Reuters has reported about the departure this week of actress Leah Remini from the Church of Scientology. The history of Scientology and its relationships with celebrities like Remini, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and others, as well as its vast financial holdings, are testaments to the fundamental hypocrisy of the Church.
Remini is best known for her role as Carrie Heffernan in the CBS comedy “King of Queens.” While she did not comment on the reasons for the parting of the ways, the New York Post said the actress chose to leave after being subjected to years of “interrogations” and “thought modification” after questioning the leadership of David Miscavige.
Miscavige became the head of the church in 1987. He refocused the Church’s efforts towards attracting celebrities, their name-recognition and their prosperity.
The history and current practices of Scientology are carefully chronicled by Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Unbelief.
Scientology has gained many adherents among movie and television stars and musicians, including Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Chick Corea, Kirstie Alley, Karen Black, Beck and Will Smith. And it has persistently treated its celebrities well.
Scientology has Celebrity Centres in Hollywood and other major cities through whose doors many of the wealthy and famous have passed.
One is John Travolta. His interest in Scientology and rising stardom merited him special attention. He was pampered and feted and continues to be. In return he has been one of the most faithful and outspoken proponents of the Church.
Travolta had worked for years to get a film made that was based on Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth, and spent a considerable amount of his own money to produce it. It was released in 2000, and was a box-office disaster.
The most famous example of star membership is, of course, Tom Cruise. Like Travolta, he was provided with his own private entrance to Scientology centers, and assigned top-level “auditors.” Cruise was brought to Gold Base, a top-secret hub of Scientology operations, as its sole occupant at the time Cruise was preparing to make Days of Thunder. Miscavige provided him with a chef and a high-end gym. When Cruise, and his then-wife Nicole Kidman, expressed their fantasy of running through a field of wildflowers, Miscavige ordered employees to create a meadow in the desert, which was quickly destroyed when the couple expressed their dissatisfaction with it.
After Cruise ended his three-year relationship with Penélope Cruz, he complained to Miscavige that no one had found him a girlfriend. Miscavige arranged for a hundred young actresses to be auditioned and videotaped. They were not told why they were being interviewed.
Cruise was awarded the “Freedom Medal of Valor” by Miscavige in 2004 for his efforts in promoting the Church.
Before the advent of Remini, Travolta and Cruise, the life of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is a case history of the church’s hypocrisy and lies.
Hubbard created Scientology in 1952. He famously told Robert Heinlein, one of the deans of science fiction, that the best way to make money was to start a religion.
Hubbard was a writer of pulp science fiction who could write a story as fast as he could type, which was incredibly fast, or so it has been claimed. He was not only widely published in fiction but authored a number of non-fiction works. He maintained that he had written scripts for Hollywood in the late 1930s and early 1940s, although he received no credits in any film.
Hubbard graduated from the School of Military Government in 1945 and was ordered to Monterrey, California to join what would ultimately become the invasion of the south of Japan. The Battle of Okinawa cost the highest number of American causalities in the Pacific Theater. Hubbard had been admitted to an Oakland Hospital, complaining of stomach pains.
In his autobiography, which forms the first part of his book on Dianetics, Hubbard claimed that as a result of the war he had been blinded by injuries to his optic nerves and lame from trauma to his hips, and was a helpless cripple. He cured himself by techniques he would later incorporate into the principles of Dianetics and Scientology.
Hubbard claimed without evidence to be a nuclear physicist, and asserted that he had led expeditions to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, although no records of these forays have ever been found to validate them. In the mid-1940s he collaborated on a “sex magick” book entitled Babalon Working, which was a manual for summoning elementals, especially Thelema, the supreme Thelemite goddess. The Thelemite theology had been created in the early twentieth century by Aleister Crowley. Thelema represented the ideals of will, choice, inclination, desire and pleasure.
Hubbard claimed that he had written The book, which caused everyone who read it to go mad or commit suicide. Though he had confided in friends about writing it, The book was never found, but it acquired mythology status among his followers.
Before Scientology there was Dianetics, the “modern cure of mental health.”
