Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Scientology and Its Aftermath, Episode 1: “Disconnection” (Arts & Entertainment, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I watched the first episode of Leah Remini’s show Scientology and the Aftermath, an Arts & Entertainment documentary mini-series about the Church of Scientology and the horrible things it does to people who leave it (or try to) or question its tenets or basically just cause trouble for it. The show touched on a bit of Scientology’s bizarre history — there’s a film clip of founder L. Ron Hubbard — but mostly it’s about Scientology today told from the point of view of people who left in the last few years, some of whom (including Amy Scobee, who once ran Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Hollywood — one of her job assignments was to hire Tom Cruise’s household staff and make sure they were all Scientologists so Cruise would never interact with someone who wasn’t part of the Church) had quite high positions in the Scientology administration. Remini was a successful actress (best known for the TV series The King of Queens) who had risen through both the Hollywood and Scientology ranks and was a high-profile spokesperson for the Church until she started noticing that the way it treated its members, especially the non-celebrity ones, was radically different from the way it presented itself to the world as “salvaging” Earth and bringing about a new order of peace and love through “clearing the planet.”

Some of the things said about Scientology in this program won’t make sense unless you have at least some understanding and knowledge of Scientology’s theology — and the particular focus of this episode was “Disconnection,” the church’s insistence that once someone is thrown out of the church or leaves of their own accord, no one still in Scientology is allowed to have contact with that person on pain of being thrown out and declared a “Suppressive Person” (which basically means anyone Scientology’s establishment doesn’t like) — and that especially means family members. Amy and her mom Bonny appear together and explain that once Amy left the church, Bonny was visited by a Scientology “ethics officer” who told her in no uncertain terms that she had to choose between her daughter and the church — and she chose the church, mainly because her husband Mark was still in and if she’d defied the church, he would have been ordered to divorce her. This business of breaking up families is hardly confined to the Church of Scientology — it’s standard operating procedure for religious cults in general — and when Amy said that at age 14 she was working for a 37-year-old Scientology staff member who insisted that she have sex with him even though she was underage and he was married, and when the Church found out about it they insisted that she not report it to the police because it would be handled “internally,” I immediately thought that this was hardly unique to the Church of Scientology: it’s the same sort of cover-up used by the Roman Catholic Church to protect their pedophile priests, and was done for the same reason — to avoid the P.R. hit the Church would have taken if it became known publicly that they harbored pedophiles in the ranks of their clergy. One of Remini’s key collaborators is Mike Rinder, who before he broke with Scientology was head of its enforcement arm; and throughout the program there are titles showing what the Church of Scientology had to say about the people who had once been trusted members of their hierarchy but now, according to the church, are perverts, liars, thieves and criminals — the sheer vileness of the accusations the Church routinely throws out against its adversaries, though not unknown in other sorts of current discourse (can you say “Donald Trump”?), says as much or more about the true character of Scientology than any number of heart-rending interviewees of families separated by Scientology’s diktats.