Thursday, 17 October 2013

Book Review : Beyond Belief / Jenna Miscavige Hill

Holy Hell, Batman.  This young woman certainly lived through hell and her “church” certainly tried its best to insist that it was holy.  Her story is told very simply and is very quick to read.  But the horror lasts for days afterwards.

How is Scientology cultish?  Let me count the ways!  Check out the Cults 101 Checklist of Cult Characteristics (  
They are unquestioningly committed to the hogwash spouted by L. Ron Hubbard (known as LRH on the inside).  When he died, they were told that he had “gone on to do more research.”  They even maintain quarters for him when he “reappears.”  That, to me, is just a cynical way for the new leader to manipulate his followers.

Questioning, doubt and dissent are actively punished.  No amount of reasoned argument has any effect.  Punishments are humiliating and dehumanizing—people are regularly separated from any friends or family that could provide them with emotional support.  Punishments often involve hard physical labour, often with inadequate food.  Very 18th century prison-ish.

Brainwashing techniques are prevalent during all of the “training” sessions that church members must attend in order to “progress.”  Initiates learn to stare at a wall for hours without their attention flagging and without a physical twitch or to endure hours of having another person yell insults and abuse at them.  Although one of their mindless sayings is “Think for yourself,” Scientology then goes on to provide those thoughts that one may think for themselves.  Thinking your own thoughts is actually a sin and scientologists are so over-scheduled that they rarely have a spare moment to themselves to wonder about that.  

The initiates are told that their mission is to save humanity—in essence, to bring everyone into the church.  Outsiders are known derogatively as Wogs (Well and Orderly Gentlemen) and are always suspect.  Will they try to argue with the believer or bring unwanted attention to the Church?  Wogs are perceived as people who will “poke their noses” into matters that are none of their business.  Contact with the outside world is actively forbidden.

If family members are excommunicated from Scientology, they are usually unable to communicate with those still on the inside.  Someone who is being punished is moved, without notice or comment, to a different location.  People “vanish” regularly within Scientology, spirited away from those that they know.  

Scientology is pre-occupied with bringing in celebrity church members, who get star treatment and are often served by Sea Org members who are paid like Third World garment-workers.  Stars, of course, don’t receive the harsh treatment that regular members must endure.  There is also a preoccupation with making money—selling courses and books to the public and to public scientologists. 
Even with all of this harsh, unreasonable treatment, members retain the belief that there is no life outside the church, that outsiders will never accept them and that there is no future except as a church member.  Many of those who have left, did so with many misgivings.  Once extracted, however, they find the extent of the deception and often become activists helping others to escape.

This is George Orwell’s 1984 come to life.  The author, Jenna, may be the niece of the current dictator of the cult, but that did not spare her from the treatment accorded to rank and file church members—in fact, in may ways she was accorded worse treatment to show that she was not being “favoured.”  Since she grew up in the cult, I find it amazing that she managed to find her way out so young.  It is well known that Scientology persecutes those that criticize it, so writing this book and working with a support group for former members as she does requires a lot of courage.  It is ironic that her harsh upbringing within the cult has probably produced the mental toughness that she needs to follow her new course.

The book has the same kind of fascination as a car accident, requiring the reader to look, even when looking away would be more comfortable. 

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