Breaking Away from the Church of Scientology: Reading Marty Rathbun's Manifesto
Between 2004 and 2007, Scientology experienced several defections by high-ranking executives who later wrote books about breaking away from what they characterized as a dangerous and pathological organization.
But for many of us who watch Scientology, it is one defector in particular whose story we've been waiting to read.
In 2004, Mark 'Marty' Rathbun left Scientology after being a member for 27 years. Until he left, he had reached the position of Inspector General-Ethics of the Religious Technology Center, which is a convoluted way of saying that he was for all practical purposes the second-highest ranking executive in the church, and one of its most intimidating.
Rathbun was an enforcer, the kind of guy Scientology leader David Miscavige could rely on to "make things go right" when the church found itself in a legal jam or a public relations mess. Rathbun was also responsible for hunting down important church members who tried to escape, and for planning retaliation campaigns against the church's perceived enemies.
But then he ran away. And in 2009, he began writing a blog that is harshly critical of Miscavige and the church. While his blog has been a revelation in certain ways, Rathbun has promised to write a lengthy book that will tell his life story, and in the process, reveal closets full of skeletons in Scientology's history.
We're still waiting for that book. In the meantime, Rathbun recently put out something very different. It's a brief manifesto of sorts, written for the increasing numbers of people who have left the official church but still adhere to the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard.
They call themselves "independent Scientologists."
Scientology has had defectors and splinter groups since its inception. But the current crises facing the church -- including the glare of media brought about by a celebrity divorce -- appear to threaten its very existence. Rathbun and another former executive, top Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder, have given this split a much higher profile than breakaway groups in the past. The church's predictable moves to retaliate against Rathbun and Rinder have been hamfisted and widely publicized. Increasingly, the word is getting out that these former executives are making things very difficult for Miscavige.
This is what Rathbun's brief, 157-page book tries to address.
Self-published by Rathbun with the help of two other independent Scientologists as technical guides, its title is What Is Wrong with Scientology? Healing Through Understanding.
It's well written, and, for independent Scientologists, probably an inspiring book that dares to challenge not only Miscavige but also Hubbard himself -- a sacrilegious notion that will make it incredibly risky for church members to have a copy in their possession.
But it's also, for those of us outside the Scientology experience, a bundle of contradictions that may be tough to get through without a church glossary handy.
We know the lingo. So we dived in, and brought back our own impressions of this rather remarkable declaration of independence.
Hubbard Good, Miscavige Bad
Here at this blog, we've been writing about independent Scientology for several years. And we've come to expect that many of our readers have little patience for the way "indies" blame David Miscavige for everything that is wrong with the church today, and can't or won't admit that Miscavige inherited many of the church's more abusive practices from Hubbard.
This "Hubbard Good, Miscavige Bad" mentality often expressed by independents is regularly derided by our readers, and we wondered how much Rathbun would himself fall into it.
Throughout the book, however, Rathbun says that it's important for all Scientologists to trust their own experiences, and not slavishly fit everything they perceive into a Hubbard book or policy letter. These are the most refreshing and original moments in his manifesto, and I think he deserves a lot of credit for them.
To an outsider, however, those moments get swallowed up in a predictable mass of Hubbard apologetics as Rathbun tries too hard to excuse the founder for his foibles.
After stating his thesis -- that Miscavige's church has hopelessly corrupted Hubbard's technology -- Rathbun then sets out, over several chapters, to rescue that technology from the corporate church, one level at a time.
He starts with Hubbard's own first step, as explained in his 1950 book Dianetics. The human mind has two halves, Rathbun explains: the analytical and the reactive, which records our every negative experience. A traumatic incident we might have gone through when we were younger -- A Little League injury, in Rathbun's example -- is stored in the reactive mind as an "engram" which can be "restimulated" and harm us later in life. Dianetics is the process by which those engrams and the reactive mind itself can be swept away, producing a superior state of existence known as "Clear."
It all sounds reasonable in Rathbun's matter-of-fact description. The only problem is, Hubbard's mid-20th century idea that the human mind operates like one of the primitive computers of the time is a fable that has not a shred of scientific evidence to back it up.
Rathbun, however, simply takes it for granted that his audience considers the "reactive mind" and "engrams" as well-established scientific fact and moves on, figuring that he's settled the matter.
