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Lay Off Xenu: An Ex-Scientologist’s Plea

Lay off the big fella, already

Over at The Hairpin, on Monday “Stella Forstner” put up the second installment of her series on growing up in Scientology. This second chapter was about Scientology beliefs, and like the first, it’s very well written and smarter than your average church tell-all.

Forstner helps an outsider understand the appeal of auditing, and does her best to make the idea of tracking down traumas from your past lives in order to improve your current life sound like the most natural thing in the world.

But her real beef in this essay is that she wants the rest of us to lay off Xenu, already.

Longtime readers of this blog know that we’ve tried to stress that it’s Scientology’s practices, rather than its beliefs, that need to be held up to critical assessment. It’s less important what church members think about the world and how it works than how this organization treats its own people (particularly children) and those who dare to expose its alleged abuses.

Like Forstner, we’ve pointed out in the past that most Scientologists haven’t even reached the requisite stage in their spiritual development (OT 3) to be let in on the Xenu story (but as she points out, many of them learn something about it through the media anyway).

In 1999, when we had lunch with Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre, we asked her how many people in Scientology had reached OT 3, and she said it was about 10 percent. So the vast majority of church members have not yet been told about Xenu and their body thetans. (At OT 3, Scientologists learn that we are not single entities, but are made up of hundreds or thousands of invisible entities that compete for control our bodies. The next several levels — and auditing at about $1,000 an hour — are spent exorcising those “body thetans.”)

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So we agree with Forstner that it’s the practices that matter, and that the Xenu story probably does get overplayed. However, we also think she’s going too far to get Scientology’s beliefs off the hook. Because at some point, the beliefs are part of the con.

Let’s take a look at what she says:

I get deeply frustrated when I hear people say Scientologists must be either nuts or brainwashed because they believe in Xenu. The truth is they either haven’t learned about Xenu yet because they’re too new (or don’t have the financial resources to move up “the bridge to total freedom”) or they have learned about Xenu after many years of training, tens of thousands of dollars spent on courses, and a transformed social and family circle now consisting primarily of other believers who would be forced to disconnect from them should they disavow ‘LRH Tech.’

OK, so the choice she’s presenting here is this: either Scientologists haven’t been told that their religious leader came up with something so batshit crazy as Scientology’s creation myth, or, the other choice is that they are too deeply indoctrinated and have lost all self-agency to do anything about it.

And that choice is somehow the reason the Xenu story should be played down or dismissed by outsiders?

The opposite is true, of course. The Xenu story remains at the heart of what reveals Hubbard for the sleight-of-hand artist that he was. What Forstner doesn’t explain is that from 1950, Hubbard was dangling the promise of superhuman abilities to his followers, and there’s simply no doubt that what draws believers up “the Bridge to Total Freedom” — and its incredibly expensive levels — is the promise of these superhuman benefits.

At this blog, we’ve published hundreds of examples of Scientologists tantalizing each other with their “OT Phenomena” stories, which encourage them to keep going, hoping that the next OT level will finally bring them the ability to leave their bodies, travel across town, and perform surgery to save a life while still in an incorporeal state (to name just one of many examples).

What Forstner also doesn’t go into (or perhaps didn’t progress up the Bridge far enough to experience for herself) is that what makes OT 3 and the Xenu story difficult for some members is not the outlandish space opera nature of it, but that for the first time in their Scientology careers, they are told what happened 75 million years ago, rather than come up with that information themselves.

Check out our previous story on this. We got ex-Scientologists to do something they rarely ever do: talk about their whole-track stories. What Forstner doesn’t mention is that by the time members reach OT 3, many of them have been “remembering” their own mindblowing space opera tales from millions and billions of years ago in auditing sessions. But all of that comes from their own “memories.” So what’s shocking about OT 3 is not the science-fiction aspect of it, but that it comes from Hubbard, stated as a fact of galactic history, rather than from their own minds. That’s why OT 3 is so hard to take for some members — for the first time in their many years of membership in Scientology they are told what to think about their own past, when dreaming up (sorry, remembering) their own past has been up to that time the most enjoyable, rewarding part of their careers in the church.

Forstner doesn’t go into that, and she somehow barely throws “body thetans” in there, not bothering to explain that for years following OT 3, members will be paying huge amounts in order to rid themselves of space cooties.

Yes, it’s only a minority of Scientologists who get that far. But how does that make such a practice any less questionable, and how does it not reflect on the entire enterprise?

Here then, is another way to read Forstner’s essay: “Yeah, Scientology’s upper levels are absolutely insane, but most of us never get that far, and so please don’t judge us for simply wanting to squeeze soup cans and go over the traumas of our past lives.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the essence of the “indie” message.

She doesn’t address it yet, and perhaps she will later, but Forstner, to this point, has laid out an almost perfect defense of the independent Scientology viewpoint. As we’ve been reporting for the last few years, Scientology is literally splitting apart as many longtime members are abandoning the church and the leadership of David Miscavige. This, more than anything else — bad publicity, celebrity divorces, satirical movie treatments — is the gravest threat to the continuing health of the official church.

We have a lot of respect for the independent movement and the people who risk retaliation to come out publicly in support of it. But the indies have a tricky position to sell: that Miscavige is the problem with Scientology, and that Hubbard really was on to something about the nature of the human mind.

As we’ve pointed out time and again, as long as the indies aren’t planning to replicate the things that make the official church so toxic — like recruiting children into the Sea Org, or destroying people who dare to speak up about its abuses — we support them in their desire to audit each other and be left alone.

But it’s another thing entirely if the indies think they’re going to convince the rest of the world that removal of body thetans at $1,000 an hour is not one of the goofiest cons of all time.

And that’s just our two cents.

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