Inside Scientology

Jul 18, 2011

Author Janet Reitman chatted about her book Inside Scientology, which "offers the first full journalistic history of the Church of Scientology, in an evenhanded account that at last establishes the astonishing truth about the controversial religion."


Questions for Janet Reitman

Is Scientology a Religion?

“Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion” by Janet Reitman

Hi everyone, 

My name is Janet Reitman, author of "Inside Scientology," and I'll be happy to take your questions.

Hi Janet, When you were reading about and researching Scientology, did you ever feel kind of nutty, or unreal, just reading/hearing some of the stories?

Hi there,

No - i found the stories pretty fascinating, and it made me want to just explore more and more.

1. Did you try to locate and interview Pat Broeker in Wyoming? If so, what happened? (Apparently, his ex-wife, Annie, who also took care of Hubbard during his last days is now suffering from lung cancer.) 2. What do you say to the scientologists that have been posting that you only interviewed ONE scientologist in good standing? Thanks!


Pat Broeker is a man who does not want to talk about these issues, quite clearly. As to the people who have taken issue with my sources, I have interviewed many Scientologists in good standing, including Kirstie Alley and Kelly Preston, two of the most famous Scientologists in the world. There is one Scientologist in good standing with the organized Church of Scientology in my book as a character; that does not mean i only spoke one. Many, many others informed my understanding of Scientology, and informed the book. Additionally, there is a tremendous number of people I interviewed who practice Scientology outside of the official church and consider themselves Scientologists, so it is really a question of what you consider a Scientologist to be - must you be "in good standing" with Scientology the organization to be a "Scientologist"? I think there are many different answers to that question.

Do you believe that sea org members were physically assaulted by the Scientology leader?

There is no physical evidence that David Miscavige assaulted anyone - no physical proof. But there are overwhelming reports that he has. Over the past few years, I was given multiple, and identical, reports by various former staffers who claim they were either the victims of or witnessed these assaults. I was told of these events by people in different cities, states, and countries, and totally independent of one another.  

Will you be writing more about the Church? These are not isolated stories. I have experienced much of the intimidation techniques that are remarked about here. We were indoctrinated that anyone who was ever critical of any aspect of Scientology had their own crimes. It is difficult to talk about, but thousands have experienced ridicule and hazing in the staffs, albeit physical punishment is more rare.

I don't think i will be writing much more about the Church, though i know that in so many ways, i have only touched the tip of the iceberg. I hope that other authors may take up this challenge, and in fact, i know of one who is doing so right now! (And i wish him much success.) 

I am a former member struggling with cancer who has been declared a "Suppressive Person." As a parent and grandparent who has been cut off from my children and grandchildren by Scientology's Disconnection policy I find the loss to be horrible. It acts as an open wound on my soul. How prevalent did you find the destruction of families due to Scientology's policy on Disconnection? Thank you, Richard Dineen

Hi Richard,

I'm sorry to hear of your illness, and your loss. I found this to be hugely prevalent - basically everyone no longer in Scientology who I interviewed had experienced disconnection of one sort or another, some to greater extremes than others. Some people feared disconnection so much that they were deeply afraid of speaking with me. Disconnection is to me one of the hugest problems in the Church, and it has obviously caused massive problems for the organization.

First, congratulations on a terrific popular history of the CoS, one which does an excellent job of explaining to the newcomer exactly why Scientology is so fascinating and disturbing. In particular, your description of the development of the Miscavige-era church fills a void in mainstream literature. With regard to the creation of the post-Hubbard church - I couldn't help but wonder whether you attempted to reach out to Pat Broeker, Hubbard's right-hand man toward the end of his life. As far as I know, no journalist has spoken to Broeker since his disappearance from the church in the late '80s, yet his story would undoubtedly fill in a number of gaps in our understanding of how Miscavige secured complete control of RTC and the church. Did you try to find Broeker? Is he even still alive? Thanks.

To my knowledge Pat Broeker is alive, but he is not interested in talking to the media. I respected that, as have all of the other reporters i know who've tried.

I've seen a dozens of articles, books and "exposes" over the last 38 years on Scientology, all regurgitating the same inflammatory nonsense. I've been in Scientology for 38 years and have found all the "inside" stories to be a farce. My wife and I, as well as our children, all use Hubbard's work to better our lives. What makes your book any different?

My book does not attempt to judge Scientology as a practice or set of beliefs and if it has helped you and your family, I think that's wonderful -I mean that very sincerely. Far be it from me to judge anyone on their religious beliefs, and my book does not make those judgments. What my book does is examine the history of the organized Church of Scientology, the "church" as an institution. Prior books on Scientology did not examine the recent history -they tended to stop around 1990. So in that way, it is obviously different because it is more complete. But i think your question really asks, why should you read it. And to that, I'll say that what I do is look at organized Scientology, the Church of Scientology as institution, and without bias regarding its beliefs. I take Scientology seriously as a belief system, and I also take it seriously as an institution, and look at it in contrast with others, in a serious context. Here's something i write in my book: "Scientology, like all religions, accepts even grave imperfection as part of the human condition and, like all religions, seeks to transcend it. In Judaism, this is called justice. In Buddhism it is called seeking nirvana. In Christianity, it is absolution from sin. In Scientology, the route from flawed to flawless is called 'going Clear.'"  - this can be found on pg. 368. 

