Brought to our attention by Mormon Coffee friend, Spartacus, NBC’s Rock Center aired an exposé on the Church of Scientology earlier this month. In “The Defectors,” journalist Harry Smith interviewed four former Scientologists: Haydn, Lucy and Katrina James, and Paul Haggis. Mr. Smith also interviewed Lawrence Wright, author of the new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief.
Spartacus found this program compelling; he noticed parallels between the experiences of those who left Scientology and those who have left Mormonism. Whether or not you also see the parallels, “The Defectors” is a very interesting look at a controlling religious organization’s power over its members and the difficulty people experience in trying to break free. The first 11-minute segment is embedded below, and the second segment, focusing mainly on the experiences of the James family, can be found at the Rock Center website. I provide a brief rundown of Paul Haggis’ experience here.
Paul Haggis had been a happy Scientologist as he moved up the Scientology ladder until he reached the OT3 level, which “introduces Scientologists to key tenets of the church’s beliefs.” When he learned that Scientology holds to a doctrine that says human bodies are hosts to aliens from outer space, he was stunned. “This is madness,” he thought. Yet he didn’t leave the church.
Harry Smith asked Paul Haggis, “Why do you stay, then?” Mr. Haggis responded, “It’s a part of your life at that point. Your kids are in school. Your friends, your wife. It’s what you know.”
Harry Smith wanted to know how the Church of Scientology is able to convince people to remain loyal to the group. Mr. Haggis said, “It’s just this long, slow walk toward believing. It’s the idea of being part of a group that is ostracized and hated. It bands you together against the outside world.”
So even though Mr. Haggis couldn’t easily embrace the odd doctrines he was encountering, he remained a Scientologist for a long time, eventually reaching the highest level of OT7.
In retrospect, Mr. Haggis said he was “purposely blind.” Harry Smith suggested, “You chose to be blind,” and Mr. Haggis agreed. “Of course we choose – anybody within a group like this has to choose to be blind,” he said.
But this self-imposed blindness didn’t last for Mr. Haggis. He began really questioning Scientology when he discovered something that seemed not merely odd, but inconsistent with what he understood the church to stand for. After 30 years as a member, he decided it was time to research the Church of Scientology. What he found troubled him deeply. He resigned his church membership and, eventually, publically exposed the church’s abuses. “I was ashamed of my own stupidity,” he said, “of how I could have been purposely blind for so many years.”
Author Lawrence Wright, who included Paul Haggis’ story in his book, explained that people join Scientology for good reasons, mainly because they want help with life’s challenges. But, he said, “at the deeper levels, as you go further and further into the church, the distortions become more and more apparent.” Mr. Wright explained that Scientology abuses its own members, “shaking them down for money, wreaking vengeance on people that disagree with them, punishing its critics…”
The Church of Scientology responded to Mr. Wright’s book, saying it is an “…error-filled, unsubstantiated, bigoted anti-Scientology book…”
The church responded to Mr. Haggis in a similar way, saying his investigation was “a sham” and labeling him, “The Hypocrite of Hollywood.”
And in response to the James family, whose heartbreaking and frightening story is told in the second Rock Center segment, the Church of Scientology told NBC, “Haydn James is an unreliable source; he is bitter and has an ax to grind…”
Harry Smith asked Paul Haggis, “Is Scientology a cult?” Mr. Haggis replied, “Of course it is. It’s a system of belief that…you’ve got all these folks inside this fortress who won’t look out, and won’t look at any criticism and can’t bear any investigation and think that everyone is against them. How would you describe that? It’s a cult. Of course it is.”
What do you think? Is Scientology a cult? If yes, what makes it so?
A few Mormons describe leaving the LDS Church:
Lynn Wilder: Free Indeed
Lynn Wilder Video Interview (uncut)
Michael J. Barrett – Excommunicated for Publicly Confirming LDS Teaching
Angela Haisten’s Testimony Out of Mormonism to Christianity
Dave’s Testimony Out of Mormonism into Christianity (video)