An Exploration of Scientology
On May 9th, 1950, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. This book would become a foundational text for Scientology, a religious practice which, as stated on their official website, aims to achieve “true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all.”
Upon Hubbard’s passing, then-Scientology executive David Miscavige spoke to the church and explained that Hubbard had not simply died, but that “the body he had could no longer serve his purposes.” L. Ron Hubbard’s death certificate asserts his cause of death to be a stroke.
Miscavige went on to explain “This decision was one made at complete cause by L. Ron Hubbard. Although you may feel grief, understand that he did not and does not now. He has simply moved on to his next step.”
Miscavige’s argument was that this “next step” for Hubbard was to continue his research. Scientology is built on the principle that achieving spiritual enlightenment is fundamental to changing and saving the world, and Hubbard found that he had achieved all he could on earth. The physical manifestation of his body became limiting on the path to enlightenment so he needed to rid himself of it to continue.
Today, David Miscavige is Scientology’s leader. He is the highest power in the church and cannot be disputed by any other Scientologist. Scientology is built on a structure of levels, with established Scientologists passing through the eight released Operating Thetan levels. The church describes the function of these levels on their website: “Basic levels of Scientology help a person deal with his personal relationships and day-to-day problems, to free his attention to address higher aspects of existence. At the level of Operating Thetan, one deals with his own immortality as a spiritual being.” David Miscavige currently exists at OT level VIII, the highest level currently available for Scientologists. One achieves these levels by paying the church a fee.
Although Scientology promotes a message of spiritual enlightenment and personal growth, the church is currently met by outsiders with heavy scrutiny. There have been accusations of repeated cases of physical and mental abuse of members over the years, with some lodging complaints about Miscavige himself and others about fellow Scientology executives. The accusations often come from ex-Scientologists, or “Suppressive Persons” as those who leave the church and speak out are labeled.
Actress Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, is outspoken in her criticism of Scientology both as a belief system and institution. On her television show Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, she spoke to fellow ex-Scientologists about their experiences in the church and what caused them to leave.
The church is appealing at first, Leah Remini explained on the show. “The beginning courses of Scientology… talk about communication, responsibility, being an ethical person. But it’s overall very damaging.”
Indeed, Scientology boasts an ambitious mission on the homepage of their website, tackling topics such as human rights and “The Way to Happiness.”
In this way, Scientology can appeal to an extremely empathetic sort of person. Public association with the church often turns towards their celebrity figures such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but there are many middle class Americans who enter the church because of its promising messaging.
What begins for some as a spiritual endeavor to improve the self and the world escalates into a financially and psychologically damaging experience for many. “There is no life to be enjoyed when you’re a Scientologist,” explains Remini.
In order to advance through basic and OT levels of faith, one must participate in auditing sessions and spiritual courses at their own expense. Members of the church who do not enter the faith with wealth often take actions such as refinancing their homes or dipping into college funds in order to afford the materials and sessions required to advance as a Scientologist. There is no advancing in the church without monetary power, and many Scientologists find themselves in bad financial situations due to their involvement in Scientology.
Still, many members continue their devotion to the church under the conception that they are serving a greater purpose. The church stretches this devotion to extreme lengths to ensure that members stay and continue to work their way through the levels of knowledge—each of which costs hundreds to thousands of dollars to complete.
A way that the church keeps people in is through a process known as “disconnecting.” If a person chooses to leave Scientology and speak out against the church, they are disconnected. Disconnecting means no longer being able to communicate with any family member who remains in the church. This extends to spouses, children, grandchildren, and any other person they may have come to know through their time in the church. Former Scientologist Mike Rinder has been disconnected from his children since leaving the church in 2007. Rinder’s daughter has openly written letters to denounce her own father because of his stance against the church. Despite efforts and desires to reconnect with his family, Rinder’s children continue to refuse contact on the basis of Rinder being a Suppressive Person who they must be disconnected from. In a public letter on his blog, Rinder writes to his children “if all you can do is think according to the dictates of others, you are not truly free.”
