In my time reading biographies (both this current run and in general), I have come across a number of subjects and themes. Many have been political in nature, while others tell of the life and times of a person whose name recognition makes them a household name. It seems my latest topic of interest is the personal struggle, which will surely open up avenues of angst and some painful revelations. This brought me to the piece by Jenna Miscavige Hill, whose entire childhood was shaped by the Church of Scientology. Born into the Church and the third generation of familial followers, Jenna explains the background of the organisation and how her family played a key role at the grassroots level. The Church of Scientology is less that of a Christian sect than a spiritual hierarchy, believing that its members sign a billion year contract of devotion and whose Thetan (spirit) is able to move from body to body to complete this agreement. After its creation by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the group grew in popularity in the late 1950s, with a strong naval foundation based on the fact that Hubbard developed it aboard a ship in international waters, to protect him from US officials. Jenna goes into great detail about the numerous paths and hierarchies within the Church, which includes a very strict program, less of spiritual enlightenment than education on linguistic minutiae supported by rote memorisation. Jenna talks at length about the struggle to meet the requirements to complete courses and not be shamed. The fact that her uncle, David Miscavige, was extremely high in the Scientology Executive and eventually guided the organisation after Hubbard’s body drop (death) only added pressure to Jenna as she tried to follow the stringent courses. With parents who were high-up as well and living away from her, Jenna struggled without parental roles at these most formative years. Struggling to impress and remain on track, Jenna’s studies forced her to think maturely at the age of ten, cramming information and sentiments that many university students would find daunting. Moving into adolescence and early adulthood, Jenna found herself questioning some of the basic tenets and decisions the Church held as central, the height of blasphemy that was regularly communicated to her. Exemplifying some of the extreme rigidity, Jenna Miscavige shows how she could not live the life she wanted, even while a number of high-profile individuals happily balanced Hollywood living with a personal journey within the Church of Scientology. An eye-opening book of struggle and tell-all that the curious reader should explore, which might better explain the Church’s appeal to some of the great stars of the silver screen.
I was thoroughly intrigued by this biography/memoir for a number of reasons. Admittedly, I am always drawn to organisations that fail outside the norm, especially those who tend to be religious and vilified in the mainstream media (having gone so far as to take an undergraduate course in cults and religious extremism, many moons ago). Miscavige being a child while inside the Church of Scientology provides additional interest for me, giving what one might call a young person’s flavour to the sentiments. She is blunt and open in her story, layered with the positions of hierarchy her family members play in the Church, as well as the elitist caste in which she found herself. Surely, no child can stand up and choose to leave of their own volition, which does explain some of her choices to study harder and participate without objection. What left me on the fence about the struggles and angst within this book was that there was no outward abuse and no blatant personal violations handed down. Additionally, purporting that it was a “harrowing struggle” and associating this struggle with the cute blonde girl on the cover is completely misleading, even listening to the narrative that she offered after leaving the Church. Miscavige’s story is still one of powerlessness and childhood vulnerability, if only because she was required to remain so ensconced in the Church’s rules, with no parents or family members willing to get her out. It was only after she became an adult that her challenges flourished into personal questions and eventually required her to wheedle out of the billion year commitment signed when she was a young child. A textbook case of hierarchy and layered commitment, the Church of Scientology has mastered the art of secrecy and holding its members to the highest and most rigid standards. I’ll pass and leave the couch jumping to Tom!
Kudos, Madam Miscavige Hill for offering up much of your life and placing it under the microscope for all to see. Harrowing, perhaps not, but surely a strong determination to reclaim your life from a Church that would benefit with “no means no”.