How a Scientologist Loses Faith in His Church: A Case Study
Cook's e-mail spelled out in high relief what ex-Scientologists had been telling us were the issues causing so many longtime, dedicated church members to flee the organization. It had nothing to do with Xenu, the jokes of late-night comedians, the constant bad press, or even the global protests. Cook's complaints were all about a cancer eating away at Scientology from its guts: a crisis in faith over the leadership of David Miscavige.
Now, just a few months later, we have another remarkable testimony describing in even greater detail the problems facing Miscavige's church.
Dave Fagen has posted a book-length description of his decision to leave Scientology as a many-chaptered blog he's titled "My Side of the Story," and the document in its entirety reflects and amplifies Debbie Cook's own litany of charges in very interesting ways.
After the jump: we've pulled out some of Fagen's detailed and well-written explanations for what turned him against his church, we've also interviewed him, and at the end we have a bonus musical surprise.
The name Fagen should already be familiar to our readers. Dave's wife Synthia has been an active member of our commenting community, and she was featured prominently in the big Tampa Bay Times expose, "The Money Machine" in November.
Dave has written his account with his former Chicago Org co-workers in mind, and he knows that his reader will naturally wonder about Synthia's decision to talk to the Tampa Bay Times and whether he simply followed her out of the church. So he carefully explains how each of them lost their faith in the church and its leader, Miscavige.
Dave explains that Synthia was the first to have grave doubts because of her role at the org -- which involved intense fundraising for the International Association of Scientologists. Dave was spared much of the fundraising drama. "I generally stayed in the courseroom and fortunately, since Supervising was my primary duty, I was probably the one who got the least pressured to get donations and sales," he writes.
Synthia, on the other hand, was reaching her limit, and it had nothing to do with the battering the church was receiving in the press.
Up to this time, she hadn't seen or read any of [the media reports]. It was about things that she witnessed and experienced in the org, while on staff. It had to do with the constant over-emphasis on taking in money, with a lack of attention on helping people as individuals.
When Synthia voiced her concerns, church management made a fateful decision -- she was given a copy of Freedom, Scientology's propaganda magazine.
It was an issue of the magazine that harshly criticized former church officials Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder and others after they accused Miscavige of violence to employees in a major 2009 St. Petersburg Times project, "The Truth Rundown."
Having Sindy read this magazine turned out to be a big mistake...It was the way in which this magazine was written that turned the tables for Sindy. To her it was obvious the church was hiding something...It was the tipping point that got her to want to "cross the line" to find out what was really happening in the management of the Church of Scientology, doing this by reading Internet information that was not being disclosed by the church itself.
By February 2010, Dave writes, he faced a personal crisis. Synthia, it was plain, was leaving Scientology, and he knew that he'd either have to consider for himself what had changed her point of view, or leave her.
I didn't want to leave my wife and the idea of leaving Scientology was a completely foreign concept up until then...I had never read anything negative about it in years and I hadn't wanted to. The idea of reading things like that on the Internet seemed like a very surreal idea to me.
Then, Dave made his own fateful decision: to trust his own intelligence and judgment. He would look at the material online to evaluate it for himself.
Do I not have the ability to judge data for myself? Why would I need an authority to tell me whether something is true or something is not true?
The result? Reading "The Truth Rundown" devastated him, Dave writes. Amy Scobee, Tom DeVocht, Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun -- these were not just any group of ex-church members. These were people who had been in Scientology for decades and had served it at the highest level. And they were all reporting the same thing -- that Miscavige was a brutal person to work for, a man they had seen on multiple occasions assault his employees. For Dave Fagen, it rang true, and that astounded him.
I could imagine being in a state where I am wondering day-to-day whether or not I am going to get physically beaten in some way. And this is happening at Int management of the Church of Scientology!
Dave kept reading. If the church was not being honest about conditions for upper management, what else was questionable? For one, he began to realize, Miscavige's constant claims for ever-growing expansion just didn't add up.
The church claims that there are 10,000 orgs, missions and groups...Where are they?
Last I knew there were about 175 Class V orgs. This would mean that the Class V orgs average 45.7 missions and groups per org.
I know that for Chicago, there are about 5 missions and one field auditor that I know of who actually audits. (If it's more, I apologize for overlooking but it isn't much more than that).
I've been to Flag [Scientology's spiritual headquarters, the "Flag Land Base" in Clearwater, Florida] and I've known staff members from all over the world and I have never heard of one single org having over 10 missions. And as far as "groups" are concerned, I don't know what the church is considering a "group" to consist of, but I've never heard of any org that had anything that could be considered to be anywhere near 45 of them. In Chicago, I never saw anything like what I would consider a high number of highly productive field groups.
