Actress Leah Remini is in the entertainment news this week discussing her decision to leave scientology, and is making waves arguing that criticizing actor and scientologist Tom Cruise, for example, is considered tantamount to at attack on the group itself.
“Being critical of Tom Cruise is being critical of Scientology itself. You are evil,” she said.
Remini, whose memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology will be released next month, isn’t the only detractor of the controversial religion.
Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” released earlier this year, details allegations of abuse, blackmail and questionable financing that have plagued the church for decades.
Gibney holds Scientology’s celebrity followers partially responsible for the church’s disturbing behavior. At a screening of the documentary earlier this year, Gibney called for a denouncement from Cruise.
For those unfamiliar with scientology, it’s a long-running con job begun by failed writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1953 to boost his flagging dianetics Ponzi scheme. It is, as described by investigative journalist Richard Behar, an organization that “is a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.”
People duped into becoming members are initially targeted through the use of mail-in psychological tests to determine the gullibility or emotional vulnerability of the prospective victims. If a prospect is successfully ensnared, he or she is then drawn into an increasingly controlling, cult-like atmosphere that intimidates the victim to the point of sacrificing everything to the organization.
But that’s for lay members. Celebrities and higher profile politicians, however, are given seemingly cushy benefits—successful careers in return for plugging the “religion” at every opportunity. According to Behar:
In Hollywood, Scientology has assembled a star-studded roster of followers by aggressively recruiting and regally pampering them at the church’s “Celebrity Centers,” a chain of clubhouses that offer expensive counseling and career guidance. Adherents include screen idols Tom Cruise and John Travolta, actresses Kirstie Alley, Mimi Rogers, and Anne Archer, Palm Springs mayor and performer Sonny Bono, jazzman Chick Corea and even Nancy Cartwright, the voice of cartoon star Bart Simpson. Rank-and-file members, however, are dealt a less glamorous Scientology.
Many countries have banned scientology as a dangerous cult-like scam outfit, and they’re right to do so. Although many religious institutions including Christianity may also be labeled cults that separate people from their wallets, those at least began as true movements through which followers might find spiritual growth and understanding. Scientology, by contrast, was designed specifically to rip people off.
Harriet Baker learned the hard way about Scientology’s business of selling religion. When Baker, 73, lost her husband to cancer, a Scientologist turned up at her Los Angeles home peddling a $1,300 auditing package to cure her grief. Some $15,000 later, the Scientologists discovered that her house was debt free. They arranged a $45,000 mortgage, which they pressured her to tap for more auditing until Baker’s children helped their mother snap out of her daze. Last June, Baker demanded a $27,000 refund for unused services, prompting two cult members to show up at her door unannounced with an E-meter to interrogate her. Baker never got the money and, financially strapped, was forced to sell her house in September.
Cash-strapped old widows aren’t the only victims. Dentists, doctors, and people from other higher-income professions who’ve been identified as having emotional vulnerabilities can just as easily fall for the scam, and many have. This is done through ties to investment and management firms the offices of which are actually fronts for scientology.
The consequences of leaving the organization and calling baloney on its scam operations are often very costly.
When the creator-writers of the animated television show South Park took aim at Cruise and scientology, member Isaac Hayes—who voiced the popular Chef character on the program—quit it in protest. But that wasn’t the end of it; the organization launched an investigation of series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in an effort to intimidate them. They failed, however, and to this day Parker and Stone continue to ridicule Cruise and the fraud outfit for which he is the most public face.
Still, sooner or later some victims are able to escape the group’s clutches, albeit at great cost. Its army of lawyers stand ready to savage any and all who dare criticize it, promising permanent financial ruin, social ostracizing, and even jail time if they can’t afford to pay damages from lawsuits. What Parker and Stone went through pales in comparison to the damages done to the lives of ordinary people who don’t enjoy the benefits of celebrity or wealth.
Mark Rathburn, a former high-ranking member of the scam outfit, was aggressively sued in retaliation for his going public with its abuses and financial crimes. (Scientology CEO David Miscavige, however, has managed to weasel his way out of testifying in the counter-lawsuit by Rathburn’s wife.)
And there’s the rub: so long as scientology executives are allowed to abuse their vast, ill-gotten financial resources as well as the legal system to bully and destroy their critics, they’ll continue to get away with ripping people off. Scientology isn’t about helping people find spiritual or philosophical enlightenment. It’s about making money.
Somewhere, the ghost of L. Ron Hubbard is laughing at the havoc it caused in life.