with Norbert Potthoff
You left the Scientologists after being a member for seven years. How
did you end up joining them back then?
I joined them because of the natural
human desire to become better.
At the age of 17-18 I grew tired of faith and left the church [this
refers to one of the two main Christian churches]. From then on, the
human being itself was the be-all and end-all to me and exactly on this
level acquaintances – I was working at an advertisement agency at that
time – did introduce me to this new philosophy, Scientology. It sounded
exactly was enticing for
you about it?
To work on yourself, to reduce
points of weakness. The thing is,
Scientologists like to play with ambitioned people. They are not
interested in someone who has no interest in getting better. So people
who always want to improve, who are aspiring, they are easier to catch,
and I was one of them.
been also a religious
issue for you? You could have found that at a Christian church too,
couldn't you? We all want to improve ourselves, after all!
At the age of 17-18 I had my
boy scout phase behind me, that was the
generation of '68, we couldn't care less about family issues, christian
welfare, religious secrets. We had other things on our minds, like the
world and peace in Vietnam and other things. We had no access to faith
step towards the
Scientologists, what does it look like when you enter in there? Are you
led into a big room with Scientologist standing inside or how does that
No, back then it was something
called "College of Applied
Philosophy", so it sounded much more harmless. And also, the word
"Scientology" at that time, it was 1981, did hardly ever, if at all,
appear in the media and was only known to certain insiders. The offer
made to me was a communications training course. I was a communication
designer back then and I wanted to get ahead in my profession and with
improved communication, I was told, it would be easy to do that. The
first point of contact was a nice and tidy office, a friendly looking
lady and a warm welcome, and everything was highly scientific. First I
had to take a test, a personality test with over 200 questions, to find
out about strengths and weaknesses. Because we wanted to work focused
and not with a shotgun approach. This seemed to be very logical and
reasonable to me as well, how it was presented to me and I was
sessions called "auditing". What is that, is it derived of [the latin
word] "audire" – to hear? Do you get into a kind of committee, where
you have to recount things, or how does that work?
No, auditing is a behavioral
training with the Scientologists, it
starts with the communication training. You have to practice to be in
the present time, they say. To do this, you practice to outright stare
into someone else's eyes for two hours without any facial expression.
And this is a concentration exercise at the highest level, but it has a
crucial catch: This training is extremely stressful and releases
endogenous hormones. You get dizziness, hallucinations, even fainting
fits, you are then on endorphins, at a blissful level. And this mocks
up incredible freedom, the power that from now on – or when you are in
that state – you won't be afraid anymore. Not afraid of business people
asking awkward questions, or of fee-requests for professional services,
which I always found embarrassing, and such things. Sure thing, when
you're high on drugs, a lot of things seem to be easier, but the
trouble is, you can even get addicted to endogenous drugs. I didn't
already that high
after two or three sessions, that you're ready to break up with your
wife as you did? You disconnected from your whole social environment.
Not necessarily after the first
or second week. It took seven weeks.
(Q: You were addicted after this?) It's really fast. This is the
stunning thing, and I have always given the advice, you haven't got
much time, after you hear someone has been exposed to it, to the
technique of manipulation, it catches on very quickly and you shouldn't
give in... don't try an approach like: Just let him run against this
[wall, if he wants to do it], it would be very tragical. Because of
that you should help and intervene as early as possible, or else it's
almost not possible any more.
seven weeks you were
basically ready to say, "now I want to be a part of them, these
people"? Is it the case that you have the feeling "now I want to join
this new group"? And is this the reason you disconnect from your past?
You left your marriage, you left your circle of friends, did you find
new friends then?
At first it was different. I
received tremendous acknowledgment from
my friends, among business partners, customers, who noticed that my
presence was clearer, more confident, and this was in extreme contrast
to the goals of my wife, who was more dreamy, who loved her laziness,
which I couldn't appreciate myself at that time: That laziness also can
make you happy and that it pertains to a happy life. Not to be lazy all
the time, but now and then. So she found the right measure for her, but
for me it was suspicious. My acknowledgment came from the customers who
told me "it's really incredible how you have changed. Very Nice!" And
affirmation is something that keeps you going. And then it all went
down pretty fast. The changes in my gesture in my language stroke my
friends and they started to turn away from me.
