Recently, I’ve been involved in discussions about the Church of Scientology’s involvement with the Writers of the Future awards. People who have benefitted from the awards which pay well and open new writers up to publishing opportunities mostly have positive to say about the Church members who organize the events and feel that as long as they weren’t pressured to join, then no harm done. This reminded me of my experience with another cult, the Unification Church (or “Moonies”) and I thought I’d share my experience and opinion.
I grew up yearning for the answers to the questions that plague humankind (Why am I here? What happens when I die? Why can’t the professor just build a big boat so that everyone can get off Gilligan’s Island?). Most people I knew went to church for those answers, but my parents only visited churches when the grandparents were around – my dad was raised by Sunday school teachers and therefore hated church and my mom was excommunicated from the Catholic church after her second divorce. The only way for me to visit the various houses of God was to hitch rides with other families to go churches, revivals, Christian rock concerts, whatever was available. It didn’t take me long to discover that what they had to sell, I just couldn’t buy though I really, really wanted to. I couldn’t understand why I had to question everything and couldn’t just have blind faith like my friends. I made several attempts to accept JC as my personal lord and savior, but it just wouldn’t stick. When I told my mom that I “believed in something, but I didn’t know what the hell it was” she said, “Oh, you’re agnostic.” And then I at least had a name to pin my non-beliefs on and stopped searching for a while.
I saw the film “Ticket to Heaven”, based on a true story about the indoctrination and eventual deprogramming of a member of the Unification Church cult (or “Moonies”), when it made its way to cable. I knew of the Moonies through a high-school Humanities class and stories from my friend whose sister was married in one of the mass weddings the Moonies were famous for. It just didn’t make sense to me. I just couldn’t understand why people with any sort of intelligence could be suckered in to such an outrageous scam. As I didn’t think I could be brainwashed, I couldn’t quite accept that others could be either. I carried this question with me for a long time and I was further confused after being hired to work at the August Moon Japanese restaurant in Atlanta where apparently most of the Korean and Japanese staff were apparently Moonies. I was confused because I expected creepy alien cultists who should have made my spider-sense tingle (like many unquestioning Christians often did) but what I found were polite professionals who were serious and yet kind. That same year I was invited to visit the Unification Church in Atlanta by a Japanese woman (let’s call her “Eiko”) I met at an Asian supermarket.“Now I’ll figure out the mystery”, I thought to myself Scooby-Doo style.
Everyone at the compound was extremely nice and Eiko was happy to answer my questions about her arranged marriage. Apparently they are able to reject the partner selected for them and this is what had happened to Eiko. From what I had gathered, Koreans and Japanesewere often paired with American citizens thus making it easier for them to get green cards and thus stay in the country. There I met Stephanie who had run away from home and had been “found” by the Church. She’s one of the very bottom-tier believers you see selling flowers on the freeway. She was young, but you could tell she had been through some serious stuff. The family atmosphere provided here made her feel part of something and I could understand the appeal for someone so desperate.
The main reason for my invitation was for me attend several lectures by one of the upper echelon. Several philosophical and theosophical questions were presented and I remember actually enjoying the lectures as they were a lot deeper than what I’d ever gotten out of Sunday school. One lecture in particular was about how the existence of God could be proven scientifically. The talks were extremely fast-paced and it was all I could to keep up with what the speaker was saying much less take any kind of notes. I remember going away thinking, “AhHAH! This is how they get the smarties in the door.” The lectures were navel-gazingly fascinating. I thought I was quite theskeptic, but I had to admit that I looked forward to the lectures. I still wasn’t ready to jump into traffic to shove roses into people’s faces.
After each lecture, Eiko would ask me to come camping with her and the others on the weekend. I was immediately reminded of the scenes in “Ticket to Heaven”at the so-called retreat where they would keep the main character deprived of sleep, food, time to think or any time alone. He was even accompanied to the bathroom. I realized that it is the camping trip where they would really put the pressure on and I also realized that I was a perfect target – bored and misunderstood misfit, lost and longing for attention and affection, hoping for a better world like the ones I would often escape to through books, comics, and movies. Knowing this, I realized that it was possible that someone with their wits about them could be suckered in if they thought they could be given what most people really want, to be loved and understood. To feel a part of something in this world that often makes no sense at all.
The Korean guy, they called him John, who seemed to be in charge, always kept a discreet distance, but never far enough that he didn’t know exactly where I was or who I was talking to. I’m pretty sure that he was suspicious of my motives early on. After I continually refused to join the weekend camping trips, it’s likely that he saw me as a lost cause and decided to stop wasting resources (hours of lectures for just my benefit, sending a van to pick me up, food, etc.) on me. Except for John, everyone I met was sincere, kind, and really seemed to want to help me find happiness. This is the buffer the upper echelon uses to give the whole enterprise an aura of good will and sincerity that will sway even the staunchest skeptic.
What I learned is that these organizations are a great deal cleverer than I gave them credit for. Just because someone was sucked in doesn’t necessarily mean that they were ignorant or gullible in the first place and doesn’t mean that they ‘deserve what they got’. Everyone has weaknesses and these groups are experts at finding and exploiting those weaknesses. Regardless of how happy therecruits may seem, these cults are evil groups that prey on individual weakness for their own benefit. When I was working at August Moon, I only saw a bunch of hard-working employees that never tried to convert me and justwanted to give the best possible service to their customers.That seemed fine by me at the time. But now I know better. All the hard work of those good people was benefiting a cult that restricts the freedom of, and warps the minds of its members. We don’t always know wherethe money we spend goes and there are different kinds and shades of evil in the world, but if there is proof that an organization is doing terrible things (as the Unification Church and the Church of Scientology both did/do) and there is proof of a direct connection to said organization, support of any such operation should be avoided.
So, that’s how I see it. Everyone is free to make up their own minds, but don’t tell me that it’s okay to reap the rewards of the WotF awards because the people you met were ‘nice, hard-working folks’ or that it’s not connected to the Church because it is directlty connected and those people very likely are nice folk whose work just happens to bring power and possibly prestige to an evil organization. If you need someplace to start for proof of CoS evil ways, check out Operation Clambake (http://xenu.net) which has been exposing Scientology lies since 1996.