If my org had 45 missions and field groups, I'm sure that after being on staff for 25 years, I would be able to name more than 5 missions and one field auditor in the area.
My point here is not to belittle the hard-working staff members of the church, it is to get them to actually look at what is going on. The claim of 10,000 orgs, missions and groups is a false report! And that's another extreme out-ethics indicator.
And also the church was claiming that it has over 8,000,000 members!
Let's just say that Flag, ASHO, AOLA, AOSH UK, AOSH ANZO and AOSH EU* each had 10,000 people in their local areas that would be considered to be public of those orgs. (I doubt that it is anywhere near that high but I could be wrong. Check for yourself if you want but I'm using this as a generous assumption.) That would be 50,000 Scientologists right there. [*Acronyms for advanced orgs in Los Angeles, the UK, Copenhagen, and Australia.]
That would leave 7,950,000 members of the church to account for as affiliated with 175 Class V orgs. You know how many church members that makes per org? That's 45,428.57 members per Class V org.
Last I knew, my org had, without a doubt, no more than 1,000 active members. And that is a very generous estimate. Sure, there may be many hundreds of times more than that amount in the Central Files, but the overwhelming majority of those folders are of people who only bought a book and did nothing further. And then I would say that there are at least a few thousand in there who once were active in Scientology but haven't done anything in Scientology for many years. In my book, that doesn't count, and if that's the basis for the 8,000,000 members, to count anyone who ever bought a book or ever had even just one contact with an org or mission, or isn't actually a Scientologist anymore, then I call that a STAT PUSH and also another false report.
(In fact, I've personally seen a videotaped court deposition of Scientology president Heber Jentzsch given years ago during which he admitted that the claims of millions of members is exactly that -- a number reflecting the amount of people who have ever, since Scientology's beginnings in the 1950s, purchased even a single book or taken a single course, whether or not they ever had any other interaction with the church. As we've reported earlier, the number of active members of the church is probably closer to about 40,000 around the world.)
For Dave, the claim of millions of active members, and 10,000 orgs and groups, was completely alien to his own experience.
I would think that if Scientology was undergoing "explosive growth", that there would be some more new orgs popping up in the world. (And I don't mean just new buildings for orgs that already exist.)...
In my org for my last 5 years on staff, I don't recall ever having more than 110 bodies in the shop in any week and I would say most of the time it was less than 100. That is no more than it was 15 years earlier. So you need to actually look in orgs to see if Scientology is expanding, not just listen to what someone at an event says is happening.
What was worse, Dave writes, is that the few people the org did attract weren't getting the kind of training that would produce "Class VIII auditors" -- the best counselors for Scientology's spiritual training.
I knew we were not making auditors, I knew that auditor training was virtually replaced by the Basics courses being done in the Academies...
How many Class VIIIs have you seen made in the last 15 years? Personally, I don't know of any public who became permanent Class VIIIs within that time...
The Golden Age of Tech [Miscavige's controversial 1996 re-working of Hubbard's training regimens] was supposed to have solved, utterly, the problem of not being able to make volumes of perfect auditors anywhere in the world. That was the main claim. From 1996 on, we were supposed to witness and experience the biggest training boom in the history of Scientology.
Instead, Dave writes, it had the opposite effect as people found themselves suddenly obliged to re-do expensive training.
I personally know of at least two auditors who were auditing before the release of the Golden Age of Tech who are no longer auditing. One of them was my auditor and was my personal favorite. He was told, not too long after the GAT release, that he was forbidden from auditing at all until he completed his certainty courses. He was one of the best, if not the best, auditor I have had. He hasn't audited in about 15 years.
Instead of making auditors, the church seems focused on only one thing: raising money. Members endure constant appeals for money, but never hear how the money is spent.
In the last couple of years, when I was working in the church, there was at least one major fundraiser of some sort just about every week quite in addition to the daily fundraising required...
When you donate tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IAS, or when you spend late nights at great personal sacrifice trying to get others to donate tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IAS, don't you think you have a right to know exactly where the money all goes?
Instead of accounting for its spending, the church turned over very different kinds of documentation, Dave writes. When he expressed his own doubts, he was given thick "dead agent" packs about the former officials -- Rathbun, Rinder, etc. -- who had gone public.
Each one of these sources of information had an individual pack of papers written about them, stapled together. In other words there was one packet for Marty Rathbun, one for Mike Rinder, one for Jeff Hawkins, and so on...
Dave writes, however, that he saw nothing in the packs that he would consider worse behavior than what any average person in the church might have done -- after all, during auditing, every Scientologist is required to cough up embarrassing past behavior as a requirement to spiritual advancement.
