(A presentation on Scientology I gave at The Secular Hub in Denver, Colorado on the evening of March 14, 2015. This transcript is not exactly what I said but this is what I had on the podium when I was talking.)
Well, the Church of Scientology is taking a severe beating in the media right now and the first thing I want to tell you is that they deserve every bit of it. I flew down to Texas a few days ago and saw the new documentary about Scientology that is all over the media. It’s called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, based on the book by Pullitzer-prize winning author Lawrence Wright. I also got to meet the director, Alex Gibney and Lawrence Wright at the movie screening.
The point of my presentation is not to talk about the movie, but I will say that it is not just one of the first major documentaries about Scientology, but it is by far one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, period. Being as intimate and familiar with the subject matter as I am, I was so happy to see that Alex Gibney did such a good job of not distorting the truth or exaggerating for effect, but instead presented in two hours an accurate representation of what I lived through for 27 years.
I’m going to tell you my personal story with Scientology and then I’ll tell you more about Scientology as a cult and what that means. And after that I’ll answer any questions you have. It is just not possible for me to explain everything about my experience in this short presentation, so I’m just going to give you the best overview I can.
Scientology was invented by a man named L. Ron Hubbard and is defined as an applied religious philosophy which deals with man as a spiritual being, his relationship to himself, other spiritual beings and the universe. Through Scientology methods, one is supposed to be able to remove past emotional and spiritual trauma and free a person so his latent spiritual powers are fully restored. In Scientology, each person is considered to be a being of near god-like power and ability and Hubbard says that it is only by following his closely-taped path that one can achieve that. This is what people who are in Scientology for any length of time are trying to achieve. And when you believe that you are on a quest for total spiritual freedom and ability, you’d be willing to sacrifice nearly anything to attain that.
When I was very young, my parents became Church members and even worked for a Scientology group in Pasadena, California. I had my own on-again-off-again relationship with it but mostly didn’t understand it until I was 15 years old. My parents were great and had never forced it on me, but one day my Dad suggested I go find out what it was all about for myself.
We were living near Santa Barbara at that time. I did their personality test and was convinced that I needed help with communication because I was shy, introverted and had a hard time talking to girls. What I didn’t realize, of course, is that almost every 15 year old boy could be called shy, introverted and has a hard time talking to girls.
I took my first courses and they really did help me somewhat with my communication problems. I continued taking some classes and finished up high school at the same time, after which they recruited me to join staff at the church. I was still an impressionable lad and the love bombing was pretty effective. When you’re 17 and beautiful blond women are telling you how awesome you are and what a great staff member you’d be, you kind of want to join up.
It was an impoverished existence but I plowed through until I was 25. Santa Barbara was a small, struggling Scientology organization that had constant trouble paying its rent and it was pretty much going nowhere. But despite 8 years of watching this, I somehow thought that it was all our fault. I guess it sort of helped that Hubbard kept saying that in his organizational policies. According to him, if you follow his policies then you will be vastly successful, ergo if you are not vastly successful, then the fault is yours because you obviously aren’t following his policies!
I figured I needed to take more responsibility and work harder. I was convinced that if I could just give it my all, I could really make a difference. I had seen people in Los Angeles who were part of the upper levels of Scientology – the Sea Organization. They are the true clergy and form the core group of Scientology’s elite.
I thought, those guys in the Sea Organization give it their all. They work 24/7 and they get taken care of. They don’t have to worry about room or board or medical or any of these things. So I decided it was time for me to “move up”. What I didn’t know was how abusive the Sea Org environment was and how I was about to throw away any idea of self-determined action or personal freedom.
I arrived to the Sea Org in Los Angeles in the summer of 1995. I went immediately into church management, over-seeing all the training and counselling delivery in the Western United States. I had no training for such a large scale executive job, but I quickly found out that no one else did either. We were all “making it go right”. I did that for 8 years until I finally burned out in 2003. I’d lasted longer than most others in the management world, but enough had been enough. There are way too many tales of abuse and craziness for me to tell here. But little did I know that for me, getting myself out of management was not the end of it.