Scientologists uphold this standard of disconnecting even with immediate family members so that they can focus on the higher purpose of saving the world. Anyone who speaks out against the church is seen speaking out against Scientology’s beliefs of a better world, so they are then bad people who should not be associated with.
Still, this leaves those who chose to separate from the church completely isolated from their loved ones. “Nobody deserves to have their family torn apart because of a belief system,” says Leah Remini.
Complications of leaving the church do not end with disconnection. The harassment of former Church members is often tied back to L. Ron Hubbard’s writing of a “Fair Game” law in official Scientology documentation. Hubbard explains that a person can be “deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. [They] May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” In other words, the harassment of ex-Scientologists or any non-Scientologist who speaks out against the church is justifiable because they are “enemies” to the mission of Scientology. Harassment includes building websites to spread false information about a specific person, smear campaigns, and even sending out Scientologists to harass and photograph Suppressive Persons.
It is important to note that this policy was officially discontinued in 1968. Mike Rinder, who worked for the Office of Special Affairs, disputes this claim, stating that the principle of Fair Game is still heavily used today even if the paper memos have discontinued it. “The practice of Fair Game is alive and well in Scientology” Rinder said on his blog.
While Fair Game may not be official policy anymore, Mike Rinder has both organized and received harassment. In his former position with the church, Rinder explains “I directed the destruction of those deemed ‘enemies’ of Scientology.”
Both Leah Remini and Mike Rinder are the targets of repeated harassment online by church members. Each has a website set up specifically to slander their reputations and any claims they make that go against the church. A quick online search of both Remini and Rinder show websites filled with claims against Remini and Rinder that support Scientology.
Leah Remini continues to fight back against Scientology and uses her show as a platform to allow others to do the same. One of Remini’s longest-running fights is that of the disappearance of David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly Miscavige.
Concerns about the whereabouts of this prominent figure within the church were raised when Shelly did not appear at the 2006 wedding of celebrities Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Shelly continued to be mysteriously absent from the public eye, and in 2013, Leah Remini filed a Missing Person’s report with the Los Angeles Police department. The case was dropped after a wellness check took place. Remini continues to dispute the results to this day, explaining that no official in person contact with Shelly was made by the LAPD. Instead, they only spoke to a representative of Shelly who ensured her wellness.
“There are still answers that I need,” Remini says on an episode of her show. “I do not know that she is alive. I do not know that she’s not being held against her will.”
Today, over a decade since Remini first raised concerns, Shelly Miscavige has not been seen in public or online at Scientology events. No more inquiries have been made by the LAPD into her whereabouts, despite pressure from Remini and members of the general public. Before her disappearance, Shelly Miscavige was living at the Scientology Gold Base in California. This private property facility is the home to Scientology higher-ups including David Miscavige.
Still, if Shelly resides at Gold Base, this provides no reasoning to why she would not appear in any Scientology media programming. Reports were made that Shelly was escorted from Gold Base and brought to the head location of the Church of Spiritual Technology near Lake Arrowhead, California. If Shelly Miscavige is still alive, this is her most likely location.
Scientology relies on keeping members in by convincing them it is for their own good and the good of the world. Hubbard designed the principles of the faith so that members never ask questions of superiors. This means abandoning contact with a child, attacking a parent online, or even accepting the prolonged disappearance of a public figure is not a harmful act. It is, in fact, beneficial and necessary to do so in order for Scientology to continue its work of healing the world.
Without any large outside forces stepping in to condemn these practices, they will continue to function because, even as members of the Scientology community are harmed by them, superiors claim they are for the greater good and their voices cannot be disputed.
Ex-Scientologists like Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue to speak out about the abuse and the lies, while the church continues their online and public harassment of ex-members. While controversy continues, the IRS still officially recognizes Scientology as a Tax Exempt religion.
Julia Dath is a sophomore Writing major who is doing their best to get on Tom Cruise’s bad side. Reach Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Art by Art Editor Adam Dee.