Postmortem: Ruthless


I have a history with – or rather, against – the Church of Scientology.

A number of years ago, I started reading about the Church. I forget exactly what sparked it. But I remember my utter fascination at getting a glimpse into what seemed like an alternate reality.

Scientology has some really weird beliefs, sure. But people are entitled to their weird beliefs – myself included. I don’t begrudge them that.

My problem isn’t with the beliefs, nor with individual Scientologists. My problem is with the organization itself.

See, the group that calls itself the Church of Scientology is actually a cult that practices extortion, intimidation, harassment, abuse, and dishonesty on a massive scale, while offering little or nothing in return to the thousands of honest believers who open their checkbooks again, and again, and again.

The Church has a prison camp. I’m not exaggerating or sensationalizing. I mean they literally have a cluster of buildings surrounded by a barbed wire fence, patrolled by guards, monitored by cameras, in which there are Scientologists who desperately want to leave but are physically prevented from doing so, for years. This area, believe it or not, is the Scientology world headquarters – known as Gold Base – in California. You can see it on Google Maps. (The Church, of course, denies this and all other allegations of wrongdoing.)

The Church practices something called “disconnection,” which means that if a Scientologist leaves the Church, any family members who remain are forbidden from having any contact with them. In other words, they break up families, often for many years.

The Church has an internal organization called the Sea Org, whose members are supposed to be 100% dedicated to the Church. Women in the Sea Org who become pregnant are encouraged to have abortions.

I could go on.

And by all means, don’t take my word for it. All the information above is based on numerous reports from many different people who have left the Church over the years. The stories are publicly available and easy to find. Google will tell you whatever you want to know.

So, as I said, the Church of Scientology has been on my radar for a long time. (I even attended some public protests against them back in the day.) So when I saw a book about “Scientology, my son David Miscavige, and me,” naturally I was interested.

David Miscavige, you see, is the hot-tempered, abusive, power-hungry leader of the Church of Scientology. He is the successor to its founder, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986.

I finished reading Ruthless a couple days ago. It was fascinating.

See, no matter how many times I read about the cruelty and insanity of the Church, I’m still amazed all over again each time I read a new account. This one, coming from the father of the Church’s leader, was especially interesting.

He talks about how he got interested in Scientology in the first place, how he got his wife and kids (including David) involved, how the early years were happy and hopeful. Although I don’t think the Church was ever a good organization, it does seem clear that they’ve taken a real nosedive in the past three decades, under David’s leadership.

Ron (the author) talks about joining the aforementioned Sea Org, which is something like a Bizarro version of the Navy. As the years went by, the long hours got ever longer, the days off got less and less common, the pay got lower, the expectations got higher, the rewards evaporated, the punishments got more sadistic, and sleep became an ever more precious commodity.

Eventually, he moved to Gold Base. At first it was just a large, expensive, impressive headquarters for a worldwide organization. But Ron watched as security grew tighter and tighter over time, until it was literally impossible to get permission to leave. Ron said there were stretches lasting years in which he didn’t get a single day off. He says all-nighters were very common, and he once had to stay up more than 80 hours straight finishing a project.

Even the impossible deadlines and insane schedules might have been bearable, had the environment been more positive. But, Ron says, David was an obsessive micromanager and constantly abusive, screaming at people and insulting them and shaming them. Nothing was ever good enough. Lower-level managers picked up his attitude (or else they were removed). And the abuses weren’t just verbal. People were physically hit, or forced to stay in hot rooms for weeks, or shoved into a lake, or even (in one bizarre instance) forced to live in a shack out by a swamp, away from everyone else, for months.

Ron finally got out of this place in 2012. And when he refers to his departure as an “escape,” he is not exaggerating.

I admit that the book’s writing style is not very good, which is odd since Ron evidently had a ghostwriter. The story wanders sometimes, with large chunks that feel sorta irrelevant, and the prose is a little choppy. But those faults are easy to overlook in exchange for the engrossing view it offers into the Bizarro world that is the Church of Scientology.

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