T A B L E__T A L K

Are Internet company stocks way overvalued? Share your thoughts on the gap between share prices and actual worth in the Digital Culture area of Table Talk

- - - - - - - - - -


Lights, camera, point, click, action!
By John Alderman
Some subjects -- like filmmaking -- were made for educational multimedia

3-D epiphany
By Mark Pesce
Forget cyberpunk -- Char Davies is remaking virtual reality along human lines

Shoot to thrill
By Greg Lindsay
"Unreal" takes the first-person shooter game to the next graphic level. But is that enough?

The 21st Challenge No. 11
By Charlie Varon and Jim Rosenau
Devise new high-tech mergers -- win a prize!

Rags for Net richies
By Janelle Brown
A passel of new magazines tries to snag the tech-business elite -- but only the fittest will survive

- - - - - - - - - -


- - - - - - - - - -

______A Web of their own

Scientologists say their Internet filter protects the faithful. Critics call it "cult mind-control."
- - - - - - - -
BY JANELLE BROWN | If you are a Scientologist, your church is hoping that you'll get online and build a Web site endorsing your religious beliefs. In fact, the Church of Scientology will give you a Web starter kit to do just that. It will even host your site for you, alongside those of thousands of fellow Scientology members.

But if you want to visit alt.religion.scientology, the Web site of Operation Clambake or just about any page that mentions the word "Xenu," you're out of luck. In fact, you'd probably be unable to read this article. Because the starter kit that you just used to build your Web site also installed what Scientology critics are calling the "Scieno Sitter": a filtering program, like those used to hide pornography from children, that prevents Scientologists from seeing terms and phrases that the church has decided to block.

Opponents of Scientology -- and there are many online -- say that the Scientology On-line project's filter is "cult mind-control for the 21st century" that stifles free speech. Members of the Church of Scientology say instead that it's a protective program, safeguarding the religious members from seeing materials that they never wanted to see in the first place.

Either way, one thing is for certain: This is the latest skirmish in a protracted battle -- with no end in sight.

The Church of Scientology was originally founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s around a belief system that is part psychology, part technology. Members are encouraged to become "clear" -- to achieve a state of higher spiritual existence -- via expensive auditing and courses. If you take more courses, you reach higher "Operating Thetan" (or OT) levels and can read sacred documents, which detail an ancient world of intergalactic spirits. Scientology claims to have 8 million members worldwide (though critics put that number as low as 50,000), including high-profile celebrities like John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Tom Cruise.

Detractors call Scientology a cult, primarily because of the cost of achieving higher OT levels (reportedly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) and the testimony of ex-members who claim that some Scientologists are mistreated and brainwashed. The church, on the other hand, says that it is a victim of religious bigotry, and that it deserves the same respect as any other faith.

Scientology and its online critics have fought a long, well-documented war, with the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology as ground zero. Here, vocal critics spar with a small group of Scientologists and former Scientologists -- debates in the past have been interrupted by mysterious cancelbots and pro-Scientology spamming that threatened to shut the newsgroup down. The Church of Scientology has raided the homes of critics who published portions of their "secret documents" online, and brought lawsuits against people it charges are violating its many trademarks.

In 1998, the war still isn't over. Instead, the critics are louder than ever -- alt.religion.scientology is one of Usenet's biggest newsgroups, and still predominantly critical -- and groups like Operation Clambake have sprung up to spread information critical of Scientology. The "sacred" texts of Scientology, and endless reams of documents and commentary about Scientology's conflicts on the Internet, have been copied hundreds of time across the Net. In response, the Church of Scientology has posted lengthy position papers of its own on the Web.

So perhaps it wasn't surprising when, on L. Ron Hubbard's birthday on March 13, 1998, Scientology official Mark Ingber announced the church's newest online initiative: on-line.scientology.org. In a speech that was viewed by members all over the world (and later distributed online), Ingber announced that every Scientology member would soon have a Web site.

N E X T _ P A G E .|. "We have a whole planet to clear"

Salon..Search..Archives..Contact Us..Table Talk..Newsletter..Ad Info..Investors..Membership..Shop

Arts & Entertainment | Books | Columnists | Comics | Health & Body
Media | Mothers Who Think | News | People | Technology | Travel

Copyright © 1999 Salon.com All rights reserved.

[Features] [Let's Get This Straight] [Challenge] [Books] [Reviews]