Yesterday, we were still thinking about Reza Aslan’s friendly-but-not-so-friendly jabs at Alex Gibney and Lawrence Wright in his Sunday night Believer episode about Scientology.
Aslan was up front that he has a “soft spot” for Scientology, which he feels gets a bad rap. And certainly one of the biggest raps the church has absorbed lately was the documentary that Gibney and Wright came out with in 2015, Going Clear (disclosure: we’re in it).
So Aslan could hardly weigh in without at least acknowledging Going Clear, and he did so in passive-aggressive ways which elicited nervous laughter on the screen.
Did you notice, for example, that he said if Lawrence Wright had been around to interview Jesus, there would never have been Christianity?
Is that like the most backhanded compliment of all time or what? And who makes out worse, exactly — Larry, or Christianity?
Anyway, as we pointed out yesterday, Aslan used indie Scientology without acknowledging how tiny it is, which was our main criticism. But, another thing we’ll point out is that if you were paying attention to the opening section of his show, Aslan really wants to push back against reporting on Scientology in general. He thinks we’ve heard too much about abuses in movies like Going Clear, and it looked to us like indie Scientology was just a convenient vehicle for him to use. (He was, after all, apologizing for Scientology long before he started profiling indies.)
OK, so Aslan set out to create a counter-narrative to Going Clear. But the biggest difference between the two wasn’t just the focus on abuses in Gibney’s documentary. It was the near erasing of L. Ron Hubbard in Aslan’s program.
One of the things that made Going Clear so effective was the way that it went deep into Hubbard’s own history, with new material never heard before from Hubbard’s second wife, Sara Northrup, and great archival footage that really established Scientology’s bizarre underpinnings.
After watching Aslan talk about Bullbaiting and other TRs and Disconnection and even Super Power with almost no references to Hubbard and how those ideas evolved, we were, believe it or not, feeling a need to hear some of the old man to re-ground us in what Scientology is really all about.
So we dived into our collection yesterday, and more or less randomly pulled out a 1965 lecture that was part of the Saint Hill Special Briefing Course, the vaunted lectures that Hubbard gave in East Grinstead, England.
We’ve pulled an excerpt for you in a short “fair use” segment, and we’ve even captioned it so you can follow along. It’s just a few minutes long. Join us for a moment of L. Ron goodness, please…
Ah, that’s better. Nothing like the Commodore to get us hopped up on thetans and engrams.
Now, this brief excerpt actually turns out to be pretty important, because Hubbard is explaining the provenance and gravity of what would become so familiar to all Scientologists, particularly those who work for the organization. The “org board” he’s talking about on the one hand doesn’t seem very notable — it’s just Hubbard’s plan for how to set up a business or similar organization. But you have to love that space opera touch to it: Through his Scientology time travel he has managed to retrieve this particular artifact of business wisdom from an ancient galactic civilization that had a pretty good run of 80 trillion years. (And once again, we’ll point out that cosmologists tell us the universe is only about 13.8 billion years old, but Scientology is based on a much longer scale.)
This is a good example because it illustrates how Scientology is such an odd and wonderful mix of futuristic (actually deep past) space drama and, um, boring business administration.
If Scientology is a cult, it’s a cult of bureaucracy, not spiritualism. Hubbardism worships rules and regulations (especially the military kind), not some blissed-out nirvana.
L. Ron Hubbard unlocked the fabric of the universe, went deep into space-time, and brought us back … a job chart.
This employment scheme is not just a quirk or an aside. It goes deep into the DNA of Scientology and what every Scientologist gets pounded into their heads day in and day out — that they have a role to play, a “hat” or job, and the success of the organization, which is more important than anything else, relies on you performing your job with utmost dedication. And that performance depends on doing things “standardly,” according to job descriptions written by Hubbard and set in stone.
Somehow, Hubbard managed to fuse together the most outlandish notions — such as going billions of years into the past to retrieve something from a galactic civilization some 80 trillion years old — and the most utterly mundane, such as how to set up a business so that the public relations and marketing and human resources departments are reporting to the right people.
But understanding these kinds of details really turns out to be useful if you want to see the bigger picture of where Scientology has been and where it’s going.
Sure, the org board looks like a strange obsession from outside Scientology, but it was an org board that is at the center of one of Scientology’s strangest mysteries.
In the summer of 2005, the man who replaced L. Ron Hubbard as church leader, David Miscavige, did an odd thing. He went somewhere without his wife, Shelly. Usually, they traveled together as a package deal: He was “C.O.B.,” for “Chairman of the Board” (of the Religious Technology Center, Scientology’s nominally controlling entity), and her title was “C.O.B. Assistant.” The two of them oversaw the movement’s many international events and expansion plans — Shelly even oversaw the 2004 auditions of actresses to choose a new mate for Tom Cruise, a process which settled on Nazanin Boniadi, a Scientologist who dated Tom from November 2004 to January 2005.