Dianetics taught that the mind had two parts. One was the analytical mind, the center of awareness and the storehouse of all past experiences and perceptions. The reactive mind is the repository of all painful and destructive emotions, and the cause of nightmares, insecurity and fear. Each recorded traumatic experience is comparable to a cell in the body and is called an “engram.” Hubbard devised a process of “auditing” that summoned these engrams to the surface, where they could be “cleansed.”
Though the American Psychological Association determined that Hubbard’s claims concerning the miraculous effects of Dianetics’ principles were unsupported by empirical evidence, the public’s response to Hubbard’s book, Dianetics: the Modern Cure for Mental Health was overwhelming. By 1975, it had sold more than two million copies throughout the world.
Dianetics soon became Scientology. The first church of Scientology opened in New Jersey in 1953. The central principle of Scientology is that the true self of man, called a “thetan,” is an immortal, omniscient and omnipotent deity trapped in a human body. Hubbard designed an “e-meter” that would reveal a person’s innermost thoughts and help to restore his or her original nature and capacities.
The church’s publications declare that because Hubbard had a perfect understanding of human nature, his technology of attaining spiritual freedom and discovering oneself as an immortal being works 100 percent of the time, when properly applied.
Another of the practices of Scientology is a reputed “cure” for drug addiction, a program called the “Purification Rundown.” It is a three-week program comprised of spending eight hours a day in a sauna and consuming massive amounts of vitamins. The medical profession denounced it, though Hubbard thought he deserved a Nobel Prize for it.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Hubbard was a self-appointed “Commodore” on his fleet of ships ordained the Sea Organization (or Sea Org). Sea Org employees signed one-billion-year pledges to demonstrate their commitment.
Hubbard’s sojourn on the sea came to an end when Britain, Spain, Greece and Portugal closed their ports to him. Australia revoked Scientology’s status as a religion. The High Court of France convicted him, in absentia, of fraud. The U.S. named him as an unindicted co-conspirator in an international scheme of infiltration, fraud and theft. Hubbard had come to believe that he was the victim of government suppression, and not without reason. The FBI and Interpol had files on him, and the IRS revoked Scientology’s tax exemption as a religion. The Food and Drug Administration took enforcement action in regard to the pills the Scientology marketed as “radiation cures.”
Hubbard went into seclusion on his ranch near Creston, California, where he died in 1986.
The Sea Org continues as the basis for the third tier of membership, consisting of between 3,000 and 5,000 employees, referred to as “clergy.” The other tiers include public Scientologists (first) and celebrity members (second).
Scientology continues to thrive after Hubbard’s death under the leadership of David Miscavige.
Scientology leadership, particularly Miscavige, is privy to luxurious living. He enjoys a $150,000 stereo system, a private screening room, a tanning bed, a tennis court, numerous cars and motorcycles, a wardrobe that fills a room. Two full-time chefs work all day preparing meals, and full-time stewards to serve them. Food expenses for Miscavige and guests range between $3,000 to $20,000 per week.
Sea Org members live at Gold Base, the place where Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman had stayed in a bungalow with a private rose garden. Sea Org members are paid $50 a week. When they are fined for infractions, the pay can be reduced to 13 or 14 dollars. They are fed meals costing about 75 cents per person. Their lifetime clothing allotment is two pants, two shirts, and a pair of shoes. Anything else they must pay for themselves with their sub-par wages.
They are isolated from family and friends. Few have access to computers. Their personal phone calls are restricted, and even those are monitored. Their mail is inspected, their bank records scrutinized. Those judged to be traitorous are imprisoned in “the Hole,” a double-wide trailer in which up to 40 or 50 people are housed, eating leftovers and being bathed by a cold-water hose. Beatings and forced divorces are also utilized to preserve loyalty. (See “Eyes Wide Shut,” a review of Wright’s book, in the New York Times, January 10, 2013.)
Scientology claims 8 million followers worldwide and reputedly adds 4.4 million new members each year. It has $1 billion in liquid assets, and 12 million square feet of property. Its real estate in the Hollywood area is valued at $400 million.
Leah Remini’s departure is another example of prominent figures breaking with the Church of Scientology. The church’s coercive practices and hypocrisy belie the ambitions of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, that Scientology is the gateway to self-discovery and spiritual freedom.
By: Tom Ukinski