The New York Times published a fascinating report on several defectors from the Church of Scientology, the exclusive, secretive religion favored by Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Though it’s missing the more salacious things we’ve heard about aliens and L. Ron Hubbard’s frozen body, it does investigate charges of physical abuse of staff members, declining membership, and the system of confessional-type “auditing” sessions.
[Members] may spend hundreds of hours in one-on-one “auditing” sessions, holding the slim silver-colored handles of an e-meter while an auditor asks them questions and takes notes on what they say and on the e-meter’s readings.
What’s most fascinating is the odd cosmology of military paraphernalia (wearing Naval uniforms for religious ceremonies), New Age rituals (spending five hours a day in a sauna, cleansing your body of toxins), business lingo (confession-as-auditing-session), and Hubbard’s own doctrines that read more like science fiction than religion. According to NYT journalist Laurie Goodstein, “Scientologists believe that human beings are impeded by negative memories from past lives, and that by applying Mr. Hubbard’s “technology,” they can reach a state known as clear.”
What’s troubling to learn about Scientology is its culture of secrecy and its severe punishment for those who wish to leave the religion. In a tradition known as “disconnecting,” members who wish to leave the church must sever, or “disconnect,” all ties to any Scientology family members or friends. This threat of separating not only from one’s beliefs, but parents, brothers, sisters, and the like, is enough to instill fear in any member who wishes for freedom.
Mike Rinder, who for more than 20 years was the church’s spokesman, said the disconnect policy originated as Mr. Hubbard’s prescription for how to deal with an abusive spouse or boss.
Now, “disconnection has become a way of controlling people,” said Mr. Rinder, who says his mother, sister, brother, daughter and son disconnected from him after he left the church. “It is very, very prevalent.”
It’s difficult to understand how this type of worship differs from the authoritarian qualities of a cult. Ex-Scientologist Marc Headley writes that his wife suffered from a common church practice: coercing members to receive abortions.
All of this subjugation to the church makes me wonder: Must individual liberties be sacrificed for the good of an institution? How does a culture of fear and secrecy correlate with a stated emphasis on humanity and an end to suffering and pain?