Beyond Belief

Book Reviews

A review by Madhuri of Jenna Miscavige Hill’s book, subtitled, My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape.

Beyond BeliefBeyond Belief
My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

by Jenna Miscavige Hill, with Lisa Pulitzer
William Morrow, USA, 2013
404 pages

My mother used to say, “They tipped up the map and all the nuts rolled down to California.” And then she’d laugh… a little ruefully, maybe. I think she really meant Southern California, where we lived, rather than the cool northern part of the state, where she herself was raised.

And indeed, in the desert not far from our town, a science fiction writer named L Ron Hubbard was on his way to realizing that if you wanted to get away with all kinds of outrageous hoo-ha, all you had to do was… start a religion!

Which is funny… until it isn’t.

I remember, on a trip into LA with my then-boyfriend in 1969, noticing a big sign atop a tall building, spelling out SCIENTOLOGY. “What’s that?” I asked him. “Oh, some weird religion-thing,” he said, and because in those days religion, the institution of marriage, and the flag were all regarded with equal contempt, I dismissed the sign from my thoughts. It just sounded weird, anyway – as if it was saying, “Quasi-science here!” My dad was a real scientist, so why would this quasi-thing seem the least bit legit?

Later I was in Oxford, mooching about, when I came across the same thing: a tall building with a sign. Next to the door was a table with literature on it. Two young men I knew were hanging about, and they began to proselytize and pressure me to come in and experience something-or-other, it was all so wonderful, etc. It all just gave me a skeevy feeling, and I refused.

This is called “trusting your intuition,” and there is an incredibly moving moment in this strong, passionate, clear-spoken, and very worthwhile book, where Jenna suddenly gets it: “I knew without a doubt that I was a good person, and, no matter what anyone else thought or said about me, no matter who they were or how important, I didn’t care. When I realized this, down to the moment, the clouds opened up.

“This realization was the beginning of personal integrity, when, instead of dismissing my feelings or my intuition, I found myself following them, even if they led me to a place that Scientology said was wrong.”

Jenna Miscavige was born into Scientology, the daughter of high-level executives, the niece of David Muscavige, who had seized the mantle of power within hours of L Ron Hubbard’s death. She rarely saw her parents during her childhood, but was educated – and used for hard manual labor – in a sort of boarding school in the desert. Children were not felt to be actual children, as everyone is really a “Thetan,” an immortal soul, ageless; so children were treated like adults, and expected to work like them, take great responsibility, and think in sophisticated ways – as long as they were the ways LRH thought. She grew up to become a cadet in the “Sea-Org,” a sort of elite labor force responsible for much of the church’s operation. (LRH had been a navy man in his youth, and, still besotted with the romance of it all, kept the terminology, uniforms, and military lifestyle for his religion. Strange bedfellows, those – the Navy, and spirituality.)

This is a taut story of coming-of-age, but with a difference – Jenna faced much more opposition to growing up and becoming herself than any of us have ever dreamed of. When she began rebelling, she was a PR problem, and all kinds of threats, isolations, punishments, were thrown at her to try to get her to fall in line. Sex was forbidden until you were married (that same old boring repression used by religions everywhere) and if you fell in love, you would probably be separated from your desired one – every single thing you did, said or thought being heavily scrutinized.

We learn in eccentric detail about Scientology ‘education,’ the methods of working with people – ‘auditing,’ and how celebrities were treated differently than normal members.

And yes, we remember some of the worse moments at the Ranch… all that gimlet-eyed controllingness.

Highly recommended for a hair-raising read. I came out filled with admiration for the author – how she could have overturned, finally, such a stringent, all-encompassing conditioning seems nothing short of miraculous.

The book spun me off into a questioning about dictators, Alpha-boss types, their (very predictable) tactics, and why we listen to them at all. Chimpanzees do it – dogs do it – so perhaps evolution favors this sort of thing; as Osho says, “Man contains in himself all the animals.” Nevertheless, someplace else, in response to the question, “If you had one rule for life, what would it be?” he answers, “Do whatever you like. Just don’t interfere in anybody else’s life.”

Dictators, by their very nature, interfere. And the fact that Osho seems to feel we have a choice says that we are not meant to be limited to animal behaviors and animal ends. If we are aware of the Genghis Khan in us and also the Caspar Milquetoast – we are, in theory, free of both.

This book will bring up all the times you’ve felt yourself to be either one – and that questioning is very good; a kind of digging deeper.

(Osho quoted from Rebellious Spirit, Ch 4, Q 2 and Beyond Psychology, Ch 4, Q 3)


Madhuri is a healer, artist, poet and author of several books, Mistakes on the Path being her latest memoir.

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