Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Scientology and Its Aftermath, part 3 (A&E, 2016)

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

After the first two episodes of The Ascent of Woman I watched the third episode of Leah Remini’s Arts & Entertainment series Scientology and the Aftermath, her interviews with people who (like Remini herself) were part of the Church of Scientology for decades until they finally split with it and suffered, notably through the Church’s policy of “disconnection” which requires that people still in the Church cut off all contact with apostates — even apostates in their own family. Her interviewee this time was Mary Kahn, who in 1973 was on her way to a drug party when she ran into a recruiter for the Church of Scientology, who convinced her that Scientology could offer her all the insights into herself she was hoping for from drugs without the legal and health hazards. She got into the church big-time and married a man named David she met in Scientology. They had two sons, Michael and Sammy — Michael eventually left the church (and he’s the big missing presence in this show — it’s not clear what happened to him, whether he’s still alive or if Mary reconnected with him after she, too, left the Church) but Sammy stayed in and faithfully “disconnected” from his mom, much to her horror and continuing sorrow. In some ways the most compelling part of Mary’s story was the extent to which Scientology never lets up on its financial demands on you — once L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 his successor as the church’s head, David Miscavige, went through a major search of Hubbard’s writings looking for “levels” beyond OT VII (OT stands for “Operating Thetan,” Scientology-speak for someone who’s advanced up their “Bridge to Total Freedom” and not only got clear of all their engrams, body thetans and other nasties Scientology claims cause all your problems and which they can help you get rid of … for, of course, a stiff price, but achieved such amazing powers as the ability to defy gravity) that he could sell to willing Scientologists and keep the income stream going. He apparently found — or was able to concoct — an OT VIII, but Miscavige was disappointed that Hubbard hadn’t left behind any more levels than that. No problem; the Church of Scientology now tells its parishioners that there were “errors” in the previous editions of their courses, and that means they have to spend thousands of dollars (on top of the thousands they’ve already spent) to buy new editions of Hubbard’s books and they have to take the OT courses all over again.

Mary Kahn completed her first OT VIII in 1987 (the year after L. Ron Hubbard died — or, in Scientology-speak, “dropped the body”) and it took her two weeks to do the final course. When she was told she had to go through the whole set of courses over again, she did OT VIII in 2009 and this time it took her two months, and the whole thing was offered only on board a ship called the Freehold, not only so the Church could evade government oversight (running things from ships was a strategy pioneered by Hubbard in the 1960’s because he wanted his operation to be free from any government’s jurisdiction) but also so you’d be trapped there. In some respects Scientology still has the aura of a cult — plenty of other cults pull the same stunts on their adherents, including isolating them from the rest of humanity, making them stay up all hours (apparently sleep deprivation makes you more susceptible to conditioning of all sorts), making them read esoteric literature and regurgitate its contents on demand, and essentially regimenting their lives 24/7. (As I’ve noted in these pages before, medical schools are run on the same principle: you’re kept awake all hours, given huge amounts of literature to read, and so overscheduled you can’t actually think about what you’re reading — let alone read anything with a different point of view — with the idea being to turn you into a kind of intelligent robot that will always come to the same conclusions as your teachers.) She made a mildly critical remark about the Church to her husband David — who, being a good Scientologist, naturally reported her to church authorities — and she was told to come in for a “sec check” in which she’d be “audited” with an E-meter, a sort of crude lie detector that is basic to the Church of Scientology. (The Church used to claim that this device could be useful in psychotherapy, but in the 1960’s the U.S. Food and Drug Administration went after the Church for practicing medicine without a license, and now E-meters can legally be manufactured and sold in the U.S. but only if they carry a plaque on them stating the disclaimer that they are offered only as devices for religious ritual, sort of like rosary beads.) One point Remini hasn’t mentioned in her show thus far is that, though “auditing” is like psychotherapy in that the auditor asks questions designed to elicit intense responses in the person being audited that are supposed to lead to breakthroughs that will improve the mental health of the auditee, Scientologists being audited do not have the protection of doctor-patient confidentiality psychiatric patients do — so the Church of Scientology has a huge dossier of intimate personal information on every member that they can use at will, including (it’s often alleged) blackmail to keep them in the church.

The third part of Scientology and the Aftermath is often moving — though the omission of any reference to the fate of Michael Kahn aside from a brief reference to his having left the church before his parents did is a major flaw — especially when David recalls being ordered by the Church to divorce his wife, and him thinking he was about to do so until he did what Remini and the viewers of this program (me, certainly) consider the right thing and chose his wife and his marriage over this sick institution. Mary is also both moving and chilling when she recalls her last encounter with the Church of Scientology — they’d called her in for interrogation and she was willing to answer questions but not to use the E-meter. Instead she walked out of the interrogation room in the church’s headquarters in Clearwater, Florida — fortunately her interrogator hadn’t locked it — only to find that the back entrance she’d hoped to use to escape was locked and a Church member tried to block her way from leaving, upon which she decided to walk out the front door and hope that the Church’s disinclination to show its dark side in public would lead them to allow her to reach the sidewalk in front of the building, whereupon if there were other people present (which, fortunately for Mary, there were), they’d allow her to leave unmolested. I’ve blown hot and cold on the Church of Scientology; sometimes I’ve regarded it as an amusing but relatively harmless organization — their creation myth involving the evil ruler Xenu, who destroyed all human life in volcanoes and then had to deal with what to do about the remaining souls (he forced them to watch movies for 36 hours dealing with God and the Devil, thereby persuading them that these beings existed when good Scientologists know they don’t) is silly, but it’s not much sillier than God impregnating a virgin so she could give birth to a child who would grow up and die to save humanity from its sins, or an illiterate desert guy receiving prophecies from the Angel Gabriel, or a failed farmer in upstate New York in the 1830’s getting a book printed on gold tablets from a celestial lending library and two magic stones he could use to translate the “Reformed Egyptian” it was written in into English — but the more recent literature shows it as a truly dark organization that has used its entrées into the rich and powerful (a deliberate recruiting strategy on the part of L. Ron Hubbard, who felt Jesus’s big mistake had been to reach out to people who had no money instead of the 1-percenters who could have made him and his church rich) for some really malevolent purposes.