A.B.* has severed ties with Scientology, recently leaving after many years. The former member, who knows the organisation inside out, now wants to help keep people from joining the “totalitarian sect”.
“It’s ingenious how Scientology manipulates people. Even though many of them know something isn’t right, they can’t escape even if they would like to.” But A.B. succeeded. The former member contacted swissinfo.ch after reading a debate between the top Swiss Scientologist and a critic of sects.
“My departure was like many other exits: all of my Scientology acquaintances and friends broke off contact with me. It’s sad that nobody even inquired about the grounds for my departure. As a deserter, you immediately become the enemy.”
A further reason why everyone breaks off contact is probably due to their own fears and unanswered questions about Scientology. “You want to prevent cracks forming in your own foundation.”
‘Bridge to freedom’
Many years ago, A.B. was approached on the street and answered a personality test made up of 200 questions. A.B. was interested in learning about and making use of one’s personal “potential”, and took a first course that was cheap. Other – costlier – courses came next, followed by the expensive auditing, “a form of confession that takes place according to precisely defined procedures”.
“It was clear to me that I had finally found what I had been searching for,” A.B. said. The goal was to climb “this bridge to freedom”, step by step – although it came at a cost.
“One is constantly urged, at times by many people simultaneously, to buy the next service or the next course. The pressure is enormous.”
On the organisation’s advice, A.B. broke off contact with family because they were critical of the sect. “The Church never orders anyone to sever contact, but you are guided by the Hubbard principles into doing so on a voluntary basis.”
Failing to do this could mean that you can’t receive further services, stopping you on the “path to freedom”. “And this is exactly what you don’t want because there is nothing more important in the life of a Scientologist than Scientology. You would rather accept a separation from your family.”
No private life
A.B. talks about “slipping away into a parallel world”, which no longer has anything to do with reality.
“The whole environment changes, and everyone who is against Scientology is eventually left behind. Everything revolves around Scientology: the next course, the next Auditing, how you want to finance it all, and so on. You no longer have a private life. Your whole world would fall apart without Scientology, and that would be a tragedy. Dropping out is virtually impossible of course, because of the fear of suddenly being all alone.”
Another problem is that you become, in time, unfeeling because you believe that you have an explanation or a solution for every problem, according to the former Swiss member.
“Scientologists believe they have everything under control. To show emotion, such as pity, is equated with a loss of control.”
A.B. believed in Scientology’s goals for a long time, but increasingly also questioned the authoritative methods of control and found contradictions. “You can’t transform people into machines, leaving them with no leeway and predetermining everything.”
In addition, the organisation determines explicitly what is good and what is bad. Other opinions are not tolerated.
The former member was also increasingly bothered by the fact that everything revolves around money.
“Church workers stood by the exit at gatherings, urging you in a subtle manner to donate money. In addition, I received eight to ten emails a day, asking for my financial support for projects.”
Everything is fine when you completely align yourself with the organisation, according to A.B. But woe betide you if you wander a bit from the path, for instance flirting with someone when you’re married. Then the friendliness stops. Every Scientologist – although no one would admit it – fears the ‘ethics office’. It tries to figure out why you veered off course and what forbidden deeds are behind your lapse.
In minor cases you must study one or two of Hubbard’s writings again or sign a confirmation to do this or stop doing that. When it comes to more serious offences, you are faced with a security check via the E-meter – a kind of lie detector – or are even threatened with expulsion. The severest punishment is to be declared a “Suppressive Person” or SP.
“If someone is stamped with that label, then all Scientologists will invariably distance themselves from that person.”
A.B. says it’s impossible to conceal crimes from the past. “They even uncover the apple you stole from your neighbour’s garden when you were five.”
A.B. always hid Scientology membership from neighbours and work colleagues because doing otherwise would only cause big problems. There’s the threat of losing your job, along with people distancing themselves.
The ex-member wants to remain anonymous because critics are silenced, using nearly all kinds of methods.
“I’m not a coward, but I’m also not an idiot. Scientology has the necessary means to make life a living hell for former members. You must reckon with being pestered and receiving threatening calls, your garbage being searched, lies spread or your workplace informed.”
A.B. believed for a long time in the lessons of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology: in a higher meaning in life, a world without war and crime, learning how people function and how reason can be applied. This chapter has now been closed.
Having left, the former member now feels free, can choose friends again and no longer needs to hide.
“I am living again, or put another way, I’m learning to once more! It makes me sad sometimes, however, that Scientology’s worthwhile goals are merely pretence. For me, it was a real commitment that was shamelessly abused.”
*Name known to swissinfo.ch
Scientology in Switzerland
Scientology has been active in Switzerland for 40 years. According to the organisation, 300 full-time members look after 5,500 Scientologists in 11 branches. There are five Scientology churches and six missions in Switzerland. In Zurich, there are around 120 full-time members, closely followed by Basel and Lausanne with 70 full-time members each. Next year, a big centre is due to be built in Basel.
The Protestant information centre relinfo.ch estimates the number of active Scientologists in Switzerland to be fewer than 1,000.
‘Enemies are fair game’
Sect expert Hugo Stamm writes:
Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, didn’t tolerate criticism. Enemies were fair game for him and could be destroyed if necessary. He wrote: “We do not find critics of Scientology who do not have criminal pasts.” Hubbard also set up an Office of Special Affairs that can be described as a kind of internal secret service. It is invariably set in motion whenever journalists or members of the sect criticise Scientology’s inhumane methods.
I myself was the target of this department’s investigative activities time and time again. A few examples from a long list: the sect set private detectives on me to spy on my alleged criminal past, thereby making even my bosses doubt me. Scientology organised a demonstration against me that went from city hall to the editorial offices of the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. They carried large signs discrediting me. The sect awarded me the “Award for the Hammer of the Witches” because I was perceived to have persecuted religious minorities. A Scientologist stuck glowing, red skull stickers with my name on Zurich street lamps. In the meantime, the repression has largely stopped because the Zurich Scientologists realise that I won’t be intimidated. Hubbard’s totalitarian spirit, however, still blows through its core.
By Gaby Ochsenbein, swissinfo.ch
(Translated from German by Catherine McLean)