“I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a religion on a basis that has nothing to do with how most practitioners experience it.”Posted by Kenna on January 8th, 2013 – 3 Comments – Posted in Losing Faith, Personal Stories, Scientology the cult
Back in 2008, I wandered into a Scientology building and got the whole tour. A very nice little old Eastern-European lady took me around the building for two or three hours. She was so
sincere and friendly. She couldn’t remember all of the steps to the path to “clear” and she didn’t know the meanings of all of the symbols on the jewlery at the store (the second floor, memebers-only store, mind you) and I doubt she had any clue about Zenu. Probably never would. She just honestly liked her job, liked selling Scientology, and liked the people she worked with. I remember I asked if her family lived in the area. She said no and looked a little distant. I still wonder about her sometimes.
It’s not really useful to ask why someone joins a personality cult. There’s thousands of reasons for joining what appears to be a club or a self-help program; curiosity, family connection, loneliness, etc. The really useful questions are “why would someone stay in a personality cult?” and “why would someone have fond memories of their time in the personality cult?” For Scientology, we assume that they’re under some kind of threat of bodily harm, or we assume that the members are just crazy or stupid. But deep down we know it’s almost always more complicated than that.
Stella Forstner (a guest writer at The Hair Pin) was raised in Scientology, and in a series of six essays from November to December, she sheds light on both of those questions through her personal “deconversion” story. Both of her parents were Scientologists, until her mother finally left the church – and left her father. She and her mother became targets of “Fair Game” and her father became erratic and finally removed himself from her life (but they’ve since reconnected). She’s angry and frustrated at Scientology and no longer considers herself to be a Scientologist. But this kind of story isn’t really new.
What is new is Stella’s wonderfully thoughtful perspective. It’s just a fun read, because she’s so darn self-aware. She takes a lot of trouble to explain the thought process behind Scientologists beliefs, while at the same time, examining how those thought processes have worked their way into her subconscious. It’s unsettling how her old Scientologist thinking seeps into her day-to-day thoughts.
“I’ve never consciously, as an adult, practiced Scientology principles, but it is positively eerie to glance over Scientology materials and find how obvious they seem: Of course your unconscious fears and memories hold you back (reactive mind) — you must triumph over them! For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like there’s a war going on in my head and that I have to fight my way to victory, and I was well into my 20s before I discovered that not everyone thought the self was, or should be, perfectable. ”
On the other hand, she’s pretty pissed at the people who dismiss Scientologists because of the Xenu story.
“I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a religion on a basis that has nothing to do with how most practitioners experience it. There are plenty of reasons to criticize the church based not on what Scientologists believe, but on how these believers are treated by the organization they’ve given so much to.”
It’s all very refreshing. Why SHOULD we critique the Zenu story when we could be focusing on the abuses of the church? Who will the members turn to for help, if they think the outside world is full of people laughing at them?
I’m not going to lie. The real joy of her essay, for me (social sciences nerd here), was her personal story and her struggles trying to navigate the “real world” after her Scientology upbringing. Her relationship with her father, her stabs at romance, her school life are all colored by her time in Scientology. Most people never go through what she went though and it’s rare to have such a detailed and deeply personal explanation of how an ex-cult member (any cult, not just scientology) sees the world. For a social sciences nerd, the details of her story are a dream come true.
“One day not too many years ago I had to ask my mother if “enturbulate,” a term that suggests being so agitated you are unable to do something, was a real word or a Scientology word and damn it, I was enturbulated when she told me it wasn’t. I heard and used the term so frequently growing up that it had come to be linked with an actual and specific psychological state that I felt and experienced as enturbulation. If it wasn’t a real word, did that mean other people didn’t feel it? How could I explain it to them without these shared terms? ”
Cults of Personality:
“It was a bizarre experience to be a first-year Ph.D. student cramming my head full of Chinese history and find strange echoes of my childhood in Cultural Revolution memoirs. It wasn’t that we had Dianetics and the Chinese had their little red books, or that we quoted L. Ron Hubbard and they quoted Mao Zedong — it was how it felt to have one unifying ideology that you weren’t ever allowed to consider incorrect, and how individuals were always made to take the blame when things went wrong, made to search themselves and others for ethical or political treachery against the center.”
The series of 6 essays wrapped up in mid-December. I waited on writing about them because I secretly hoped she’d write another one. They were just so fun to read. The entire series can be found at The Hair Pin.