7 Jul 2008, Comments Off on “If anyone left, you had to view them as dead”

“If anyone left, you had to view them as dead”

Author: Helen

Image with permission by skepchick.org
Image with permission from Skepchick, who also inspires my awe.

Religion and “family values” are often associated in our media and conversation (Focus on the Family, Salt shakers et cetera). But I’ve noticed that the more culty strands of religion or spirituality do more to destroy families than to promote them. Families, like short lived insects in vast colonies, exist only to perpetuate the larger whole. There’s a pernicious feature that seems to pervade the cultiest of them: if you leave the religion, you leave the family.

Some examples from recent news spring to mind: FLDS, the Exclusive Brethren, the Haredi Jewish community. There are many heartbreaking stories of people who have been forced to sever all links with their families after leaving fundamentalist groups.

Scientology is always in the news, at least, in the tabloid news, centred of course on TomKat and Suri and their exploits. Oh, isn’t it weird, what creepy thing is Tom up to now? But what about “ordinary” (I use that word cautiously) scientologists, who aren’t buffered by such wealth and privilege? What happens inside their cultish society, and what happens to them when they decide to leave?

A while ago, I discovered Sabina’s blog, But Mostly Islands. One of the first things I noticed was that she links to many writers who I read and respect. The second was that, wow, this girl can really write. And the third thing? she’s writing about her life as an escapee from a Scientologist community, or “org”.

Here’s a disclaimer now: Yes, I know that on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog. Yes, I am aware of all the fake memoirs out there – JT Leroy, James Frey, Norma Khouri and all the rest. I have to confess that my encounters with splogs have made me suspicious of anything using the Garland template. (How sad is that?) Still, for now, I am choosing to proceed on the assumption that Sabina is real. The details I’ve gleaned by reading other anti-Scientology links certainly back her up.

While celebrity Scientologists may look endearingly wacky, the reverse is the case at ground level, it seems. Institutionalised living at its worst, combined with psychological abuse. Cold, hunger, inadequate or contaminated food, overwork, lack of sleep, ridiculous rules, military-style “musters”, no pay: little different from life as a sweatshop worker. The various components of life as a Scientologist are described in strange acronyms, for which Sabina provides links to a glossary. It’s a whole world.

What makes me angriest, though, is the neglect of the most vulnerable members of a family, the children.

At that time my father was coming to the Base every Saturday afternoon to teach us Sea Org minors math. There was an unspoken agreement all through my time there, that continues to this day and started long before I was born, that education was unimportant. We only take the kids off post for two days a week and school them to keep the authorities off our backs. During my two years of weekend home school, I taught myself calligraphy, sewed a stuffed owl, read everything I possibly could about Belgium (my main resource was the World Book Encyclopaedia and a couple of books from a library in the next suburb), learned some of the traditions and Dreamtime stories from an Indigenous Sea Org member from the Northern Territory, and was given a short overview on how the eye works from the man in charge of the RPF, who was bullied into being our Sunday afternoon science teacher.

None of the three women who were in charge of running the home school at various times were qualified as teachers.

That, and the policy of “disconnection”: breaking up the family where one member has left the group. It seems Sabina’s mother is also on the outside, which is something. But her treatment by her father must really hurt.

Take a while to read through Sabina’s archives; it’s a fascinating account of a sane person in a crazy world, and her writing, as I said, just sings. For someone who had to pretty much educate herself, she’s done a great job.

And people who think we need religion in order to have good “family values” can kiss my… family values.

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