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Where the Outside World Gets Scientology Wrong

Grace Aaron: It's a shame that people who write about 'cults' don't reach out to 'cult' members more often. It takes a lot of skill to psychoanalyze people without ever talking to them.

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First, let me say that to my knowledge most of the criticisms of Scientology abuses are appropriate and needed. I don't think the abuses are justified. I do not support the way Scientology is being run currently.

That said, in my opinion the press coverage of Scientology omits the things that are valid and beneficial about the subject.

I was expelled from the Church in 2000 for writing polite reports detailing what I felt were gross violations of the tenets of Scientology in changes made to some of the courses. I didn't make the reports public. They were all sent to staff members in various positions in Scientology organizations. I was expelled because of these reports.

My older son, Zachary, was involved with Scientology at that time. He decided, to my surprise, to 'disconnect' from me after I was kicked out. Except for rare and very short conversations, he has not spoken to me, my husband or our younger son in 15 years. He told us back in 2000 that the Church gave him 72 hours to completely sever all ties with us or he would be expelled also. I miss Zack very much and feel our family has been harmed by this Scientology practice of disconnection.

I personally know of many people who have been shunned by friends and family members because of Scientology.

OK, so that's my story. If you are interested you can find out more on our website.

Did I join Scientology because I was a poor lost soul, incapable of living without a group to prop me up?

No, I didn't get into Scientology because I was dysfunctional, troubled, or needy. I haven't found that to be why most people I know got involved. I was a college graduate when I got into Scientology. I had a job. I wasn't on drugs. I wasn't broken or lonely or lost. Many of the people I worked with at the Scientology New York Organization in the early 1970s were also college graduates. By and large, they were very literate and functional. I got involved in the days of hippies (I was one) and counterculture. We called Scientology centers 'orgs', by the way. Short for organization. That sounded very Star Trek to me back then. Anyway, Billy Joel's song 'Movin' Out' struck a chord with me.

Anthony works in the grocery store
Savin' his pennies for some day
Mama Leone left a note on the door,
She said,
"Sonny, move out to the country."

Oh but workin' too hard can give you a heart attack
You oughta know by now
Who needs a house out in Hackensack?
Is that all you get for your money?

And it seems such a waste of time
If that's what it's all about
Mama, if that's movin' up then I'm movin' out.

There had to be more in life than mundane body maintenance. The shut up and go along with the Ozzie and Harriet model of life didn't appeal to me. I protested the Vietnam War, but activism alone wasn't enough. I wanted more than doing good and being a happy drone in a culture that was spinning out of control. I felt trapped in day-to-day life and yearned for spiritual awareness.

Before I got involved with Scientology I studied Eastern philosophy, extrasensory perception, meditation, reincarnation, and so forth. I was interested in Scientology, also, because I wanted to find a spiritual path that wasn't deadly boring. Scientology fit me. The more I read and studied it, the more fulfilled I felt.

Aren't I just a brainwashed, suggestible, weak, and gullible person?

I must be, right? That's what many journalists say about Scientologists. And no doubt it's true in some cases. Hardly anyone who knows me, my husband or any of our Scientology friends would say that about us, though. Quite to the contrary.

Hey, I'm 68 years old, have run several nonprofits, have raised two kids, and kept a marriage going for over 40 years. We're doing well financially and lead what I consider a useful and full life. I spoke out quite forcefully within Scientology to protest internal abuses. I was always outspoken and vocal when I was in the Church and protested to friends and people on staff about one thing or another for over 30 years.

Yes, it did eventually get me kicked out. But I didn't all of a sudden 'see the light'. It's only been the last 20 years or so that Scientology has kicked out huge numbers of people. It did happen back in the '60s and '70s, but it was rare.

Around 1982 there was an internal revolt and a purge resulted in around 500 Scientology 'mission' staff being expelled at one time. Then many other Scientologists left and were shunned by those who stayed in.

But back to what I was saying. I have known a lot of very irreverent Scientologists. Much of my experience was in New York, so cynicism and sarcasm was a given. For example, In 1973 or 1974, my husband sang a song in a musical revue that was a very funny parody of Scientology. It was composed, directed, acted, and sung by Scientologists, for Scientologists. In fact, it was performed at the NY Org and most of the public and staff saw it and enjoyed it.