I must have become a bit of a
fanatic, as I wanted to convince
others... "Look, I'm feeling great. I want you to feel good too." So
that's the next effect, because Scientologists aspire to recruit others
for the organization. It's your responsibility. I hadn't noticed at all
that I was right in the middle of a missionary phase, so to speak, and
I also would have strongly denied it if anybody had pointed it out. But
that's how it was. And the result was that I lost contact with the
normal people of Krefeld and as an act of defiance I went right towards
Did you clamber up the career
ladder a bit?
I was looking for my career as a graphic artist and advertising
specialist in the Scientology Organization and initially I found it.
vocational, so one improves ones' skills, or is it also spiritual or a
type of training or do you become a teacher, or what does it mean to
say that "You make a career in Scientology"?
The career is: you produce.
That's the be-all and end-all of the
Scientology system, that you produce effectively. A proverb of the
founder, Hubbard, is "Produce, produce, produce", that's all that
very modern economic
Of course. It's also why
Scientology seems to remain attractive
today still in many ways, because the economic system functions
similarly – I don't want to say that it works the same way, but in some
ways similarly – and also in the economy, [?], the individual is seen
as a machine, as human capital, that is there to be exploited and used.
And there are some nasty points of contact between the modern economy,
capitalism and Scientology. And in my case it was that via my
vocational knowledge I succeeded in the areas of marketing, PR,
advertising, recruitment of new people, building new groups. And that
resulted in advancement within the system. Spiritual development
naturally didn't happen, I was just being drilled, without paying
attention to it.
produce", what's behind that? Is the individual according to this
Scientology teaching someone, who is only considered [to be] someone,
when he has accomplished something? That would really be the opposite
to the occidental way of looking at things, where we speak of mercy,
the individual has intrinsic worth and is consequently also valuable
when he is not able to achieve something. Is it the case that somewhere
in the teachings there is "You're only something if you've managed to
I'll give an example to clear
it up: the Scientology organization,
who in parts also refer to themselves as a "church", refer to Church
doctrine. Amongst other things it's, "We from the church believe that
Man is essentially good". That sounds great to start with. When you
know the language of Scientology, though, then you know that the word
"Church" internally means "Technology center", "Man" internally means
"Machine", "to be good" internally means "to be productive". When you
translate the phrase correctly according to meaning, then it would be
"We from the technology center believe, that Man is a productive
machine". And only according to this he is evaluated.
The word "Ethics" that you have in the title of this program, has
another meaning in scientologist thought. Ethics mean being productive,
and there it starts to become both dangerous and also contemptuous
towards the individual.
who can't produce
anything is nothing.
Exactly. And someone who
doesn't produce is ill, and should be
weeded out. At this point another, worse case does appear, that people
who don't produce, that you don't help them, but that you virtually
throw them away. They have to find their way back under their own
steam, and if they don't, so what?
you experience this,
this discarding, how did that happen?
With friends within the group, who suddenly stopped showing up, who
appeared on the ethics list.
They were described as
suppressive persons, as really awful people,
right up to being banned from entering organizational buildings or to
being shunned from the organization. And then it took stronger forms,
and when a new friend suddenly disappeared, then you would start to
think about it bit by bit.
describe that now...
you tolerated this for seven years. How could that be?
Yeah, in the end I asked myself the same
question, and that was the
worst time, coming to terms with myself, as I really didn't want to
forgive myself for it at all at first. Although I had left the
[christian] church, at my core I was a Catholic and a Christian and
terms like altruism and help and compassion took a decisive role, and
all these expressions were frowned upon in Scientology, even
ostracized. So those were really difficult years, coming to terms with
myself and why I hadn't noticed all of this earlier.
the catalyst then,
which got you to say, "I'm quitting"?
