Lawrence Wright has a new book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief that I picked up (ok, downloaded) last week. I've been wondering about why I find this so-called religion so fascinating and I think in part it has to do with my 2 year (and would have been longer if a friend's mother hadn't intervened) involvement in Landmark Education, formerly known as Est, which has its foundation in Scientology. I see myself, or at any rate, my past self, before I began to use my critical brain, in the people that get involved.
I grew up in a Mennonite home. Both my parents were born Amish, my mother's family converted to Conservative Mennonite when she was young (my grandfather wanted a tractor for his farm), and my father converted to Conservative Mennonite when he was 18. After my parents married, they switched to Mennonite, which was less strict. It's a basic, run of the mill Christian religion, emphasis on mission work and helping the poor. The men registered as CO for drafts (my father served as an orderly in a hospital during the Korean War), the women were encouraged to dress plain. Fire and brimstone was preached. Dancing was not allowed. Non-conformity was not encouraged. The area that I grew up in was overrun with mostly Mennos, Amish, and ConMennos-insular and unforgiving of anyone who might be different. Gossip was rampant.
Guess who was different.
Because of the hypocrisy, when I went to college I hardly ever returned. My membership lapsed (I had been baptized at 13). But I was still haunted by fear, mostly of the apocalypse to come (I can remember driving home with my eye on the full moon, checking if it began to turn red with blood). I still had nightmares of looking out my window and seeing a landscape of nothing but fire. I tried out all sorts of beliefs, especially of the New Age variety. Shirley McClain, Carlos Casteneta, etc-all read and devoured. I had never heard of Scientology until one day someone had left Dianetics at the radio station I volunteered at. A friend who was there threw it in the garbage, saying something along the lines of it being a cult started by a science fiction writer. End of story. After I moved to Minneapolis, I remember walking past the Scientology office downtown, and thinking "cult". Someone was usually outside handing out material. I always said no. Cause it's a cult.
So then why didn't I use the same sort of mental check when it came to Landmark? I knew-they told us-that Werner Ernhart who started it had been involved in Scientology. But they also told us that the allegations were unfounded that he had stole the idea from them. I trusted my friend who introduced me to it, and I trusted them. But the more I read now about Scientology, the more it sounds like Landmark (without the beatings from the leader or the forced labor camps). The invented language for use among the initiated, the classes, the advanced classes, the pressure to advance and spend money even when you can't afford it.
I think what really gets to me, reading this new book, is the thought that it could have been me. What did I do when I couldn't afford a class, but still wanted to be involved in the world of Landmark? Volunteered. What do Scientologists do who want to be involved but don't have money? Sign a billion-year contract in SeaOrg. I know on the face of it, that doesn't sound the same, but if I had been in that same situation in Scientology instead of Landmark, I could see that I would have been persuaded to sign over my life. I was so desperate for answers, for a clear path to my life. Landmark was such a high-it seemed to open up so many previously unthinkable possibilities. I know why people get addicted to these types of organizations. I've been there. And coming out of it was about a year of horrid directionless near-depression. Thank goodness for my friend's mother and the invention of the internet and Michael Shermer and James Randi and Carl Sagan and all the other authors that helped me begin the process of thinking for myself.
I see myself in these wretched people who sign away their lives and are given nothing for it and it breaks my heart. There, but for the grace of chance, go I.
At any rate, read the book. Wright did a piece for The New Yorker last year about Paul Haggis and his experiences in Scientology that was very in depth. This book is a further exploration into Scientology from the beginning. His writing is unbiased from what I can see so far (I'm about halfway through). It's given my brain a lot to chew on.
Thanks for letting me share.
It is a myth that Est, had/has any foundation in Scientology, and that myth is commonly regurgitated on the internet because it is so hard to fact check things like this and many people use the same sources that include the mistaken understanding.
In fact, very early in his career, and seeking an education, Werner Erhard was known for taking every single course or training or new age thing that was available at that time in California which included exposure to dozens of thought and self improvement programs on the scene at the time, which included some Dianetics courses. Erhard had the type of interest and passion for learning that he mined benefit from every single thing he encountered, including dianetics, which at the time he thought was useful at the time. But as he did with every single new thing he tried, he quickly left dianetics behind and moved onto the next thing. Erhard was never a Scientologist and had no interest in the religious aspects of what is called Scientology but people like saying it because it sounds scandalous and controversial, but it is just not true.
The entire dianetics intersection was written about in great detail and what Erhard concluded about it and Hubbard's stuff along with all the coursed and new age things Erhard tried briefly at the beginning of his career in "Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of est" an early biography ofWerner Erhard by philosophy professor William Warren Bartley III .
"Foundation" might have been the wrong word for me to use. But there is still similarities in the two. The idea of course work, advancing through the program, self-defined language that applies only to the initiated, the idea that "if only everyone could take this class, the world would be saved", feeling a bit sad for the uninitiated, super-secret answers that you need to pay more money to learn. Scientology and Landmark aren't the only organizations that have these similarities (the Sterling Institute would be another), and I'm not saying that a person couldn't benefit from the program. I did learn something, but I worry about the way people are taken advantage of in the way I allowed myself to be pulled in, without critically thinking things through.
Thanks! It's a great place to be allowed to be oneself!
I'd love to know what you think of it after you read it, Todd.