The songs were from Broadway musicals but with different words. One was from 'Show Boat'. The altered lyrics were, 'fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I'll be on this TR til I die..' (TR is short for Training Regimen, basically a drill a student does.) No one was reprimanded in those days for being funny. Of course, in the last couple of decades humor has become verboten in Scientology and free speech has gone by the wayside. But that's more because of the management than the subject itself, in my humble opinion.

Completely separate from the subject of Scientology, my husband and I have also spoken out, sometimes in ways that were risky, about numerous issues like nuclear weapons, nuclear power, human rights abuses in China and other places. If you still think we're robots, look at some of our videos on our website.

It's a shame that people who write about 'cults' don't reach out to 'cult' members more often. It takes a lot of skill to psychoanalyze people without ever talking to them.

It's a shame that people who write about 'cults' don't reach out to 'cult' members more often. It takes a lot of skill to psychoanalyze people without ever talking to them.

So what's good about Scientology?

Personally, I have found Scientology useful. I haven't had very much involvement with any Scientology organization or group, inside or outside the 'Church', for about 30 years. Yet I find myself using different parts of Scientology often. For example, I learned to correct myself early on in Scientology. If I feel a little uneasy about a conversation with a friend or the way I have handled something in my life, I'll take the time to review it, spot the error or errors I made, figure out how to correct them and then go about fixing them. Many of the Scientology 'life hacks' I often use are just simple common sense. But I've found that common sense isn't all that common. Anyway, I learned them in Scientology. I find them to be of value.

Next, Scientology is anti-drug. Scientology has helped many people get off drugs and discourages drug use except for medical reasons. Many parents have sent their kids to Scientology schools as a safe haven away from schools and environments where there was high drug use. I'm not sure they do so any longer as teenagers are heavily recruited to join the Scientology Sea Organization and many parents think that this may turn out to be just as risky.

Ken and I sent our kids to public schools. Getting them a decent education was quite a trick in Los Angeles Unified Schools. Zack (our 36-year-old 'kid' who doesn't talk to us) got a decent education. Number 2 son, Johnny, graduated from UCLA a few years ago. We considered that as parents one of our main jobs was to raise our kids to think for themselves. We believe in that strongly. That also happens to be a basic Scientology principle, even though current Scientology leaders are trying to suppress free thought. Oh, well.

It is widely known that it can help to have someone to talk to if you have problems you can't seem to resolve on your own. Scientology courses encourage listening, including being willing to listen without interruption to another person's troubles. Many, many Scientologists (whether in good standing in the Church or not) feel that the beginning courses that teach effective communication techniques have benefited them.

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I have to qualify this, however. Scientology courses in the official Church have been changed and the environment is sometimes so negative that the positive aspects of the subject either don't exist or may be buried by the negative aspects. I would no longer suggest doing a service at one of these centers. Sometimes I do suggest that people read Scientology books or learn more about the subject from independent practitioners of Scientology. In my experience Scientology always had its negatives. But in the 'early days' ('70s and '80s) the positive outweighed the negative, at least for me. However, I have to admit that I have friends who say their experience even in the early days was more negative than positive.

Another example is to evaluate the worth of an activity based on its effect on oneself, one's family, group, mankind, the environment. In other words, it's wise to contribute to activities most beneficial in a broad sense. Not just for the moment but through time. This is a basic principle of Scientology. A rough paraphrase would be: 'the greatest good for the greatest number'. Sadly, this concept has at times been misused. But what human idea hasn't?

If I have trouble with a person or activity I go back to when things were going smoothly in that sphere. Then I try to recall what happened just after that and usually I'll find the wrong turn I took. After counseling literally hundreds of people, I've noticed that most look at the problem they're in but fail to look at how they got there. The easy exercise of looking just a bit earlier often straightens things out. I recall 'debugging' someone once. He was sick and confused on a course. He kept trying to find out what was wrong about the course. I asked him a few questions and it turned out that he had had oral surgery just before he got jammed up. As soon as he spotted that he felt some relief. He knew what he needed to do to get better.

One of the most useful things I've learned in Scientology is to care enough about another person to listen to them without putting most of my attention on what I'm going to say next.

One of the most useful things I've learned in Scientology is to care enough about another person to listen to them without putting most of my attention on what I'm going to say next. If you just listen and give another person your full attention you are giving them yourself.

