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Scientology: A to Xenu: An Insider's Guide to What Scientology is All About Paperback – December 24, 2015
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About the Author
Born and raised in California, Chris Shelton grew up in Scientology and spent 25 years actively working for it at its highest levels. Having escaped in 2013, he has been an outspoken critic and anti-cult advocate ever since. He has chronicled his recovery from Scientology on his blog, The Critical Thinker at Large, and on his YouTube channel.
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Any religion or cult is messy and multifaceted, and Scientology ranks among the most confounding. No book of just 362 pages will tell the whole story, but Chris manages to build a comprehensible model of how this man Hubbard struggled to overcome his ample human foibles. The ‘Affirmations of L. Ron Hubbard’ in appendix 2 is a must read, as Hubbard penned his most inner anxieties, and the positive suggestions with which he hoped to purge anxieties.
Evidently this method was unsuccessful, as were the later techniques of Dianetics and the endless trail of new procedures under the banner of Scientology. Hubbard died with his anxieties intact, convinced they stemmed from the ‘body thetans’ that cluster upon all earthlings. We find out in the book that ridding oneself of body thetans is central to the secret upper level doctrines of Scientology.
So why would any reasonable person suspend reason and drink from the fountain of body thetan Kool-Aid? No simple answer here, but Chris does paint a picture of narcissistic affirmations to reward the faithful, and a vengeful totalitarian control structure to dissuade thoughts of leaving. This is what Scientology has evolved into. And since Hubbard died, the train of new procedures has been parked on the tracks, leaving the faithful with nowhere to go, and wondering if they will ever make it to the promised land of super powers. So, for now, they go to Scientology fundraisers and suck up the lavish admiration bestowed for writing checks. And Scientology assets accrue to billions, and the number of faithful shrink to less than 30,000.
The question that not even Chris can answer is, how does it end?
Chris Shelton begins his narrative with those words. At publication, he has been out of Scientology altogether for two years and out the elite Sea Org of this neo-Gnostic, quasi-New Thought business sect for merely two. I say merely because Shelton’s recovery has been remarkable for former members of any harmful, self-sealing, totalist social system. In my experience in helping members of similar groups emerge into the normed society, two years can be merely a beginning.
By way of disclosure, I am a former member of a large New Age sect that I left behind after less than two years of participation in 1980. Yes, I have had an axe to grind since then and I have kept it fairly sharp. I first helped people emerge from the harmful, psychological closure induced by bad groups or abusive relationships months after I defected at the end of 1980. Today, I count those people well over one thousand including many hundreds by way of direct intervention. I can easily identify with Chris Shelton: I was one of those people who doggedly read everything I could find and talked to anyone that would listen in my research to figure out just what happened to me. I had to answer the question: How in hell did I get caught up in that ridiculous group with a lying leader? I was truly pissed off.
Thus far I have been jargon-dancing around that c-word that Scientology hates: It hates being called a cult. I’ve been dancing around the c-word because, as relativists in the niche world of sociology of religion say, cult has become a pejorative label. It is too often used to label a religion or self-help movement that we do not like. Those sociologists are correct—in general, people are lazy thinkers and often use lurid labels or simple stereotypes to describe the other. If you wonder why thousands of cult-like groups thrive in America and why narcissistic politicians gather strong support, there is a big part of your answer. People in general do not like to think very hard. T. S. Eliot once wrote: For human kind cannot stand too much reality. Shelton tackles this problem of labels by carefully going over the etymology of cult and coming to a pragmatic definition used by the International Cultic Studies Association, for example, that would better define the problem at hand. That problem has less to do with a label than with the manipulative and abusive behaviors that make that label what it is in popular usage.
