Original Post Published 9th August 2020.
A common question I am asked nowadays is ‘Are you a Scientologist?’ Many people assume that publishing a neutral book on the subject indicates support of Scientology or its church. Yet in contrast, Scientologists who stumble upon my book nearly always take the opposite position—that I am an ‘anti-Scientologist’.
The circumstances which led me to writing a book on Scientology, as well as my current thinking and stance on the subject, are more nuanced than any sweeping statements.
Born into ideology
I was born and raised in Scientology. My father in particular was very keen on the topic—as keen as they come. My first years of school were in a Scientology institute. I was raised using Scientology principles. By the time I had reached my early teens I was fully immersed in the world of Scientology and I joined its religious order—the Sea Organisation—at 15.
However my time in the Sea Org proved too great a challenge and I returned to live a more regular life within a year. Yet my mind never strayed from the Scientology frame; I was always ‘on’.
Several years later, in my early 20’s, I rejoined the Sea Org. This time I lived and worked there for several years before returning to a more normal life again. Once again my mental frame was not shattered—I was merely disappointed in what I felt were my own failings.
Finally, at 31 years of age, I went back to the Sea Org for another attempt. It would be the undoing (and eventual shattering) of my Scientology mental framework.
In late 2017, during a time of immersive participation in Scientology, a particular technique did not go well and I experienced what could loosely be called a mental breakdown.
During the following months—which stretched out into several years—requests for help to remedy the situation fell on deaf ears. Eventually, after much consideration, I decided I could no longer support an organisation which is unwilling to lend a hand in such unusual circumstances.
Stepping out from one’s ingrained childhood ideology can be hard, especially when it has been such a comprehensive part of one’s life.
The first thing that happens when one expresses any grievance in Scientology, it seems, is those Scientologists around you—who you considered friends, including your closest friends—move away from you with haste. This is a startling experience to live through, particularly as this is when you need your closest relations most.
Jordan Peterson refers to leaving any highly ingrained ideology as ‘you’re in the desert now!’ In my experience there is no more apt analogy. When you lose your fix on your most fundamental thoughts the literal space around you can start to shift. Nothing feels certain and even simple tasks become confusing.
Which direction one takes in a desert is pure guesswork. Luckily I had two guides who proved suited to the task.
My then girlfriend—now my wife—was also born into Scientology. She has a remarkably similar upbringing and shared experiences in the subject. She was there when my mental frame was shattered and, viewing the same circumstances, found her own framework dismantled. Together we started the great task of sifting through a lifetime of thoughts once unquestionable—now all in doubt. Hours—days, weeks and months—were spent reassessing all of our thoughts from the ground up.
A second guide came in the way of my best friend who has never been a Scientologist but is familiar with the subject due to our many years of conversation. He provided a second ear with perspectives which would otherwise been unknown to me—such was my insular approach to life that Scientology was all I knew.
These two guides—my wife and best friend—provided some basic mental stability; enough to stay alive and, eventually, to move forward.
A way forward
As part of finding a way out of the desert I researched Scientology widely.
I paid particular attention to how other people had dealt with similar mental transitions as I was experiencing. Some denounce Scientology. Some quietly move on with a regular life. Others have created podcasts, movies, television shows, books, etc. Others seek counselling services. The list goes on.
I also began reading up on history and philosophy. I felt I had gaps in my education; my knowledge of these fields coming almost exclusively from Scientology.
It was evident that I must take some course of action to rebuild my fractured mind. But which one?
Some methods of moving forward, I noticed, seemed to stick people into a new type of mire. Specifically, giving into malice or hate appeared to have a side effect of the speaker not moving beyond their unfortunate circumstances. I decided that I would not take any path where negativity was prevalent.
I had been working on my writing skills for some years past and it was the best form of expression available to me. Noticing that no books existed on the fundamental philosophical statements of Scientology I decided to write just such a work. I felt this would give me an opportunity to contribute something new to the conversation surrounding Scientology while at the same time providing me with a means of ‘clearing my mind’ (a pun for anyone familiar with Scientology) of the distress it was going through.
Publishing a book
As writing my book on Scientology was also an act of ‘self-help’—in which I had decided to shun malice—the result is a fairly benign work, even in places where it perhaps should not be. But this is also the difference between a private conversation over a drink with friends and a publicly published work—different forums work in different ways and produce different results.
Neutrality also offers an additional benefit to the reader, who is not encouraged to think of the subject in any particular light—something which is missing in much discourse about Scientology. I am pleased with my book and I stand by it, but I could not write it again—too much has changed in life and mind. The book remains a personal snapshot in time.
Am I a Scientologist?
All this raises the question: Am I a Scientologist?
In pouring over my spinning thoughts, back in the desert, it struck me that a major failing of a mind fixated into a single set of ideas is that it thinks in absolute terms—black-or-white, yes-or-no, right-or-wrong. Nuanced thoughts are hard to come by as they threaten the whole show.
As I once possessed an ‘absolute right’ for all things Scientology, to about-face into a new absolute (‘absolute wrong’) would indicate a failure to transition into nuanced thinking. Shifting one’s stance from one extreme to another can be done without changing much at all.
Thus although I no longer consider myself a Scientologist, I acknowledge that I have a solid background in Scientology. I choose to retain any good there may be while throwing out the rest.