He goes on to explain that Hubbard then developed "Scientology" as the natural successor to Dianetics, a sort of "post-doctoral" field of study in order to take his ideas beyond the notion of "Clear."
Well, that's one way to look at it. But it's also quite well documented that by 1952, Hubbard had lost control of the Dianetics movement, owed his partner Don Purcell lots of money, and needed to start over to avoid his other creditors. Suddenly, Hubbard came up with "Scientology" as a new way to brand his ideas. But I guess we can't expect Rathbun to go into that kind of detail in this short book.
Rathbun then dives into a soup of Scientology jargon in order to explain to us what revolutionary ideas Hubbard is responsible for: namely that we live so that we can survive, that we tend to carry guilt for the bad things we do to other people, that confession of our transgressions is good for the soul, and that karma is a bitch. If any of these sound like civilization-changing notions, you may, in fact, find Hubbard's books actually useful.
By page 30, Rathbun is extolling the virtues of "training routines" that condition Scientologists to sit still for hours at a time and dutifully receive instructions -- classic indoctrination methods that outside experts have said induce mild hypnotic states in people so that they can learn to adopt the familiar "thousand-yard stare" and emotionless affect you find in Scientologists.
Sometimes you have to wonder if Rathbun is even hearing his own words. He describes the "magic" of Scientology's e-meter (a primitive electronic device that reacts to skin galvanism) that Rathbun credits with the ability to read your thoughts. He then says that Miscavige screwed things up by promoting the e-meter as "all-knowing." If you see a difference there, I sure don't.
We then get a long description of how many times an e-meter needle should "float" back and forth before an engram has been removed, and how Miscavige botched things by insisting that three back-and-forths of the needle are absolutely required, ruining Hubbard's more free-ranging original solution.
That may be a revelation and a big relief to Scientologists, but for someone not convinced of the e-meter's magical qualities, Rathbun might as well claim that it can, with scientific certainty, answer that age-old question about angels and the head of a pin.
In a subsequent chapter, titled, "Rudiments," the you're-doing-it-wrong litany against Miscavige's church continues, but at least now there's something more to hold onto than the wayward motions of an e-meter needle: cold, hard cash.
If Rathbun is correct and Miscavige has layered on rules that make it harder for a Scientologist to proceed with his case, the time it takes to get past those problems happens while a very expensive bill is being run up. I've heard this from other ex-Scientologists, Jason Beghe in particular, who today calls it a classic con: you pay for calibrations that have to be done with an e-meter before you can pay for the auditing you actually want to take place, and the church always seems to find that more of that pesky calibrating needs to be done. And since the science here is on the level of reading tea leaves, who can argue that their needle doesn't need more (expensive) rejiggering?
That con is also Rathbun's complaint in the chapter on "Objectives." Miscavige, he says, has turned what should be a brief and even fun set of optional exercises for the beginning Scientologist, called "Objectives," and turned them into a brutally long set of required activities that even high-leveled church members are forced to engage in at hundreds of dollars an hour.
That certainly sounds like a legitimate complaint. But I noticed that Rathbun doesn't actually spell out what Scientologists do during their Objectives: they spend hour upon hour issuing verbal instructions to ashtrays and beverage bottles, among other things. Rathbun can complain about Miscavige forcing church members to engage in this expensive malarkey, but from the outside, price isn't the only red flag.
In the next chapter, "Grades," Rathbun comes very close to spelling out Hubbard's essential racket: Hubbard took the vague, charming ambiguity of Zen and other Eastern traditions (which were all but unknown to 1950's American culture) and repackaged it in a very familiar midcentury hyper-bureacratic business-speak. It was mysticism for the Mad Men set. And Hubbard's genius was selling Eastern woo-woo as scientific "certainty," or, as Rathbun puts it...
The Grades are much akin to schools of Zen Buddhism wherein the Master asks the student profound questions, and in the course of contemplating the answers, the student discovers all manner of revelations. But the Scientology Grades are far more organized, directed and certain.
Rathbun then goes into even deeper detail about how Miscavige has ruined various Scientology practices, and in order to prove his case Rathbun continually refers to things Hubbard had written as how things really ought to go.
