This is a little off the beaten path for me, not what I usually write about and certainly more inflammatory than I usually am, but it is something that is near and dear to my heart that I have been trying to raise awareness of amongst fellow Christians. It’s a bit of a hidden need that is coming our way that I believe all Christians should be aware of and prepared for, so indulge me if you will!
Is anybody else watching Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath? I can’t get enough of it!
I’ve had an interest in Scientology going back for decades now. I don’t know what it is about it that fascinates me but I’ve been following those guys for forever.
I’ve always known they are a cult, but only because my mom told me they were. We were riding the bus, I was maybe 10 or 11 at the time, and you know how they have advertising running all along the tops in buses? Well, there was one for the Church of Scientology, and I read it and I asked my mom, “Church of Scient-HUH?? What is THAT?”.
“Oh that?” she replied. “They’re not a church, honey, they’re a cult. Don’t pay any attention to it.”
I have no idea how she came to know it’s a cult. As far as I know, she has no first hand knowledge about the “church”, so I suspect it was just her intutition telling her so. This was back in the 70s when Scientology still had tight control over the inner workings of the group and not much was leaking out to the public. She couldn’t possibly have known about everything that’s come to light in recent years; the one thing she DID know for certain was that it had absolutely nothing to do with Christ’s Church and was to be avoided.
It was probably another 10 years before I gave them any more thought. My interest was re-piqued shortly after I got married. When we were married, my husband’s father’s side of the family didn’t attend the wedding. The came to the reception and gave us nice gifts, but they didn’t come to, you know, the important part, the wedding itself. I thought this was terribly rude and I was quite hurt (and a little bit offended) by it. And then my husband explained to me that they didn’t come to the wedding because their religion prohibited them from entering the church. This was a surprise to me because my father-in-law is Christian, as is the rest of the family.
“Well what religion are they?!?”
Some how my husband and I dated for almost 4 years without me ever finding out that his dad’s whole family (except for his dad) are Jehovah’s Witnesses! I had no frickin’ clue!
Now, it’s not like this would have been a deal-breaker for me – Your family is Jehovah’s Witness? Sorry, can’t marry you. No, it wasn’t like that…but it WAS freaky to think that a large part of my new family was in a cult.
I had concern, of course, for their spiritual well-being, and in an effort to better understand my new families beliefs and how they differed from my own, I picked up a book called Kingdom of the Cults, and I forget the author’s name…I want to say Walter Martin (or maybe Martin Walter??)…sorry, it was 30 years ago. In any case, it’s a pretty well known work – you may be familiar with it already – and it covers a bunch of the most “popular” cults, including Jehovah’s Witnesses…and Scientology.
I KNEW it!!! I totally remember thinking that.
It was hard to figure out exactly what Scientology teaches from the book. If I remember correctly, it talked about the auditing and the E-meter, but I don’t recall Xenu entering into the picture. I don’t think there was anything about the higher OT levels (where you learn the REALLY crazy stuff) although it did touch on the concept that we are all thetans (Scientology-speak for “spirits”. Over the years I’ve learned more that has filled in the gaps for me, but at the time it was pretty hard to make any sense of the stuff. It was interesting enough, but I don’t actually know any Scientologists IRL, so I didn’t put a lot of effort into unravelling it all. I was fascinated though, by how secretive the church is about their beliefs. Most churches I know are pretty upfront about their beliefs and want to share them with you! It seemed so counter-intuitive. I kept my eye open for other Scientology related info, but in those days it was pretty hard to come by.
But not too long after that, the internet happened. It won’t be a surprise to anybody who knows me that I was an early adopter of Internet technology. (No geek jokes, please!) All of a sudden there was information everywhere, at your fingertips! All you needed was a modem and a browser and poof! It’s all out there.
I don’t remember if I specifically went looking for Scientology stuff or if I just stumbled onto it while surfing, but somehow I ended up finding some anti-Scientology sites, the craziest of which was one called Operation Clambake. (It’s pretty famous, you may have heard about it.) That was where I found out about the evil Lord Xenu and body-thetans and a bunch of other insane stuff. It was so nuts that at first I didn’t believe it. I thought for sure it had to be some kind of hoax or propaganda. But it started coming up in other sources as well, and former members were starting to speak out and affirm, yeah, we believed that stuff. There seemed to be something to it after all.
It was about this time that I started hearing about this book called Barefaced Messiah, a biography of L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) and supposedly it was composed from primary sources. I desperately wanted to get my hands on it, but the catch was, it had been long out of print and was very hard to come by.
(Years later I found a transcript of it online and I have to say if you have any interest in LRH or Scientology, this book is a must read, and the story behind the book is fascinating as well. The guy who wrote it was a Scientologist and worked FOR the church. He had access to church archives and was charged with putting the archives into order and assembling a biography of LRH from them. So, like a good little Scientologist he did what he was told, but the more he got into it, the more he was like, Guys, you really do NOT want to do this. This stuff is PROOF that LRH is a cheat, a con and a liar! You gotta feel bad for the guy, he was in an impossible situation. I guess he became completely disillusioned and if I remember correctly, he ended up sneaking the materials out (or he copied them or something, I can’t quite remember) but these documents became the source material for the book. It is meticulously researched and includes copies of the original source documents as well as interviews with personel who could verify their authenticity. In other words, the evidence he presents is beyond dispute. And the church itself provided it.)
