And to me, I get that on one hand, but I always think of the kinds of false equivalency thing, which I’ve dealt with on so many topics on this show, where all of the evidence really is on one side, so let’s go out and find somebody on the other side who can prop it up and make it look like there’s some kind of genuine discussion here.
That must feel frustrating to you, when academia does that, in this case, because there really isn’t any balance here, is there?
Chris Shelton: [00:14:16] there. No, there isn’t, and that is why it’s frustrating for me. That’s what compelled me to make a whole series of videos taking on every single one of these essays, one at a time, showing where they get it wrong, talking exactly about what they missed and taking them to task for it.
You know, if you’re going to publish an academic paper about Scientology, you better have something to say and if what you have to say is simply regurgitated Scientology promotional materials and I am intimately familiar with Scientology’s promotional materials, I wrote them. So I understand how Scientology presents itself to the world and I understand the curtain or veil behind which Scientology operates and what they do when people aren’t around, when it’s just Scientologists, when it’s just Sea Org members, how did they talk, what do they say, what do they think? I understand all of that at a very intimate level. I was all in and I was at its highest levels for over a decade. So if there’s somebody they want to talk to, who’s actually going to be able to give them information about what Scientology really is about, it’s people like me. And it’s not just me, there are so many former members who have come out and shared their experiences and have talked about what Scientology presents to the world, is very different from what actually goes on in Scientology. Academics stop at the propaganda level, they don’t go any further. And that’s where they lose and that’s why their objectivity is called into question, that’s why their motives are called into question because they don’t academically rigorously pursue this topic. If they did, their work wouldn’t look a lot different. That’s kind of my point there.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:16:16] I want to pull that back though, right on that point and say that I wonder if the problem isn’t deeper in a way. So I think what they’re doing in comparative religion, it’s they don’t seem to be able to deal with this cult issue. And I guess I’d even poke you a little bit because like when you said, “I very advisedly use the term cult,” to hell with that. I think we’re way too careful about really trying to understand the cultish influences that are…
There’s another way to look at, like some of the interviews you’ve done with some of the cult experts, and I would actually pick some different cult experts, even though we’ve interviewed some of the same people because I think what cults are tapping into are some very basic human needs and human psychological weaknesses/strengths, you know, this need for community, this need for authority, this need for a core set of beliefs that provide a certainty to structuring life. I think those things pop up all over the place, and I think to pretend we have some clear dividing line that we can very advisedly call this a cult and that not a cult, I think obscures it. And that’s what I hear so many times is the subtext of Hugh Urban, Jeff Kripal, the rest of those guys is to say, “Well, then we’d have to look at all religions as cults,” and I’m like, yes, that’s what we should do. We should examine whether or not each and every religion is a cult or to what extent it’s a cult.
A little aside, you know, a lot of the stuff that I’ve done, especially early on, was in near-death experience, which many people know and are aware of, and the near-death experience stuff is very powerful for people from a spiritual transformational kind of standpoint. You can maybe kind of see where this is going.
So it starts playing some of those cult buttons and some of these groups that get together and talk about near-death experiences can start looking like or being infiltrated by cults. And I actually had a group that did that, and this is a group that had invited me to speak as a keynote speech, which I never did. And I got an email from a listener to Skeptiko who said, “Hey, I was at a meeting recently and there’s this woman up there and she’s in a cult and she’s kind of co-opting the whole near-death experience thing, and I’m worried about it.”
So I went and interviewed one of the leaders of a very legitimate near-death experience organization, and I said, “What’s up with this cult thing?” And that was his claim. One, he defended it as, “Well it’s a mildly dangerous cult.” Okay. A mildly dangerous call.
But then number two, I know this is a long story, but I think it links back to the Hugh Urban thing. He goes, “Look, if we cut these people off from full participation in our group, then what do we do about people who have a Christian experience as part of their near-death experience, or what do we do with other religious people?”
So I think that a lot of times we hamstrung by this narrow, to use your word again, very advisedly controlled definition of cults rather than more broadly looking at how these are very common psychological factors that we’re all susceptible to. And in a way, I feel this is like right in your swing zone, isn’t it Chris?
