A Miscavige of Justice

Or What in Heavens Name Happened to Louis Theroux’s “My Scientology Movie”?

Louis Looks Quizzically at the Church of Scientology As a decades long fan of just about everything Louis Theroux has ever put out on the BBC, I was completely thrilled to hear he was going to embark upon a documentary about a subject that had long fascinated and intrigued me: Scientology.

L Ron and Me

dianeticsI remember around the age of sixteen picking up a copy of the delightful Dianetics in a second hand bookshop in Dublin and reading it through and saying to myself Is this for me?  Then I heard that L. Ron Hubbard was a bit dodgy as a person, not at all like Jesus or Buddha. Apparently he had kidnapped his wife in 1951 and that his doctrines had been condemned by the American Psychological Association. That interested me even more. After all L Ron wrote so many science fiction novels. I thought – well a little crazy can be good for creativity. But then there are limits. I mean take this as an interesting story : this is Scientology Dogma: Scientology teaches, as a core element of its belief system, that one of the fundamental incidents of human history (and indeed our Destiny) refers to an intergalactic overlord Xenu or Xemu. Around 75 million years ago, Xenu as a ruler of a galactic confederacy, killed billions of his people. He did it as an act of population control. Xenu captured, froze and paralyzed billions of citizens of his planets and brought them to the mouths of volcanoes on Earth. Next, he blew the mouths of these volcanoes using nuclear weapons, thus releasing millions of alien spirits onto the Earth. Afterwards, he recaptured these spirits and subjected them to a massive personality deprived indoctrination program (watching lengthy movies apparently) that inadvertently contributed to the development of all those other misguided religions – other than Scientology. Apparently all these spirits, for all eternity, cling to our misguided and unclear human souls. This, if you like, is Scientology’s doctrine of Original Sin – or in other words- L Ron’s Story of where it all went wrong for humanity. Humanity is doomed – unless we adhere to the tenets of Scientology . To me now that is really interesting.

Science Fiction and Belief Systems

forbidden-planetI mean  its not that absurd really. Its in our natures to tell ourselves stories to explain everything. That being the case, I have been a fan of science fiction ever since I was seven and saw  Forbidden Planet, and read the wonders of the Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. People scoff at the belief systems of Scientology. When I hear such scoffing, I scoff back, mostly at myself. I mean, I believed in Transubstantiation and the Virgin Birth, the Trinity and the Miraculous Medal. One can be made to believe literally anything, given the right conditioning. And such doctrines, that I have thumbnail sketched above, are revealed to Scientologists only after a long period of very expensive and very exhaustive conditioning. In other words, unless we adhere to an open philosophy of life (in other words a notion of truth that’s testable and refutable by experience), we get into trouble.

Louis’ Scientology Movie

Louis Theroux took a very interesting and unique approach to the issue of plumbing the depths of Scientology. He took, as his starting point, the arrival of David Miscavige after L Ron Hubbard’s death in 1987. Miscavige reigns as the new Pope of Scientology, or  “Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center (RTC), a corporation that controls the trademarks and copyrights of Dianetics and Scientology.” (Wiki Page on Miscavige), has not been a popular one. His absolutism has made for him many enemies, countless critical books and a few super Documentaries (Going Clear is a gem). One in particular is Theroux’s use of the testimonies and remembrances of former members of the Religion such as: Mark Rathbun, Andrew Perez, Rob Alter, Jeff Hawkins, Tom De Vocht, Marc Headley and Steve Mango.

Its clear that these people feel this faith is a lie and a terribly destructive force in modern life. Theroux questions them in a half humorous – half teasing way, while maintaining a professional distance from whether what is being told him is actually the truth. Moreover, one of the more delightful aspects of the movie is that Theroux actually uses actors to re-enact critical aspects of the church’s history, some speeches by Miscavige himself, and some of the more controversial scenes where Miscavige goes somewhat medieval on the Scientology’s top brass, in a place called ‘the hole’ (at the Gold base in Helmet California). We have a few actors playing Tom Cruise, David Miscavige, and others. Then things get strange. As Theroux is making the movie, it becomes increasingly clear that the church is making a movie about him. They send him countless legal letters, harass former members – particularly  Mark Rathbun.

Rathbun and Theroux

And this is where I have a problem with the movie. Mark Rathbun is a former head of Inspector General of the Religious Technology Center (a kind of head of Scientology’s thought police), investigating and correcting any ideological or doctrinal deviations. This he did for over twenty years, until he resigned in 2004. He tried for a while to form an independent Scientology religion and now declares himself not a believer. Rathburn, like anyone with a complex past, when he was the ‘go to guy’, the ‘fixer’, appears to have done things which he is willing (only in part) to talk about, but also appears to be keeping a lot to himself. Theroux continually prods him and tries to get him to open up. However Rathbun is a complex and highly sophisticated man with complex feelings of guilt, anger and regret over his involvement in Scientology, and after so many years, a lot of unprocessed feelings over his own past. In other words not someone you needle or try to provoke. Unfortunately instead of trying to generate some type of congenial relationship, Theroux does the opposite and antagonizes the one person who had the power to make or break the film. As Jefferson Hawkins said in the movie “Marty knows where all the bodies are buried.”