But every time he does that, I can't help feeling that Rathbun has forgotten what he said on the very first page of his first chapter: "One of the problems with defining Scientology is that corporate members are encouraged to take all words of its creator L. Ron Hubbard literally."
If corporate Scientology is mistaken for slavishly following Hubbard to the letter, how can Rathbun later use Hubbard's words to condemn what Miscavige is doing? It's a paradox he never really deals with.
Making the Grades
At this point in the book in particular -- as throughout the reading experience in general -- it's vitally important to remember who Rathbun is really writing for. He's writing for fellow Scientologsts who have become increasingly frustrated with how their cases are being handled in the corporate church. Even if his "Grades" chapter reads like hash to those of us outside the Scientology experience, I have a feeling it's actually one of the most effective for those inside. Talk to people who have recently left the church, and they'll tell you that they were stuck on one spot of Hubbard's "Bridge to Total Freedom" for years as they paid through the nose for useless re-calibrations or in donations for useless buildings. So when Rathbun says that Miscavige has ruined Hubbard's processes and the grass is greener on the independent side of the hedge, I have to assume that it will resonate deeply for his Scientologist readers.
To Rathbun's credit, in his next chapter on the use of confession in Scientology, he admits that Hubbard, after originally insisting that what a "pre-clear" says in session is completely confidential, began to make exceptions for "matters of concern to the survival of the organization."
That should send a shiver down your spine. And Rathbun explains that this Orwellian use of a pre-clear's confessional information then led to the development of "security checking" or "sec checking" -- essentially the forced interrogation of Scientologsts which is intended to get them to admit to any ill-will they may be harboring for the church (and any sexual secrets they may be withholding, for good measure). Rathbun then claims that Miscavige took these practices to sick extremes, but at least he owns up to Hubbard's involvement in what would become Scientology's increasing obsession with interrogation and retaliation.
Rathbun's assessment of the current situation certainly comports with what many ex-Scientologists have told us in recent years...
After a while, a corporate Scientologist modifies her behavior accordingly, in order to avoid more security checks. She not only edits her own behavior and thoughts, she attempts to do the same with Scientologist friends and family members, so that she does not get into trouble for overlooking such transgressions of others. Thus, a process that was originally intended to free a person from the self-imposed mental prison she has created by her own inability to live up to what she considers right and ethical conduct becomes reversed.
Blame Hubbard, don't blame Hubbard: the point is, Rathbun here nails why Scientology today is so dangerous. Through interrogations and paranoia, it teaches its members that the best course of action in the defense of the organization is usually what the rest of us would consider the most harmful and least ethical.
If I'm giving Rathbun a hard time for trying to find ways to let Hubbard off the hook, it's also important to point out that so far, the "independent Scientologists" that he is among are practicing what they preach and don't insist that the ends justify the means.
In the chapter on "Ethics," for example, as Rathbun explains the awful things church members are subject to -- incredible pressure to pay huge amounts, and snitching on friends and family, for example -- these are not things that we've seen among the independents.
By the time we get to the chapter on "Suppression," the pattern is firmly established: Hubbard's writings about "suppressive persons" and "disconnection" were reasonable in context (a small percentage of human beings are beyond redemption and it's best just to stay away from them) but today's Scientology has warped those ideas out of recognition (anyone the church considers an enemy is kryptonite and must be avoided, even if it involves splitting up a family).
If that calculus absolves Hubbard and makes the independents feel better, so be it. At least Rathbun is correct in this regard: "disconnection" is now Scientology's most toxic policy and one that is driving more and more members away.
When Rathbun writes, "Scientology Inc. has degenerated into a police-state culture that punishes guilt by association," plenty of longtime critics will be quick to point out that that was always the case, at least since 1965 when Hubbard began security checking and then invented the RPF. But why quibble? The point is, Scientology today is permeated with this sickness.
I couldn't agree with Rathbun more as he spells out the current state of the church:
Miscavige runs a torture and concentration camp for managers of Scientology Inc. near Hemet, California, while celebrity Scientologists lend their talents to an ever-increasing stream of human rights promotional videos and events sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Scientology Celebrity Centre....We see second-generation Scientologist teenagers gleefully informing on their parents for not snappily conforming to the latest Scientology Inc. party line. Consequently those parents are declared suppressive and lose their families and careers overnight, while their snitching children are heaped with praise within. Meanwhile, Scientology Inc. increasingly churns out propaganda about how it enhances family life.