Chris Shelton: [00:20:17] Well, very much so. This is all I’ve been looking at for the last seven years. The problem there, of course, is that these religious studies, academics never go over to the psychology department and have a talk with them about it. That’s not how they’re coming at this. And I have been breaking down and deconstructing my experience of the 27 plus years over the last six or seven years by talking to all these people and breaking it down and looking at it from lots of different angles. You can look at all of these things from lots of levels. There was lots of levels you can look at these from, from a psychological level. There’s a whole world to explore of mechanisms and beliefs and systems and things that go on just here.
Then there is the neurological level where you really drill down and do just what’s going on in here. There’s a sociological level. Sociologists have a field day with this stuff, right? As well they should, it’s a fascinating study, comparative religions is fascinating, from a sociological point of view. Why did this group do this when this group didn’t? This kind of thing, looking, looking at that. I don’t think it’s really possible to dig into these kinds of groups from a sociological perspective without going over and having the psychology talk too. I think these two things are very, very important to understanding the total experience of what goes on in these cults, I think you have to look at it from both levels.
What religious scholars are doing is a much shallower look, and I know that they’re going to take exception to this, but this is how I see it. They’re looking at group characteristics, they’re looking at group beliefs, the dogma. They’re looking at ritual and practices. They’re fitting this this thing called Scientology or any other group, and they’re checking boxes. Does it have rituals? Does it have religious dogma? Does it have beliefs? How do those beliefs manifest? These are the things they’re looking at.
What’s not on that list of check boxes that they should be adding to, and I think this is where they fall down, is the abusive factor. You really shouldn’t be ignoring that in looking at these groups. But one for one for one, I have not found any religious scholar who will actually use the word ‘abuse’, and yet it is clearly what goes on in these high control groups. Scientology, sure, but lots and lots of groups. There are thousands of these groups out there. They’re not even all religious. And I think that’s one of the reasons also that these religious academic scholars kind of maybe don’t want to go there because then they have to dive into, it’s not about the religious aspect of this group, it’s about, there are other characteristics, other ways of looking at these groups and framing them that the religion angle has nothing to do with it. But they have decided, in their collective wisdom, this group of scholars, and I don’t know how big they are, I don’t know how much of academia this is. I only know that when you go to academia to talk about Scientology, this is what’s presented to you.
Hugh Urban is one of the few people who will even be a little critical about Scientology, right? Most of these guys give it a pass, over and over and over again. And when you talk about underlying problems to this, I think that the biggest underlying problem is that many of these folks have come into this from a point of view of feeling that they are on a mission to defend religious freedom and that somehow by presenting it, a sort of defense for these groups and calling them new religious movements, when one, there is nothing new about them, there’s very little religious about them and they are not really movements. So all three of those words are basically [unclear 00:24:11] It’s a miss-assignation to call them new religious movements, but that’s where they decided to go.
And so in, what I refer to as apologetics, because that’s what it amounts to, if academics don’t dig in to the abusive side of things, because they have an agenda of some kind and whatever that agenda is for each individual person, I can’t say I don’t know them well enough, but I can say collectively that agenda seems to be, let’s all get together and figure out how to give these groups a pass, so that they don’t suffer from persecution due to people’s prejudices against new religious movements. And while [unclear 00:24:59] it’s a miss… it’s just a miss. They decided to take this position and that’s the hill they’re going to die on and unfortunately, I think, in the long run that is the hill they’re going to die on because their work will be wholly invalidated because it’s just regurgitating the promotional materials of these groups.
And it’s not just Scientology that they have done this with. They’ve done this with TM. They have done this with the Brethren Twelve Tribes. They would have done it with NXIVM if NXIVM had been a religious group. I mean, they just ignore all of the bad stuff.
I spent three years on the RPF, the Rehabilitation Project Force, probably the single most abusive aspect of Scientology.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:25:48] Explain to people why you said that.
