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Is American culture now so hopeless that Scientology’s insanity is no longer notable?

[Kurt Andersen and Christopher Shinn]

In September, former Spy magazine co-founder and New Yorker columnist Kurt Andersen penned a widely discussed essay for the Atlantic with the wonderful title “How America Lost Its Mind.”

The essay’s penetrating look at the post-truth culture of Trumpism was a masterpiece of the form, blamed anti-science movements of both the left and the right for the predicament we find ourselves in, and, best of all from our perspective, mentioned Scientology a couple of times (as well as Scientology favorite Thomas Szasz).

Andersen included Scientology as one of the many harbingers that the rest of the country would lose pretty much all contact with reality by the early 21st century.

We have to admit feeling some vindication after reading the essay, and some trepidation. Having covered Scientology’s twists and turns for more than two decades, we felt that we’d perhaps been a little ahead of the curve on how our culture has been overrun with bullshit. But on the other hand, the absurdity now showing up daily on our news feeds has made it feel at times like David Miscavige and his space age church are having a hard time competing with the L. Ron Hubbard-like lunacy taking over this country’s most important institutions.

Still, we soldier on. In part it’s because Scientology has never been more interesting. Spectacular defections of high ranking officials and notable celebrities in the last decade is hastening what appears to be the Church of Scientology’s demise, but Miscavige, to his credit, always finds a way to crank up the propaganda and spend money in equally spectacular ways, and has at least postponed his ship’s collision with an iceberg. We really have no idea how this movie is going to come out, and it keeps us glued to our front-row seat.

And in the meantime, there are real lives in the balance, which you can read about for yourself at any time by clicking on some of the links in the list we attach to the bottom of every new story at this website, “Scientology disconnection, a reminder.” Until Lori Hodgson can see her son and daughter, or Marie Bilheimer can talk to her mother, or Bernie Headley can spend time with his daughter, we will continue to point out that Scientology’s methods of indoctrination and control rip apart real families.

Now, there’s a new think piece by another thoughtful writer, playwright Christopher Shinn, who yesterday expressed concern about Scientology getting so much public attention as a result of Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book Going Clear and Leah Remini’s A&E series, Scientology and the Aftermath. Shinn provided a couple of links to this website, and he wondered if perhaps Scientology’s “evil” he reads about in the Underground Bunker, such as the deprivations of the Sea Org and the clampdown on dissent in the church, isn’t all that much different than what the rest of us face in a cutthroat economy and in the abusive wild west of the Internet. Perhaps we should be reflecting on our own shortcomings before pointing a finger at something as odd as Scientology.

While we appreciate Shinn’s point, it’s certainly not a new one. In fact, it’s almost inevitable that one of the first comments made on any new magazine piece about the church is some version of, “why single out Scientology when all of the other religions are just as bad?” At least Shinn, in his formulation, has hit on a secular version of that complaint.

But why, indeed, single out Scientology? If you’ve actually met someone like Bernie Headley and talked to him about losing his daughter, or someone like Derek Bloch, who still struggles with how his family considers him a pariah because he rejected Scientology and its homophobia, the answer might seem pretty obvious. But we know that there are those who don’t understand why Scientology is such a fascination for the public, and has been for many, many years (yes, much farther back than Larry Wright’s book, which was a watershed).

Shinn says that this website portrays Scientology as “something wholly other — deranged, evil, psychotic,” and there’s no doubt that over the years we have reported on a lot of really reprehensible behavior by David Miscavige and his retaliation machine. But “wholly other?” While L. Ron Hubbard’s ideas might have been ludicrous (see yesterday’s post as an especially salient example), one of the things that has always made Scientology so engrossing is that those toxic ideas are absorbed and become gospel to such familiar and sympathetic people. Yes, Hubbard was a crackpot and a lunatic, but that someone as decent and admirable as Hana Whitfield or Claire Headley or Jefferson Hawkins fell so completely under the sway of those ideas that they could do harm to themselves and others under the name of “Keeping Scientology Working” — that’s certainly something that keeps us coming back for more.

It’s the sort of people we meet coming out of Scientology who are the key to why we find it so compelling. If someone like Bruce Hines or Vicki Marshall or Mary Kahn could commit themselves to going “OT,” couldn’t just about anyone? And if that’s the case, how committed are any of us, really, to rational discourse and the ideals we think are keeping this society on an even keel? In fact, if we can figure out why people are still, to this day, joining Scientology and turning their backs on a fact-based reality, might it actually help us understand why an even larger number of people are doing that very thing in the culture at large?

But hey, we know what keeps us in the game. Maybe a better question in light of Shinn’s essay is, what keeps you coming back? Mike Rinder has pointed out numerous times that this website gets more traffic than Scientology’s own official page, which isn’t bad for a single-subject site run by one guy and his cats down in a bomb shelter (and with invaluable help from Rod Keller, Jon Atack, Chris Owen, Scott Pilutik, and our many wonderful tipsters!).

Christopher Shinn does raise a good point, that with only some 20,000 active members, Scientology probably gets more public attention than it deserves. But we’ll put it to you: What is it about Scientology that keeps you coming back for stories here at the Bunker, and leaving so many comments — more than 1.8 million since we started this site in 2012? What is it about Scientology that is worth all the trouble?

 
UPDATE: After we had written this piece yesterday, Shinn tweeted about his essay and tagged us and Mike Rinder, who replied…

 
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Jeffrey Augustine talks to Katrina Reyes, part 3

 

 
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Make your plans now!

Head over to our HowdyCon 2018 website to start making your travel plans!

 

 
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Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,046 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,649 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 192 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,255 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,029 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,803 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,149 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,643 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,683 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,395 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 921 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,010 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,150 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,470 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,445 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 801 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,103 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,209 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,612 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,484 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,066 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,571 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,815 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,924 days.

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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on March 7, 2018 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

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 can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), 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 | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

 

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