IN THE NAME OF THE CHURCH
One of my earliest memories of Scientology was a conversation that happened when I was about four years old. At the time, my family was living in Los Angles in an apartment that had been provided to us by the Church, and one Sunday morning I was lying in bed with my mom and dad wondering what it would be like to be out of my body.
"How do I go out of my body?" I asked.
My parents exchanged a smile, much like the one my husband and I share when our son asks one of those difficult questions that can't really be answered within his frame of knowledge.
"Can we all go out of our bodies together and fly around in the sky?" I asked.
"Maybe," my father responded. He was always eager to indulge me.
"Let's do it now," I demanded impatiently. "Just tell me what to do."
"Okay, just close your eyes," he instructed. "Are they closed? now, think of a cat."
"Do we all think of it at once?" i asked, wanting to make sure I was doing it right.
"Yes," was dad's reply. "okay, one, two, three ..."
With my eyes closed, I waited, but nothing happened. I could hear my parents laughing, but I didn't understand what was funny and why they weren't helping me. Were they not allowed to help me out of my body? Could they only help at certain times? Could I only get out of my body when I was older? Was something wrong with me?
I knew I was a Thetan. I had always known I was a Theta and had never believed anything else. Theta was the term Scientology used for an immortal spirit that animated the human body, while the body itself was essentially a piece of meat, a vessel that housed the Theta. A Theta lived lifetime after lifetime, and when the body it currently inhabited died, it picked its next one and started over again.
The idea of having past lives fascinated me. I would often ask grown-ups to tell me stories about their past lives. I couldn't remember any of mine, but I was always assured that they would come to me eventually. My father's secretary, Rosemary, would tell me things that had happened in a past life of hers, when she had been a Native American girl. They all sounded so amazing and romantic to me. I couldn't wait until I could remember one of mine. I hoped I hadn't been a bad guy or a solitary old man. Surely, I must have been a princess at least once.
Back then, as young as I was, that was what Scientology seemed to be about: past lives, leaving your body behind, being a Theta. Beyond that, there wasn't much that I knew about it, but for a child who really couldn't understand the layers of complex belief, there was an excitement to it all. I was a part of something bigger, something that stretched into the past and the future; something that seemed impossible and yet somehow was completely believable.
And so, I sat there, eyes closed, waiting to fly around the sky with my parents at my side, waiting to leave my body behind. I didn't know then that only Scientology believed in Thetas. everyone I knew was in the Church, and as a third generation Scientology, my life was Scientology. My grandmother on my mother's side had started reading books by l. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer and founder of Scientology, in the mid-1950s. on my father's side, my grandfather had come into the Church in the 1970s when an acquaintance told him about it. They'd each gotten hooked right away.
In Scientology, there was no god, no praying, no heaven, no hell — none of the things that people generally associate with religion. It was a philosophy and a self-help program that promised greater self-awareness and the possibility of achieving one's full potential. This unconventional self-help quality was precisely what drew both of my grandparents to it. Each, in their own way, liked Scientology's focus on controlling one's own destiny and improving one's life through a series of clearly laid out steps; each brought children in, nine on my mom's side and four on my dad's. once my parents joined the Church as children, they stayed. By the time I was born in Concord, new Hampshire, on February 1, 1984, they had been Scientology for more than fifteen years. from my first breath, I was a Scientology, but it wasn't until shortly before my second birthday that the Church actually began to shape the course of my life. That was when my parents decided to give up the life they had started in new Hampshire, move our family to California, and dedicate our existence to service in the Church. Prior to that we had been living in Concord, where my parents had built their dream house, a four bedroom, two bathroom wood-and-glass home on a parcel of land. Mom and dad both had well-paying jobs at a local software company, and my nine-year-old brother Justin was a fourth grader in the local public school. At least on the outside, our family had all the markings of a normal, suburban existence.
All that changed in the fall of 1985, when my father, Ron Miscarriage, Jr., went to Scientology's Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida. Covering more than a few city blocks, the Flag Land Base was a massive complex that served as the Church's spiritual headquarters, a place where Scientology from all over the world gathered and stayed for weeks to months.
My father went down for a couple of weeks, and on this particular trip, the clergy of the Church, known as the Sea or organization or the Sea org, was in the midst of a massive recruitment campaign. The Sea Org recruited and employed only the most dedicated Scientology, who were willing to devote their lives to spreading Scientology to all mankind. l. Ron Hubbard had created the group in 1967 aboard a ship called the Apollo, which he referred to as the flagship. l. Ron Hubbard was a navy man and had a passion for naval traditions. The word was he had taken to the seas to research the spiritual component of Scientology without interruption or interference. There was speculation that he had moved into international waters to avoid accountability to the United States Food and Drug Administration, after some of his medical claims, such as applying his teachings could cure psychosomatic illness and other physical and psychological ailments, had been criticized by members of the medical community, who debunked his miracle cures as fraudulent.
Regardless of the reason he operated at sea, he mandated that the members of this special group wear naval-style uniforms and gave the Sea org its own navy-like rank and rating system, which set its members apart from other Scientology. He went so far as to have crew members address him as Commodore and high ranking officers as "Sir," whether they were male or female. He even selected his own group of personal stewards within the Sea Org who ran programs, related his orders, and followed up to make sure they were carried out. He called this important group the Commodore's Messenger Organization, CMO.
