Click here to read reviewer Deborah Adams' take on Inside Scientology.
Janet Reitman, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, has put together a lengthy report about “America’s most secretive religion.” Through painstaking research and personal interviews, she establishes that while the outside of Scientology may be glitzy
- and, to some, quite appealing - the inside of Scientology is dark, barnacled, and slimy.
Though Scientology was dignified with the title “religion” after long court battles to establish its tax-exempt status, it has also been called a cult or a form of brainwashing, these terms apropos since it has thus far relied on autocratic, capricious and
(by some accounts) sadistic leadership, and since casual outsiders are not welcome in, and insiders who try to get out are systematically harassed by their former co-aspirants.
Founded in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard, a sociopathic writer of speculative fiction who for whatever reason nursed a deep hatred for psychiatry, Scientology (once called Dianetics) claims to make its proponents “clear” (sane and happy) with a machine resembling a junior lie detector through a process called “auditing.” Sure, it’ll cost you something, but less, its members say, than the dreaded shrink. And the more you pay, the more you learn. But once the aspirant achieves the higher levels (each one costing more to attain), he finds that the mystic knowledge so long awaited is a childish creation myth that even devoted insiders have a tough time swallowing.
Though “clearing” may work for some, for others it has been known to cause what is called a psychotic breakdown by us “wogs” (L. Ron’s term for anyone who is not a Scientologist). Several chapters of Reitman’s book are devoted to the downfall, desperation and death of a woman named Lisa Peterson who perished of dehydration, madness, and the systematic neglect of her co-religionists. Peterson’s “care” could be traced all the way up the ladder to personal “audits” from the current head of Scientology, David Miscavige.
Those raised in the organization reported to Reitman that everything they did as kids was monitored by the organization (its highest echelon known as Sea Org). They were taught by a combination of rote memorization and a lot of shouting and were punished by “purging of transgressions.” By the time a person is well into the organization, all his sins have been confessed, and the threat of disclosure then prevents many from leaving. With security cameras everywhere (one girl said she thought that was normal: “who doesn’t have a security camera?”), electric fences and locking gates that allow only approved vehicles to come and go, escape from schools or centers is extremely difficult. Rebels are given “purification rundowns” and “life repair”; if that doesn’t work and they manage to make a break from Scientology, they are shunned by friends and family and sometimes relentlessly hounded for years after they leave, especially if they try to tell their story to the “wogs.”
Celebrities like Tom Cruise, however, are not treated like other aspirants. As “quarry” (another LRH term), they are adored and accorded utmost respect, in hopes that even if they do not convert, they will at least present a positive picture of Scientology to their colleagues.
It may have been difficult for Reitman to locate and interview a well-adjusted, well-heeled Scientologist
- perhaps because such people, if they exist, are forbidden to talk to outsiders, to question the organization, or to read any criticism of Scientology. Her research led her instead to desperate souls who had been forced to perform menial labor for Sea Org after spending everything they had to get to a higher level, to women who were ordered to have multiple abortions rather than disrupt the mission, to people who managed to escape, acknowledging that all the years and dollars they’d invested in Scientology had been wasted.
Reitman’s explorations indicate that Scientology is not a “religion” at all but a hydra-headed financial flim-flam, an elaborate, constantly evolving pyramid scheme that has made a few people very wealthy, and many more broke, miserable, sick or dead.