Monday, August 11, 2008

Appendix: Why Speak Out?

My own decision to speak out against my former Church, the Church of Scientology, was inspired by three brave young women who, in 2007, began a website called Ex-Scientology Kids. Kendra Wiseman, Jenna Miscavige Hill and Astra Woodcraft had the courage to tell their stories of growing up in Scientology. You could say they shamed me into it. If they were willing to put their names on the line and face whatever Scientology dished out, then what was I afraid of? So I began speaking about my experiences publicly, first on various online chat groups, then in radio interviews, and finally writing my whole story in my blog, Counterfeit Dreams.

There are many reasons not to speak out. And believe me, I've heard them all.

The first is what I call the "get over it" argument. The person speaking out is characterized as a whining victim who is stuck in the past and should just "move on." People who are former Scientologists may also add the Scientology twist that "you pulled it in" - meaning that anything bad that happened to you in your life is the result of your own bad actions. They might talk about "taking responsibility," which, to a Scientologist, means admitting that anything bad that happened to you in life was your own doing - and therefore you have no right to complain. "Taking responsibility," according to the Scientology way of thinking, means essentially that one should shut up about it and just move on.

This sort of thinking is so pervasive within Scientology that sometimes one does not even need to say these words to an ex-Scientologist - they are already thinking this way. And no one, particularly an ex-Scientologist, wants to be cast in the role of "victim." Scientologists strive to be "cause over life" and don't want to admit, even to themselves, that they have been victimized.

Certainly there are times in life when someone needs to be told to "get over it." If your spouse is still talking about "that guy who cut me off on the freeway" several days later, it's time to remind them to move on. But we are not talking about occasional rudeness or some slight, we are talking about serious and systemic abuse and human rights violations.

One would not tell a battered wife to "forget about it and move on." At least if one retains the slightest spark of compassion or humanity. One would not tell a rape victim that she "pulled it in." One would not tell an aging pensioner who has just lost his life savings to a con artist to "get over it." One would certainly not tell a Holocaust survivor to "stop whining and move on."

The only real victims are those who have been "shuddered into silence" by such callous and bloodless sentiments. The ones who feel they have to live in silence and hold their abuse close to the chest, lest others think less of them. The minute they decide to speak out, they cease being a victim. They are empowered.

There are people who would like all such victims to shut up about it. And key among those are the perpetrators. They can only continue their abuse if no one speaks out. The pedophile priest, the abusive husband, the sociopathic cult leader, can only exist by maintaining layers of secrecy about their real activities, keeping up that front of respectability. They are untouchable as long as their victims keep their mouths shut. The minute their victims open their mouths, the light comes streaming into their sordid little worlds. And the victims aren’t victims any more.

"Forgive and forget" some people say. Well, forgive, maybe, if someone comes to their senses and changes their behavior. Forget – never.

There is a point where silence becomes enabling.

David Miscavige will continue to abuse and beat staff as long as he thinks he can get away with it. But if he knows that his every move will be exposed, he may just think twice about further abuse. The message from those speaking out is "you can’t hide anymore – the world is watching."

Which brings me to the second objection to speaking out. Some of my friends who have left Scientology still cling to its principles. They still believe that there is a lot of good in Scientology, and most importantly, they still believe that Scientology's "OT Levels" are the road to personal salvation. Their belief is that the Church of Scientology was hijacked by David Miscavige and perverted, but that the subject itself is still good. We could argue at some length about this - and in fact we often do! But they object to anyone speaking out about the abuses within the Church of Scientology as they think it would be destructive to the subject of Scientology.

I can imagine that there were Catholics who felt the same way about those who were exposing priest abuse. They didn't want it talked about because they didn't want it to destroy their religion.

But the real question is this: If exposing abuses within a religion results in the destruction of that religion, then who is the source of that destruction - the person who exposes it, or the person who commits that abuse?

As a Scientologist, I was guilty of this kind of flawed thinking. I knew that David Miscavige and others beat and abused staff members. I knew that RPF Members lived in conditions of near slavery. I knew that Scientology's press releases were full of lies. But I shut up about it "for the good of the group." I had the idea that we had to present a united front against "the enemy," defending the Church and its leaders whether they were right or not, abusive or not.

But does that strengthen a Church, or weaken it?

Scientology has this wonderful term, "enturbulated theta" or "entheta." That is, anything which disturbs, agitates or upsets "theta," the life force or spirit. Thus, something that is "entheta" is something that upsets or disturbs Scientologists, and something that is "theta" is something that makes Scientologists calm, reassured or happy. People who make "entheta" statements are declared Suppressive. They are "suppressing" the calmness and happiness of Scientologists.

It has nothing to do with truth.

If a Scientologist were to talk about staff abuse or RPF prison conditions or criminal activities within the Church, that would be "entheta." It would upset people - even though it was true. If they ignore abuses or cover them up, that's "theta." It is calming and reassuring - even though it's false.

Most Scientologists know there is something very, very wrong with their Church. They see the signs. But they choose to ignore them. Why? Because they know that if they speak out, they will be censured. Their statements will be labeled as "entheta" and they could even be "declared Suppressive."

Imagine the Catholic Church threatening to excommunicate anyone speaking out about priest abuse, and you get the insidious oppression that Scientologists have to deal with.

Now imagine the Catholic Church threatening to excommunicate anyone who even listens to anyone complaining about priest abuse.