After bouncing around for a year on different jobs, I found myself in trouble and on the Rehabilitation Project Force or RPF. This was really just a result of the burnout. I was at rock bottom as a person and I felt like I had nothing left to live for, so the RPF was actually a kind of hope for me since we were all told that it was about rehabilitation and not punishment.
Well, the only comparison that can be made to the RPF is prison. If you have looked into Scientology at all, you may have heard horror stories about the RPF program and I have to tell you that most of them are true. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. We had to run everywhere, were completely sequestered off from everyone else, couldn’t speak to anyone outside the RPF unless spoken to, and there were no such things as days off, vacations or even seeing my wife. It took me a little over 3 years to do it and I did graduate. I was never the same. And I knew that I would leave the Sea Org before I ever considered doing it again. Yes, there are some people who have done the RPF two or even three or more times.
A few months after graduating, I was working on recruiting new Sea Org members. Being successful at it, this led to me working on getting staff for the new big buildings they had cropping up. They called these Ideal Organizations, a massive fundraising and building program which at the time was running full steam ahead.
You see, the problem with the Scientology churches is that they were mainly empty. So one of the ideas behind this big Ideal Org program was basically a kind of “if you build it, they will come” which might have worked nicely in the movies but in real life that is not how you build up anything.
So I was getting people back who had left Scientology and didn’t want to do it anymore. In Scientology, the call this “blowing”. I was good at that because while I may have not loved the organization by this point, I did still believe in the subject. And I truly wanted to help people.
It was while I was out and about, all over the Western United States, that I got to see something most Scientologists don’t see close up. I saw a lot of Ideal Orgs before, during and after they had opened. I saw how empty they were. I saw how difficult it was to get people back into the fold.
Those blown Scientologists told me all the reasons why – the repeated failures of the orgs to deliver what they promised, the mis-run and messed up counselling, the financial rip-offs, the abuses of their confidential information, the stories being told by the media and on the internet. And after seeing more and more cases of people being blown off because of what we were doing – what Scientology was actually doing to them in the name of helping them – it became abundantly clear that this was not what we were being told it was.
In Scientology they train you not to tell lies, but to tell “acceptable truths.” Tell someone about only the good parts and leave out the bad. Don’t talk about the bad news – what they call “entheta” – and only pump up the parts you want people to hear. Sure, Sea Org members are entitled to 3 weeks of vacation every year. You can tell a new recruit that. What you don’t tell them is that in 17 years of being in the Sea Org, I never once saw anyone take those 3 weeks off. Every Scientology staff member and Sea Org member is entitled to 12.5 hours of study a week. Survey any organization in the world and you will consistently find only a small fraction of those staff go to study at all, and few bother to take their full 12.5 hours.
At every event I was going to, I was seeing Chairman of the Board, David Miscavige, touting statistics that I knew were false. Showing full courserooms that I knew were empty. Talking about hordes of people coming into these new orgs when I knew they were ghost towns. And it dawned on me that there were more lies than there was truth. That my own life had somehow become a string of “acceptable truths”.
So I decided to get out. At the time, I was on a Sea Org project in the Minnesota Ideal Org. I helped open the place up and we were supposed to get the staff to fill it up with new Scientologists. That was going nowhere. I mean, there are only about 130 Scientologists total in all of Minnesota and Wisconsin and the surrounding states. Yet despite it all, I still believed in L. Ron Hubbard and his tech, even if I thought the organization was off.
I went back to Los Angeles and I officially left the Sea Org in December 2012. I did not just blow. And it was shortly after this that the true face of Scientology was revealed to me.
About a month after I had left the Sea Org once and for all, with my feet pretty much on the ground, I went back to Minnesota. And when the Sea Org found out that I was going back to the last place where I had been on a Sea Org project, the last place I’d been a Sea Org member, all hell broke loose.
