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Jan 21 2013

Ex-Members Spill on Latest Scientology Scam

As more and more people leave the “Church” of Scientology, more information is coming out about the inner workings of the church. Alex Klein at Buzzfeed interviews a bunch of them who left as a result of what they allege is a real estate scam run by the organization:

When Bert Schippers forked over hundreds of thousands of dollars to help build an Ideal Org in downtown Seattle, he thought he was helping save the world. “I thought I was in the best religion on the planet,” he says. But as he gave more and more from 2001 to 2008, the new cathedral’s doors remained locked shut: to people, but not to money. Schippers, who had joined the church in 1986 and spent more than a million dollars on donations and courses, started asking questions about what, exactly, he was paying for; church leaders barred him, his wife, and his friends from setting foot inside.

“We gave that money because we wanted our local church to have its own building,” says Schippers, who runs a circuit-board company with his wife. “But when I found out the church had changed the original teachings of L. Ron Hubbard to make so much money… I felt absolute, complete, total betrayal.” Nonprofits often tell you that a donation can change your life, as well as its recipient’s. For Schippers, losing so much for so little was a disturbing wake-up call. “It was around then I realized, I was in a fucking cult.” He pauses, can’t quite find the words. “It’s…a mindfuck. Just a total mindfuck.”…

It’s no secret that Scientology is pay-to-play; the prices for its services and teachings, from books to audits to seminars, seem to know no ceiling. But this moneymaker is different: The building drives ask for straight-up cash donations of fixed amounts — many times larger than traditional Scientology buy-ins — and, according to former executives, go straight to the central church’s kitty. For years, those who’ve long questioned Scientology’s legitimacy mocked the religion’s sci-fi-tinged teachings, called Hubbard a fraud, and lampooned those gullible enough to be taken in by its feel-good myths.

But that didn’t work. Why? All religions have their Xenus, multi-armed elephants, or magic babies, their morally ambiguous prophets, their tall tales and scandals. They even ask for millions of dollars from the faithful.

But the defectors who claim to have been bilked say this scheme is different, manipulating local parishes for the sake of central church finances. And once you talk to them, the stereotypes start to fade. These donors weren’t brainwashed weirdos. They were more average joes than creepy cultists — searching, like the rest of us, for a pew, a community, a how-to guide for life. They’re not familiar with corporate intrigue or mass donation drives.

The whole thing is worth reading. Klein did a great job on it, for which he will undoubtedly be rewarded by being investigated by private detectives and who knows what else, as past critics of the “church” have.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Reginald Selkirk

    “But when I found out the church had changed the original teachings of L. Ron Hubbard to make so much money…

    Wha? Because L. Ron Hubbard was not about fleecing the flock?

  2. 2
    Draken

    Yeah, I was about to say: mr Schippers seems still firmly in denial.

  3. 3
    Sastra

    And once you talk to them, the stereotypes start to fade. These donors weren’t brainwashed weirdos. They were more average joes than creepy cultists — searching, like the rest of us, for a pew, a community, a how-to guide for life.

    I think the scientologist donors were like average religious joes, searching, like religious people, not just for a pew, a community, and a how-to-guide for life, but for a Higher Purpose only discernible by the select few. They were looking for reassuring cosmic answers which only come from humbling yourself, abasing yourself, purging yourself of flaws. They were searching for the supernatural power and source, someone and something they could really trust because of a validating personal experience . To hell with what the world says; the world is corrupted by an arrogant blindness, an inability to leap beyond low capacities and become more.

    In other words, they were seeking faith — religious faith. They wanted that faith attitude, open and credulous and submissive and tapping into amazing powers if you only believe hard enough and commit yourself without reservation.

    They got it.

  4. 4
    Randomfactor

    There are lots of ex-members in the so-called “Freezone,” people who believe Hubbard’s “tech” was good stuff but the organization perverted by those who followed him.

    I guess they didn’t stop to think that if Hubbard was such a superior being, the scam couldn’t have been taken away from him. In the end, his own creation ate him.

  5. 5
    steve84

    That’s nothing compared to what’s going on in Australia:

    http://au.news.yahoo.com/today-tonight/latest/article/-/12905379/australia-s-child-labour-camp/

  6. 6
    raven

    and spent more than a million dollars on donations and courses,

    A fool and his money are soon parted.

    They even ask for millions of dollars from the faithful.

    Try billions of dollars for the xians.

