My Road to Disaffection
My estrangement from the Church was a gradual process, but I think I began to have serious second thoughts around 1999 when the Church’s war on the Internet was at its peak. At that time I was privy to some of the activities that the Office of Special Affairs was conducting against Scientology critics who were posting their stuff online. It seemed a little underhanded to me. And I wasn’t convinced it would do any good, perhaps even backfire in some way. I was hardly an Internet geek, but even I could recognize the power and potential of the World Wide Web. But rather than figure out a way to harness that power, the Church chose to fight against it.
The whole thing seemed naïve, incompetent and short-sighted. Whose bad idea was this? I didn’t have a clue, but it made me wonder what other ill-conceived capers the Church might be involved in. Even prior to this, there were a lot of other things going on that seemed counter-productive. Like a lot of other Scientologists at the time, I was getting the sense that all was not well. In his autobiography, Ray Davies, songwriter and leader of the group The Kinks, offered some advice: “When in doubt, trust your paranoia.” It’s not particularly good advice, but in this instance, I took it.
The first thing I did was start investigating on my own. Surely there must be legitimate activity going on among Internet savvy Scientologists. After all, we pride ourselves in being effective communicators, and it stood to reason that there must be all sorts of newsgroups and forums of Scientologists who were engaged in lively discussions on all sorts of interesting topics.
Using a handful of website search engines, I started typing in “Scientology,” to see what would come up. What I found wasn’t unexpected: a number of newsgroups and websites that were critical of Scientology. I was aware of the critics we had. And I was also aware I had entered into dangerous and forbidden territory. But I considered myself an independent thinker and I rejected the notion that I lacked the intelligence and judgement to see what the big deal was all about.
I continued my investigation and entered a brave new world—one that the Church would have no doubt preferred that I not see. I found a peculiar brand of Scientology made up of a chaotic network of critics, dissatisfied members and disaffected ex-Scientologists. Some were still pro-Scientology in whole or in part. Others were rabidly against it. In any case, there was another side to Scientology that the Church had been publicly disavowing for years.
Throughout my Internet investigation, there was one curious factor I’d almost missed. I didn’t find any Scientologists who were still current members in good standing. Where were all the real Scientologists? Other than their official website, the Church of Scientology had virtually no interactive online presence. It made no sense. Of course there were the so called “cookie cutter” web pages that had just begun to appear. But even to an untrained eye, one could see that this was a weak effort to create the illusion that Scientologists were just as active online as everyone else. They were not. In fact Scientologists were often discouraged from surfing the web at all. It was an absurd paradox.
Tory Christman, a long-time Scientologist who worked for the Office of Special Affairs before leaving the Church in 1999, had become an outspoken critic. There were a number of her essays on the internet, as well as some videos where she expressed her views on the current scene in Scientology. One video in particular stood out in my mind. She described her exit from the Church this way: “I hit the wall, just like in the Truman Show”
I remembered the movie well. It was about an unsuspecting man who slowly comes to realize he’s been living his life in a vast and elaborate television studio. In the end, he breaks out of his prefabricated environment and discovers the real world he never knew existed. It was an apt description of what I now seemed to be going through. Maybe all this time I’d been living in someone else’s manufactured world.
I’d always been aware of the criticism the Church received, but I always dismissed it as unjustified or dishonest. The Church was always quick to claim that critics, without exception, had hidden agendas and ulterior motives. The Church insisted these critics were criminally-minded individuals who were dedicated to destroying Scientology. For the most part I accepted this explanation completely—until the day I began to hold critical views of my own. That’s when it dawned on me that there might be some fair and valid criticism the Church wasn’t willing to address.
I spent a year on the Internet, in countless hours of browsing, surfing, and studying “unauthorized” information in hope of getting a complete picture of the Church. It wasn’t pretty. Although I was pretty skeptical in the beginning, the evidence seemed overwhelming—the Church of Scientology wasn’t giving an honest appraisal of their current state and condition. Only one question remained. Where would I go from here?