Friday, January 24, 2014

Growing Up Scientologist

Cracked has an article up today by a former member who grew up in the Church of Scientology. Prior to reading it my opinion of Scientology was that while they believe a lot of silly things, that can be said about many religions and my main problem with the group was its overall cultishness and its never-ending quest to relieve its adherents of as much of their earnings as possible. But according to the article, the treatment of children in the organization is a serious problem as well.

Only the barest amount of natural light graced us through the tiny windows, and the teenagers they left in charge weren't exactly child-care pros. They wouldn't even let my baby sister go to the bathroom. Also? No food. My mom had to hide food in our pockets so we didn't starve while she spent hours in their meeting. Oh, and they actually locked all the doors into and out of these meetings. We had to leave early for a doctor's appointment once, and my mom realized this fact rather suddenly when she found she couldn't get out of the service. The whole congregation had been locked inside. So, you know, good thing there wasn't a fire.

Scientology "schools" are another mess altogether. They place a lot of emphasis on something called word clearing. L. Ron Hubbard believed that misunderstood words were quite literally the only possible way for a child to lose interest in a subject at school. Nerdy kids who read during math class can attest to the absurdity of this claim, but it's a lynchpin of Scientologist tech ("tech" is Scientology's equivalent to scripture, crossed with the owner's manual for a 1994 Buick Century). So if you go to a Scientologist school, you can look forward to a lot of time with your dictionary.

One of the kids my family knew wasn't very good at his dictionary reading. He had trouble reading at all, or even making out diagrams on the blackboard. He was held back for three years because he just couldn't hack the coursework. Eventually his mom took him to the optometrist, and surprise, the kid was desperately in need of glasses. Somehow Hubbard's tech failed to account for that possibility.

This example illustrates one of the main problems with the entire Scientology worldview - the complete failure to acknowledge basic physical reality. In effect, much of Scientology is like a cross between New Thought and psychotherapy circa 1950. Students of "The Secret," beware. This is pretty much the end result of taking the New Thought paradigm to its logical conclusion. If the mind really creates all reality, then stuff like "auditing" to remove "blocks" actually makes sense. Of course, physics doesn't actually work that way, so you get yourself into trouble pretty quickly if you try going that route.

Scientology doesn't believe in painkillers ... or in doctors, really. Scientologists aren't real big fans of modern medicine in general. My little sister once got sick for two months. Since I was of age to be a guardian for her at that point, I took her to the doctor during one of the days my mom had custody. I lied and told her dad (my stepdad) I was taking her shopping. The whole time we were waiting at the hospital, my sister kept repeating, "Dad's going to be so angry."

The doctor prescribed penicillin, which she was supposed to take three times a day, but my sister insisted that her dad wasn't going to let her take it. She was crying her eyes out, because that's what sick kids do when they think someone's going to steal their medicine. My mom thought that was shit. She called my sister's dad and ... I don't really know what was said, but she put the fear of Xenu in him. He didn't give my sister any shit for taking her pills, but he made damn sure to take me aside and let me know what an awful person I was for going behind his back like that.

Another time, I went to a friend's house for a play date. My friend wound up cutting her toe on a rake, and the family, who were Scientologists, just washed the cut out with water. It got severely infected, but none of the Scientologists around her would let her go to the doctor. It wasn't until the wound started to smell weird and she stopped being able to walk that they finally tried something besides touch assist.

The doctor took one look and declared her a day or two away from blood poisoning. This girl nearly lost her foot because none of the adults taking care of her thought to sterilize her wound. Jehovah's Witnesses won't take blood transfusions, but I'm pretty sure they're down with putting rubbing alcohol on a cut before it turns fucking septic.

From their public statements I was under the impression that Scientologists specifically oppose psychiatric drugs, likely because modern psychotherapy competes with "auditing." But this is far more sinister, akin to faith-healing churches who oppose the use of modern medicine. Psychiatric drugs are a whole other can of worms, since they don't work as well as we generally are led to believe - the rate of effectiveness for many of them is only 7 or 8 percent above placebo, in many cases on par with acupuncture. But mind over matter is not likely to beat a two-month-long illness that requires antibiotics.

Most of the rest of the article covers points that are more widely known, such as the "billion year contracts" they make Sea Org members sign and how difficult it is to leave the group, both because if you do and your family stays they can no longer contact you, and because they'll pull out all the stops in terms of harassment and legal threats towards ex-members - that is, the aforementioned cultishness. Read the whole thing, though - it paints a comprehensive picture of an organization with attitudes towards child care that are risky at best and outright harmful at worst.

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Al said...

I suggest reading the recent book, "Going Clear," if you want an idea of just how twisted and bad Scientology actually is. I was jaded and thought I knew and this showed that I only knew a little.

Scott Stenwick said...

Another good one to read is Bare-faced Messiah by Russell Miller. It was originally published in 1988, but driven out of print by legal threats from the Church of Scientology. It tells the story of how Hubbard came up with the whole thing in the first place and how it developed a following.

For the longest time it was only available online thanks to the folks at Operation Clambake.

However, according to Amazon it looks like a print edition is being reissued in March.

The church has to be other than happy about that...