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Louis Theroux and Marty Rathbun
And the end of the movie we are greeted with a somewhat anti-climatic and simultaneously disturbing vibe. After a scene from ‘the hole’ re – enacted by actors, Rathbun is tormented by Scientology members outside the movie studio and is visibly upset. This is when Theroux goes for the jugular against Rathbun. Theroux reminds Rathbun that he too tormented ‘suppressive persons’. ‘SP’ or Suppressive Persons are what Scientologists refer to as unbelievers, skeptics and former embittered anti-Scientology members. But this is bad timing. Rathbun’s tormentors have just hit him with hurtful remarks about his adoptive child and Rathbun is devastated. He tells Theroux to go fuck himself. Things get ugly and the film never recovers to fulfill its earlier extraordinary promise. This is one of the few times I have ever seen Theroux meet his match intellectually and psychologically and the one unfortunate aspect is that he, Theroux, did not treat Rathbun as an equal or see Rathbun as the complex intelligent vastly experienced person he is. Theroux toyed with him and needled him, but never really befriended him and things went awry. A great pity and a poor ending to a movie with so much promise.
*With Thanks to Ishka for her many comments and editorial work

Poles Apart

       OR

PEOPLE IN POLAND – AND THEIR DOGS

 

 Over the last few years I have been afflicted with a kind of wanderlust. Its impossible to really plot the origin of this need – the desire to experience, the desire to find oneself accompanied by an equal desire to lose oneself. One can endlessly speculate and never really come to a conclusion, but for one reaon and probably many others I found myself living and teaching in Poland for just under a year. And wherever I may roam, to crib a line from Metallica, there my dog comes with me. And Poland is a big country for dogs.  

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The sign reads, “Beware- Dangerous Dog”. It seems strange to say it considering the opening image alongside, but how dogs are loved here. Dogs of every breed and shape abound here. They walk day and night with owners of all ages – whether they be family members out on a Sunday afternoon get together or giant doggies strolling by distracted texting teenagers with cut off hipster jeans and piercings who have been ordered to sullenly take their family Doberman for its obligatory post prandial perambulation, or singletons out late at night with their one, two or sometimes three beautifully cared for special breeds paid for by fifty or sometimes sixty hours working in some office somewhere in Jelenia Gora.

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But not only are they loved but doggies are allowed in many places. They turn up at your beauty clinic, on buses (you can buy a ticket for your dog on all public transports in Poland), in bars or restaurants, concerts. Dogs sit underneath their owners in expensive restaurants as waiters zip by with full trays and bottles of expensive wine. Stray dogs lounge by doorways and around shops, utterly at home, appearing relaxed but actually on defence mode, continuously scanning for threats . Turn up at a coffee shop with your two giant Husky dogs and the waiter will smile, indicate a free seat and provide your pooches with a complimentary bowl of water. I once went out for dinner in a bar restaurant with my rather small sheepdog, only to find her playing tag with the biggest Alsatian dog I have ever seen. The landlord and landlady of the bed and breakfast I am staying in have three tiny aggressive Shih Tzu dogs.

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Kara waits impatiently for me to finish taking silly pictures so we can continue with walkies

Then there are pet shops. Along with the ubiquitous chemist shop (Polish TV is filled with endless ads about cold and flu remedies and vitamins to keep you healthy) and local shop selling beer, wine and rivers of spirits (the vodka is astonishingly good), one finds the giant and not so giant pet shop nestled in local areas or in big shopping malls, selling every conceivable amenity for your canine best friend.

Which makes me wonder why so many dogs, beautiful dogs, big dogs and small dogs, are just so damn mean – Alsations, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Bulldogs, Collies, Huskies. They attack our dog – for no reason. Its very strange. They bark all day and all night. They wake one up barking and keep one from sleeping at night. (I now wear ear plugs) And its not just my dog that gets attacked, by the way. Dogs attack other dogs, and yes, it happens all the time. One’s dog can be barked at snarled at or just bitten at any moment. Walk down our road here in Cieplice (a suburb of Jelena Gora, south of Poland) and yes, dear friends, you are no longer taking you beloved pet out for a charming and relaxing stroll. You are in a demilitarized zone. You are running a canine gauntlet. One takes ones dog’s life in ones hands allowing another dog to greet your hound. A seemingly innocent wag of the tail in greeting and a sniff of the collar can turn nasty and your little four-legged darling could be attacked. I have seen more unprovoked attacks by dogs here than one could shake a shaggy paw at. Again its somewhat at odds with the picture I painted in the first paragraph. Dogs are loved and needed. But then there’s the problem of how conditional is your love and the fact that your neighbour’s dog is viewed as ‘the enemy’. Dogs are used also for protection – against Everybody Else. Those Shih Tzu doggies I mentioned are little raving lunatics who attack our little collie at the drop of a paw. Then I remember something I heard on the TV program The Dog Whisperer – You can tell a lot about the owners of a dog by the dogs behaviour.