    The US xian churches take in around $90 billion a year. Around 88% or so is used internally for paying building, utilities, and salaries of church officials. An unknown but significant percentage is used to pay for mansions, yachts, fast cars, cute girls and boys, fine drugs and wine, etc. for the cult leaders.

    For an all powerful creator of everything, jesus and his followers seem to need lots of money.

  7. 7
    Sastra

    Randomfactor #4 wrote:

    I guess they didn’t stop to think that if Hubbard was such a superior being, the scam couldn’t have been taken away from him. In the end, his own creation ate him.

    I don’t see how this would follow. Christians have little problem thinking that Christ was abused and mistreated on earth and churches which are supposed to be follow Him don’t. This only points to how superior Christ was and is to everyone else. Scientologists would just carry over the same reasoning, turning a seeming problem into a glorious feature.

  8. 8
    chisaihana5219

    Ron Hubbard died of Alzheimer’s disease. It was taken away from him a long time ago, when his mind slipped away. I am one who thought the tech was good but the organization was nuts and the fantasy was just fantasy. The early tech focused on communication skills and talk therapy. In the earlier years they only wanted money for classes and therapy. The buildings were rented and the staff got no salary, only the top tier got paid and it was a measly amount. Even the christians know, the love of money is the root of all evil.

  9. 9
    marcus

    Ganesha still love you Ed.

  10. 10
    otrame

    Ed, Scientology does not deserve the scare quotes in your last paragraph. It is a church. It is a religion. Mr. Schippers’ continued belief in L. Ron is an absolutely classic case of someone trying to resolve cognitive dissonance so common when prophecy fails or when the dishonest manipulations of believers gets a little too close to the surface.

    The truth is that Scippers is pissed because he was paying for prestige and he didn’t get what he paid for. That was a mistake on Scientology’s part. For a man like Schippers that is a betrayal that is unacceptable. The RCC at least has since enough to provide prestige to those who pay for it.

  11. 11
    Area Man

    And the ranks of the faithful are dropping. In 2008, there were 25,000 self-identifying American Scientologists, down by over a half from 55,000 in 2001, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. (Over the same time period, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 134,000 to 342,000.)

    That is astounding. How the hell do they remain sustainable with such low numbers (the Scientologists, not the Wiccans)? They would need to be draining many thousands of dollars from each member each year to pay for those 60 cathedrals they’re supposedly building. They had better have some very rich suckers who will remain forever in that group, or the article is correct that they’re on the verge of imploding.

  12. 12
    sosw

    That is astounding. How the hell do they remain sustainable with such low numbers (the Scientologists, not the Wiccans)? They would need to be draining many thousands of dollars from each member each year to pay for those 60 cathedrals they’re supposedly building. They had better have some very rich suckers who will remain forever in that group, or the article is correct that they’re on the verge of imploding.

    AFAIK they have a small number of very rich supporters as well as a huge number of people who work for the church (some of whom at least previously have been close to slave labor, not sure if the sea org is still around) and several businesses that they run.

    Of course they also have a habit of lying about things like membership to make them seem bigger than they are, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were merely “keeping up appearances” financially.

  13. 13
    caseloweraz

    Scientology certainly has among its members a number of celebrities. Kirstie Alley, Karen Black, the late Sonny Bono and Stephen Boyd, Chick Corea, Tom Cruise, Priscilla Presley, Kelly Preston, John Travolta, Greta van Susteren, and Edgar Winter are on Wikipedia’s list. They certainly could contribute substantial amounts. The consider the total probable numbers of business and professional members. It must add up to enough to keep the religion going.

  14. 14
    Area Man

    I agree that once you add in dozens of multimillionaires, the vast amounts of money the church throws around become far easier to explain. I’m just shocked at how much they have to soak out of each member in order to keep the appearance of opulence going. Of course, according to the article, they suck the blood out of their middle-class members too, so thetan knows how much they must extract out of Tom Cruise.

    If I had been forced to guess how many Scientologists there are in the US, I would have ventured maybe a million or so. I am very surprised (pleasantly) that the number is so tiny. It would seem that they really are keeping up appearances by spending vast sums on gaudy cathedrals and whatnot. And as the article says, this is almost certainly unsustainable.

  15. 15
    Raging Bee

    The early tech focused on communication skills and talk therapy…

    Did you, or anyone else, ever make any attempt to verify whether “the early tech” really worked? Or did you just follow the shiny ball like any other cargo-cultist?

    The truth is that Scippers is pissed because he was paying for prestige and he didn’t get what he paid for.

    Blaming the victim, are we?

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