Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Scientology and Its Aftermath, episode 8 (Arts & Entertainment, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I put on Arts & Entertainment for the last episode of Scientology and the Aftermath, the eight-part “reality” series hosted by apostate Scientologist Leah Remini and this time featuring, instead of ex-Scientologists (aside from Mike Rinder, who had once been Scientology’s principal “enforcer” until he got thrown out of the church), reporters who had covered Scientology and been victims of its take-no-prisoners attitude towards its critics. (The longer this show has aired, the more it’s shown how Scientology head David Miscavige and President-elect Donald Trump are really alike in their thin-skinned natures and the viciousness with which they respond to all criticism. At least two letter-writers in this morning’s Los Angeles Times have commented that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus hasn’t really closed — it’s just moved to Washington, D.C., only now the ringmaster is one of the clowns.) One of the three people featured in this episode was Lawrence Wright, journalist who first wrote against Scientology in The New Yorker and then expanded his articles into a book called Going Clear that was largely about the disillusionment of writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash) and ultimate departure from Scientology, and who noted that “most religions don’t have secrets” (as another anti-Scientology writer once commented, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t charge you $100,000 before they let you read the Book of Genesis; in Scientology you’re told that you have to reach “Operating Thetan Level III” before you’re psychologically well-developed enough to handle the tale of mad scientist Xenu and the origin of all human problems in his dastardly experiments on the planet Teegeeack, now known as Earth) and “Scientology is a religion that locks you in from the inside.”

Another was Ray Jeffrey, an attorney who took the case of Debbie Cook and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, when they were sued by the Church of Scientology; Cook, Jeffrey explained, was “a victim of her own success” as head of the Flag Land Base, the pinnacle of the Sea Organization (Scientology’s governing clergy, reporting to David Miscavige, who runs the church as chair of the Religious Technology Corporation, which holds the copyrights to all the writings of church founder L. Ron Hubbard); she was summoned to the Scientology Vatican in Hemet, California (though the city government of Hemet tweeted the program producers to stress that the Scientology base camp is not in Hemet but in an unincorporated stretch of Riverside County just northeast of it) and got to experience Miscavige’s management-by-assault style up close and personal. A third interviewee was perhaps the quirkiest: ex-Moonie turned cult deprogrammer Steve Hoxsan, who recalled doing a tour with an apostate ex-Scientologist and comparing notes on how similar the cult indoctrinations were in both groups, including controlling every waking moment of the cult members’ lives (and keeping them awake as long as possible because sleep deprivation itself is a powerful form of mind control), giving them enormous amounts of esoteric material to read and regurgitate on command (while cramming them so full of this sort of information that they never have time to read anything else or to think critically about it), keeping them from any other sources of information and telling them essentially that the rest of the world is lying 24/7 and only the cult leaders and his or her authorities are to be trusted. It occurred to me that this sort of indoctrination goes far beyond cults; as I’ve written in these pages before, medical schools do the same sort of thing to their students, and even beyond that there have been entire countries, including Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union (especially under Stalin) and Communist China (especially under Mao), that have been run as cults, with the added evil that no one chose to be in the cult: they were just inducted into it and subjected to its power by being born and living in the wrong country at the wrong time. Mixed in with the interviews were a number of questions Remini and Rinder had received on Reddit, most of them pretty obvious, including one about Scientology’s attitude towards homosexuality — which, according to Remini and Rinder, is publicly O.K. but privately, or not so privately, condemns it as one of the lower elements on L. Ron Hubbard’s “Tone Scale” of human behavior — though they did not mention that Hubbard drove his Gay son Quentin to suicide.

I’ll acknowledge that the massive amounts of negative information about Scientology that have surfaced over the last decade have changed my point of view about it from regarding it as a silly phenomenon but one that mainly harmed people by taking their money, to a sinister cult comparable to the Moonies, Children of God etc. Indeed, the Church of Scientology is literally worth billions of dollars, largely because Hubbard made the conscious decision that instead of recruiting members from the down-and-out (as the original Christians and many other more recent cults had done), he would seek members from the upper socioeconomic strata to make sure they would have the ability to pay the Church large amounts of money for its “services.” He also consciously recruited celebrities to serve both as financial supports for the Church and as walking, talking advertisements — Remini remembered that when she was on the TV series The King of Queens she was under intense pressure from the Church of Scientology to recruit her co-star, Kevin James, only he already had a religion that suited him and he was quite happy with, and he wasn’t about to abandon it for anything else. One point Scientology has pushed in its recruitment is that it doesn’t regard itself as an exclusive faith — it tells people they can stay a Christian, Jew, Muslim or whatever they are and also be a Scientologists — even though its internal documents say that Scientologists are expected to embrace it “to the exclusion of other faiths” — which hasn’t stopped Louis Farrakhan, of all people, from publicly embracing the technology of Dianetics and Scientology as a way Nation of Islam members can make themselves better Muslims (there’s a bizarre clip of him saying just that in this final program!). Though this series was supposed to stop at the first eight episodes, Remini dropped a big hint at the end of this one that she may continue it — and if she does I hope she goes into the biggest point she failed to mention this time around: the enormous dossiers the Church of Scientology has on all of its members through their E-meter “auditing” sessions, which the Church can use in any way it likes because Scientological auditing, unlike the conventional psychotherapy it resembles, is not protected by confidentiality restrictions.