Clear As We Want To Be
After that searing indictment, Rathbun unfortunately goes back into justifying Hubbard for the independents, specifically trying to handle Jason Beghe's now famous denunciation of Hubbard's "technology," when he said in 2008, "Let me see a motherfucking Clear."
Beghe meant, of course, that from 1950 on, Hubbard offered, for a fee, to create in a subject a kind of superhuman state if he or she could just erase the reactive mind. Rathbun and others can try to deny it today, but there's no question that Hubbard at the time sold this dream by promising such powers as clairvoyance, total recall, and imperviousness to disease. His initial attempt to demonstrate a Clear, in August 1950, was such a disaster, Hubbard expected people to forget all about it when, in 1966, he announced that he had finally produced the first true Clear, John McMaster.
Look, there's no doubt that many people have enjoyed using Hubbard's techniques and will tell you that they have had many "wins" and "gains" -- see my recent story on Dani Lemberger for an account of a longtime Scientologist explaining all of the wondrous things he's experienced going up the Bridge. But as Beghe points out, no one is being turned into supermen with Hubbard's books. Rathbun's explanation for that seems completely typical of the person selling mystical results that never manage to turn up: move the goal posts, minimize expectations, say that the ultimate aim has been achieved but just not recognized.
Rathbun gives Hubbard an out by quoting something he wrote in 1958 which described Clear in these terms: "a Clear could be said to be basic personality realized."
It's underwhelming, to be sure. And hardly worth the hype that Scientology to this day bases its reputation on.
To his credit, Rathbun does decry the notion that Hubbard was a god, and one that church members have come to worship. But at the same time, Rathbun seems unable to consider that if, as he says, Hubbard had truly discovered an exact science with reproducible results then Hubbard himself would be unnecessary for its independent discovery and application by other scientists.
You just won't see a Scientologist, even one as reasonable as Rathbun, ever suggest that Dianetics and Scientology could be discovered independently in a lab and developed without Hubbard's books and policies. Somehow, it never seems to occur to someone like Rathbun that this puts the entire enterprise into question.
If Hubbard is no god, Rathbun instead compares the man to Moses, and then discusses Miscavige's takeover of the church in 1986 as if it were the first time jaded, power-hungry opportunists were running the organization. For outsiders, this chapter will be hard to take.
When Rathbun writes that "positioning L. Ron Hubbard as God in the eyes of Scientologists has effectively converted Scientology into an elaborate trap," you want to grab him by the collar and make him admit that Hubbard himself had toyed with the idea of declaring himself the new Messiah, to the point that he'd even created some exploratory surveys to be filled out by his followers in the 1970s.
Hubbard, after all, had his followers portray him as a reincarnated Buddha on the cover of church magazines in the mid-1970s.
Rathbun doesn't mention that, but then, just a few pages later, Rathbun does admit that Hubbard created the Guardian's Office, which was responsible for the biggest infiltration of the federal government in American history. The GO was the epitome of Scientology's ability to commit the worst excesses as long as it served "the greater good" of the organization.
But once again, Rathbun excuses Hubbard, this time saying that Hubbard had good reason to resort to such tactics, saying only that Hubbard was facing "vested interests" that wanted to see Scientology fail.
As we've been revealing in never-before-published documents written by Hubbard during this time, one of the "vested interests" that Hubbard insisted was trying to tear down his creation was SMERSH -- yes, Hubbard actually tried to convince his followers that they were fighting a war against the fictional espionage organization of the James Bond novels.
Vested interests, indeed.
I'm OT, You're OT
At this point in Rathbun's book, we graduate to the "Operating Thetan" (OT) levels, and I have to admit that I was salivating for this portion of the book. (The highest levels of Scientology attainment, the OT levels can take years to reach and years more to complete, with fantastic prices.)
I give Rathbun a lot of credit for speaking openly (if a little cryptically) about the content of OT 3, the most notorious of all teachings in Scientology lore. You've probably seen the South Park episode about Xenu, the galactic overlord, so you probably already know that in OT 3, Hubbard explains that our world is infested with disembodied alien souls brought here 75 million years ago. The higher OT levels -- OT 4 through OT 8, largely involve exorcising these "body thetans" from your person so you can unleash your true potential.
