A&E

Can Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath Help Heal One Of The Most Heartbreaking Broken Relationships In Church History?

And more questions sparked by 'Auditing'!

Need the episode's best moment so you can show it to everyone you know?

Well, you can't, because A&E pulled down its episode preview clip of its subject telling the tale of his Scientologist neighbour's distress about having to disconnect from HIS DOG.

There are so many aspects of church life that I will never, ever, possibly, ever understand. Somehow the idea that the church might "declare" an apostate's DOG and make it so that an active member would have to deny herself the pleasure of giving him treats and scritches never once occurred to me as a possibility.

But has the Suppressive Dog ("SD") passed away since this incident, or was he just unwilling to appear on camera?

You can't just bring in the dog as a topic of inquiry and then not give us the entire story!

Was that weed seeker in the cold open just a random stranger orrrrrrrrrrr...

Given what we've seen on this show to date (and what I've read or seen from other sources), Clearwater is a company town and that company is the Church of Scientology. So when Leah Remini goes to take her first steps into the ocean at the local beach -- something she never could have done when she was stationed there as a member of the Sea Org -- and a young woman asks her to buy weed, shouldn't we assume there's a better than 50% chance that she was sent on this mission by the church? Of course, one might argue, even if Remini had left the church and, in keeping with its negative assessment of her character and "ethics," fallen into selling marijuana to complete strangers, she would have sense enough not to do it while her own show's cameras were on her. But I don't necessarily think the people within the church who direct these ops are terribly bright. Granted, many of them lack formal education, but a cloistered existence such that we've heard about also probably means they're not loaded with street smarts either. Four cult members in a room might have convinced each other that "entrap Leah Remini into selling weed we assume she has" is a can't-miss scheme.

How much did the tax exemption the church was granted in 1993 really extend its viability for members who were wavering?

This week's subject, Aaron Smith-Levin, was indoctrinated into Scientology as a pre-teen when his mother Gayle joined the church. He describes his reaction to the IRS's decision, in 1993, to grant the church tax-exempt status as a turning point. We know why this was a big deal for executives within the church: no one likes paying taxes, and losing this burden meant the church was free to amass huge amounts of wealth in the form of real estate (like the empty buildings we learned about last week). But to hear Aaron tell it, the ruling affected him in that it represented the government's legitimization of the church and its activities -- and, by extension, legitimized everything that Aaron and his family were doing. But...church members care about the government? People who sign billion-year contracts respect earthly institutions? Or is it just that if you're spending hours and hours of every day of your life in the service of an organization that drastically curtails your personal freedoms, you'll cling to any outside evidence -- even from a body you don't trust -- that you're making the right decisions?

How hard is it for church "elders" to convince members to break family ties?

This week's episode tells a knottier family story even than the usual. Gayle, a single mother, brought Aaron and his twin brother Collin into the church when she joined. Collin was made to go through audit training twice -- in what sounds like a naked cash grab by David Miscavige -- and when he failed the second time, he called their father, who arranged for him to leave Clearwater and live with him in Minnesota. The church ordered Gayle to go retrieve him, which she did -- but then Collin was regarded as a criminal for having tried to "blow"; no longer acceptable at Flag, and banished to the org in Philadelphia, to live on his own when he was just fifteen. Collin took the initiative to get his GED and went to college, which is when he told Aaron he'd been writing papers about the church's cultish aspects. As he'd been indoctrinated to do, Aaron wrote a knowledge report on Collin, who was then declared a Suppressive Person. Once he'd officially expelled from the church, Collin told Aaron and Gayle that they were dead to him, even as all three of them knew that he was just doing what the church would force Gayle and Aaron to do to him anyway. Aaron: "Unconditional love does not exist in Scientology."

Remini tells us that Gayle, present for the interview but off-camera, had to leave in tears at this point because she had so much guilt about the way things had gone for her children, all as a result of her own decision, when they were too young to know better or object, to join the church and bring them with her. Knowing she was on the premises but not a participant in the interview is frustrating for me as a viewer, though, because I feel like the question that doesn't get asked is: are people drawn to Scientology if their ties to their families are weak to begin with, or is the Scientology tech so insidious that it convinces a mother that no relationship with any mortal person -- not even her sons -- is as important as her relationship to the church? Is the script for that very first "personality test" that starts the process loaded with questions that make it clear not just that the target is yearning for meaning, but that she doesn't expect to get it from interacting with anyone she already knows? Aaron's Scientology origin story is easier to understand, because he was just a kid. But people in Gayle's position can tell us what part of the pitch actually worked on them.

Does...that make it seem like I'm trying to start a cult myself?

Ha ha, hilarious! I'm definitely "not"?

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