Yeah, quitting is a process,
the pressure increases. And in the last
phase of my life as a Scientologist this pressure got right to me. My
wife was threatened and I felt forced, or was forced, to make ethics
declarations about my wife, i.e. "Where did she screw up?" And that was
the first time I refused to carry out an order, and then ended up
becoming a case for ethics myself. For days I had to clean toilets,
clean windows in Copenhagen. And that was the last that I would have
done, to put my own wife to the knife. And then it finally became
really clear that the line had been crossed.
How it went on after there,
and if you still feel threatened, we'll talk about right after the
break. Stay tuned!
Great, that you're back at N24 "Ethics- By God's Will" [it also means
"for heavens' sake"]. I'm talking today with an ex-Scientologist.
Potthoff, as you left, you mentioned "I can't betray my wife" You let
yourself be humiliated while you were in the process of leaving. What
My wife left with me, but it
only took a few weeks until she stopped
being able to stand the calls for return, there was also the internal
she went back?
Contrary to me she had become
dependent on this system, a life
outside Scientology was no longer conceivable to her. At least I had
several good professional skills as a graphic artist, as a sculptor, as
a photographer, and also had the courage to have a go at living an
everyday life, but she didn't have that courage. And those were again
bad months, dealing with this bereavement, as I had no chance at all of
getting anywhere near her. Then there was a disconnection order, which
stated, that contact was utterly forbidden, until she had completed her
training i.e. her auditing, her indoctrination. That naturally never
was completed, so the marriage was imperatively ended by Scientology.
With increasing distance, and also with the review of "What have you
done wrong", there came the self-recriminations, that were fortunately
again absorbed into a deep faith. In this phase I became a Christian
again, a different Christian from the one at 17 years of age, and an
adult Christian with a lot more certainty and clarity concerning what
it meant, to think this way and also how to pull together a life on
this basis, with production on one side and the infinity of faith on
the other, to unify it.
you then discovered
within your belief? What was the new, or the fascinating things that
you have seen there?
Something amazing, there is
forgiveness. And the ability – with this
woman, who committed adultery – when I am not judged, I can't do it
myself either. "Go, and sin no more". And that seemed to me to become
my motto, too. "Go in peace, build yourself a new life and don't do
again what you did there."
And as a
start, you had to
Yes. And that was the first
step back into acceptance of oneself, to
win back the acceptance of parents and old friends and people, who one
knew well, as I had actively dealt with my membership, had gone to
journalists and talked about things that at the time were totally
unknown. It then of course continued, that I was actively interviewed,
called on by journalists, to hold lectures... also for me a totally
strange area. In all my school reports it said "Norbert is too quiet."
So to suddenly have to stand on a stage and talk freely for an hour and
a half, that was indeed a massive challenge, but also a great feeling,
to discover new abilities in oneself, which also had something to do
with my rediscovered belief. To find something valuable, not by
improving things which the environment wants to see changed as it was
in the beginning, but rather to discover something within
yourself and to bring it to fruition.
pulling your strings,
but the discovery that God has created me and I have a mission in this
Exactly. To do it from my own strength and own love for life and
satisfaction, that was a whole new feeling in life.
you went public,
weren't you afraid, I mean, Scientology has its connections too, and
you're talking in a totally open and very critical manner, you say it
as it is. So isn't that dangerous, can we two just chat about it with
each other or ought we to be a little concerned, that there's a system
there somewhere, as it's so often portrayed, that can be dangerous to
us, to you? With the benefit of hindsight, did it become dangerous?
It was tried, I myself...
Right at the start there were murder threats against my landlord.
That led to…
Murder threats. Against the
children, against the landlord. That led
to – for four years I had been living on a farm – that I had to leave
that farm. So I lost my livelihood once more. I had to start again from
the beginning. With scarce financial means, a giant mountain of debts
from my Scientology time that was quite frightening and that is also
what the Scientologists aim at: to intimidate you in such a way that
you tell yourself: "No, I'd rather leave it; keep your mouth shut and
live on in peace." But now two things come into the play: For one
another recourse to 1968, that I knew: with totalitarian fascist
systems you must be brave. You must not kneel. And, the other point was
– it may sound a little pathetic, but I was strengthened in faith, and
because of that I also had the courage to testify. That made me also so
strong that I went to the stage time after time.