Chris Shelton: [00:25:50] It’s a physical endurance program. You’d go there if you screw up in the Sea Org, it’s only for the Sea Org. It’s a disciplinary prison like system and the purpose of it is re-education, and re-education in the same way that Mao was re-educating people in concentration camps in China following the Chinese uprising and revolution, that kind of re-education, right? In other words, indoctrination. And when you stray from the path in the Sea Org and you start creating trouble or you get disaffected, or you’ve really screwed up on something according to Scientology’s assessment of how you screw up on something, which is a little different from how normal people would think, you end up in this program. It is a full-time sequestered activity, you’re separated from the rest of the Sea Org members. If you’re married, sorry, you don’t get to see your wife or husband or whatever for the entire period of time that you’re on this program. You cannot speak to anybody outside of the program unless you’re spoken to first. The RPF tends to be kind of relegated to the basement and nobody really wants to see them or talk to them. They’re the bad, you know, they’re bad guys, they screwed up, but they’re taking this one chance to redeem themselves.
And in the course of the RPF, not only is there all of this psychological re-education and group pressure to get you to conform and comply with Scientology’s directives, but there is intense, intense physical demands made on you because you’re working most of the day. You spend five hours a day doing this rehabilitation stuff and the rest of the day you are running everywhere, you go. If you’re caught slacking, walking, not working as hard as you possibly can, you’re made to drop and do 20 pushups or run around the block and do a lap.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:27:43] Right out of the cult makers handbook. You know?
Chris Shelton: [00:27:47] That’s right.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:27:49] Deprive them of sleep, deprive them with proper nutrition, and then run the heck out of them.
Chris Shelton: [00:27:54] Exactly.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:27:55] You’re right. You and I know this, and it’s widely known, why are we skirting this issue when we get to academia?
Chris Shelton: [00:28:04] Well, exactly. They want to compare it to a monastic existence. They make false comparatives is one of the huge logical fallacies that these academics commit, is they try to find something that this compares to that is legitimate, rather than just looking at the RPF. Because whole papers have been written about the RPF by academics and they miss again and again.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:28:30] I want to pick up on that word ‘legitimate’, because I’m really open to what you said and I hadn’t thought about it quite that way, in terms of, kind of a lefty politics, inclusiveness, you know, kind of die on that hill. And I get that without judging, there’s certainly a place for that, in terms of excluding people. We have a pretty sorry history of excluding groups, so we all understand the inclusiveness being, in a lot of ways a good thing. But here, you’re talking about, kind of the evil side of it, which is there.
But the other thing, I think that the hill they’re dying on is this atheism, humanist, and I know that’s kind of in your camp, but what always blows me away is this way that they process the consciousness aspect of it, because that’s been a big part of my thing. And in the interview that I did, I shared with the audience this little quote which I think is really revealing about L. Ron Hubbard. And it’s about Hubbard and Jack Parsons, who became very, very close friends and are engaged in a series of occult rituals through the direction of Aleister Crowley who’s in England, but has kind of chosen Jack Parsons to be the guy and Jack Parsons says, “Oh, I met this tremendous guy, L. Ron Hubbard,” and they’re out in the desert of California and they’re doing this Whore of Babylon ritual in order to conceive and bring into this world the antichrist.
So I don’t care how someone processes that. You have to throw that into the mix, you have to understand that to some level. And the only response, because academia has locked itself into this very narrow understanding of consciousness, extended consciousness, the existence of any other forces outside of our materialistic world, because they’ve written all of that off, they just turn the page on this. That’s what the guy kind of pushed Hugh Urban on, it’s like, doesn’t this deserve some, at least exploration, in terms of what this would mean? And in particular, and it’s another thing that’s in my bailiwick, and that’s the fact that we have some kind of provable links to the cult conspiracy, if you will, inside the United States government. The MKULTRA program, that a lot of people have heard about, is directly connectable to the Jack Parson thing, it’s also directly connectable to something call Project Stargate and The Men Who Stare at Goats thing that a lot of people have heard about. But what a lot of people don’t know is this whole Stargate thing, which was a CIA program and there are tens of thousands of document reliefs that kind of show that these guys are way passed this, “Oh, there can’t be any extended consciousness.” They’re playing with extended consciousness. They’re experimenting with it. They’re reporting back to Jimmy Carter and he’s announcing it on the news that while these guys are psychic and they can spy all of the world, kind of thing, and they found this [unclear 00:32:02]. Well the guys who are the original founders, researchers, the go-to guys under the MKULTRA program that is Project Stargate, two of them are very early, I guess members of Scientology. So Hal Puthoff is, Bill Swann is, and then to not explore that?
