Students FAQ on Scientology

 This text comes from a very nice ex-Scientologist who has generously given me permission to
     publish it. These are answers to the questions most frequently asked by students during her
     informational presentations in schools.

a translation from the german version:
"Antworten auf die häufigsten Schülerfragen"
by Joe Cisar

Why did you decide to join the cult?

Stated precisely, I never "decided" to "join" a "cult." Just the opposite. I had always been convinced that something like that could never happen to me. After all, I believed I was intelligent, capable of criticism and mentally sound; I didn't have any serious problems, I had many friends, and greatly enjoyed my (overall successful) life as a student.

So how did you get into this cult?

One day an intensely sympathetic speaker told me that her spouse had become acquainted with a wonderfully nice group of people which gave courses, including a communication course. The impression I got from her story was that the main purpose of these "courses" was for entertainment and to meet people. Because I had always been interested in (strange) new ideas and in meeting new people, one evening I decided to go along with her.

What frightens me today is how completely  "natural" and "normal" everything seemed to me at the time, and how quickly, completely unnoticed by me, I went along with them, even though my original intentions were often diametrically opposed  to what was presented.

When did you join the cult? How old were you?

II went into Scientology 18 years ago when I was 20 years old and left after 1 1/2 years, but still can't get away from the subject. Perhaps you can gather from that how much of an impression this relatively short term of involvement left me with.

How did you get into this particular cult?

As I already mentioned, it was pure coincidence that got me into Scientology; but getting hung up in it was certainly not [a coincidence]! I've always been strongly inclined toward "improving the world." For me, social involvement and aid for the weak in society was an internal need; and because it appeared to me that Scientology was a very effective means of attaining this goal, more so than established political parties (or churches), I soon got into it more enthusiastically.

Did your relatives know about this?

Yes, but at the end of the 70s, this was not widely known as a problem. Because my parents had never heard the word "Scientology, and because everybody trusted the decision of a speaker at the university, at first nobody objected. It was not until they discovered that I was secretly taking out a student loan, and that my reaction to their concerns and disapproval (in contrast to my previous behavior) was brimming with arrogance and a loss of reality, that they became suspicious. And when, after the mass suicide of the People's Temple cult in French Guyana, Scientology came into
disrepute, they began their "persuasion" against Scientology. Unfortunately, like so many people, they were completely uninformed, and thus had no chance of avoiding all the mistakes that would end up causing a complete loss of trust between the person in the cult and the loved ones.

How did the cult want to help you?

This question was never asked; I wanted to help Scientology, so that the dream of a world without hunger, without war and without mental illness could be more quickly realized. Back then I never comprehended that this dream of theirs was nothing but propaganda.

Didn't it ever occur to you that something, somehow was not right, when you first joined the cult?

No. At first I was only familiar (as were most of the other newly initiated) with the interesting and "non-suspicious" sides of Scientology. The operation had no similarities to any "youth sect" that I had been warned about in school. It was not until very much later that it became clear to me exactly how much really did not check out. My experience was typical. Therefore any appeals to you to "simply look for yourself and make your own decision" and "what's true for you is what you yourself observe" must be met with mistrust. What you are being told to "observe for yourself" has already
 been thought through in detail by somebody else.

Do Scientology members have special obligations?

You have to do anything to make Scientology expand as quickly as possible - both with personnel and financially - because constant increase in performance is an absolute "must" not only for individual Scientologists, but for the entire organization. That is the way Scientology's influence and power is supposed to rapidly get bigger. In this case, doing everything means starting with your own body - Keep it healthy (in working condition). It also means keeping a neat appearance and being polite so that Scientology does not get a bad image. Naturally it also means to proselytize, but in Scientology, work takes absolute precedence over any other activity. That also includes over your "own" interests, because there is allegedly only one legitimate interest in the world, and guess what that is -- Scientology!

What were your duties?

I was not on staff, but was a paying "student," so my immediate duties were limited to quickly studying the materials of the courses I paid for and to effectively train in their methods. There was a mandatory minimum time of 15 hours I had to devote to this task each week. Excuses like "my university studies are bogging me down" or "but I'm on vacation that week" were not taken. Since I wanted to avoid investigation into my personal ideas and life, I stuck to the rules. Of course I also had an (unspoken) duty - in the sense of Scientology expansion - to constantly schedule and start new courses so that I would always be "on lines."

What was your daily routine like?

My daily routine was relatively unspectacular. In the morning I drove to school, went to lectures and seminars, worked in a library, then drove in the evening to the "Org" (the Scientology Organization) to "study" there for several hours. When that was over at 10 p.m., I drove home, studied for school and went right to sleep.

But some of my friends who had signed a staff contract had to work 9 in the morning to 10 at night every day except Saturday (and Sunday). They had Saturday afternoons off. They accumulated no vacation and were paid ATS* 150 (€ 10,90) to 500 (€ 36,34) per week (about 9,68  - 32,28 US-dollars). * (=austrian Schillings)

What were some of the methods the Scientology cult used to recruit members?

Surely you have already had some experience with representatives of all sorts who try to get you interested in their various goods or services on the streets. Scientology follows the same strategy when it tries to get passersby to take its "personality test." That test (despite its professional sounding name) is not academically recognized. Its ability to predict anything has been seriously doubted and disputed by experts. Nevertheless, it plays an important role in the life of Scientologists for recruitment purposes. It is always used as an argument when people say they don't need any
more services from Scientology. More effective that this, though, is the "personal" approach. That is when a credible character, preferably one who is personally known to the target, raves about how great something is. That way the confidence factor is ensured in advance (the way Tupperware parties do it, for example). Various "fringe groups" also work like that. For instance, when you get to know someone in a human rights group, to say the least, you would expect that person to somehow be committed to specific human rights. But these organizations, of course, are only there to strengthen the credibility of Scientology. Besides those two methods, of course, Scientology also uses "classic" means of advertising such as newspaper inserts, pamphlets, etc.