And again, the church's strategy backfired badly. Rather than convince Dave that Rathbun and the others were not to be believed, the "dead agent" packs instead convinced him that the church had assembled the packs by culling material from supposedly confidential confessional files that members compile during their auditing.
[They] were gotten from people's PC folders [a "pre-clear" is what a Scientologist is called during his early period, when he will likely divulge most of his or her embarrassing past behavior] or ethics folders [information compiled during security interrogations] and now they were actually being revealed to me by someone from the church in order to discredit the person!...It was not something that should have been divulged to me and was written by the person with a trust that it would be kept confidential...
The last affidavit I read was one by Russ Bellin, an exec at International Management, where he made the typical claim about how great a leader David Miscavige was and how much of a privilege it was to work under him. And as I was reading, that is when I realized that I didn't believe one word of what Russ Bellin was saying, and not only that, that there was no longer anything the church could say that was going to get me to decide to continue to support it any longer.
Dave's mind was made up, but he writes that he made an attempt to "route out" properly, and waited to hear about his case -- but only heard from others that he had been declared a "suppressive person" or SP. It dawned on him what that really meant...
In my opinion, the real reason we were declared, aside from whatever supposed policies we were said to have violated, was because now we knew too much and now our comm line with the people we know inside the church had to be cut by enforcement, so that we could not tell others what we know.
Looking back, Dave knew that Synthia had seen far worse than he had in her position raising money for the IAS. Often, he writes, she saw highly questionable activities as the emphasis was always on bringing in more money...
Sindy was on staff as the IAS Membership Officer and she witnessed and experienced many things that were not only wrong, they were extremely wrong. Confirming people for events who couldn't speak English, just to get bodies into the event seats; reporting people as event confirms who really weren't confirmed; brushing off new public without taking care of them and their questions because the staff concerned were too busy calling people for the basics because they knew they had to make their quotas; people who weren't even Scientologists being called up as much as 60 times in a day; minimal attention being put on pc's and students because everyone had to be on basics sales no matter what their post was (except me, I already mentioned); public having their accounts debited, without their permission so that multiple sets of books could be purchased for other people they didn't even know about; people being persuaded to buy multiple sets of books with the idea that they should sell them to others, with the result being that the books uselessly sat in boxes in people's basements; Ethics Officers and MAAs telling people that they could, or had to, buy their way up the conditions by buying more books; the big push to get books donated to every library in the world resulting in libraries still not having them or, in at least one known case, selling them off for pennies; using books as an immediate solution to disasters where people really needed food, water and shelter on an emergency basis rather than books, but using this as a reason to sell more books; the list goes on...
She saw these outpoints day in and day out. She wondered whatever happened to the spiritual aspect of what was supposed to be a church. Like, why all this attention on sales, money, getting every possible penny from people that could possibly be gotten. This wasn't what she got into Scientology to do.
There's much more at Fagen's blog. He's structured the thing a bit oddly, and some of it may seem repetitive or full of jargon to an outsider. But he's not writing for an outsider. His choice of language, the choice of structure, his references to other material -- it all seems very smartly calculated to answer the objections of one of his former co-workers, or any current church member.
The Fagens have been out of the church for a little more than two years. That transition can be rough, and I asked Dave in a phone call Sunday how he and Synthia managed to make it.
"We had a minor struggle at the beginning, as far as work. But we were still making more money than before. Now we're doing great. We have our own business. Somebody we know helped us out a lot to get it going. It just sort of evolved," he says. "I make more money now on a bad day than I did in a good week then."
Fortunately for the both of them, they were each the only Scientologists in their respective families -- so they have not suffered any "disconnection" dramas after being declared SPs.
It took Fagen about a year to write "My Side of the Story," and he expects that it will be read by his former friends still in the church. "Most of them are having grave doubts about the church," he says.
I asked Dave if he's now an "independent Scientologist."
"I have a problem with that label. But I have to say, I still use Scientology," he says. "I still use what I learned, and that makes me a Scientologist, you know. And I'm independent, because I don't have to answer to anyone, including other indepenent Scientologists."
He then added, "I no longer believe what L. Ron Hubbard said just because he said it."
Bonus: The David Love Creepout Remix!
We told you recently about David Love's recent picket at the Montreal Scientology org, when a man from the church came up and tried to bait him into starting a physical confrontation. "Be a man. Do me a favor. Touch me," the man said repeatedly.
Well, now someone has remixed that creepy audio onto the Hall and Oates song "Out of Touch," and the result is cosmically good.
Give it a listen!
I want this line on a T-Shirt: "I get up early in the morning so bastards like you can touch me."
********** Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.
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