"Thank God for September 11!" 19-year-old Lauren Drain yells during a picket of the second inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005 in the opening scene of her memoir Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church (Goodreads | Amazon). While she once proudly held signs proclaiming attention-getting slogans like "God Hates Fag Enablers" as part of the Westboro Baptist Church, the 27-year-old Connecticut resident now calls the church a cult. When she was 14, her philosophy professor father decided to make a documentary about the church; originally aimed at exposing them, and titled Hatemongers, it instead morphed into a pro-WBC work that transformed their family, [...]
If you’re ever in the market for a bit of harmless revenge or a rather cruel practical joke, I highly recommend making use of the Scientology mailing list. Sign your friend up under a hilarious name, and 20 years later (assuming the church is still around) they'll still be receiving mail for “Laura Rockemsockem Huntsman.” Scientology staffers, many of whom work for the church in order to obtain its expensive coursework, have quotas to meet, and must contact a certain number of people by mail or phone in an attempt get them into the church and spending money. Even the [...]
It’s not something I put on my CV but it’s true: I have a top-notch Scientology pedigree. My paternal grandparents got into Dianetics in the early '50s; I’ve read notes from meetings they hosted in their affluent Midwestern suburb to discuss the “new mental science” and audit one another. They were early adopters, to be sure, but from the notes their meetings sound more like a book club gatherings than outposts of a burgeoning cult. My grandfather discovered Dianetics via articles in Astounding Science Fiction, a magazine whose editor was friendly with L. Ron Hubbard and for a time a strong proponent of his ideas.
I was about the age Suri Cruise is now when I had my first session. Mickey, my first-grade teacher at the non-traditional school I attended, had announced that day that he would soon be leaving for a new job somewhere in California. All I remember now of Mickey is his warmth, and his soft, crinkly eyes and thick black beard, but the day he made his announcement, I was devastated in the way only a six-year-old can be – someone I loved was leaving me! The world had turned cruel. I trudged home to my mother, sobbing, and though I’m not sure who brought up [...]
Quentin later told a church officer that, “Personally, I think my father’s crazy.” The next day he disappeared from the headquarters in Clearwater. A few days later he was found in Las Vegas, in a car with a vacuum tube that led from the exhaust through the passenger’s vent window. Two weeks later, on Nov. 12, 1976, he died in the hospital. Hubbard’s reaction was reportedly: “That little shit has done it to me again!”
Jesus. The Daily Beast pulls "15 Scientology Revelations," of varying degrees of grisliness, from Pulitzer-winner Lawrence Wright's new book/exposé, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, which is out today [...]
It gets a little tiring being the only former Scientologist everyone you meet has ever known, or to be asked on a first date whether you were raised religiously and know that if you answer honestly you’re in for 25 minutes of Q&A. Not only do you start to wonder if the most interesting thing about yourself is something you had nothing to do with, but you began to refine and embellish this narrative over dozens and dozens of tellings. Which eventually begins to restructure your actual recollections, highlighting some memories while pushing others — no less important — into the [...]
[image from my personal collection – I couldn’t find one with the OT t-shirt!]
Previously: Part One, Growing Up in the Church.
As a child of two Scientologist parents, a child born into a room quieted in preparation for the return of a reincarnated thetan, I grew up fluent in the Church's specialized vocabulary. As a toddler I accompanied my mother during her training at the Flag Land base in Clearwater, Florida, and at the Los Angeles center, wearing a t-shirt that read “future OT,” a bit of gobbledygook that any Scientologist worth their salt could immediately translate as indicating that I was destined to rid myself [...]
Sex and evangelical American religion have a lot in common: Both are weird and personal; both inspire prescriptive, reductive public dialogue; and both are used as conduits for ecstasy, punishment, comfort, self-satisfaction, and pain that can turn into pleasure. When I was a teenager going to music festivals for the first time, I’d watch crowds of people throwing their hands up and feel like I was back in the mega-church where I grew up, a congregation in the tens of thousands that boasted a decent house band and a massive worship center I called the Repentagon. Recently, I disturbed myself by realizing that the name I’ve said more than any [...]
Like many of us, I was a miserable and angst-ridden adolescent, and the way the Church of Scientology had divided my family in half seemed like just another teenage burden. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I realized with surprise that my family’s history in Scientology gave me pop culture cool points, that it was a factoid I could deploy to make me instantly more interesting to just about anyone. While occasionally useful at parties or when trying to impress dudes, talking about the church also felt like treachery against my father, still a faithful church [...]
Will is a 26-year-old guy who lives in Seattle and works in higher education. Every week, he tries to read at least one book and watch one movie. His hair has been black, blonde, blue, auburn, and mallard-colored. He’s lost around 60 pounds in the last 18 months, and his father was once nearly attacked by a tiger.
Jia: Good morning Will! Thank you for talking to me on this nice Sunday, taking time out of your day of worship.
(Will had just made it clear to me via email that he is not a virgin for religious reasons.)
Will: Haha. Actually, where I grew up — 30 miles [...]