An essay on Scientology ethics, by STAND (Scientologists Taking Action Against Discrimination) blogger Wayne Hanson.
Throughout history, the less ethical the individual, the more forceful the actions taken against him by the group. An individual steals, so the society cuts off his right hand and hangs it over the city gate as a warning, then writes in the Great Book of Laws that thieves on the first offense shall lose their right hand, unless they are left-handed in which case it shall be their left hand which is removed. And upon a second offense, the thief shall have his other hand removed or one foot at the ankle, at the discretion of the judge, and the brand of a thief shall be burned into his forehead for all to see. And upon a third offense, the thief shall be killed by public stoning.
But after some time, the sight of a young child having his hand cut off for stealing a plum from a vendor’s cart seems a bit excessive, and some people actually think the child was probably just hungry.
So the town council assembles. Under the age of eight years old, they decide, the child shall be merely caned. But after a number of young children are apprehended with ill-gotten grapes, the town council then writes in the Great Book of Laws that if a child younger than eight years old shall be apprehended stealing, the child’s father shall have his right hand removed and hung above the city gates unless of course he is left-handed in which case it shall be the left hand, etc.
But some fathers, led to the chopping block, protest that they are not actually the child’s father, that they suspect the stable boy, so the council should cut his hand off instead. The town council, unable to determine parenthood, this being before DNA was discovered, writes in the Great Book of Laws that the oldest male adult living in the household in which the young thief also lives, shall have his right hand cut off, unless he is left-handed in which case it shall be the left. So the oldest males abandon households with young children, leaving the next oldest, who then become the oldest and they run away and so on, and untended cattle and sheep run away as well.
Over time, the Great Book of Laws becomes ladened with exceptions, carve-outs and wherefores and whereases, and so lawyers arise to defend the guilty and prosecute the innocent. And punishments grow more brutal following a particularly horrific crime, or more lenient following a miscarriage of justice.
All this is far from ideal. “Justice” defined as “truth, reason and fairness,” has transmuted down through time into punishment for wrongdoing. “Morality” or “a system of right conduct” is developed through time by a group, and morals are all those rules in the Great Book of Laws intended to help the group survive. The intentions may be good, but often they become alloyed with revenge, corruption and favoritism. And often justice and morality are built on the premise that only fear of punishment prevents people from committing crimes. Those severed hands dangling over the city gates are meant to instill fear of punishment and thereby act as an external restraint to harmful acts.
“Justice, although it unfortunately cannot be trusted in the hands of Man, has as its basic intention and purpose the survival and welfare of those it serves,” wrote Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard. “When an individual fails to apply ethics to himself and follow the moral codes, the society takes justice action against him.” [Pg. 26 Introduction to Scientology Ethics]
Scientology presupposes two very important things: first, that Mankind is basically good, seeking to survive and to help others survive, and that justice exists solely to exert whatever amount of force is necessary to get the person to reestablish his own sense of ethics and ethical conduct. For example, a child stealing fruit might be required to perform an amends project, such as working after school to help the vendor. That done, and with the vendor’s agreement, the theft is forgiven.
If the offense is broadly destructive and the offender refuses to reform, then that person must be kept from harming others. Society protects itself by imprisoning the offender.
So while we no longer hang the amputated hands of thieves from the town gates, we as a society struggle to reform wrongdoers. Locking up a wrongdoer with other wrongdoers keeps them off the streets for the term of their sentence, then they are released. But reform is sketchy. According to one study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 83 percent of criminals released in 2005 from state prison were rearrested within nine years.
So justice punishments, from fines all the way to capital punishment, have limited effectiveness. In fact, one could say that those offenders who straighten up and become law-abiding do so because of their own decisions about their actions and future conduct. Scientology ethics technology takes a step back from punishments and works with the individual and his or her basic goodness to bring that individual back onto the straight and narrow.
The purpose of ethics is to help the individual and the group survive and flourish, and usually it works. If an individual refuses to reform, refuses to follow the morals of the group or the society, the most severe punishment in Scientology is expulsion from the group.