In 1975, the Sea Org moved onshore to the Flag Land Base in downtown Clearwater, where members lived and ate communally in facilities provided them. even though the organization was no longer stationed on ships, it still kept the naval terms from its sea days — living quarters were "berthing," staff dressed in naval style uniforms, and l. Ron Hubbard was still the Commodore. Ten years later, this was where my father found himself in the midst of the all-out recruitment effort. dad later told me there were Sea Org recruiters stationed at various locations around the Base looking for young, successful, competent, ethical Scientology.
Anyone who entered the Sea Org would have to sign a billion year contract that bound their immortal Thetan spirit to lifetime after lifetime of service to the Sea Org. It's members also had to work grueling hours, seven days a week — with minimal time off to spend with their families — often for as little as fifteen to forty-five dollars per week. Qualifications for membership included having never taken lSD or angel dust, having never attempted suicide, and having no anti-Scientology immediate family members. My father had once been a member and felt he still fit the bill. He was a dedicated Scientologist, he was willing to make the full commitment, and he was the older brother of David Miscavige, one of l. Ron Hubbard's top executives and a rising star in the Church. At only twenty-five, my uncle Dave was chairman of the board of Author Services inc., which oversaw all of the financial aspects of l. Ron Hubbard's copyrights, texts, and intellectual property from his writing. like my father, Uncle Dave had been a Scientologist since my grandfather had introduced the family to the church. from the start, Dave was so passionate that, with my grandpa's permission, he dropped out of high school at sixteen to join the Sea Org.
When my father returned home to new Hampshire, he informed my mother that he had decided to accept re-recruitment into the Sea Org. Although my parents had been in the midst of settling down, he again felt the calling and wanted our family to move to the Church's Los Angeles base, where we would begin our new life. Mom would have to re-enlist in the Sea Org as well, as Sea org members could not be married to non-Sea Org members. Without hesitation, my mother agreed.
As impulsive as this was, my parents knew what they were signing up for. not only had they both in the Sea Org before, they had first met at the Flag Land Base when each was only nineteen. At the time, they had each been married to someone else in the Sea Org. My father had a stepson, Nathan, and my mom had two-year-old twin boys, Justin and Sterling. My parents became romantically involved, got in huge trouble for it, as it was a violation of Church policy, and had to work hard to make amends for their behavior. eventually, they got permission to marry, and Mom's ex-husband remarried, too. Sterling lived with his dad and his dad's new wife, and Justin lived with my parents, but both twins were able to spend time in both households, an arrangement that made everybody happy.
My parents made a handsome couple. My father was five foot eight, slender but strong. He had sandy hair, a mustache, blue eyes, a warm smile, and was an all-around friendly guy. My mom, Elizabeth Blythe, known as "Bitty" to everybody, was beautiful, five foot six, and quite slim. She had hazel green eyes and brown hair that came down to her waist. Her ivory skin had just a few freckles. Unlike my father, she was a smoker, and had been since she was a teenager. Around strangers, she was shier and more reserved than my dad, but when she was with her friends, she was confident, blunt, and funny, with a very dry sense of humor. Mom was opinionated, and sometimes judgmental, but also an amazingly capable, woman.
Even with the huge time commitment that the Sea Org required, my parents had actually been happy there until the late 1970s, when they started getting frustrated with the management at the Flag Land Base. in 1979, after being in the Sea Org for five years, they both quit. While that was a breach of their billion year contracts, at that time leaving was not catastrophic. They were allowed to remain public Scientologists, loyal to the church, but without the full-time commitment of service to the Sea Org. For years after they had left, my parents' lives were normal. They lived in Philadelphia with my dad's parents for a bit before moving up to new Hampshire, where they lived a typical middle- class life — two working parents with job security, two children at home (they'd retained full custody of Justin after they'd left the Sea org), a nanny for the daytime, and a house built to order. Much of our extended family, including my father's sisters, Lori and Denise, and my grandmother on my dad's side, was also living in new Hampshire, and we were on a path to settling down surrounded by family. it seemed like rejoining the ranks of the most die-hard devotees of Scientology could not have been farther from my parents' minds.
And yet, with one rash decision, they did just that, returning to the Sea Org and putting all of our lives on a drastically different path. What my parents knew at the time, and what I would only learn later, was that being in the Sea Org meant that they would spend a lot of time away from me. But that didn't change their decision. The Church was their priority, and their minds were made up.
Later, my parents would tell me that their decision was made spontaneously, without much thought, and in hindsight it was the worst decision of their lives. While I can't say whether they considered the impact that their choice would have on me, most likely I was just one of the many sacrifices they were willing to make in the name of the Church. They had quit once, so perhaps they figured that they could leave again if it didn't work out. Another part of their thinking may have been that they really believed it would be awesome to raise a child in Scientology, because I would experience Scientology from the beginning of my life.
There was likely a restlessness in them, a feeling that something was missing. They preferred being out in the world on an important mission and serving some higher purpose than being in new Hampshire, working nine-to-five jobs, and raising children. They were motivated by the Church's mission and they wanted to be involved in something bigger. one thing is clear to me: That decision was when normal stopped having a place in our lives. There had been an opportunity for our lives, for our family, to look very different; my parents considered that future, then walked away from it.