The information in the book itself was enough to convince me that the “Church” of Scientology can be best described not as a religion but as a crime syndicate, with now-leader David Miscaviage as capo. The organization exists to defraud its members out of money through the means of fear, intimidation and mind-control disguised as a religion. It is not a religion in the legal sense of the word in that they do not perform services that contribute to the common good – When is the last time you saw Scientology out helping the poor? That’s right, never. In Scientology, the money always flows up, never down. (Just another little thing they have in common with the mob.)
In terms of their spiritual beliefs, I personally think they’re laughable, BUT – and I want to be very clear about this – I 100% affirm their right to hold them. Because I value my own right to believe what I do, I must extend my support to their right as well. They should be left alone for their beliefs. I may dispute with them over them, but I will defend their right to hold them with my dying breath. It’s THAT important to me.
It’s not their spiritual beliefs that I am speaking against, though; it is the abuses that are committed (and covered up) within the organization against its members that I object to. It would be nice to see someone held to account for the crimes but I would settle for them simply reforming their organization to end the abuse. Realistically though, I’m not sure how that would play out. Unfortunately, the “con” is baked right into their processes and without coercion and abuse, I’m not sure how they could possibly keep their existing members, let alone attract new ones. Without all the coercion and mind-control at work, people are just not that stupid!
A lot of the abuses that are just now coming to public attention have been there all along. Barefaced Messiah is decades old, but it describes the abuses within the church (in particular, the nacsent “RPF” aka Project Rehabilitation Force, basically Scientology’s version of a Maoist reconditioning camp) the details of which are horrific and hard to believe. More abuses are coming out – violent, physical punishment, forced abortions and extreme harassment are being described by former members. Momentum has been growing for the FBI to investigate them, perhaps even shut them down, while others having been making noise to have their charitable status as a religious organizations revoked. (Canada, Germany and a bunch of other countries do not recognize them as a religious organization because they fail the “public benefit” test. How they got their tax-exempt status as a religion in the US is a WHOLE other story.)
Since the advent of the Internet (funny how old Ron never saw that coming, eh?), Scientology has lost its stranglehold on the information that is made public about them. For a long time, their reputation for aggressively litigating against their detractors had a chilling effect on what people (even big news outlets) were willing to publicly say about the church. I actually had a personal experience with it once – a little incident that I now refer to as the Scientology Smackdown – when a “parishioner” intimidated me into removing something about Scientology from my own blog (!) with a strongly implied threat of legal action. This was over a decade ago, when they still had a reputation of being nasty with their critics, so I backed down immediately. Just not worth the potential hassle. What really blew me away though, was how swiftly they were able to track me down! This guy contacted me within 24 hours of posting! How do they do that?!? Being a geek, I had my suspicions and suspected they used some sort of automated system that scours the net, looking for stuff, but it still freaked me out how quickly they responded. Clearly, they were taking this stuff pretty seriously. That incident, btw, is the only time I have personally interacted with a Scientologist – I’ve never met one IRL. Everything else I am relating, I am relying on the accounts of what I consider to be credible, verified sources. So n’yaa, Scientology. Yeah, I’m still bitter, lol. What I am NOT, is afraid. Not any more.
Things have changed a lot in the last decade. The internet community (in particular, Anonymous) has changed the climate considerably. People aren’t afraid to speak out any more. The genie is out of the bottle and Scientology does not have the means to put it back. Apparently the church has a billion dollars in liquid assets so clearly they aren’t going to die out any time soon, but I suspect we are now seeing the beginning of the end for Scientology. I predict that it will disappear over the next couple of generations. I may actually celebrate! (Come after me now, Scientology. I dare you.)
No matter what I personally think of their beliefs and practices, at the end of the day what I care about most is the people who are gonna be left behind. As members begin to leave Scientology, where will they land? Even if they are lucky enough to avoid having all their family and friends disconnect from them, you have to recognize that their whole world is gonna be turned upside down. Everything they have ever believed in will be stripped away from them. It is impossible to understate the sense of loss they will experience. Everything changes. It saddens me that in many cases they have been so burned that they are cynical towards all religion. And can you blame them? It’s gonna be tough for them.
Christian friends, may I ask that you join your prayers with mine for the lost and broken lives all around us, and especially for those Scientologists who have been deceived by those whom they entrusted their spiritual well-being to? Though the number of active Scientologists is rather small now (perhaps 30,000 – 50,000 worldwide), you can be sure that in the coming years more and more of them will be rejoining the real world. Who knows, you may even meet one IRL one day, (it’s never happened to me, but it could happen) so try to be a soft place for them to land, okay? These people gonna need a lot of lovin’.
Oh, and btw, my Jehovah’s Witness relatives are still JWs. I don’t actually see them all that often – just a handful of times over the last 30 years – and that is because they are not really supposed to associate with us. My father-in-law is considered an apostate amongst his family, so maintaining a relationship with them has been tricky. If they ever decide to come out of the Watchtower, we’ll be here to catch them. In the meantime, we wait patiently and pray.