Again, so that’s the other hill that I think academia is dying on, just this kind of complete blindness to even consider what’s going on in this extended realm and how that might be a reality for all of these religions. Because that’s the head-fake wink thing, is that, “Well, we don’t really have to do with that because it couldn’t possibly be true. So we’ll talk about Christianity all day long because we don’t believe that any of it could possibly be real.” The same with Satanism, “We’ll talk about it all day long because there’s no way any of it could be true.”
I’m not a religious guy Chris, but I look at the evidence, I just follow the evidence, and clearly there’s something going on in this extended consciousness realm that we need to consider as part of this discussion or it all just becomes gobbledygook.
Chris Shelton: [00:33:23] Well, I’ll tell you how I think about that as a skeptic, and I think about that in terms of, if you want to talk about the legitimacy of extended consciousness, psychic powers, ESP, telepathy, supernatural paranormal activities, this sort of thing, you’re going to have to show me evidence and so far that’s been coming out pretty short across the boards.
However, I agree with what you’re saying because the point is, if you’re going to be a religious scholar and you’re going to dive into this, you’re talking to people, you’re talking about people who do believe this stuff and they believe it with all their heart. I did. I used to, right? When I was a Scientologist, I believed in the OT phenomena, OT powers, Operating Thetan, the upper level stuff, that you could rehabilitate yourself spiritually to a state where telekinesis was possible, clairvoyance, these kinds of things. I believed all of that. I never experienced it once. But supposedly Hubbard had, and other people had, and Hubbard talked about it at length. So it must be true, there must be some validity to it. And even my own parents were OTs, and sometimes they would like to play little mind games with me when I was a kid. So I thought there was some legitimacy to all of this. And that’s the important thing is that you have to…
Alex Tsakiris: [00:34:41] No, that’s not the important thing, that’s one of the important things, but the first important thing is, is there a reality to it or not? So, I don’t want to push this and make this dominate the conversation, but again, when I’m talking about Stargate and MKULTRA, there are tens of thousands. I just interviewed this guy, you can see him up on the screen, Lane Mungia, who just did this movie Third Eye Spies, and as part of the movie he went with Russell Targ and they got tens of thousands of previously classified CIA documents released, that it’s case closed, in terms of Stargate being real, being effective.
So, if you don’t want to go there or…
Chris Shelton: [00:35:27] Hold on a second now, now hang on. Did it happen? Yes. Was it effective? Okay, now that’s a whole different question.
[00:35:40] Alex Tsakiris: [00:35:36] Absolutely it was effective.
Chris Shelton: [00:35:40] I will absolutely agree with you that it happened, but did they actually prove remote viewing?
Alex Tsakiris: [00:35:43] They’ve not only proved it as part of the Stargate program, but there’s been peer reviewed, many peer reviewed studies that have been done that shows its efficacy. So I don’t want to get into the whole skeptical debate, we can do that, but there’s just no basis for this kind of, did it ever happen, James Randy kind of, maybe there was a camera fake, kind of thing. All of that stuff has been just thoroughly debunked.
But to the point of Stargate, tens of thousands of release documents that show it’s efficacy over and over again, and peer reviewed studies that show its efficacy. There really shouldn’t be any doubt at this point, but we can’t cover all of that evidence here, and I don’t know, maybe it’s not relevant then because we can’t really go there.
Chris Shelton: [00:36:31] No, I, I’d have to see that. I have yet to see a single piece of compelling evidence.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:36:38] You just haven’t looked for it, but that’s okay,
Chris Shelton: [00:36:40] Dude, do not say that to me. You don’t know a thing about what I have and haven’t looked at. And you can edit this out, but do not make assumptions about what I have and haven’t looked at. I’ve spent my entire childhood studying this. Don’t tell me what I know and don’t know.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:36:54] I’m saying categorically, if you don’t understand that Stargate has been proven and that remote viewing has been proven, again, I just…
Chris Shelton: [00:37:04] Just show me evidence, that’s all I’m saying. Send me some papers. Show me this peer reviewed stuff because I don’t believe it.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:37:10] So I’ll show you the peer reviewed stuff and then it will be okay.
