I spend a lot of time talking about the question of apostasy with Rinder and Davis. Both feel the church has been miscast. "Somewhere there is a concept that we hold strings over all these people and control them," says Rinder. But provided you don't denounce Scientology, it's perfectly fine to leave the church, he says. "Whatever, What's true for you is true for you." Nothing will happen to those who lose their faith, he says, unless they "tell bald-faced lies to malign and libel the organization — unless they make it seem like something it isn't."
Paul James is not this twenty-two-year-old man's real name. He is the son of established Scientologists, blond and blue-eyed, with the easy smile and chiseled good looks of a young Matt Damon. He has had no contact with the church since he was seventeen. "I honestly don't know how people can live psychotically happy all the time," Paul tells me cover coffee one afternoon at his small, tidy house outside Los Angeles, "Or thinking that they're happy," he adds with a grin. "I'm talking about that fake-happiness thing that people make themselves believe."
Like Natalie, Paul was educated by Scientology tutors, sent to Scientologist-run private schools and put "on course" at his church. Unlike her, he hated it. "I never found anything in Scientology that had to do with spiritual enlightenment," he says. "As soon as common sense started hitting me" — around the age often — "it creeped me out."
Though there are a significant number of second-generation Scientologists who, like Natalie, are devoted to the church, there are also kids like Paul. This, says the University of Alberta's Stephen Kent, is to be expected. One "unanticipated consequence" of the widespread conversions of young people to sects like Scientology in the 1960s and 1970s, Kent says, has been a "wave" of defections of these members' adult children.
A fundamental element of Scientology is that children are often regarded as small adults — "big thetans in little bodies," as some parents call them. Paul's parents worked eighteen-hour days for the church, he says, and generally left him and his older brother to their own devices. "My brother was baby-sitting me by himself when he was eleven years old," Paul says. When his brother went off with his friends, "I'd get home from school and be wandering around the [apartment] complex."
Paul's school was no more structured, he says. Students were encouraged to work at their own pace on subjects of their choosing, and, according to Paul, received little guidance from teachers, who are called "supervisors." I found this to be true at the Delphi Academy in Lake View Terrace, California, part of a network of elite schools that use Hubbard's study technology. Maggie Reinhart, Delphi's director, says that this technique forces a student to take an active role in his education. A number of Scientology kids have thrived in this environment. Others, like Paul, felt lost. "I just kind of roamed from classroom to classroom and nobody cared," he says. At Delphi, I saw teachers assisting certain students, but there was no generalized "teaching," no class discussions.
Discussion, as some academics like Kent note, isn't encouraged in Scientology, nor in Scientology-oriented schools. It is seen as running counter to the teachings of Scientology, which are absolute. Thus, debate is relegated to those in the world of "Wogs" — what Scientologists call non-Scientologists. Or, as Hubbard described them, "common, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety humanoid[s]."
Paul met very few Wogs growing up, and those he did know often didn't understand him. Scientology has its own unique lexicon. "It's kind of like being a French Canadian," Paul explains. "You speak one thing out in the world and another thing at home."
Many kids who've grown up in Scientology describe it as Natalie did: "a bubble" that exists in tandem with the mainstream world. "It's impossible to understand it unless you've lived it," says Paul.
Even when you've lived it, as one young woman notes, it's hard to fully understand. This twenty-two-year-old, whom we'll call Sara, left Scientology in high school. After leaving, she and a friend who quit with her sat down with a dictionary. "We looked up all the words we used [because] we didn't know if we were speaking English or not," she says.
Hubbard created Scientology's language to be unique to its members. It includes words that are interpretations, or variations, of standard terms: "isness," for example, which Scientology's glossaries say, in essence, means "reality." But there are also words that are wholly made up, such as "obnosis," which means "observation of the obvious."
The chaotic world, as one might call it in the mainstream, is, in Scientology, "enturbulated," which means "agitated and disturbed." To correct, or solve, personal or societal problems requires the proper application of "ethics," which in Scientology refers to one's moral choices, as well as to a distinct moral system. Those who conduct themselves correctly have their ethics "in." Those who misbehave are "outethics." A person's harmful or negative acts are known as "overts." Covering them up is known as a "withhold."
All of these terms, and many more, are contained in a number of Scientology dictionaries, all written by Hubbard. Scientologists consider word comprehension and vocabulary skills to be essential parts of their faith.
The Hubbard Study Technology is administered in schools through an organization called "Applied Scholastics"; it emphasizes looking up any unknown or "misunderstood" word in a dictionary, and never skipping past a word you don't understand. This same study method is used in church, where adults of all ages and levels of advancement spend hours poring over dictionaries and course manuals.
One key word is "gradient," which is defined in the official Scientology and Dianetics glossary as "a gradual approach to something, taken step by step, level by level, each step or level being, of itself, easily surmountable so that, finally, quite complicated and difficult activities or high states of being can be achieved with relative ease." This principle, the glossary notes, "is applied to both Scientology processing and training."
Another key belief is "communication." One of Scientology's basic courses is "Success Through Communication," taught to young people and adults. It involves a series of drills, known as "training routines," or "TRs." One drill asks students to close their eyes and simply sit, sometimes for hours. Another asks them to stare at a partner, immobile. A third requires students to mock, joke with or otherwise verbally engage their partner. The partner must passively receive these comments without moving or saying a word.
These drills, Scientologists say, help improve what they call their "confront," which in Scientology's lexicon means "the ability to be there comfortably and perceive." A fourth drill requires students to pose a series of questions to one another, such as "Do fish swim?" Their partner may respond in any way they like, with the question being asked repeatedly until the partner answers correctly. Sara's favorite drill involved an ashtray: "You tell it to stand up, sit down, and you 'move' the ashtray for hours. You're supposed to be beaming your intention into the ashtray, and the supervisor is going to tell you if you're intent enough."
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