But then, in the summer of 2005, David Miscavige left Int Base near Hemet and went 90 miles west to Los Angeles, where he said he was working on the “Basics” publishing project. Our eyewitnesses who were there at the base that summer tell us it was kind of shocking to see Dave leave while Shelly stayed behind. But Shelly made herself useful. She was tired of hearing Dave complain about a project that never seemed to get finished, and that he’d end up screaming at people about.
It was an org board.
For some reason, Miscavige could never get it filled out. So while he was away, Shelly did it for him, assigning people to the various slots on the org board structure.
When he got back a few months later and saw what she had done, he blew a gasket.
(She had also had his possessions crated up so a renovation could be done to his quarters that he’d been bellyaching about. This also apparently steamed him, to find all of his stuff in crates.)
Shelly Miscavige vanished a week later. And she hasn’t been seen at a Scientology event in the eleven years since. (She was only seen publicly at the funeral for her father in the summer of 2007. And we’re taking seriously a sighting of her that happened just recently.)
More ripples from that event: A year later, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married at a castle in Italy. And one person who noticed that David Miscavige was flying solo as he served as Tom’s best man was the actress Leah Remini.
When she dared to ask about it, Cruise’s majordomo and church spokesman Tommy Davis told her she didn’t have the fucking rank even to raise the question of why Shelly wasn’t there. That night, Leah wrote up a “Knowledge Report” about Miscavige with the help of a friend back in Los Angeles over the phone. In other words, she turned in Scientology’s ultimate leader to Scientology itself.
For that act of defiance, she was later summoned to the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida for three months of interrogations and thought reform, and was charged $300,000 for it. That experience, she would later write, put her on the path of leaving Scientology, which became public in July 2013.
We broke that news here at the Underground Bunker. And we’ve been reporting on Leah’s subsequent memoir and then her television series as she’s rocked the Church of Scientology like never before. And maybe none of that would have happened if Shelly Miscavige, in the summer of 2005, had not filled out an org board — a scheme for job positions that L. Ron Hubbard brought back to earth from an 80-trillion-year-old galactic civilization while he was trippin’ through his Whole Track, riding an E-meter through the cosmos.
See, if you really want to understand where Scientology has been, and where it’s going, and who it’s harmed, you really need to know something about a 1930s pulp fiction writer who somehow convinced otherwise rational human beings that he offered the certainty of past life recall and future life fulfillment, and in the process enslaved thousands.
It’s quite a story. Shame so little of it was reflected in what CNN presented Sunday night.
“If you want to present Scientology as benign, you have to ignore a lot of things. This is something that both Aslan and the Indies have in common,” says Jefferson Hawkins, the former marketing genius behind Scientology’s “volcano” TV spots in the 1980s, and who we showed a draft of this essay to get his thoughts on it. (Jeff is also the author of a terrific series for us on Scientology’s arcane system of “ethics.”)
“I noticed a comment today from an Indie saying that they were glad that Aslan had given a nod to the ‘purity’ of Scientology tech. And by pure, he meant just the tech, the ‘red on white’ technical bulletins, not the administrative or Ethics ‘tech.’ This is the viewpoint that I’ve noticed many Indies have. They just want to deal with Hubbard’s technical writings and ignore the ‘green on white’ policy letters, which includes all of Hubbard’s writings on Ethics. They want to be able to pick and choose what they are going to follow. Just like Aslan wants to pick out the things that support his narrative and ignore all those pesky ‘administrative details’ like Ethics conditions, Disconnection, the RPF, draconian penalties, ‘Fair Game’ and so on. Indies want nothing to do with those things, and neither does Aslan. Never mind that these things are just as much Hubbard as the ‘pure’ tech that they revere so much,” he says.
“About the Org Board – yes, Hubbard reached into the past to discover this breakthrough, but maybe not as far in the past as he claimed. Check out the work of Daniel Craig McCallum (1815–1878). Hubbard borrowed a lot from him. McCallum’s ideas would have been broadly taught at the time Hubbard was going to school. McCallum’s (and Hubbard’s) org charts were authoritarian, which is why McCallum’s work is considered out of date today, but Miscavige well understood this. Although he made a show of wanting to work out the org chart and postings, in fact he was deliberately keeping it unsolved – keeping everyone else off the organization chart to consolidate power in his own hands. So when Shelly worked out an org chart and assigned everyone to positions, it was a direct power threat to him and he had to get rid of her.
“But yes, these are the kind of behind-the scenes Machiavellian realities that one has to ignore if one wants to present a pretty picture of Scientology.”
Bonus items from our tipsters
Jim Mathers makes the scene in Yakutsk…
Condos on the lower floors are still available at the Skyview. Buy now if you want Tom Cruise as your neighbor in his double-penthouse on the top two floors!
The Christian Scientists in Encinitas want you to know who they are NOT…
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield