CNN Believer host Reza Aslan looks at the controversial Church of Scientology which some claim is undergoing a reformation.
Reformists inside Scientology believe their faith was taken over by a self-appointed megalomaniac in the form of David Miscavige. A public figure famously aligned with actor Tom Cruise, reformationists believe he has perverted the intentions of the faith created by novelist L. Ron Hubbard.
The epicenter of Scientology is Los Angeles, also the home of Reza Aslan.
“I have a confession to make, I have a soft spot for Scientology,” Aslan opens as he walks Hollywood Blvd. near the Scientology Celebrity Center. Aslan notes all religions have corruption and issues just like Scientology.
The mythology of Scientology, and its overlord Xenu, is brought up at a dinner where Aslan defends Scientology and states that Christianity wouldn’t hold up with any real investigative journalism in the time it was established. He refers to Christianity as a cult as well.
Aslan did his journalistic due diligence and reached out to Scientology headquarters, but was fobbed off and denied any chance to interview anyone.
He then reaches out to Donald Westbrook, Ph.D. a historian of New Religious Movements at the University of California who is considered an expert on the faith, though he is not a Scientologist himself.
When Aslan asked him if he considered Scientology a proper religion, he was affirmative. Westbrook said: “Absolutely, Scientology to me is an example of another American-born religion.”
He gives the genesis of the religion and the faith’s wellspring: Dianetics, a mental health analysis tool that took people back to “past lives.” The term “thetan” is a soul that transports from lifetime to lifetime. Our collective traumas from all our past lives is “cleared” through “auditing.”
Scientology has successfully monetized this Dianetics premise.
The controversial control of the diminutive leader David Miscavige (he is barely 5 feet tall) is now the lightning rod that is dividing the faith and creating the fertile environment for Scientologists to break away. For years he has battled accusations that he had his wife sent away and has warred openly with actress Leah Remini, once a devout Scientologist.
In Haifa, Israel, a reformation group headed by former Scientology leaders Tami and Dani Lemberger is introduced to Aslan. The actual business structure of Scientology is laid out as a franchise model in that those who have their “shops” pays percentages to the mother ship.
But now the reformation and people who have broken away fully are really not wanting to be connected anymore. The Lembergers had reached an extremely high status in the core Scientology church, but they broke away and want full autonomy.
Tami Lemberger explained their defection. “In the 70’s and 80s Scientology was fun, but the 90’s saw increased pressure from upper management for money which was too much.”
They were declared an “S.P.” [suppressed person] and declared an apostate and cut off from the church.
Essentially, the Lembergers were in “violation of the Church of Scientology’s trademark” and stilled defied them using readily available materials on the Internet.
“I am only loyal to one person,” says Dani Lemberger, “L. Ron Hubbard.”
These refomationists are exhibiting the same behavior that happened in the 16th century with Christianity. The protestant reformation erupted over the widespread abuse and corruption of the Vatican.
Trey Lotz, who is at the highest level within the church as an OT8, is Aslan’s next interview target. He was excommunicated in 2007 and declared a suppressive person. Despite this, he audits people out of his house. He says the “Church” got rid of “old timers” and “run control on everybody.”
People followed Trey. He tells Reza Aslan his past lives and even his remembered deaths. He recalls the vitality of Hubbard and conversely says the faith post-Hubbard became less kind and tainted.
Many of these people Aslan interviews are “coming out of the closet” and are less fearful of the repercussions. “These are very devout believers,” says Aslan.
Aslan gets audited. They try to break his concentration. Using insults and digs at his Iranian immigrant beginnings. This is an exercise in the process.
Despite all of these intrusive and frankly mirrored psychology techniques, the “faith” of Scientologists is defended and admired by Aslan.
Part of that stand is admirable, but for those who have witnessed lives destroyed, monies bilked from families and torn apart and outright threats made from shadowy entities within the cult, the reformation may be too little too late.
Believer with Reza Aslan airs Sundays at 10p ET/PT on CNN and 0200 GMT on CNN International.