“It’s disgusting,” she now says. “It’s completely taking advantage of someone who’s innocent, vulnerable and has no one there to protect them – who really has no idea what they’re signing.”
But for anyone living in the Scientology environment, where excommunicants claim the outside world is depicted as ignorant and threatening, imposing a billion-year contract was perfectly suited to the church’s values.
“We believed that we were spirits called thetans who’d lived lifetime after lifetime and been around billions of years,” Ms. Miscavige Hill says. “So even though your body was young, you’re basically an adult.”
Scientology’s future leaders, she says, were expected to reveal everything about themselves in sessions with superiors and willingly inform on their colleagues’ slightest deviation from the religion’s norms. Early training involved practicing how to stare at a policy statement by L. Ron Hubbard for an hour or enduring two hours of being belittled in a toughening-up exercise of humiliation called Training Routine Bullbait.
Scientology, which began as a self-help movement in the 1950s, teaches its followers to disconnect their mind from their feelings, to react logically rather than emotionally. The aim is to gain control, of self and others, and to block out negative thoughts – Ms. Miscavige Hill’s grandfather, an early convert, credited Hubbard’s teachings about unlimited human potential with making him a top salesman.
But the “crazy, closed world” Jenna Miscavige Hill says she inhabited as she did the laundry for church executives and made beds for visiting Scientologists in church-run hotels was one of restriction, suspicion and mistrust.
Submission to authority was prized. Outbreaks of individuality were treated as ethical violations and individual desires as disruptive signs of selfishness. Questioning and curiosity were regarded as defiant and dangerous. Those who resisted authority and conformity risked being declared a Suppressive Person – an extreme form of demonization that could require other Scientologists, family members included, to cut them out of their lives.
Outsiders, labelled wogs in church parlance, were increasingly finding fault with these manifestations of Scientology as the Internet expanded, but word of their criticisms never penetrated into the Sea Org. universe.
“Within the church, you’re not allowed to have cellphones, the only access to the Internet is in a locked room, and there’s special software that blocks anti-Scientology websites,” Ms. Miscavige Hill says. “So if you have a bad experience, you think you’re the only one who feels that way, you think you must be crazy.”
Because of her relationship with the head of the church, she says, she was sometimes spoiled and pampered, such was the fear of offending her uncle. But as she matured into a friendly, too enthusiastic teenager, she was more closely monitored, making it easier for an unbearable deviation like flirting with male co-workers to be spotted and corrected through demotion and hard labour – her punishments included scrubbing mouldy bathroom grout with a toothbrush.
When her parents, fed up with being mistreated themselves, finally decided to quit the church, their daughter says, she became suspect as well and her loyalty was tested even more. At 18, she was caught having sex with her fiancé in violation of church laws, and was forced to describe every detail of the experience. Such intrusive confessionals are an essential element in the church’s practices, she says, and any admissions of wrongdoing or shameful behaviour are weapons that can later be used against would-be critics.
Eventually, she too, decided she had to leave, and faced the breakup of her marriage when church officials told her husband he would be disconnected from his family of big-donor Scientologists if he joined her. She says she was also told to swear that she would never speak out against the church – each violation would cost her $10,000.
When the church inaugurates its so-called Ideal Org. (i.e. church) in Cambridge, Ont., on Saturday, a building meant to display all that is best about David Miscavige’s visionary leadership, protesters will assemble to dampen the festive spirit.
Negativity is in the air. Scientology’s optimistic plans for an advanced training base northwest of Toronto – which a church publication says will include 50 rooms where members can rid themselves of past-life traumas by being hooked up to a machine called an e-meter and a fully equipped office reserved for the return of L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986 – also attracts online jeers and public protests from ex-Scientologists and their allies.
Former members of the church are skeptical of the need for these new centres and dozens like them that have been built around the world, even as they acknowledge the institutional logic of the growth strategy. “They’re attempting to convince people that they’re expanding simply by acquiring real estate,” says Jefferson Hawkins, a one-time Scientology marketing expert. “They’re showplaces, but they’re largely empty because membership has been declining for many years.”