By now, you’d have to be living under a pile of rocks to have missed the recent public backlash against the Church of Scientology. Over the past six years, former high-ranking Scientologists have spoken out in opposition to, and levelled disturbing allegations against, the secretive religion.
Tell-all memoirs, investigative documentaries, and more recently, an entire television series, all claim to reveal the hidden realities of Scientology, from the mouths of those that lived through them. But are these exposés brave works of truth or bitter smear campaigns? The church would definitely argue the latter.
Disgruntled holymen or former henchmen?
If there was ever a turning point in the public perception of Scientology, it was after the release of Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book Going Clear and its 2015 cinematic counterpart of the same name. For the first time, Scientology’s core belief system, its inner workings, and the alleged horror stories experienced by its most recognisable dissenters were unfurled for all to judge.
The most famous of these dissenters is Paul Haggis, Oscar-winning director of Crash (2004). Haggis spoke of Scientology’s initial appeal as a means of self-actualisation, but as he rose up the ranks and learned, he says, that the church’s core doctrine involved spaceships and galactic overlords, his faith waned and he penned a now-famous letter announcing his departure. The church argued that Haggis’ career was freefalling and that he repeatedly used anti-Scientological sentiments to gain publicity.
Perhaps the most memorable of Going Clear’s whistleblowers is the Australian former senior executive (essentially the PR man) of Scientology, Mike Rinder. Rinder’s claims include that he was tasked with lying and harassment in order to “silence critics”, and he alleges that he witnessed and received physical abuse and even torture at the hands of David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology. Since then, Rinder has joined Leah Remini as co-host of Scientology and the Aftermath (see below), and maintained an online anti-Scientology watercooler. After appearing on TimesTalk, Rinder claims to have received an abusive email from Scientology’s brass that included the following:
“what DOES LRH think? Would he side with you if he was here? Reinstate you? No, Rinder. He’d cut your f***in balls off and hang them from a tree. Something I would LOVE to do. And I mean, actually do. Unfortunately, its illegal in this country.”
According to The Atlantic, the church has denied responsibility for the email and called his accusations “false” and “over the top”.
Leah’s leading charge
Currently, there is no more vocal or dedicated opponent of the church than Leah Remini. The former sitcom star has wielded her lapsed membership with arguably the most force, going beyond mere whistleblowing to create Scientology and the Aftermath, an ongoing television series that aims to myth-bust the powerful organisation. The church has fired back saying Remini is a “spoiled entitled diva” who’s compensated for her unmet wish to remain a Scientologist with “revisionist history”.
Remini’s show devotes each episode to explaining everything there is to know about Scientology – through a detailed assessment of its doctrine to interviews with former members. Since then, she has spoken of relentless harassment at the hands of the church:"Members go to my mother's restaurant, confront my little sister, and my step kids in San Francisco, trying to intimidate us”, while Scientology supporters maintain she is “inspiring others to hate”.
Travolta’s friend and Miscavige’s father
Yvonne “Spanky” Taylor, the former Scientologist who says she became good friends with John Travolta after being assigned as his contact point in his early days with the organisation, was one of the first to speak out against the church’s various ‘prisons’. A once-devout member of Scientology’s clergy, the Sea Organisation, Spanky alleges that her eventual doubts were treated through a stint at the church’s Rehabilitation Project Force (RPH), where she and others were apparently forced to scrub and sand surfaces for 20 hours a day and live on the food scraps of those held in higher regard.
If these accusations of a kind of prison for adults were disturbing, Spanky’s account of the Cadet Org. — the organisation for children — was worse. Spanky claims that after witnessing her own baby daughter neglected in a “urine-soaked crib”, with eyes so caked-over with mucous that they were “welded shut”, she took her daughter and escaped from the church. Scientology has since claimed that Spanky is a mere “celebrity sycophant” who likes to invent stories.
Another former Scientologist with close ties to its top brass is Ronald Miscavige, father to Scientology leader David Miscavige. Ron, a Scientologist for 40 years, is the last person you’d expect to speak out against an organisation run by his own son, but speak out he has. In addition to his fascinating long-form interview on The Joe Rogan Experience, Miscavige senior has penned a scathing book entitled ‘Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me’. Spokespeople for Scientology have labelled Ron’s new perspective as a mere cash-grab – an attempt to capitalise on his son’s fame.
Decide for yourself as Scientology and the Aftermath continues Tuesdays 9:30pm on SBS VICELAND. Catch up on episodes so far via SBS On Demand.