Chris Shelton: [00:37:15] Just send it to me.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:37:17] And then it will be okay and then you’ll call it out?
Chris Shelton: [00:37:18] I’ll look at what you’ve sent me, and I will look at it and then I will make my decisions based on what I read. But I have not yet seen any compelling evidence for remote viewing being a thing. I have seen many, many, many failed experiments and attempts at it. So I’m open to looking at whatever you want to send me. I’m just saying don’t assume that you know what I know, because I have studied this at length. I have done the deep dives in all of this.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:37:45] Clearly, I can’t know what you know.
Chris Shelton: [00:37:47] No, of course not. That’s why I take exception to that.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:37:52] You get what I’m saying, in that it’s like… Just for fun, since we’re in the middle of this conversation, we’ve kind of really handled the first part of it. I’d go near-death experience, I suppose you don’t think that consciousness survives bodily death.
Chris Shelton: [00:38:09] I don’t know if it does or not. That’s where I stand on it.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:38:13] Go and read The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences by Dr. Janice Holden and Bruce Greyson from The University of Virginia and Jan Holden from North Texas. 200 peer reviewed papers. I’ve interviewed all of the leading experts in the world. Every expert tells you consciousness survives death, but that just doesn’t penetrate to a certain group of people. It’s really just like talking to a fundamentalist Christian, it’s the same thing. We’ll to until we’re blue in the face and it’s like, “Nope, nope, nope, show me the evidence, that’s not enough, you haven’t convinced me.” Like, that’s the standard is like convincing an individual is the standard. Not that all of the experts in the field have come to this conclusion based on data that they can publish in peer reviewed papers. That’s not enough kind of thing.
Chris Shelton: [00:38:59] Right. Well, peer reviewed science is the best system that we have, but it is not an infallible system.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:39:06] Correct.
Chris Shelton: [00:39:07] So we need to always, always be skeptical and critical of what we read and that’s really my only approach. I am not a dedicated non-believer or unbeliever. However, let’s be clear, I’ve spent 27 years in a ‘movement’ that was a destructive cult, thinking I was saving the world. So you can understand why I might be more than a little skeptical of claims of a similar nature being made, when in the big wide world I see no evidence that any of this stuff is real. So that’s why I say I’ll look at anything you want to send me, and I’m more than happy to contemplate it. My position is simply, I don’t know, which I believe is a better position than, no that’s not true and it can’t be true and there’s no way I will ever believe that. That’s not my position.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:40:01] Fair enough in two respects. One is that I do honor your experience because I think it’s important and that’s why I called you up for this interview. It’s important and you make a strong case for your experience, and I also totally get that where you’re coming from seems completely reasonable to me. I heard you saying, “Hey, I understand how easy it is to get roped into a set of narrow beliefs that take somebody down a path. Alex, I’ve seen it with other people.” You seem like very intelligent guy, a well-spoken guy, and I think that’s the thing that gets people, they go, “Wait, how could that guy…” That’s the question on everyone’s mind, and I think you’re kind of answering that by saying, “Look, I know how easy it is, so let me tell you. I’ve got the defense shields up, they’re not impenetrable, but I have them up at full force,” and I do respect that.
Chris Shelton: [00:41:03] Thank you. I appreciate you saying that. It’s important to be skeptical in a world where Gwyneth Paltrow is making more money than you and I are ever going to see in our entire lives, selling people complete and utter bullshit. That’s the world we live in. So it’s a good thing to be skeptical in this world.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:41:29] I hear you, point well taken. Let’s talk about this topic, from a practical standpoint. It’s critical for people to know that there is a way out. Maybe you can start by sharing your journey out. You already have a little bit, but what else can people most profit from? And in particular, you know, you’re talking to an audience that, they’re not Scientologists for the most part, but maybe they know someone who could recognize some of the same features, symptoms. You get the idea. How do you get out?
Chris Shelton: [00:42:06] Totally. You know, I just did a two hour podcast with a man who has been doing this for almost 50 years now, and it’s an extensive topic getting people out of these groups. But I will summarize it by saying, care, compassion, tolerance and understanding. You will never, ever, swear at somebody, antagonize them out of a belief system or a destructive cult or any kind of situation really.