Another thing I learned is that interest is more valuable than attention. Being truly interested in other people enriches one's life. Believe it or not, I have found that you can do drills to increase your ability to listen, to be interested in things and to control your thoughts. I think we all go through terrible periods when our mind seems out of control. Terrible thoughts that make no sense seem to attack you relentlessly. Utilizing techniques to focus your attention on more positive thoughts as well as communicating with physical things and nature can sometimes do a lot to help calm down this phenomena.

My husband and I have been together for over 40 years. We've had our ups and downs. We try to resolve upsets before going to sleep. Within reason, of course. This is in one of the Scientology marriage ceremonies. In other words, we try to resolve disputes and not let them fester. Another concept that has worked much of the time is a technique for children. If they're acting up, 'feed them and put them to bed'. I found this also works pretty well when applied to husbands.

Most Scientologists are appreciative of the subject because of its deep reservoir of spiritual knowledge. I became a Scientology counselor pretty quickly. One of the things I did as a counselor was to guide people through very simple memory exercises. And, guess what? In my experience, these exercises improve one's memory. In fact, eventually many people begin to recall past lives. Yes, that's right. Scientologists don't believe in past lives, they remember them. I found that very, very valuable.

But Wasn't Hubbard a Lunatic?

Articles critical of Scientology often quote the crazier things Hubbard said. And he was eccentric. However, having listened to some of the lectures the quotes are taken from I can tell you that he had a wry sense of humor and everything he said shouldn't be taken literally.

But what about other quotes that the critics don't mention? The man was brilliant! I have been an anti-nuclear activist on and off for over 40 years. Hubbard came out against nukes back in 1950. He never wavered from that position. If you're interested, read "All About Radiation". In it he predicted terrorism as the natural outgrowth of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. In 1950!!! He also pointed out the folly of creating weapons without creating antidotes to the harm done by them. Why create a trap without also creating a key so you can get out of it if you fall victim to it yourself? But, he pointed out, over and over traps are created without escape routes.

Getting Scientology Wrong

L. Ron Hubbard

When you are involved with Scientology you read books written by Hubbard, listen to lectures he gave, and do courses he developed. I have listened to at least a few hundred Hubbard lectures. Each one is unique. Hubbard rarely covered the same ground twice. When critics try to ascribe monetary and other base motivations to the man, they ring false to me because it was very clear that he worked very hard writing Scientology materials and running the organizations. I'm sure he was rich way back in the '50s. If his motivation was money and the good life, surely he would have taken the dough and spent the rest of his life on a beach somewhere. But he didn't. He was a workaholic. He himself was very dedicated to Scientology.

As a Scientologist, I rarely heard the salacious information about Hubbard that critics have gathered. I heard about some of it, but it never occurred to me that Hubbard was a god. He didn't pretend to be perfect. He never dwelt on himself in his lectures. He rarely bragged or puffed himself up. Most Scientologists would have liked to have seen him at big public events.

I remember going to a huge Scientology convention back around 1970 or 1971 in Long Beach. There were about 2,000 people there. We were hoping that Hubbard would be there. But he wasn't. It was interesting because his father was there. I think he had been somewhat estranged from his father. Also, his daughter, Diana, was there. She played the piano. Hubbard never showed up at any Scientology public event, to my knowledge, from 1970 onward. He didn't grandstand.

Critics portray Hubbard as being crazy. He didn't act crazy. At least not that 99.99% of Scientologists ever knew about. It was obvious from the new writings he would put out all the time that he was very functional. I do concede that a lot of the activities of the Guardian's Office back in the 1970s were crazy. I'm now pretty sure Hubbard knew about a lot of it.

But when these things were going on, Scientologists never knew about his direct involvement. In fact, very few people had knowledge of the much written about 'cloak and dagger' activities of the 'G.O.' When we heard about what was going on after the raid in 1976, we mostly thought it was the work of Jane Kember or Mary Sue Hubbard. Dealing with the 'dirty work' was left to them. That may be untrue, but it seemed logical to most Scientologists, including staff, at the time. Most Scientologists respected Hubbard and trusted his judgement. Maybe that trust was misplaced. But here was a man who had formed a large international network of organizations that were expanding like crazy in the '70s. Would your garden variety lunatic be able to do that? AND be able to run a mini CIA at the same time?

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Scientology bankrolled investigative reporting that was mostly published in 'Freedom Magazine'. That magazine still exists but it is now a very weak shadow of its former self. You have to realize, this was the '70s and '80s. Most of my contemporaries thought MLK was assassinated by Hoover and JFK was knocked off by some cabal in the government. In fact, one poll showed that only 20% to 30% of the U.S. population thought Oswald acted alone. And what about RFK and Malcolm X?