Cruise is now pushed into
the public by the Scientologists. A well-known actor. They put forward
people that made something out of themselves and who also advertise
very offensively for Scientology… what's your take on this?
Yes, that is of course the most
important strategy of the
Scientologists: show successful people that belong to Scientology and
to say: You can do it, too! That is similar to the marshal's baton
latently hidden in each soldier's backpack. Tom Cruise is skillfully
instrumentalized by the system. They created their own organization for
it: the network of the Celebrity Centers, where these celebrities from
film, radio and television get a special treatment. That people such as
Tom Cruise or also, back then, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta at times
also can have their problems is nothing new. We hear again and again
from actors, from successful people in other businesses, that they
suddenly show a black side, that they also fight with their weaknesses
and Scientology of course has a possibility to intervene there and to
care for these actors and make them dependent.
can people be so
Yes… How can people be stupid? If they break at their own feeling of
power and will to have power.
by their own feeling
of power and will to have power. And then an organization is presenting
itself to them, saying: We got the trick in our bag how you can
One must imagine that it's like
that. We probably tend to wanting to
have and to use power in such a way and then it can sometimes be
dangerous, if one does not use the correct means. That may happen to a
father in education, to a mother, it may happen to a boss, it may
happen to a famous sportsman when he loses all borders, it may happen
to a top manager that he suddenly comes to the point, where he
believes, laws are no longer valid for him, he stands completely apart
from the usual system, he has his own system… however it also leads to
personal and psychological difficulties.
have a cross
with eight points as logo. What does it mean?
For Scientologists those are
the eight dynamics of life. Hubbard
himself says, it is an old Roman cross, that he used there. But the
eight dynamics of life for the Scientologists always are the most
plausible explanation. That is the me-dynamic up to 8: infinity.
is a company, you said business enterprise. Not at all a church. To the
outside world they have used the word, inside however it is completely
clear: it is about success. Produce, produce, produce!
It is about success. But even
more than the economic aspect I would
like to point out that Scientology is also a political system, because
it completely clearly also aims at the change of the society.
A society, which is led in a
totalitarian manner, which strictly has
to live according to the Scientology rules. Brave New World. There are
always authors who had this as a vision already, of what such a system
looks like and "Futurum Zwei", the book, describes it as well. And
Scientology clearly has raised a socio-political claim.
Scientology? Is Scientology dangerous?
I would not like to live in a
state, where everything is prescribed
for me from above, where I as a human being would not have any value,
where I am classified as a machine, which has to produce.
does struggle to
be a church. After your exit you saw that Christianity also has other
dimensions than those, which you perhaps saw as a seventeen year old.
How do you see a "church" now? That's what I'm asking you completely
That is exactly the crucial
aspect. If I reject Scientology as a
system for society, in which there is no compassion... then the
Christian ethics is the ethics to help the weak. That is how Jesus has
lived as an example, priests do that, nuns do it in church
institutions, where a hand is given to the weak, where one helps them
to get back up on their feet and to feel comfortable in other people's
company. Also in the company of other people who seemingly have got
better and greater abilities. Everyone has the right to his own dignity
Scientology every now and
then coming back inside of you? Do you notice that?
No. No, I fought very hard
against it. It was important to dismantle
the drill. That was a difficult chapter of course. It cannot be done in
a matter of days, it took me years to get rid of these instinctive
assessments and behaviors. But I think, that I succeeded completely
with the help of my friends, that sometimes have stopped me, when I
went the wrong way. However… in all humility, I hope I succeeded.
Everytime when I find myself
wanting to have power and go on a way which is not so good, then I
remember Jesus words, which – one might put it that way – I have
trained, and that's when what you described as an exit experience
happens to me: to see a human being, like you did see your wife and to
say: "Because of her I can not continue, I won't allow that to happen."
In the same way we want to recognize in Jesus his offer for a
relationship such that we do not fall for power, but in the long run
fall for love. Thank you that you were with me as my guest and
[addressing the audience] we'll meet again here soon. The best of
This text is a translated
of a TV Interview from Sunday, 6. April 2008
Possible later changes of the issue are not considered.
by Norbert Potthoff
and N24, HTML and Links by Ilse
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