THIS IS THE REVIEW!
I know you're wondering why I'm shouting at you. I thought it'd be a nice way to start the review after reading this:
"Are you hungry?" Diane asked.
"No," I replied.
"Good," Diane said as she marked my answer on her worksheet. "Are you tired?" she asked next.
"No," I replied.
"Good." She marked this on her worksheet as well. These were the questions that started off every auditing session. "Is there any reason not to start this session?" she asked.
"We're doing a session?" I asked, a little surprised.
"Yeah, the one we just read about in the book."
Diane repeated the question. "Is there any reason not to start the session?"
"I don't think so," I said.
"This is the session!" she said in an unusually loud voice and with a particularly intense stare. The loud tone was exactly what she was supposed to do and how every Scientology session commenced.
That's an example of an auditing session, sort of like Scientology's version of the Voight-Kampff test
as related by author Jenna Miscavige Hill in her memoir Beyond Belief
, or what I like to call Growing Up In Crazyland
While this was not the most strange or frightening episode in the book, it was the first to make me realize that we were going through the looking glass here, into Village of the Damned
I need to be preface this by saying that I'm not judging anyone's metaphysical beliefs. I'm not the religious sort myself and find most religions somewhat screwy anyway, but that's just me. Those sorts of things are private matters, as far as I'm concerned. But the Church of $cientology is quick to label any sort of criticism as bigotry. So, to be clear (no pun intended), I don't intend to criticize anyone's beliefs.
But Hill makes a good point with the title of her book. Scientology goes beyond
simple belief. The entire doctrinal and organizational structure is geared toward an environment in which mind-control and paranoia are pervasive. While Lawrence Wright's excellent Going Clear
provides a fairly comprehensive and even-handed overview of the history of the Church of Scientology and its current state, Hill's story is a far more personal one. Here we get a sense of what it's like to be raised in such an environment in which every aspect of one's life is molded to the ideals of Scientology at the expense of everything else, including family and personal freedom.
Born into Scientology, Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Scientology's diminutive despot David Miscavige, whom she refers to as "Uncle Dave," signed the billion-year contract with the Sea Organization (or "Sea Org," the Church's "clerical" branch) when she was just a kid. The idea of a "billion-year contract" (literally, they mean a billion years!) is nuts enough, let alone having a kid sign a contract that is going to affect the rest of her life. Much of her story reads like a dystopian YA novel, and I'm not saying that as criticism. Hill spent her formative years in the Sea Org. Even the basic experiences of growing up, like basic education, time with family, and meeting boys, were under the control of the Church. Her upbringing was so far out of what most people consider normal that it hardly seems possible in this day and age, but Hill's story isn't a novel, and that makes it all the more disturbing.
Fortunately for Hill, there's a happy ending for her. She and her husband managed to escape the CoS (though not without great difficulty) and are now strong opponents of the Church. Based on the writing alone, which is clearly written and engrossing, even if it is not, perhaps, a literary triumph, I'd give Beyond Belief
three stars. But
I feel that the real value of the book lies in the fact that it brings attention to the Church of Scientology's abuses in a personal and accessible manner and gets an additional star for that.
I find it rather incredible that celebrity Scientologists, who are clearly not exposed to the darker side of Scientology, are not even willing to entertain accusations of the Church's abuses. With the efforts of internet-troublemakers Anonymous and the numerous high-profile defectors from the CoS, I think the public is getting a better idea of the CoS's abuses, but a lot still needs to be done. Jenna Miscavige Hill's Beyond Belief
is an engaging testimony to the destructiveness of the Church and a brave voice for families rent asunder by its practices.