Like their pooches, folks here are, well, unpredictable. They love their own, but like their pets, they attack each other. This is partly due, I  have been told to political divides, but also a throwback to communist times. On the streets no one greets anyone. Gazes are judgemental or avoided. The human atmosphere here is frustrated, angry, depressed, hopeless. The economy is not in a good place. People work two jobs, sometimes more and live on credit. Buses run on time and the drivers are dreadful (discourteous, rude, aggressive). Wages here are outrageously low. Most of the teachers in the excellent school I teach in, work several teaching jobs to get by, and we are well paid and have great working conditions. Right now (late 2016)  one euro will fetch you four Polish Zlotys, give or take.

And then there’s the question of the EU. Europe is almost like a bad word here. Poles who have gotten out to find better jobs have done so and many loath to return. Poland’s government is obsessed with recovering its “national pride” and seem to resent defining themselves in terms of a larger European Union. Actually it is almost as if Poland never joined the European Union. The euro is not a currency one can use here. Those who criticize Poland are deemed as dishonourable, national traitors. Those who leave Poland to improve their lot are also deemed to be traitors to the cause and resented after coming back. Poland has elected a conservative regressive government with deep ties to the Catholic Church, so conservative in its views it makes the Council of Trent seem like a hippie love in. Catholicism deeply dominates and pierces the cultural worldview here, whether or not one attends Mass or even believes.  The aforementioned Government is in the process of introducing regressive social policies that are in many ways, openly anti woman and pretty undemocratic. The EU have written to the Polish Government criticising their policies and pointing out their legislation are against EU norms.

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THE VIEW FOR MILES AND MILES

And then there’s the fear people feel and the pressure for conformity. People feel afraid, afraid of the future, afraid of each other, afraid of taking risks, afraid of new ideas, afraid of public shaming and embarrassment. People are also unfriendly to each other. Many of my Polish friends here, want more than anything else, to leave Poland. And I understand. You know you are not living in a democracy. If  peoples’ minds are controlled, it is very difficult for them to freely vote and express themselves. People fear judgement, the judgement of God, but mainly the judgement of each other. I asked some of my friends here what are people afraid of and I was told “People are afraid to really live”. They fear being watched and being judged. They dress conservatively and excessively neat and clean. One cannot be openly gay or openly different or openly open-minded. Like John Cooper Clarke in his poem Evidently Chickentown “The bloody view is bloody vile for bloody miles and bloody miles”.

I see a lot of addiction all around me. As I go to work every day I pass my pals, the local alcoholics, who wave and greet me as they’re having their liquid breakfast. The amount of alcohol in shops here is simply astonishing. Tiny bottles of vodka are littered everywhere. But its not simply the consumption of alcohol. Its what’s happening to the people that arrests me. People don’t see a future. They want to escape and they can’t. They have debts, debts incurred to simply get by as wages are so low. Cars drive at insane speeds, driven by angry and dangerous drivers. People ignore each other in queues on buses and walk in or rather through each other in shopping malls. At night the streets are deathly quiet except for the dread sounds of cars speeding past. I walk my dog late at night in the dead silence only to be passed by  nervous people staring angrily and sullenly ahead. Ghosts.

More than anything Poland wrestles with its past and constant oppression. You can’t mention the war. Actually WW2 is never mentioned. Taboo. The Camps. Stalin. Death in the forest. Solidarity. Actually a new law has been enacted recently forbidding Polish Historians from implicating Poles in Hitler’s death camps here in Poland on pain of a prison sentence. So there are many things that can’t be freely discussed. The media have been effectively shut down (all dissenting voices dismissed or demoted from effective positions of expression) and Polish television is, shall we say, a little tedious. The word taboo is used often. People are polite, friendly, and superficial -when they are not ignoring each other. I have often speculated and discussed with my Polish friends, that this inner mistrust that neighbour has for the neighbour emanates from communist times when one was obliged to report on others anti party activities, thus sowing the seeds of a fundamental mistrust between the people, a kind of divide and conquer technique.

So it all looks shiny and modern in the cities and outside the cities, but down deep it is not like that, not really. The forces of conservatism are busily putting ideology and obsession above the lives and well being of the people. Education, health care and jobs are all suffering. And the people are in trouble. The fact that this present government even got into power shows how troubled the people are here. They felt bitterly let down by the so called progressives so they elected the conservatives in. And, oh boy was that a disaster.

One party seems to embody a kind of openness and reason (aside from the Greens who nobody cares about) called Razem (Together). I hope they, or someone like them, gets in sometime soon. Poland, beautiful Poland, needs a change.

Acknowledgement:

  • With thanks to Ishka for her many editorial suggestions and corrections.