Scientology, especially its celebrity members and scandalous media coverage, fascinates many of us. Whether it’s L. Ron Hubbard’s alleged occult roots or high-profile members’ outlandish behavior (see Tom Cruise on Oprah), it can be difficult to understand why someone would join in the first place.
To help demystify the organization, CrimeFeed spoke to former Scientologist, Marty Rathbun. Rathbun left the Church of Scientology in 2004 after being a member for 27 years. During his time as a member he rose through the ranks, eventually serving as Inspector General of the Religious Technology Center. Rathbun’s story can help us understand why people are drawn to Scientology, what makes leaving feel impossible and why criticisms of the church often get buried.
For more about Rathbun’s membership and break from the organization, watch Investigation Discovery’s “Dangerous Persuasions” with ID Go and check out our interview with him below:
Crime Feed: In tonight’s episode of “Dangerous Persuasions,” you explain how the search for healing brought you to Scientology. Did you feel the teachings were effective when you first joined? Did your outlook ever change for the better?
Marty Rathbun: Initially, yes. Their communication course was a leader for helping with loss for a reason. It is a very simple course improving one’s focus, patience, and ability to face and communicate with people. Those were the exact tools my personal crisis demanded. Later when I partook in auditing, Scientology’s version of psychotherapy, I had many cathartic or transcending experiences. After I left Scientology, I came to realize [their method] was really a mechanized, directed version of already existing Rogerian person-centered therapy. The “direction” additive speeds the process and adds predictability and certainty. However, it comes at an ultimately self-defeating cost. That mechanization and direction interjects the pollution of control into the process. Before too long one learns to accept control, and because of that fact, over time, he ultimately becomes owned by Scientology. If you read from Rogers’ work, it is chock full of warnings that the worst possible thing one could do with such trust-based counseling is to enter in conditions or control of any sort.
CF: Speaking of auditing, what is it like to sit in a session?
MR: I suppose like a Rogerian person-centered therapy session would be. Except ultimately the process is corrupted by introduction of conditions into that formula that wind up putting the client/adherent into a more tractable, controlled state of mind.
CF: You talk about how Scientology demanded you stop associating with your brother due to his history of mental illness. How does it feel to have to disconnect from a family member?
MR: Not good. Loneliness and insecurity can get fairly intense.
CF: To an outsider, Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, may seem like an unlikely person to start a religious organization. Do church members find it suspect that Hubbard was a suspected member of an Occult group and worked as a science fiction writer before he became a church leader?
MR: No. They are told that Hubbard was infiltrating the occult group for the US government. They are told that sci-fi is the art genre of the artists and thinkers who bring the future to us.
CF: I think everyone wonders about the Xenu mythology. What were your thoughts the first time you saw the Operating Thetan documents?
MR: To some degree I took it as parable or analogy and tried to glean the process underlying it. I don’t like to harp on this too much as it feeds Scientologists’ persecution complex. What they believe behind the four walls of their ‘churches’ is each individual’s prerogative. I am aware of nobody waking up from Scientology’s hold from people attacking their beliefs and mythologies. That is one reason I believe the ID piece might have more impact on current members; it is a straight ahead, factual narrative with no broadside against its beliefs and practices.
CF: When you first joined, did you notice any unease among fellow Scientologists? Was there any forum to voice concerns or feedback about the program?
Very little. Scientology includes an impressive array of tools and procedures for weeding out dissatisfaction and dissent. It creates an information bubble that makes everything look positive because that is the only thing you are ever permitted to hear. Over time, I began to see it as a synthetically positive culture — much like that depicted in the movies “Stepford Wives” and “The Truman Show.”
CF: Do you think criticisms from former members will continue to grow as access to online communication increases? Is the “bubble” of Scientology able to withstand the Internet age?
MR: I have been saying for years now that Scientology cannot survive in the Age of Information. [Scientology] depends upon an information bubble that keeps its members unable to access negative reviews or context of any kind. Before the advent of the Internet maintaining that bubble was possible.
CF: Do you think the increased media scrutiny could change the church’s tax exempt status? Could anything change the agreement with the IRS?
