A&E

Is Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath Kind Of Making You Want To Get Audited? Just Once?

And more not-quite-burning questions sparked by 'The Bridge'!

Why has it been SO LONG since Leah Remini's headlined a sitcom?

I'm sure part of Remini had it in mind, when she conceived this show, that in addition to its very important mission to free parishioners from the church's shackles and expose its worst abuses, Scientology And The Aftermath would also be a showcase for her as a personality, and even if she didn't, I'm glad it does, because she's so charming and likable. Summoning her producer Alex to her house so she can show him the shelves and shelves of books she was forced to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on, she deadpans, "By the way, I always walk around the house in full hair and makeup and Louboutins." I always appreciate a moment of transparency in a reality show, and given how very heavy the show tends to be, Remini's ability to inject a little levity is much appreciated. I just hope when this is over she gets a chance to use her comic talents in a comic setting again. SPEAKING OF HOW VERY HEAVY THE SHOW TENDS TO BE....

Hooooooow do ordinary Scientologists pay for this shit?

Remini explains that some of it may be subsidized by the wealthier church members, who are encouraged (or pressured) to buy extra courses to donate to libraries or otherwise make available to people who aren't buying the books and course materials themselves. But given everything else we've heard about church practices to this point, do we really believe that's what the extra $4000 guilted out of a Leah Remini gets used on? Or does it get added to the "trick out a motorcycle for Tom Cruise" fund?

Regardless: that shelf of in Remini's closet was packed with as many books as I bought in five years of college and grad school, and I was an English/Comp Lit double major. We can assume that the majority of church members are being forced to pay for their own literature, or else it's not much of a cult, and if Remini's estimates are accurate (and they do line up with what I've read elsewhere), any parishioner will pay "at the very least a quarter of a million dollars." I know it's not all at once, and I know desperate people will find reserves of creativity to assemble cash for something they have convinced themselves they need. But if it seems like the language I'm using here sounds a lot like the way people describe degenerate gamblers, it's not really an accident.

Are you a little bit curious about getting your own look at all this stuff?

I saw a "Student Dictionary" on Remini's shelf and assume it was specific to Scientology courses. It looked to be around the size of a regular dictionary, so...was it just the equivalent of a good old Merriam-Webster with Scientology terms scattered through it? If so, wouldn't you love to know whether its definitions of non-Scientology words are accurate?

Also, am I the only one who, as the series has gone on, is getting more and more perversely curious about what it would be like to get a Scientology audit? Just once? Not to be disrespectful -- obviously I understand that the pain this show's subjects are describing all originates from their having made precisely that decision, lightly or not -- but I still can't help being curious about what the process is like. Fortunately or unfortunately, it would appear as though there aren't any Scientology Centers on the island where I live -- which shouldn't surprise me; we don't even have a Gap. (However, in researching whether that was the case, I did come across this. What the HELL, Hawaii?!)

What lessons can we take from Mary's experience to apply to our own gaslighting era?

This week, Remini's subject is Mary Kahn, who spent forty years in the church before leaving a few years ago, and achieved the level of OT VIII -- the highest attainable level. She describes the harrowing experience of knowing deep down that she couldn't stay in the church, but staying because she knew the alternative would be risking her family. In fact, her husband David did, at one point, disclose Mary's doubts with higher-ups in the church, because he feared that if they found out some other way, he'd risk his own relationship with their son Sammy, also a church member. (In the end, David left the church with Mary, while Sammy remained; he disconnected from them three years ago and his parents have not had contact with him since.)

At a climactic point in Mary's story, she describes being called in to discuss a Knowledge Report -- sort of a Scientological affidavit one church member swears on another to keep an offender true to his or her "ethics." (Man, once you get into the thicket of Scientology jargon, it's hard to get out.) After being forced to spend two months at sea on a Scientology ship, Freewinds, redoing a course, Mary had sworn she'd never submit to auditing again, so while she agreed to talk about the report, she refused to "pick up the cans" of the e-meter. A battle of wills with the church representative ensued that, Mary said, ended with her resolving to end the meeting without letting her interlocutor wear her down. She tried the door of their meeting room and was relieved to find it unlocked, since she knew "if that door was locked, they would not have let me out." But as she made her way through the halls of the building toward the exist, her would-be auditor was on her heels; he got to the door before she did and kept her from opening it. At this point, Mary decided, "I'm going to sit on the floor and I'm going to scream."

Now. It's hard to dispute that our president-elect is gaslighting America: trying to destabilize our concept of how institutions work in this country, ignore the norms by which we all agree society should function, and enshrine himself as the only authority his acolytes can trust. This is cult leader behaviour. When Remini says, in this week's episode, that it's easy to judge church members by sneering at how they could be so naïve as to believe the lies the Scientology establishment exists to perpetuate is to negate victims' pain, it reminded me of a story I read just this week, headlined "Be happy for coal miners losing their health insurance. They're getting exactly what they voted for." But this is not a moment for liberals to gloat. When people have been duped into voting against their own interests because they believed a government program that protects them could not be destroyed out of spite, it's a tragedy. When people who were searching for meaning were systematically broken down and exploited by a scheme disguised as a faith, it's a tragedy.

To carry on the analogy: some of us in this country made the choice to...put all of us on the Freewinds. Some of them knew exactly what they were doing, and they can fuck right off. But I really believe that most of them didn't (I have to, or the despair would crush me and I truly could not go on), and those who haven't yet figured out that they were tricked into a horrible mistake are going to find out very soon and regret it very deeply. Attacking them isn't going to do any good to anyone. Instead, we're all going to need to do what Mary did: we need to sit on the floor and scream, and keep screaming until we're free.

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