what will we do without really good exposés of cults and such, like a recent shredding of the Church of Scientology?
Aside from skimming the occasional story about Scientology’s hold on celebrities or following the campaign of the civic protest group Anonymous, I really don’t pay a lot of attention to the day-to-day workings of the Church of Scientology.
A recent three-part expose of the Church of Scientology’s leaders, including its head, David Miscavige, caught my attention. The piece, published last month in the St. Petersburg Times, points to a long history of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse codified in the tenets of very religion itself. Members of the church are pressured to confess, in writing, all transgressions, and these documents are held in order to be used against defectors. According to the piece, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard
wrote a policy stating that a person leaves as a kind of noble gesture when he can’t help himself from injuring the church. To justify leaving, Hubbard believed, the person thinks up bad things to say about the church.
Anyone who leaves has committed “overts” (harmful acts) against the church and is withholding them. The church is obligated to make such people come clean, Hubbard said, because withholding overts against Scientology can lead to suicide or death by disease. They must write down their transgressions to remain in good standing when they leave.
The story hinges on the word of four former executives in the Church of Scientology, all of whom paint a picture of extreme dysfunction (regular beatings, cruel and avaricious deceits, and the death of one emotionally troubled young woman while in the care of the notoriously anti-psychiatry church) and all of whom have suffered ongoing smear campaigns in an effort to discredit their accusations and their motives. The campaign, like so much of what this particular religion sets its mind to, is incredibly run–so well run, in fact, that though I’m predisposed toward suspicion of organized religion and especially cults like the Church of Scientology, I still wonder about the veracity of the defectors’ accounts.
Particulars aside, this series is about as thorough, intricate, and detailed as you can get. It’s the product of countless interviews and weeks of poring over legal documents, transcripts, and complicated news reports. The journalists, Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin, have done fine work that represents the best of the journalistic profession.
It’s one thing we’re likely to lose, at least for a good while, as the profession continues its steady decline. Citizen journalism is good for an awful lot, but it can’t offer up a detached, professional, and multi-perspectival story like this. At least, if it can, I haven’t yet come across a good example. I hope someone out there can prove me wrong.