'Beyond Belief' Review: Why Are People Still Drawn to Scientology?

It seems that as more and more people abandon the Church of Scientology, it responds by increasing the ferocity of its indoctrination practices — a vicious chicken and egg cycle that only keeps the most zealous members aboard Xenu’s Mothership.

The recent defection of Jenna Miscavige Hill – Church leader David Miscavige’s niece – has led to the publication of her incriminating book Beyond Belief, which goes into great detail about the cruel practices conducted on young children within the church. Jenna was 6 years old when she was sent to "the Ranch," one of the training academies reserved for the church’s highest order of followers — the Sea Organization. The Ranch was nothing short of a military boot camp where children performed manual labor by hauling rocks out of freezing rivers and digging trenches in the ground. Daily bedroom inspections and attire standards were enforced, with those failing to adhere being sent to punishment rooms that had bats in them (my lawyer Mr. Levy recommends I state that Scientology officially denies her charges!).

Jenna’s memoir further highlights classroom sessions in which children focused on the "teachings" of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard — whose Messiah-like fate originated from humble sci-fi novelist beginnings. Children at the academy learn about his beliefs and literature and train to move inanimate objects with their mind (dammit, OK! My lawyer once again would like to remind my readers that the Church officially denies these allegations).

 

Jenna is not the first person to flee the church, and reports of their abuses have varied from person to person, but one thing stays uniformly true: if you leave, prepare to be harassed, followed, bullied and certainly sued if you say one word against the church (the reason Mr. Levy has been so busy today.) But Jenna says she’s already suffered every abuse the church could hurl at her, and isn’t afraid to challenge their authority:

"To me, the Church is a dangerous organization whose beliefs allow it to commit crimes against humanity and violate basic human rights. It remains a mystery to me how, in our current society, this can go on unchecked. It is particularly insidious because of its celebrity advocates and affiliated groups, such as Narconon, Applied Scholastics, and the Citizens Commission on Human Rights."

Criticism of the church has manifested in higher frequency lately, due in part to the Church’s dwindling numbers. Another antagonizer was their stance against Psychiatry, which was highlighted by Anonymous’ campaign "Project Chanology" — an expos of Scientology promotional videos worth watching. The recent movie, The Master offered a symbolic comparison of L. Ron Hubbard’s life — following a sci-fi novelist as he develops a pseudo-psychologist following which he eventually masters into a cult. In a recent article, journalist Joel Sappell recounts his five-year examination of the Church of Scientology in the 1980s, which resulted in the publication of a damning 24-article series. Sappell discusses the years of harassment and abuse he suffered, including the unsolved poisoning death of his family dog.

The Church’s practice of psychological warfare has become interwoven with their spiritual doctrines — both with members and against outsiders. Hubbard himself was a guru and a general to his followers, and often included tactical advice in his writings: "If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace…don’t ever tamely submit to an investigation of us. Make it rough, rough on attackers all the way."


One of the church’s most prominent defectors — Mark Rathburn — used to run their security, before leaving to try and create his own version of Scientology. He alleges that David Miscavige is an abusive tyrant who beats his employees and has frequent fits of anger in the face of disobedience. He is not the only one to accuse Miscavige of abuse, and many are still curious as to the whereabouts of David’s missing wife Michelle Barnett – who hasn’t been seen since 2007. 

Since Scientology began highlighting its celebrity members, it has become one of the most litigious and powerful PR forces in Hollywood— suing anyone who writes a derogatory word about actors in the church. Tom Cruise in particular garners a lot of attention, and rumors about Katie Holmes signing a “beard-contract” to be his church vetted wife always seem to find their way into the rumor mill. Questions about sexuality in Hollywood aside, I’m more inclined to believe Katie no longer felt a need to include her child in the church’s militaristic approach to faith. 

So why do people keep flocking to a pseudo-religion with such notoriety? With constant stories of escapes, abductions, imprisonment and abuse emerging, why would anyone seek to fill the spiritual void in their lives with Hubbard’s teachings?

I suppose in the history of religious violence, prank phone calls and harassing lawsuits don’t count very high on the intimidation meter. But I will never understand the attraction of a restrictive dogma that forbids outside thoughts.

We all have a need to belong, we all need to discover ourselves and our purpose — it’s important as social creatures that we attain an ideal harmony and unified destiny. But as long as the truth to life’s grandest questions remain unanswered, there will be a long line of charlatans, prophets, preachers, and leaders waiting to sell you some exclusive medicine for your soul.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Roy Klabin

Graduate student at Columbia University School of Journalism. I cover crime & corruption, social injustice and cartoon politics.

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