Scientology: Born Again
Former Scientologist speaks out
By Chase Mitchell
Gwinnett Daily Post
Considering the veritable constellation of big-screen stars alligned behind the Church of Scientology, it’s fitting that what Astra Woodcraft says she experienced as a follower sounds like something straight out of a horror movie.
While the public sees smiling celebrities attributing their health and happiness to the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, Woodcraft speaks of cramped quarters and meager rations. Of hard labor and harassment. Of pledging service that extends beyond this life and into the next.
Unlike those famous faces, she was literally born into the church, in London. Her mother was already a member, and even at a tender age, Woodcraft learned things that struck her as odd. When she had an accident – say, hit her head on a door, for instance – she was taught to perform a “contact assist,” gently repeating the motion that led to her injury while standing exactly where it happened.
“My mom, if I would hurt myself, she would make me do this, Woodcraft said, “and she’d make me do it in public.”
For awhile, the occasional bout of embarrassment was the only red flag in an otherwise normal childhood.
Then, when Woodcraft’s grandfather died, her grieving mom flew to the states to seek counciling at Scientology’s “spiritual headquarters,” the Flag Service Organization in Clearwater, Fla.
“While she was there,” Woodcraft said, “she was recruited to join Sea Org.”
Established in 1968 by Hubbard himself, The Sea Organization is a sect of Scientology dedicated to the study of past life recollections and, as Woodcraft puts it, “saving the world.” A truly epic commitment, members are expected to sign a billion-year contract, one that requires them to report back for duty over the course of several lifetimes.
Woodcraft’s mother soon sent for her children, and just like that, a family of five was plucked from a comfortable life in a nice house and thrust into an impoverished existence in a roach-infested hotel room.
According to Atlanta Scientologist Deb Danos, “no way” is anyone who wants to leave the church pressured to stay.
But Woodcraft says she was once in charge of doing just that – keeping potential quitters in the fold.
“I can say firsthand that the pressure brought upon people to not leave is immense, psychologically and physically,” she said, speaking specifically of Sea Org.
If you wanted out of The Sea Organization, she said, you were immediately assigned hard labor, and put under a security watch. Interrogations using an E-Meter, a sort of Scientology-crafted lie-detector, soon followed.
You’re called “a degraded being,” she said, and asked what crime you’re hiding that would make you want to renege on your contract.
Of course, once you’ve endured all their intimidation tactics (which can take years, Woodcraft said), you’re free to go – if you haven’t already changed your mind. But those who don’t play by the rules are instantly branded a “suppressive person,” forbidden from any sort of contact with family or friends still involved with Scientology.
“If you leave without permission, you’ll be cut off from everyone,” Woodcraft said.
‘An ax to grind’?
Danos said she believes that anyone who leaves Scientology and goes on to publicly criticize the church has some sort of ulterior motive.
“These people who are the most noisy have a very specific ax to grind,” she said.
According to Danos, Scientologists pride themselves on “absolute and utter truth and integrity,” and people who abandon the group do so because they have skeletons in their closet they didn’t want the church to expose.
Woodcraft, who has not only left the organization but now runs an anti-Scientology Web site (www.exscientology kids.com) along with two other escapees, called the deflection of criticism an attempt at damage control.
“To me,” she said, “that’s a pretty transparent attempt to stop people from speaking out.”
According to Woodcraft, disillusioned parishioners are told that if they’re not responding well to the teachings, the problem lies with them, not the church. And for a long time after she made it out, Woodcraft felt that guilt.
“I didn’t leave saying, ‘I hate Scientology,'” she said, “I left saying, ‘I’m a horrible person.'”
Calling anyone a liar simply for reporting the church’s alleged misdeeds is “like blaming the abused,” Woodcraft added, pointing out that she and the other women who run the site all grew up in Scientology from birth, “so how many skeletons could we have in our closet? … It’s a ridiculous accusation.”
The cost of salvation
The church has been accused of being directly responsible for the financial ruin of some of its most fervently faithful, but Danos said getting started in Scientology is “extremely inexpensive.”
“You can go in and do something for 30 bucks,” she said. “The first book is 10 bucks.”
Warning … danger Will Robinson. I can’t help but note that this would be like walking into your local jewelry store and overhearing the clerk tell a young couple that they can get a “starter” ring for $19.95. Paaaalease! My head’s exploding again.
Woodcraft, though, warns that things get exponentially pricier once you reach the religion’s highest echelons, or if you try to quit.
“If you leave,” she said, “they send a bill for everything you’ve done.”
Woodcraft’s, which she still has a copy of, was $89,000. Modest compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars she said some people end up dropping just to rise up the ranks.
Danos said that by the time anyone gets to the point where they have to pay more for Hubbard’s teachings, “well, they’re either on board or they’re not on board. … Nobody who’s doing that is complaining about it.”
Do I hear the voice of Tom Cruise in the background?
“Either you’re in … or you’re out.”
It’s like … phoooff!
What the heck does that mean anyway?
Every religion has to make money somehow, she added.
“If somebody goes around giving away Bibles,” Danos said, “somebody has to pay for that. Instead of taking up collections, we’re structured in a different way. We don’t meet on Sunday and pass around a hat. We have a very different, very set method of deriving funds. It’s very much a ‘this is what you get for your money’ kind of thing.”
So tell me Ms. Danos … if it’s a “this is what you get for your money” kind of thing, how is it that your “church members” get to take a TAX DEDUCTION on their training sessions. Do we have a little 1st Amendment problem here (I’m thinking the “Establishment Clause” was set aside, giving Scientology special treatment unlike ANY other religion in the U.S.)? Well, of course we do, but soon that’s going to change and the great empire of Pie-in-the-sky-in-tology will come crashing to earth!
But according to Woodcraft, what people really get for all that money isn’t the answers to life’s questions – it’s silly stories about “aliens invading our bodies.”