And here, Rathbun explains, is one of the fundamental differences between church members, who are asked to accept the OT 3 story literally, and independents, who tell us that they can treat it as a metaphor.
To emphasize that fact, Rathbun goes on to explain that Scientology's space cooties are really no weirder than some of the angels-and-demons talk of other religions.
But I can't let him get away with that.
Here's why: If you are curious about Christianity or Judaism or Islam, the members of those faiths will tell you up front, for no money, all about their gods and demons and heavens and hells.
But that cute story about Xenu that Rathbun says is just a metaphor? Scientology wants you to spend years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, before you get even a hint of it. And that's exactly the way Hubbard wanted it -- he claimed that he had risked his life learning the secrets of Xenu and body thetans, and had nearly died from pneumonia and even broke several bones doing his research. (He didn't, but it made for a good story.) There is simply no question that Hubbard wanted this material kept absolutely secret even from his own followers until they had forked over enough money to be let in on it.
Will independent Scientologists reverse that and now start talking about Xenu freely, explaining to anyone that it's a part of their theology? As I said, I give Rathbun credit for including it in this book, and it may be an indication that the independents are learning that Hubbard's secrecy was a liability, not a benefit.
Rathbun even suggests that Hubbard himself had second thoughts near the end of his life and considered allowing Scientologists to skip OT 3.
That's an interesting notion that puts Hubbard in a positive light, but on reflection it makes no sense whatsoever. How, after all, could the exorcisms of OT 4 and higher make any sense without an origin story to explain where all the excess thetans came from that require removal?
Rathbun dodges these questions entirely by describing the upper OT levels in the vaguest form of New Age happy talk. Rather than discuss how to chase off disembodied aliens infesting his body, he says, "I believe solo auditing has helped me to achieve greater clarity of perception and lightness and dexterity of spirit."
Rathbun then claims that science is coming around to the same conclusion, and his book for the next few pages sounds like just about any book you can find in the New Age aisle which is convinced that scientists will sooner or later find that quantum mechanics is really proof that spirits live among us. Such books are more numerous than the stars in heaven, and therefore not really worth our time.
Rathbun's penultimate chapter is both his most remarkable and, for me, most frustrating. He tells the story of how his life developed after leaving Scientology, how he met his lovely wife Monique, and her father, who is a psychology professor -- an evil psych, in Scientology parlance. He introduced Monique to Scientology, but more importantly, he was overwhelmed by the love and acceptance he received from Monique and her dad, something that shocked him. He had been trained after all, not to expect that from someone like his father-in-law.
Meanwhile, through an editor he worked for at a Corpus Christi newspaper who had worked as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, Rathbun learned that, in fact, evil psychs were using similar processes to Scientology, and, through further reading, he was amazed to learn that mankind has managed to have some pretty good ideas that weren't dreamed up by L. Ron Hubbard.
Rathbun then makes what, for his independent Scientology readers, is his big reveal. In 1986, Pat Broeker announced that Hubbard had managed to finish OT 9 and OT 10 before he died. David Miscavige later claimed that material through OT 15 was waiting to be released at some future date. But Rathbun says it was all a lie. Hubbard never completed anything beyond OT 8, the current highest level of spiritual attainment.
So what does this chapter all add up to? Rathbun seems to be saying that there's a big world out there which Scientologists are conditioned to ignore. And that world is actually a place with good ideas and good people, and that Scientologists should give up the notion that there is additional, unrevealed wisdom coming from Hubbard. They should instead evolve and adapt what they already have in hand so that it makes better sense in the world as it is.
For a Scientologist, these are huge steps, and I respect Rathbun for figuring this out and wanting to communicate it to others. But there's also an unstated conclusion that Rathbun can't, or won't discover: that not only are there good people and good ideas out here in the wide world, but that L. Ron Hubbard and his ideas are superfluous to thrive and survive in it.
What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids
Scientology's new defections: Hubbard's granddaughter and Miscavige's dad
Scientology's disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise
Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group
Scientology leader David Miscavige's vanished wife: Where's Shelly?
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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.