Laudable in ex-members like Shelton is their early application of skepticism in their recovery. As he mentions in the book, the majority of Scientologists that defect on their own will retain some portion of the behavior and belief system, often for many years, before moving on to a more rigorous stage of self-discovery and applied skepticism. In other words, it is very difficult to say to oneself it was all bad and be able to explain why it was all bad. Skepticism is not an innate quality. It comes from hard work; I mean headache work in sorting through what is real and how to think. One rehab center for ex-cult members in Iowa (Unbound operated from 1980-1990) described a cult member as someone that insistently says, “I am not a stupid person, and I do not do stupid things” as a mantra re-enforced by equally brilliant members in the cult milieu. I am being facetious about the brilliant, to be clear.
In 'Scientology: A to Xenu,' you will be treated to an easy read about the complex business of Scientology by an author who speaks from visceral experience. What makes it more compelling, in my view, is how Shelton applies the critique of Scientology to its nasty management behaviors that are yet so fresh in his memory in a measured way. This is no armchair critic, but one who has reason to hate this cult, yet the tone is neither angry nor vindictive. Shelton’s target audience is everyone, but he especially speaks to newly exited former members that need a solid overview of the doctrines (if we can call anything L. Ron Hubbard cobbled together so fantastically, a doctrine) and a way to reasonably see past it. Also, Shelton is good at putting Scientology in the context that Hubbard was a liar and describes how he lied using Hubbard’s own published words. Beyond Hubbard, Shelton unmasks the current demagogue David Miscavige who runs the show while retaining personal power over the funds. Shelton believes that Scientology has seen its better days, and this is the result of the current leader’s inability to manage power well. Not that Hubbard was any less greedy, but Hubbard at least was the creative font to keep things interesting. Misavige merely builds hollow new buildings and programs while draining donations and volunteer time from wealthy and struggling members without any intellectual or scholarly refinement of what Hubbard initiated. Every religion or cult needs to expand and reinterpret itself for every new generation to survive over time.
Shelton offers gives instructions on “how to read this book” suggesting that you could read most any chapter out of sequence although the early chapters help set up his narrative. The first chapter describes his long experience with the cult, his marriage in the group, and how he finally left it all having to leave his wife in the bargain. Religious differences and changes in religious orientation affect millions of marriages, but cults like Scientology, we learn, leave no quarter for compromise. Once in for the billion year ride, anyone that wants to get off is not only a traitor to the cause, but they are also a traitor to your very “Beingness.” Hubbard was a crafty if not so clever neologist (I just made up that word), inventing words and adding ‘nesses almost haphazardly as it suited his whimsy-ness. Shelton offers a good dose of Scientologese to give the reader a taste of the loaded language. Loading the language was one of the techniques used for brainwashing anyone in Communist China, according to Robert Lifton. “If he speaks like one of us, he is one of us,” gives you the idea.
The large New Age cult I was in back in the late 1970s had its own newspeak. For example:
The Magic Presence above you is your eternal monad connected to your four lower bodies through a silver cord that passes through the crown chakra, is anchored in the heart chakra, and is accessible through the Christ self that you must become in order to make your ascension in this lifetime after initiation by the Messenger.
To unpack that here would take many pages. I have met with the author Shelton personally and heard him talking with former Scientologists. I may be an informed outsider, but I had a hard time picking up on some of the jargon—cult members have a special language within the main language they use. Special language and ritual does make you feel special, and it has the desired effect of separating insiders from outsiders.
'Scientology: A to Xenu' is a valuable addition to the many existing exposes on one of the most controversial new religious movements founded on American soil. Chris Shelton’s skeptical position is especially helpful for anyone newly exiting Scientology that needs a healthy way to think about their supposedly religious experience.
I do disagree with others leaving reviews that state this is just a written version of his videos. I think there was a lot of new material. Also, I think we absorb information better when introduced to some of the same material in a different medium. I hope Chris continues to do the great work that he's been doing. He's a bit of a "hero" to me and I turn to his material often when challenging myself to think more critically. We are all bound by some form of indoctrination that restricts our seeing things for what they really are. While the book has a lot to do with educating people on Scientology, it also says a lot to us outside of the cult. We all have our own mental prisons, but the real challenge for most is seeing the cage.
Most recent customer reviews
Clearly Chris knows all the ins and outs of this cult.Read more