You see, they have a real thing about PR and image. When someone leaves the Sea Org, that’s a bad thing even if they do it right. Until they make up for what they did, ex-Sea Org members are pretty much considered the scum of the universe. Hubbard himself called them “degraded beings”.
So I was refused access to the Twin Cities org. I was forbidden to talk to or reach out to any Scientologist in that area. I was told that I was “really pissing off some important people” – whoever they were I was never told – and that it was off-the-rails that I had chosen to go to Minnesota. They really hated the idea that anyone would tarnish their delusionally polished image.
I spent months trying to sort this out to no avail. I was basically being treated like a bad guy, what they call a Suppressive Person. My reputation was being muddied by Ethics Orders from management to the org letting them know what a horrible person I had been in the Sea Org – despite the fact that I had a glowing reputation and consistently had produced well on any post I’d ever had.
I had made a few Facebook friends with Scientologists and had ethics reports written up on me for that. I dared to go out a few times in public with some local Scientolgist friends. Then before I knew it, I was being called to Los Angeles for a Committee of Evidence, which is like a criminal court in the Scientology world. Yeah – I finally got the reports on why this was being done and it was because of my social and Facebook activities.
This was all just too ridiculous for words. I had never seen anyone treated like this before. I started reading about Scientology on the internet and the experiences of other ex-Sea Org members and suddenly, all became clear. We call it going down the rabbit hole and I didn’t come up for 2 straight months. I learned things I had no idea about. I got answers to questions I’d forgotten I even had. Mysterious things that had happened during my time in the Sea Org were revealed. Hushed up, confidential issues and circumstances were laid bare by the very people who had done them, now no longer in the Church themselves and coming clean.
They did everything they could to make me into an enemy. The fact that I’m standing here today talking to you is really only because they pushed me out with a bulldozer. I’d even tried to make good and do the steps necessary per Church doctrine to be accepted again.
But the insidious and evil nature of Scientology’s justice system couldn’t be stopped. Because of their enforced disconnection policy, they took away the one person in my life who meant the most to me. For that I will never forgive them.
Shortly after, I was called up and told I was declared a Suppressive Person and was permanently expelled from the Church. It was good news. It was liberating news. I felt a weight off my shoulders. It wasn’t just a monkey off my back; it felt like a whole gorilla. And I’ve been speaking out ever since.
Now that being my background, I’d like to take a few more minutes and tell you about the most important lesson I’ve learned from Scientology.
People call Scientology a cult. And they’re right. It is a cult. But the last people who are ever going to know that, are the Scientologists.
“Cult” is an interesting word. It’s the root word for “culture” and “cultivate” and it has the same origins as the word “colony”. These words go back to an idea of a place where things are grown and where people lived. A fertile ground for raising things, which now has come to mean religious ideas.
Now any group or any culture has things about it that define its members as different from other groups or cultures. And that’s fine. Humanity revels in its differences across the planet and that’s not an inherently bad thing. We should celebrate our differences in dress, food, thought and even ideas of worship.
One of the things I’ve spent some time learning about is what makes a cult into a cult. Well, it’s pretty simple really. A cult takes those differences to a whole new level. It takes the natural diversity of life and villifies anyone who doesn’t come to agree with the way the cult leaders say things should be.
Let me give you some examples from my own experience. Now that I’m no longer a Scientologist:
– I no longer believe that L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige are somehow blessed with divine infallibility and are smarter than everyone else.
– I no longer believe that if the leaders of the nations of Earth would just listen to Scientology, then the Scientologists would set everything straight with the world.
– I no longer fear the consequences of asking too many questions about what’s going on with Scientolgy, like say, how many members there are or how much money it has in its off-shore bank accounts.
– I will no longer have to undergo hard labor or rigorous “ethics programs” if I get into trouble or ask too many uncomfortable questions about thigns I see that don’t make any damn sense.
