Claire, after the introductory Communication Course, there are apparently a number of different paths that a beginning Scientologist can take as they begin a trip up the Bridge to Total Freedom. For you, the next step was a course called “Overcoming the Ups and Downs of Life,” and you estimate its price at between $100 to $200. Can you set the scene for us? How did “Ups and Downs” unfold for you?
CLAIRE: At this point we’re still in the introductory course room with a course pack, checksheet, and your study materials. During the course you learn the meanings of basic Scientology terms, do drills, and write essays to apply the materials you are reading to your life.
For example, you study the characteristics of an antisocial personality (not yet referred to as a “suppressive person” or “SP” at this point) and you would then write an essay about the people you’ve known in your life who have displayed those characteristics. You would describe what those people did that demonstrated those particular traits.
THE BUNKER: Wait, we’re only a few days into our Scientology career and we’re already SNITCHING?
CLAIRE: Well, at this point, it’s still a very gentle approach, because at this early stage in your career, you’re probably not labeling yourself a “Scientologist” yet. The groundwork is still being laid, so to speak.
But even at this early stage, because I’d grown up in the church, I knew that potentially there were some very serious consequences on the horizon.
I first learned about “Disconnection” at age 7. My best friend Susie was the daughter of Morag Bellmaine, one of the infamous missionaires who showed up in Europe in 1983 pretending to be with RTC and, under that guise, obtained copies of the OT levels for the independent movement of that time (Jon Atack writes about this in A Piece of Blue Sky). I very well remember how upset Susie was that she had to disconnect from her own mother. It was extremely shocking to me at that age. I can remember having the idea that Morag, who I’d only thought well of up to that time, had turned into some kind of witch. It was obviously not the case, but that’s how my 7-year-old mind processed the information.
THE BUNKER: Wow. Claire, let us try to translate for the newbies: Scientology has experienced breakaway movements throughout its history, but particularly in the early 1980s when L. Ron Hubbard had gone into hiding and a young David Miscavige started coming down hard on the old franchise concept of missions. Disaffected members wanted to form their own independent Scientology groups, but needed to get their hands on the church’s secret upper-level materials (there was no Internet in those days with such files floating around.) So some of these independents sent in a sort of commando raid to grab those materials. As you point out, Atack does a really good job covering all this. Anyway, the point is that Morag would have been immediately branded a Suppressive Person — an enemy of the church — and her own daughter would have been forced to cut off all ties to her in order to remain a church member in good standing.
CLAIRE: Even back then, I remember deciding I would never lose my mother at any price.
So by the time I came to study the “Ups and Downs in Life” course, I already knew what was coming. And I was just doing the course to try and please my parents and get them off my back about doing Scientology.
THE BUNKER: That sounds like a lot of pressure for a young kid. So what was the course like?
CLAIRE: It takes about six study periods. Each study period is 2 1/2 hours, and you’re required to do at least 5 periods per week. So 6 days. I took it when I was 10 years old.
Writing the essays, I struggled with describing someone as an antisocial personality. As a child, I thought it was mean and pointless to label people that way. My mother used to ask me pointed questions when I was sick, and I absolutely hated it. One time I just started crying and asked her to leave me alone. Another time (when I was in the Cadet Org, a sort of junior Sea Org) I’d broken my collarbone due to a seriously neglectful situation where I was sleeping in a dorm with 25 other girls.
So I wrote my essay about the school bully. It was detached from my life so that I didn’t get anyone in trouble, and yet was an “out” for me to get through the course.
THE BUNKER: So you found a way to snitch without compromising your own values too much. What was the environment like for this course?
CLAIRE: When I did courses in England, I was studying in a large room. You are not allowed to talk to any other student, unless for the express purpose of doing a drill, or getting a checkout, etc. The supervisors enforce that rule. It was sort of like a library, and you were generally working on your own.
For drills, you’d go to the practical course room with another student (and only when authorized by the supervisor). That room is very different. It often gets extremely noisy, with TR-0 Bullbait going on.
I always felt intimidated going on course as a child. Checkouts were hard and flunks were massively humiliating. So I always just tried to buckle down and get through it.
At the beginning of each study period they call roll, to account for everyone who is supposed to be there. Students who are late are sent to ethics; repeat offenders are made to do ethics conditions and amends.
At the end of each study period, they call a “That’s it” and tell the students to clean up, put away their materials and prepare to end the study period with a round of applause to L. Ron Hubbard’s picture.
At that point, they ask for students to share wins they’ve had. I always found that intimidating too, since sometimes there would be more than 100 people in the room.
And then everyone would stand up and give a round of applause to Hubbard.
Again, I always felt uncomfortable with that too. I didn’t see the point at all.
Today, introductory courses like this one are studied in a separate, more lax courseroom. A new person today wouldn’t have quite the same experience I did in 1985 when I was doing this course at age 10.
THE BUNKER: We’ve read accounts by other people who said that at this early stage they were still very skeptical about becoming full-blown church members. You grew up in it, were you wary about where this was going?
CLAIRE: Yes, I’d say at this point I was feeling skeptical, and on the other hand, it was mild enough that I could accept it, and it’s what everyone was doing. Plus you’re hearing about everyone’s great successes, and you’re getting tons of encouragement from all sides.
I’d say the genius of the approach, like it or leave it, is the gentle approach at the outset. Obviously if someone sat you down and told you what was to come (possibility of disconnection, control, how much money you’re going to spend, not to mention Xenu and all that), you’d get out of there in a hurry. But it was never like that. And keep in mind, most adults entering Scientology are at a low point in life, and that’s how they’re convinced to start at all. At least by my observation. Hey, we can help you feel better after your marriage ended or your boss was mean to you, or whatever.
THE BUNKER: Anything else you want to add about this early course?
CLAIRE: I think the only other thing to note is that right at the outset, you begin to get pushed that you should use Scientology to handle any situation in your life. It’s gradual at first, but soon it becomes much more demanding in terms of commitment and cutting yourself off from the outside, “wog” world.
THE BUNKER: What a whammy to put on a 10-year-old.
COST THIS WEEK: $150
COST SO FAR: $350
SMERSH Madness: Sowing the Seeds of World Domination!
As we announced on March 1, we’re joining bracket fever with a tournament like no other. It’s up to you to decide who should be named the new SMERSH, the traditional nemesis of Scientology. Cast your vote for who’s doing more to propel the church down its long slide into oblivion!
Continuing with the Sweet Sixteen! We have another tough match.
Katie Holmes changed everything. When she surgically removed herself from her marriage to Tom Cruise, she sent a clear message that she was fully aware of Scientology’s potential to cause her trouble. Not only did she outwit the church, she created a new media environment that has not dissipated: from supermarket rags to business publications, everyone wants a piece of the Scientology story. And as her daughter Suri grows, Katie’s vigilance is going to keep that story on the front pages. (Previously: Katie defeated David Edgar Love in the first round.)
Marc & Claire Headley detailed their harrowing escape from Scientology’s International Base in Marc’s 2009 book, Blown for Good. They sued Scientology and lost, it’s true, but few couples have done more to expose the hardships of the church’s fanatical inner corps, the “Sea Org.” Also, they keep having kids, which is in part a way of thumbing their noses at Miscavige, who denies SO members the right to have children. (Previously: The Headleys defeated Luis Garcia in the first round.)
Go to our March 1 post for the latest tournament results.
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 19, 2013 at 07:00