If you want to change hearts and minds you’re going to have to do it by talking to people at their level, not yours, and that involves usually a lot more listening that it does talking and getting to why it is that this person has gotten involved in this group in the first place, what they’re getting out of it, what it does for them, what they think it does for them, maybe versus what it’s really doing to them. They don’t see what you see, they see what they see. And they can’t see what you see, they can only see what they see and when you’re brought into a group like this, it’s a slow series of agreements. Nobody’s getting Xenu on day one, nobody’s getting Xenu on day two, nobody’s getting Xenu on day 50. It’s a very slow progress before you’re getting into this really weird deep space opera stuff and the space aliens and all of that stuff. That’s really upper level stuff. The street level Scientologist isn’t going to hear anything about that unless they go specifically for certain books in the library of Scientology that they can find that are there, that are publicly accessible. Books like A History of Man, where Hubbard goes all out on theta traps and spiritual stuff and all this other nonsense.
So you can get into that if you want to, but your normal Scientology experience isn’t going to include any of that. So if you go talking to a Scientologists and say Xenu and space aliens and exorcisms and all this, they’re going to look at you like you have no idea what you’re talking about because as far as they’re concerned, you don’t. And trying to argue dogma is usually a losing battle.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:44:23] I can understand that. Take the other side of that. If you are talking to someone who maybe is recently, within the last few years, been indoctrinated into specifically Scientology, kind of elaborate on that. What is the approach? What has probably sucked them in? What is the kind of listening that you can affectively do?
Chris Shelton: [00:44:46] Yeah, of course. The way Scientology reels people in, and I sort of compare it to a fish line, is they hook you on a very, very personal level. When you first go into a Scientology organization, you’re usually brought in by a friend or family member. That’s the number one way that Scientologists are made. You mentioned at the beginning, second gens, like me, second generation cult member. I was raised in it. There are third, fourth, even fifth generation members at this point, because Scientology has been around since 1953. So it’s been around for a while.
So family, of course, are just raised with it like me. But even I had to have my epiphany moment and that was when I was 15 and I went into a Scientology organization on my own at my dad’s suggestion, and I did their personality test. And that’s generally how they want to get you in, is they want to do that personality test. It’s 200 questions that ends up with a graph of personality characteristics and the whole thrust of that is to get you to sit down with the test evaluator and start talking and tell them about yourself. And what they’re looking for is the thing that they think is, what they call your ruin. They’re looking for the thing that you think is the number one problem in your life that you have to resolve right now because it’s ruining your life. Whether it’s that you can’t talk to your kids, you have problems at work, marriage problems, family problems, whatever it is.
There’s about 20, 21 different buttons that they push that they can get at you at, and those were surveyed for; what are the biggest problems people are aware of in their lives that they want to do something about? And they have courses that they’ve designed to deal with each of those problems.
So if you walk in there and you take this personality test and you start talking about how you and your kid are so estranged and you can’t talk anymore, and it seems like he’s just rebelling every time you talk to him and it’s just a mess and you don’t know what to do and you feel like you’re losing them and you want this relationship and it’s just, it’s just tearing you apart. “Great, we’ve got a course for that, it’s called the communications course. And then we’ve got this other course about dealing with kids and if you take these two classes and they’re only 50 bucks each, we will handle that ruin utterly and you will never have that problem again.” And that’s the hook. That’s how they get you in. It’s something very personal that you go, “Really, you have something that can help me with that?” It’s very practical, it’s extremely practical and they market Scientology as a toolbox for you for life. Scientology has these tools that you can use. It’s not about beliefs, it’s not about space aliens, it’s not about any of that stuff, that crap you read on the internet, it’s about tools for making your life a better thing and who could possibly object to that?
Alex Tsakiris: [00:47:47] It’s basically positive psychology, cognitive psychology for folks who can’t afford it. It kind of makes sense. I kind of knew it, but when you break it down, it makes a lot of sense. If I can go to a class and learn, you know, a bunch of positive psychology things, cognitive psychology things that are liable to help improve my situation, it’s very tempting, yeah.