Anyway, Freedom magazine broke stories about how our very own government conducted biological warfare experiments in the New York subways, was investigating with hallucinogenic substances to see if they could be used by U.S. agents to make heads of state or influential people in other countries appear to be crazy, and all kinds of other interesting information.

Years later I did came across data that validated a lot of this reporting. Anyway, it didn't seem so unreal at the time that Hubbard might have pissed off people in various spy agencies enough to make them a threat to him. At the New York organization, every once in a while a 'plant' would be sent into the building. Hubbard had written a policy about this. He said that psychiatrists would 'program' insane people and get them to go into a Scientology organization and then 'flip out' (a phrase of the time). They'd start yelling and screaming and acting crazy.

This happened a number of times when I was on staff. Some executive would shout 'bring order' and a bunch of staff members would go over to the person and escort them out. It was a pretty common occurrence back then. It seemed to stop around 1973, I think. Don't forget, this was the time of the Vietnam War. You know, Cointelpro, Kent State and so on.

Maybe Hubbard was paranoid. But not uber paranoid. Hubbard might have gotten death threats. I don't know. But if he had, wouldn't he have been wise to be cautious and wary? Was MLK paranoid? Malcolm X? They both thought they'd be assassinated. Well, do you think there was no government involvement whatsoever in any of those assassinations?

I worked as a 'Letter Registrar' at the New York Organization back in 1970. I would write letters to people who had expressed an interest in Scientology or done a course. Files were kept of all correspondence. Some time in the 1960s the letter files from the Washington, D.C. organization were sent to New York. Hubbard had been the head of the D.C. church in the early '60s.

Once in a while I would read a letter Hubbard had written to someone. They were interesting. I got to know another side of the man from those letters. I recall a letter he wrote to a prominent Buddhist whom he had met and became friends with at a conference they both attended in South America. He mentioned that a child in Germany had recalled being John F. Kennedy and he hoped that that news would awaken curiosity in the western world about reincarnation.

Scientology is a very vast subject. There are Scientologists who have studied only the counseling aspect of it. There are others who have studied mostly Scientology organizational management books. Others have focused on lectures Hubbard gave on the principles of study. Because it is not just a couple of lectures or a couple of techniques or principles the experience in Scientology can vary greatly from individual to individual. There are different eras in Scientology. Scientology of the '50s was different from that of the '60s and so on. The public Scientology experience is very, very different from the staff experience.

Hubbard wrote volumes and volumes. He gave literally thousands of speeches. If you do enough research you can find a Hubbard quote that's the opposite of another quote. Most seasoned Scientologists learn to use the senior tenet of Scientology which is to do what gets the best result and not use things in Scientology that don't make sense. But I'm not sure that Scientologists currently in the Church would agree. For much of Hubbard's life, someone walked behind him and audiotaped everything he said. Think about that. If someone taped everything you said, would you want to be held to every word? So critics have a field day.

I would never excuse all of Hubbard's words or actions. There are things to criticize. But I would suggest that anyone who criticize Scientology look at the positive aspects of the subject as well as the negative. I would make this suggestion to Scientology higher ups as well.

There is a particular Scientology policy that should still be in force. It was published on February 24, 1969 and is called "An Ethics Policy Letter - Justice". At the very end it lists the major failures in justice systems. The last one mentioned is "does not weigh the value of a person in general against the alleged crime even when proven". I have done my own weighing and it is my opinion that the subject and philosophy of Scientology has more value than the combined weight of all of its crimes. However, I could not say the same about the current management of the Church.

But even if Hubbard were a lunatic or worse, would that invalidate all of Scientology? Of course not! If I found out that Thomas Edison was a pedophile who liked to eat infants I would still turn on my electric lights! I might have thought less of Clinton after the Lewinsky revelations, but I wouldn't judge his presidency based on that alone. And neither did the American people. He exited the Oval Office with a lofty approval rating of 65%.

Hubbard himself discouraged communication with the media. Scientologists who are still in good standing with the Church are probably afraid that they'll be punished if they speak with the press. I know I had that fear at one time. However, there are many Scientologists who have left the Church but still value Scientology to a greater or lesser degree. They can provide a wealth of insight. The media should seek out these people if they want to do balanced reporting.

Getting Scientology Wrong

Grace Aaron