MR: No. Those attempting to make that case have ignored my detailed reasoning, backed by facts, as to why it is a quixotic crusade. I think that Justice Brandeis said it all when he noted that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Trying to legislate or litigate with Scientology in some way further empowers them. They thrive on instilling a persecution complex in their members; and such sweeping broadsides reinforces that and their resolve.
CF: You and other senior members have left the organization. Do you notice a crumbling of the senior structure or are new members prepped to take over the minute someone steps down?
MR: It is the latter. The system breeds a continual replacement of top management with uneducated, inexperienced enthusiastic youth. It systematically weeds out people as they mature and begin to question. Thus, each generation seems progressively less educated, ill-informed and unsophisticated than the last one. That is why it functions like a Byzantine bureaucracy.
CF: Why do you think so many celebrities are drawn to Scientology. In the book “Going Clear,”Lawrence Wright talks about how many actors got into the church as a way of networking and landing roles. Is that still the case?
MR: Celebrities are targeted through many channels of promotion. They are coddled intensively the moment they show any promise or success. Scientology is big on promoting creation of fantastic mental scenarios. That creativity aspect might appeal to artistic types. I don’t know whether currently they get much pull from playing on actors’ desires to land roles. They certainly did while I was still there.
CF: On your blog, you posted a statement directed at Tom Cruise, do you think you will get a response from him – publicly or privately?
MR: I have received no responses from Cruise except through his lawyer Bert Fields. The correspondence has been posted on my blog since 2009. Fields threatened me to remain silent. I responded by detailing the serious human rights abuses that Scientology has committed, promising to continue speaking out until such time as I saw evidence [that the abuse had] ceased. When I reminded Fields of his ethical obligation to inform his client Tom Cruise of the facts I had detailed to him, Fields went silent – no more letters were forthcoming.
CF: Expanding on litigation threats, do you feel conflicted or fearful about appearing in the programs such as Investigation Discovery’s “Dangerous Persuasions” or HBO’s “Going Clear”?
MR: No. My family has survived Scientology attacks of an unprecedented intensity for six years now. Fear is not a factor. There is some degree of conflict in that I am trying to start a new life at the age of 58 and Scientology is doing everything in its power to prevent that from happening. Scientology violates the following aphorism like nobody else: if you tell the truth it becomes your past; if you lie it becomes your future. Because they won’t acknowledge a single wrong-doing or take any form of responsibility what should have long since become the past just keeps becoming the future. Instead of reforming, they want to kill the messenger who heralds that reform is needed.
CF: In addiction to recent television documentaries about Scientology, David Miscavige, the leader of the church, has been under scrutiny due to allegations that he was spending thousands to spy on his father. Do you think that’s an outrageous claim?
MR: I have estimated in the past that they were spending up to $25,000 a week on spying, stalking and harassment of me and my family. I think the media and FBI considered that too incredible to believe. Yet, the $10,000 dollar figure spent on Ron Miscavige [David’s father] comes from the private investigator who received the money; with no motivation to lie. So, I look at that new information as corroboration or validation of my original estimate of what they have spent attacking me and my family. They have been at it for more than six years. I invite you to do the math. Incidentally, if there were a way to revoke their tax exemption thoroughly investigating that magnitude of spending to spy and harass would be the only viable route.
CF: Do you have any advice for someone considering leaving Scientology? Are there resources or counseling that you would recommend for someone ending their association with the church?
MR: It all depends on their circumstances. I have counseled former members for six years. My first step is always to hear them out thoroughly. Everybody has his or her own story to tell. Only when I fully understand that story do I map out a route for that person for recovery and integration back into society. Scientologists are molded by a one-size-fits-all system. The best thing that can be done for those leaving is to help them regain their own sense of identity, their own minds, and their own spirits.
Read more at Marty’s Blog.
For more about Rathbun’s membership and break from the organization, watch Investigation Discovery’s “Dangerous Persuasions” with ID Go. And for more stories from former Scientology members, watch more episodes of “Dangerous Persuasions” and “Deadly Devotion”.
Photo: Investigation Discovery/Wikimedia Commons