Chris Shelton: [00:48:11] Exactly, and what’s so objectionable about any of that? I mean, this is very worked out. They’ve been doing this for like, what, 70? Almost 70 years now. They’ve really worked out all the kinks in this line. The thing Scientology can’t deal with right now is all of us, all of us ex-members, who are going, “Hey man, that looks and sounds great, but guess what? That has nothing to do with what Scientology is really all about.” And that’s what we’re trying to warn you about, is it’s like, “Yeah, that sounds real good.” And at the public level, some of the tools they give you actually do work, because they have to, because why would you sign up for more if it didn’t?
So it’s all commonsense stuff, but it’s all presented to you and framed in a way that you know, who could possibly object to this? Anybody who’s telling you bad things about Scientology, clearly it doesn’t want you to get better.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:49:06] Well, you know, and we didn’t get into this and we’re going to wrap it up, but I would maintain that Christianity does exactly the same thing.
Chris Shelton: [00:49:14] Of course.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:49:15] Right, you get it.
Chris Shelton: [00:49:16] Of course they do.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:49:17] You sit in church and they’ll say three things that you’re like totally on board with, which is that, “Shouldn’t you show compassion? We’re doing this drive to help our neighbors, and shouldn’t we get on it?” And you’re like, “Yeah,” and “Shouldn’t we forgive?” And you’re like, “Yeah, that really is more effective in life.” “And didn’t Jesus die for your sins?” And you’re like, “Wait a minute, how do you slip that part in?”
Chris Shelton: [00:49:42] Right.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:49:43] That’s how it is.
Chris Shelton: [00:49:44] That’s right.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:49:47] It’s the same, it’s the same thing and that’s one of the things that I just think sometimes, we’re a little bit soft on Christianity and in particular, right now, it should be so starkly obvious with the whole Pedo Pope thing and still people don’t get it. They still go there and give their money morally, ethically. How can you give your money to an organization that is provably that linked to this kind of systematic exploitation of children and all these sex crimes? I don’t know how one justifies that.
Chris Shelton: [00:50:26] Really? I mean, it’s pretty easy because they just look at that horrible behavior as something different, or an aberration, I should say maybe. It’s a fringe, extremist criminal element, but that’s only a little tiny part, and the Pope is dealing with that and the Catholic, you know, they’re dealing with that, right? Just listen to what they say. They’ve called councils and they’ve done meetings and they’ve done this, and they’ve done that.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:50:56] They did a committee.
Chris Shelton: [00:50:57] Yeah, “We did a committee and this guy here…” And if you don’t go too deep, which…
Here’s the thing about people, this is the thing that I’ve learned that has been the most difficult thing for me in dealing with people is that, and it’s no mystery, we all know that this happens, it’s just difficult to accept, is that when somebody wants to believe something, when they’re engaging in what’s called motivated reasoning, where they have an emotional investment of some kind in the topic at hand, they only need one semi-legitimate reason and they can right off all kinds of abuses, they can make and just go, “No, it’s all…” Just one little inkling of something, it’s called confirmation bias and we all do it. And that’s the answer to why people do that, because they want to, because they want to believe.
And if you want to get to the motivations of that, then we talk about mortality and social pressures and all of the other stuff that comes in.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:52:03] So Chris, tell folks about some of the other work you’re doing. You are the critical thinker at large.
Chris Shelton: [00:52:13] I try.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:52:13] You do have a good podcast as well.
Chris Shelton: [00:52:14] I try.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:52:14] Tell folks what’s coming up on your channel and in your podcast.
Chris Shelton: [00:52:19] Yeah, I’m actually putting together a series on MLMs, multilevel marketing cons, because those are totally related to destructive cults, and actually speaking of the occult stuff I’m in touch with somebody right now who was, or is a member, was a member of the OTO, the Ordo Templi Orientis, which was the church or sort of formal organization connected with Aleister Crowley and Hubbard and Parsons and all of that. So I’m looking forward to exploring some of that in the near future on my channel as well.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:52:54] Nice. Well, it’s great important work. I like that you definitely are open to the science and have a lot of good experts on your channel. So, it’s been a good discussion. Anything else we need to cover.
