“It was a year ago that Debbie Cook sent out her e-mail and I finally woke up. But now a year later I’ve really woken up all the way,” she said in a phone conversation we had a few days ago.
We thought we’d start off 2013 by writing about Simi’s journey, which reflects a trend we’ve been watching for the last couple of years.
As much as the growth of a breakaway “independent Scientology” movement has been a huge part of the crisis gripping the Church of Scientology, we’ve noticed a tendency for some ex-church members to spend only a short time as “indies” before they ditch Scientology altogether.
“On January 1, 2012 I was off the Miscavige Kool-aid. But now, a year later, I’m off the Hubbard Kool-aid,” Simi told us.
First, some background: In 1978, Simi joined the church in New York, then moved to LA, where she found that her first name had people remarking that it was like the Southern California town, Simi Valley. So she changed her own name legally to match the town. Meanwhile, she was getting serious about her career in the church.
“I did some auditor training and got up to Solo NOTs on the auditing side of the Bridge,” she tells us, adding that she also spent about a year and a half in the Sea Org. But for the last ten years of her career in the church, she was trying to minimize her involvement and “quietly fade away,” she says.
“I was like a lot of people who are mortified at the thought of officially leaving and then being declared,” she says. (Expressing doubts or criticizing the church can get you “declared a suppressive person,” which is Scientology’s version of excommunication.)
Simi took us through her stages of disillusionment with the church. In 2002, she says, she started to have grave doubts about the organization she’d been a part of for more than 20 years. And she knew there was information about Scientology on the Internet that she wanted to read.
“Every time I would try to read online, I would get so physically ill that I couldn’t go through with it…I knew that Tory Christman, who was my friend inside, was now out and very critical of the church. I very much wanted to know what she was saying, but I couldn’t bring myself to look,” she says.
By 2009, she says, the big push for selling “The Basics” had her convinced she needed to leave the church. But still, she was unsure how to do it. (In 2007, church leader David Miscavige republished L. Ron Hubbard’s essential Scientology texts, saying that “transcription errors” had been found and cleared up. All Scientologists were pressured to purchase multiple sets of the books and lectures, at up to $3,000 a set.)
“On New Year’s Day 2012, I read Debbie Cook’s e-mail, which turned out to be my big wake-up call. I immediately got online and read all the shit about the Church of Scientology, and for the first time I was able to do it without feeling ill,” she says.
Debbie Cook is a legendary former executive who had run Scientology’s spiritual mecca in Clearwater, Florida, for 17 years. In 2007 she left the employment of the church and moved to Texas. Then, suddenly, a year ago an e-mail she wrote ripping apart the leadership of David Miscavige was sent out to thousands of church members. In the e-mail, Cook criticized Miscavige’s initiatives using the words of founder L. Ron Hubbard. It was a devastating indictment, written in the arcane language of the church, and it made many Scientologists realize that they were not alone in their doubts.
Simi says one of the first things she realized after reading Cook’s e-mail was that she would need to move away from Los Angeles, where she was around so many other Scientologists she knew. And even a year ago, she says, she knew that not all of the church’s problems were solely the product of Miscavige’s leadership. Hubbard, after all, had been Source for policies that Miscavige was still pushing.
But for now, she was ready to come out as an “independent,” and she wrote up her declaration for Marty Rathbun’s blog, which he published on July 29.
“I am now definitely an SP, and it feels damn good,” she says.
Since Rathbun started his blog in 2009, his site has served as the launching pad for many new “independents” declaring their departure from the official church. In general, they express deep dissatisfaction for the way Miscavige is running things, but make it clear that they still adhere to the ideas of Hubbard. They tend to wax nostalgic for the church of the 1970s, when things, they say, were more fun and less about high pressure fundraising.
“I sort of tentatively allowed myself to be labeled an indie while I continued to read and figure things out,” Simi says. “But I still had nagging doubts.”
She says she posted a lot of comments at Marty’s blog as well as here. “I still preferred to use nicknames instead of posting under my real name,” she says.
By November, she says she was ready to “fully confront” the truth about Hubbard.
“Hubbard was an evil, scheming, drug-addicted, lying con man. He wanted to rule the world, and hoped to also make a pile of money doing so. He cobbled together this ‘religion’ as his vehicle for ultimate world domination,” she says.
If that sounds definitive — she certainly doesn’t sound like any kind of Scientologist now — Simi still talks about how she finds some value in parts of Hubbard’s “admin tech” and his study materials.
She also talks about a “light” and “dark” side to Scientology. And we tell her, as long as she talks like that, she still does sound like something of an indie.
“I don’t care how people label me. In my mind I’m out,” she answers.
There’s no doubt she’s certainly gone through a lot in only a year. And like others who have left recently, she seems anxious to get going on a new life.
We explained to her that we’ve seen the same thing happen to quite a few other people who left the church in recent years. After announcing that they were “independent Scientologists,” within several months they were dropping any connection to auditing or Hubbard altogether.
We wondered if the indie movement was in some ways a sort of halfway house for some former church members, an intermediate step. And once out of the high-pressure environment of the church, where Scientologists are constantly hit up for donations and encouraged to spy on their fellow members (even family), it was then natural that they would gradually give up interest in Scientology altogether. Simi said she agreed that her own experience suggested that was the case.
“I have better things to do now, things that I didn’t give enough attention to in the last couple of decades,” she says.
“I feel like I’m finally off the Kool-aid for real.”
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 1, 2013 at 07:00