Are there many members?

Back then I really only ever saw the same (maybe 20 or 30) members - and many others who only showed up on occasion or just once. What gives me the creeps today though is my awareness of how many people have been, are and will be under Scientology's influence for reasons including the following:
  • A (genuine) involvement in Scientology encompasses practically all areas of life, and in this way, it influences the entire world picture of the subject person. This does not happen as aresult of any logical discussion about the individual aspects of the teachings (although that is occasionally asserted). The Scientology mindset is stamped into the adherents' consciousness by means of strong psychological mechanisms. This leads to many people still  having the mindset even though they have left Scientology.
  • In my opinion, Scientology's teachings contain a whole lot of dangerous ideas. These include not only concepts objectionable from a public health point of view, but counter-democratic ideology and even convictions directed against human rights and basic law.
  • Keeping in mind that these attitudes sometime remain, unexamined, in the minds of people long after they have left, and that they could theoretically be activated at any time, I think this is a good reason to be concerned, especially when you consider the total number of all former, present and future members.
  • But aside from those aspects, with a rigidly organized (to the point of totalitarian management), international organization, there is always a latent danger, especially if the group promotes ideas that contradict the basic values of our social system.

Is anyone in charge of the cult?

Around here a charismatic leader never existed. The Creator and - if I may - guru of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, never showed up in Austria; today he is deceased. But he was always "virtually" present. He had his own room in the "Org," in which was kept his favorite brand of cigarettes. His image (the Creator/image pun is intentional!) hung in all the rooms, and he was privately and publicly thanked and applauded on various occasions for his "discoveries."

Did anything ever happen in the cult that might have violated today's laws?

Officially the Scientologists make an effort to avoid that sort of thing in general. The reason is the bad reputation it would cause, but on the other hand there are directives that, in my opinion, clearly promote conduct that is indirectly illegal. This is a contradiction in terms that each person is left to logically resolve for themselves.

Why did you leave?

Once I got to the materials in my first major course, the difference between theory and practice began to irritate me, and my initial enthusiasm was dampened. At first I thought these points in question were the result of understandable translation problems that any new movement like the Viennese organization would have. For that reason, I made constructive suggestions to "improve" the system. I also thought somebody would pay attention to me because I was friends with a relatively high-ranking Scientologist. Unfortunately, it turned out that I had completely misjudged the
situation. Scientologists don't do "constructive criticism." Their teachings may not be altered. The creator's directives have dogmatic character and, above all else, I had formed totally false concepts about the goals of this "religious philosophy"!

How did you manage to get out of the cult?

Several weeks after our first "reform attempt," my friend was declared an "unwanted person" by Scientology and had all his titles revoked. For a short while a few friends and I tried to get him reinstated and to convince the Scientologists that our reform suggestions were sensible -- until we found ourselves put on trial in an internal court. We remained loyal to our friend, to Scientology's directives, and we were not about to admit to any "wrongdoing," therefore there was only one choice -- leaving Scientology.

Did you suffer financial losses when you left?

Because we demanded that portion of our money back that had not yet been used for services (in accordance with Scientology's statutes), we had to undergo so-called "interviews." These took place late at night (after 10 p.m.), and were not so much conversations between friends (like we expected) as they were "third degrees" out of a second-rate gangster movie. Finally we shut off further contact to Scientology, even at the risk of never seeing our money again. For some unexplained reason we - eventually - were refunded our unused course payments (minus a hefty "administration fee"). So for me, the financial loss was kept within a reasonable limit. .

What problems did being in the cult cause you?

None at all, at first. I thought it was great to have finally run into a group that seemed to have goals similar to mine, and which offered seemingly infinite ways to attain them.

Later, once I experienced my first conflict with the Scientologists and was suddenly not so sure of myself, I also started having friction with my parents. All of a sudden I wasn't doing so great. Trouble in the "org" and fights at home. If I had not held onto this magnificent idea that, with Scientology, it was possible to help practically every person on earth lead a better life, then I probably would have thrown in the towel right there. I was fighting on two fronts. On one side I thought Scientology needed to be changed and improved, and on the other side I thought my parents needed to recognize and acknowledge that I had begun to discover incongruities in this group. (I didn't realize until much later that Scientology posed a risk not only to individual people, but to society.)
After I got out, I was doing fantastically at first. My friends and I somehow felt we were the better Scientologists, the victors. It was not until, over the course of time, when I had massive doubt about the various basic Scientology dogmata, and I noticed I was thinking only in terms of Scientology (either for or against - Scientology was the measuring stick), that the problems began. Gradually I became aware of no longer knowing what was "true" and what was "false." I began to realize that the simple good-bad mindset I had been using was a complete distortion. I stopped trusting my own critical ability, and it began to dawn on me that all the involvement and idealism I had devoted to this thing were not only completely wasted, but apparently even dangerous. I just couldn't believe it!

Destabilized this way, and hurt by my former "friend's" behavior, which I perceived as treason, and plagued at the same time by feelings of guilt about these same friends, I rapidly fell into a deep depression that took me over two years to find my way out of.

 - My studies, of course, had to be put on hold during this time.

And that is why today I am still fighting the consequences of my former fascination.

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