Chris Shelton: [00:53:08] Well, I guess not, but thank you very much for having me on. I’m sorry if I got a little rough pushing back on you a little bit there, I just don’t like assumptions and I’m trying really, really hard this year to not assume things and I just, you know…
Alex Tsakiris: [00:53:23] No problem, no problem on the pushback at all. I mean, I think you handled it extremely politely. I can push buttons even when I don’t know I’m pushing buttons. But I will follow up with you and make notes in the after notes of the show, because again, I don’t know how you’re going to step over the peer reviewed research and the release documents. Maybe you will just have a little slight shift in your worldview, but most people don’t, just in the same that you’re talking about, most people don’t.
Chris Shelton: [00:53:59] Well, let me say this. I would like nothing more than to believe that life doesn’t stop when our bodies die.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:54:10] I hate it when people say that. Who cares? I don’t care what you would like. That has nothing to do with the issue, it really doesn’t. It comes down to a science issue. It’s like, what is the nature of consciousness? When does it begin? When does it end? What’s necessary and sufficient to cause consciousness? One of the things, like we can’t really have this discussion, but it’s like, that’s the problem underlying what Hugh Urban is talking about, is they bought into this kind of ridiculous notion of materialism, of consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain, which has been disproven. I mean, I have some of the world’s leading physicists who will tell you consciousness is fundamental. We’ve proven it all over and over again.
The CERN Lab, over there where they’re crashing together atoms and producing a terabyte of data all come to the same conclusion, consciousness is fundamental. All the best quantum physicists from a hundred years ago came to the same conclusion yet, everyone is operating under this, “Let’s just do this thing where consciousness isn’t real, we’re just biological robots in a meaningless universe, and let’s go down that path because it’s comfortable.” That has been completely falsified, and the reason I have to tiptoe around that, that is the world that you’re living in because that is the ‘skeptics’ pseudo skeptics have kind of completely bought into that without a careful examination of it.
So we can talk about remote viewing as being one tiny way to show that that’s falsified, but it’s falsified in all these other ways and the consequences of it are, I think this kind of very narrow in some ways, atheistic, materialistic kind of mindset. And again, I’m not a religious person, so I’m not coming at it from that angle.
Chris Shelton: [00:56:04] Right. I totally get it, man. And like I said, I’ll look at anything you want to send me. You know, I have a pretty high standard, my bar is pretty high on my threshold of acceptable evidence. So I’m very, very curious what you will send me, and I will look at it.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:56:22] Can’t do any more. Can’t ask any more than that. Our guest, again, has been Chris Shelton. Make sure you check them out on YouTube and check out his podcast. Great stuff, Chris. I think it added a lot to rounding out this discussion with Hugh Urban, so I appreciate it.
Chris Shelton: [00:56:37] Absolutely. Thank you very much for having me on and giving me the opportunity to talk.
Thanks again to Chris Shelton for joining me today on Skeptiko. Since I really did invite him primarily to talk about Scientology, I’m not going to bash him too hard on the pseudo skeptic, critical thinking thing which, in my opinion, is just, I don’t know, jumping from one narrow belief system to another maybe. But I did want to let you know that I did follow up with Chris, I sent him some really radical studies like Jessica Utts’ statistical analysis of psi research, Dean Radin’s Six Sigma result. What else? Just standard stuff and he was very unconvinced, and I forgot what his other word was, but just…
Anyways, that’s how it goes, but interesting about the Scientology stuff and the academic angle on it, which just really looks more and more bizarre. I mean, how can you not deal with people like Chris who’ve been in it for 20 years? How can you not approach that offer of some kind of explanation for the abuse, like he says, the abuse that they’ve been through.
Yeah, I don’t want to come down too hard on Dr. Urban because he’s in an environment, obviously, that kind of pulls for that. But hey, so it goes.
So I’d love to talk more with you about this show. If you’d like to join me, hop on over to the Skeptiko Forum, where me and other people will be talking about this show. Be sure to check out the skeptiko.com website where you can download this and all these other previous shows. Just get the MP3 files and do what you will. I’ve got a bunch of them up there.
I have some interesting shows coming up, a couple of interesting projects as well. I appreciate everyone out there who stays with me through some of these tough discussions. Until next time, take care and bye for now.
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