That's a pretty tight leash.

If there is one word that characterizes the operations of Scientology, it is secrecy. There is absolutely no transparency of operations. Scientologists have no idea where their money goes or who receives it. Scientologists are not allowed to know the names of the people running their own Church, outside of a few prominent figureheads. Church plans and operations are shrouded in "confidentiality." Staff are not allowed to speak candidly about their lives to outsiders, even close family. And any activity above them in the command echelon is kept secret from them. Sea Org Members are not allowed internet access, cell phones, radio or TV. Scientologists are discouraged from researching Scientology or Hubbard's life on the internet or visiting anything but the approved Church websites. Staff who leave have to sign elaborate "gag orders" that they will never reveal what went on inside.

Why? Why all this secrecy?

Scientology promotes itself as the "Road to Truth."

Yet it can’t face the truth.

Anyone who considers themselves a Scientologist – whether in the Church of Scientology or not – has to decide whether they want to be part of a religion that is based on truth, or one based on lies and secrecy.

It is time to ask those questions you never dared to ask before, and to reveal what you never dared to reveal before.

Which leads to the final objection – isn’t speaking out against the Church of Scientology dangerous? Don’t they come after anyone who dares to blow the whistle on them?

Sure, they try to. Hubbard’s policy is to always, always "attack the attacker." Never defend, always attack. So anyone who speaks out opens themselves to such an attack.

Every totalitarian regime, every fanatical movement, starts with a glittering goal, whether it’s a utopian future, a Third Reich or a Cleared Planet. The goal is so huge and so all-embracing that it seems that it will solve all of the problems of the world. In the future utopia, there is no war, crime or insanity. Everyone lives in peace and harmony, if they follow the One True Path.

"Obviously" anyone who opposes the group or movement or regime is an enemy – an infidel, nonbeliever, "wog" or Suppressive. Therefore ruthlessness against such enemies is not only condoned, it is required and rewarded. Those willing to set aside their humanity and become cold, fanatical and cruel instruments of the greater good will rise to the top of such a movement. Those who get in their way become "enemies" and are destroyed.

Thus a Hitler can come to power. Or a David Miscavige.

The Church of Scientology reacts as all fanatical groups react – by vilifying and denouncing anyone who dares to speak out against them or question their tactics.

And, like other fanatical religious groups, the biggest weapon they wield against their own followers is the granting or withholding of eternal salvation. This is not a joke to Scientologists. They believe literally that they are spiritual beings who were trapped and enslaved into human bodies millions of years ago, condemned to live life after life in darkness and ignorance, never knowing they live again and again. The promise of the "OT Levels" is that one will gain full awareness and thus remember one’s past lives and so achieve immortality, life after life. This is what Scientologists believe. This is what I believed.

So being "declared Suppressive" is not just name calling. It means that one is cut off from one’s "eternity" as a spiritual being. That is a heavy threat. To a Scientologist, it is not just the threat of death – it is the threat of death after death after death.

So Scientologists toe the line. They may notice something is wrong, but they won’t bring it up. They may see abuse, but they’ll keep quiet about it and try to pretend that everything is OK. They won’t speak out, or complain, or make a fuss. They do what they are told. If they don’t, they know they will have to visit the Ethics Officer. They will have to do "lower conditions." They will have to get "Security Checks" – at their expense. And at the end of it, if they don’t toe the line, they know that expulsion and a Suppressive Person declare awaits them.

It is spiritual blackmail.

Ask yourself, if that is the level of threat and duress that it takes to keep Scientologists in line, then is it really a religion, or has it become, finally, a fanatical, mafia-like cult?

I’m not here to argue the truth or falsity of Scientology’s "OT Levels." That is a matter, really, of religious faith. People can believe in whatever spiritual path they choose. But what Scientologists are not told is that Hubbard’s "OT Levels" have all been published online, and are even delivered by "Freezone" Scientology groups who have no connection to the Church of Scientology.

It is time to stop buckling under the Church of Scientology’s spiritual blackmail.

Suppressive Person is a meaningless term, even more so after its overuse as a political weapon within the Church. These days it means "anyone who gets in David Miscavige’s way."

Sure, if you speak out they will try to silence you. They will call you a liar. They will try to label you as a criminal or a terrorist or anything else they can pull out of their tired old bag of tricks. But every day, there are more and more people willing to speak out, and fewer and fewer willing to tell or support or listen to their lies. Every day, the Church has less money and less time and less people to carry out their vindictive attacks. Yet the numbers of their critics and whistleblowers is growing daily.

We are at a tipping point.

More and more Scientologists are quietly withdrawing their support from the Miscavige regime. Many are walking away from the Church of Scientology altogether. Key Church executives are defecting. Many are now speaking out, telling what they know. Doors and windows are being opened to let light in to the secret, dark world of Scientology.

If Scientology survives at all, in any form, it will be because Scientologists stopped tolerating abuse and lies and criminality in the name of their religion, tore down the veils of secrecy and demanded full transparency. It will be because present and past Scientologists had the decency and humanity to stand up and speak out, regardless of the threats and the attempts to silence them. And it will be because past Church executives had the courage to do what they know is right.

I don’t seek the destruction of Scientology. David Miscavige has already accomplished that, almost singlehandedly. I do demand that the truth be told, that the walls come down, and that common standards of human decency and honesty prevail.

It is time to speak out.