– I no longer have to listen to anyone telling me how I should think or act or speak, or how to raise my kids or whether I can even get married and have kids.
– I no longer fear the Internet or have to be careful to screen out anti-Scientology data before it can threaten me or damage my immortal soul for all of eternity.
– I no longer believe that I am in a unique position to save all the other inferior human beings on this planet because of the special knowledge and status I have as a Scientologist.
– I no longer feel that the end justifies the means, nor that anything I do for Scientology is right just because it’s for Scientology.
– I no longer feel guilty or shameful for not giving all of my time and money to Scientology.
– I no longer feel like Scientology is more important than my family, my friends or pretty much anything else in my life, nor do I have to worry about having non-Scientologist friends or relationships.
– I no longer support the idea that Scientology needs lots and lots and lots of money to get things done and that it will never really have enough money to be secure enough to accomplish its goals.
– I no longer believe that it comes down to us Scientologists versus the rest of the delusional humanoids on this planet, nor do I have to wonder why everyone can’t see how great Scientology obviously is.
– And finally, I no longer live in fear of leaving the Church of Scientology because of what they might do to me, my family, my job or my life.
It feels really good to not have those things on my back anymore. All of those things are what make Scientology a cult.
Now here’s the trick to Scientology, or any other cult for that matter. Once you have someone in and you can convince them that they are in a special and unique place where they are superior and different from everyone else, then you’ve basically got them forever. Because then they will convince themselves that anything wrong with the group or what’s going on is just a temporary phase in its evolution. Everything is going to work out great in the end.
And if the person has any desire to help or make things better, which most people do, then it’s a pretty easy process to push that help button and make it feel like it’s their duty to work for the group. Sacrificing for the greater good is noble, right?
Having come out of this situation, I had some time to reflect on what got me in and kept me in for all those years. And it really did come down to the us versus them, black-and-white thinking.
Out of all the characterisitcs of a cult, that is the most damaging and dangerous. I mean, let’s put this in perspective for a minute. If you’re a Boy Scout, there’s nothing really wrong with thinking that the head of the Boy Scouts is a great leader. There’s nothing really wrong with donating all of your disposable income to the Boy Scouts, or singing their praises every chance you get.
But as soon as you get the idea that being a Boy Scout sets you apart from everyone else who is not a Boy Scout, and that you are somehow superior to everyone else because of that, now we have a problem.
If you are convinced that you are on the side of good and that you & your group can do no wrong, anything can be justified. Any action or punishment or penalty is totally within the bounds of reason. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. The primal urge to want to survive and to help others can be twisted into some pretty sick things. As the old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Coming out of that situation, my head was wrapped around a pole and it took me months to figure that out. The thing that got me out of this way of thinking and really turned it around for good was learning critical thinking skills.
And the most important thing I learned from it, is to not be afraid of knowledge. Cults preach that knowledge is dangerous and that you should purposefully keep your head in the sand. This is one of the most basic lessons in the first book of the Bible with the apple and forbidden knowledge and it’s dead wrong.
By exposing myself to as much knowledge and learning as I can, I’ve come to appreciate all sides of arguments and I’m much more able to see the nuances and shades of gray in almost any issue.
The world is not the black-and-white place that so many of us make it out to be. Like many religions and philosophies, even in Scientology there are things that make sense. There are parts and pieces of it that anyone can use to help himself and help others. But in Scientology, those things are buried deeply within a culture that has developed into an exclusive club whose ultimate cost is way too high. There is nothing in Scientology that can’t be gotten elsewhere. Scientology needs to go away forever.
The most important lesson of all, is that it doesn’t have to be “us vs. them”. Life is a big deal and we are all in this together. We can be individuals and still cooperate and coordinate and make things better for everyone.
My life is far better without Scientology in it. I hope by sharing my story with all of you, I’ve done some good today.
Thanks for listening.