Podcast: Freethought Radio
Brow: 'I escaped from a cult' autobiographies cannot possibly be rated higher than lower middle brow.
Summary: Jenna Miscavige Hill was born into Scientology. Her parents were so dedicated, they became members of Sea Org, the closest thing the cult has to a clergy. For the first few years of her life, they all lived together, but when she was 4, she was sent to be raised communally on a ranch in Hemet, California. When she was 7, she joined the Sea Org herself, signing a billion-year contract. She continued to be a devoted member for the rest of her childhood and adolescence, even though she was frequently punished for doing such things as trying to call her parents, who she only saw a few times a year, and forming an extremely tame relationship with a boy when she was 16. It later turned out that most of the punishment was actually for her parents, who left the church around that time. When she was 18, she fell in love with her future husband, also a member of Sea Org. But when her faith finally started to wane, the cult tried to keep him, thus necessitating the harrowing escape of the subtitle.
What I liked about it: I don't know what it is that draws me to Scientology books - this is the second I've read this year, after Lawrence Wright's Going Clear - the celebrities, the public weirdness of those celebrities, the weirdness in general, but for some reason I can't seem to get enough of them. This book is interesting because it wasn't written by or about a celebrity, unlike Wright's book. Rather, Miscavige Hill was an ordinary member and in fact having the same name as her uncle, cult leader David Miscavige, turned out to cause her more trouble. So we learn a lot about what ordinary life is like for a member of the Sea Org, which turns out to be a lot of manual labour, plus a lot of looking words up in the dictionary, which is how L. Ron Hubbard thought we clear ourselves of bad experiences in past lives so we can move up through various levels and become masters of the universe. If you think about it, it makes about as much sense as the religion that's all about a deity who has a son with a virgin and then that son goes on to get himself hung up on a cross but promises to come back some day and destroy the world.
What I didn't like about it: Although Miscavige Hill has been out of Scientology for a few years now, she hasn't quite shaken the habit of peppering her writing with Scientology jargon and then failing to explain it. So unless you're really good at remembering the difference between EPF and RPF or Flag Base versus Int Base, be prepared to spend a lot of time flipping to the back to remind yourself what CMO is.
EPF = Estates Project Force: basic training for new members of Sea Org, only with a lot more manual labour and a lot less target practice.
RPF = Rehabilitation Project Force: punishment for Sea Org members, often lasting years
Flag Base = International Spiritual Headquarters in Clearwater, Florida
Int Bast = formerly Gold Base, aka The Ranch, in Hemet, California, also where members in RPF are thought to be kept
CMO = Commodore's Messenger Unit: Formerly the core of L. Ron Hubbard's inner circle, now David Miscavige's inner circle.