One of my goals in 2019 is to read more books. One of the first books on my list was Leah Remini’s Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.
I work for a ministry that sends Christ-followers all over the world, often in hostile areas, to share their faith in the Gospel of Christ. Over the years, as I’ve listened to their stories, I’ve been convicted that many in the Western church struggle to know how to share their faith because they don’t really know about other religions, myself included. This is why I choose Remini’s book, which chronicles Remini’s time in Scientology and how she and her family finally decided to leave the Church of Scientology (COS).
Remini came to the COS in her teens, when her mother decided to join after her parents divorced. Remini rose to celebrity status as a Scientologist. In Troublemaker, she provides information about the COS that most people don’t know. I certainly didn’t.
These are my top five takeaways from Remini’s story:
- L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction and fantasy writer who founded of the Church of Scientology because, according to Hubbard, Excalibur, one of his novels inspired by a near death experience, contained a great message he needed to share with the world. Scientology is founded on this message, which includes Hubbard’s theories on how to remain morally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually pure. Learning about Scientology’s origins helped me understand what Scientology was actually about and how it became more of an accepted mainstream spiritual thought.
- A key component to Scientology rests in the belief that we must work to right all the wrongs (sins) we commit. Remini talks about these steps—what the COS calls auditing and “The Bridge to Total Freedom”—and the wrongs she made along the way, including her affair with a married man (who is now her husband). Some of what Remini had to do in order to right these wrongs seems a little crazy to those of us outside of Scientology.
Once she confessed that she was having the affair, she was given instructions by the COS on how to make it right. She had to call and apologize to his then wife and stop seeing him. That seems reasonable enough. But then she had to pay for their couples’ therapy (in the COS) and pay a sizeable pennance to the Church of Scientology. So maybe the paying for counseling was generous, but why only in COS and why was the extra money to the church required? As a Christ-follower, this makes me skeptical. How could a donation to the church make things right in a person’s soul or moral character?
Giving money to the church as a way of atoning for sin was one of the major catalysts for the Protestant revolution 500 years ago. It was a giant red flag then, and it should be a red flag in any church today.
- Lot’s of famous people are drawn to Scientology. The COS calls them “untouchables,” people with celebrity status or significant social influence, such as Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, or COS leaders like David Miscavige. These “untouchables” determine who can move up in the chain of command, and, conversely, which people in the Church of Scientology are labeled a suppressive person (SP). A suppressive person is “someone in the church’s eyes and by LRH’s policy who is found to be a threat to Scientology. Once the [COS] has labeled you an SP, you are ‘Declared,’ and as a result, you are cut off from all practicing Scientologists” (17).
- Remini notes that the church was never set up to have someone as the “head”or leader; however, as Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center (RTC), which holds the trademarks for Dianetics and Scientology, David Miscavige is often seen as the leader. Remini struggled to be just a follower and not ask questions. She wrestled with hard questions about the COS and it’s leaders, such as where was the money she was giving to the COS was going? Why did Tom Cruise have so much sway? And where was David’s wife, Shelley?
This last question led to multiple interrogations within the COS of Remini and her family. Remini hadn’t seen or heard from Shelley Miscavige in several years, and she was never able to get a direct answer from anyone who would have known where she was. Remini says, “Ironically, for me and for most other people who have left the church and spoken out against it, the very qualities that we’ve been penalized for—defying, questioning, thinking independently—are the same qualities that made us prime candidates for Scientology in the first place” (18). This inevitably lead to Remini’s being labeled as an SP, which led her to leave the Church of Scientology.
I would be considered a SP for sure, even if I wasn’t a Christ-follower. I question everything. It got me into lots of trouble with my parents as a kid, but I needed to know the why behind things and to not be able to even ask would definitely be a red flag for me.
There are plenty of Christian churches out there too that discourage people from ever asking any questions. Again, that should be a red flag. They are not operating in mutual submission prescribed in Ephesians 4.
- Scientology teaches that people are immortal spiritual beings who have forgotten their true nature. It considers itself the study of handling the spirit in relationship to itself, others, and all of life. Scientology claims to provide its followers with ways to get back to their true nature, but as far as anyone can tell, that level of “True Freedom” has never been achieved by anyone.
In the end, Remini questioned a lot of what she was made to do within the COS, such as giving money to the Church for the specific purpose of helping those in need. When Remini asked for evidence that her donations were actually being used to help the poor, no one could or would provide that proof. Remini said at the end of the book that though all of this happened, she believes that parts of the original teachings are still helpful to her life: “Today, I’m able to ascertain which concepts and precepts were helpful to me and am able to still apply them. And I am now comfortable with the idea that even if I could find things the church offered me that feel ‘right,’ that didn’t mean my leaving it was wrong” (466).
As I read the book, I found that many of the things that happened to Remini within the COS didn’t really have anything to do with her spiritual life and moral outlook. I was convinced more and more as I read that people can search and search, but only find ultimate truth in the Gospel of Christ.
It also put a burden in my heart to pray for people in places of influence or celebrity. If they are a follower of Christ, we should pray that God would keep them as they are His representative in a sphere of people who can greatly influence scores of people that I may never be able to reach with the truth of the Gospel. One of the most profound things that Remini says is that, although she “thought the problem with the church was David Miscavige and Tom Cruise,” she realized “that if both of them left the church tomorrow [she] wouldn’t necessarily feel different about Scientology… it’s a structural flaw of the faith that its adherents are forbidden from challenging the leader (and its policies) at all costs. And right behind the current leader is another of the same kind” (466).
Remini’s realization made me think about my faith in Christ. I do not have to fear questioning God because He is the leader I look to, not a human. Even in the Christian church, as I look to a leader, I am very aware of that person’s flaws because they are human too. It has caused me to overflow with gratefulness to have a faith rooted in a God who does not change, is not bound by human flaws, does not use or manipulate me, but seeks His glory and my good.
I would encourage you to read books this year that challenge your views, deepen your spiritual walk, or open your eyes to how someone else lives; it can spur gratitude and compassion in your heart too.