Having read the official church response to your book and you and your work... and now that you have experienced "first hand" the blatant misrepresentations of official church claims.... has this "informed" your opinion of what you have been told or heard or read from those with previous experience from the COS ?

Not in the slightest.

I find it difficult to believe that Scientology intimidated the IRS. The IRS routinely goes the full distance with the largest corporations in the world, for whom paying tens of millions in legal fees in years-long litigation is standard operating procedure. The IRS also has long experience with harassing litigation from tax protestors. They file endless lawsuits against the IRS and its employees, yet the Service never, ever gives in. To professionals in the tax community, this whole episode stinks to high heaven.

I have heard that as well, and I know how people in the tax community view it. To me, it really is one of the enduring mysteries. I was told by a number of people that IRS officials were simply exhausted by the litigation and wanted to devote resources to other things, but that said, it is surprising, and I think everyone in the United States who knew anything about this matter was surprised by it. 

I have been a Scientologist since 1974. I have gained a wealth of information that has greatly enhanced the quality of my life, and I personally know hundreds of others who would make the same claim. I am intimately familiar with Hubbard's methodology for the handling of drug and alcohol addiction, including its use at Narconon, which is acknowledged for its successful drug rehabilitation centers ( You have attested to meticulous research in writing your book. No doubt as part of this you personally interviewed current or past graduates or staff of these rehabilitation centers. Which of these interviews are included in the book?

I did interview a number of graduates of Narconon centers, but my book is not about Narconon, nor the other social betterment programs Scientology promotes.  That said, one of the characters in the book went through the purification rundown and had a very good experience with it, and  you can refer to chapter 15 and read all about it.

My wife and I have been Scientologist's most of our adult life. Our Scientology faith has helped us with our marriage (36 years and counting) as well as raising our three children. All three of our now-adult children choose to become Scientologists. While we taught them about Scientology while they were growing up, one can can only become a Scientologist by making a self-determined decision to be one -- which each of our children did. My question: Did you interview any currently active members of the Church from around the country for your book? If so, how many did you interview? My impression is that your research focused on a few disgruntled ex-members.

Wrong impression. I interviewed many, and one of them has a key role in the book, and indeed, she ends the book. she's a fiercely dedicated Scientologist and was raised in much the same way that it seems you raised your own family.

Your chapter on the death of Lisa McPhereson heavily implicates David Miscavige as a contributing factor to her death. His "minion at the time" Marty Rathbun has admitted destroying evidence relating to her untimely death in Clearwater. Did you talk to the DA or his staff about any of this? How do you think this incident has affected Scn in the long run?

Yes I did speak to Clearwater officials about the case. I think the incident has certainly put a pall over Scientology in Clearwater and probably elsewhere as well. I know a number of people who told me they left Scientology when they learned about the Lisa McPherson case, by going online and seeing her autopsy photos. So it certainly cost them some members.

I read most of your book with great interest. I only skipped the Lisa part because so much was already published about this and I was short on time (so this is no comment about your work). Question: Mike Rinder today and Mike Rinder Yesterday. What do you think? As a public Scientologist, I knew him yesterday as a spokesman for the CoS.. Today, I know him as an "Indie" . It's an upside down world for many Scientologists. We are trying to figure things out. So, what do you think is the reason for Mike's (and Marty Rathbun for that matter) change? Thanks, Mr Me

I really can't speak to what made Mike or Marty change  other than what they have said themselves. According to them, they were fed up with the organizational leadership. They remain Scientologists though, just outside of the organized Church. Their stories and the story of the current CoS is covered extensively in my book and i think your answer lies within those pages....

Many religions ask for money. Jews pay synagogue fees, Mormans tithe, Catholics have collection - How is the money that Scientology asks for different?

Scientology charges money for virtually everything. You can go to a Friday night service at a temple, talk to a rabbi for free - you can also go to a Catholic Church and go to confession for free. If you are a Mormon you tithe, but that tithe pays for everything. In Scientology, every step of the way comes with a price tag.

What are the foundational values that Scientology's social ethics revolves around?

The core foundational value is called "the greatest good," which is essentially acting in the best interest of your fellow Scientologists. Scientologists constantly measure themselves and their actions in terms of whether they are serving the greatest good.

Ms. Reitman, What would you suspect would be the outcome if those individuals within the church were able to READ your book and find out for themselves what the actual history of Hubbard and members of the church actually was? Do you think it would bring about the dissolution of the church?

I truly hope some of them will read the book. I hope the Church of Scientology becomes a more open place. I do not wish for the dissolution of the church but rather for Scientology members to be free to read, and say, what they want without fearing repercussions. And it saddens me that many of them will not be able to read my book due to those fears. I think they would learn a lot, and also might become emboldened to make positive changes.

Is the organization called Scientology exempt from paying federal income tax? If so will that status be changed ?

Yes, and I really don't know if that status will be changed.

Do you think the "Church" has scaled back is aggressive persecution of any and all detractors because of the bad publicity? I see the Scientologists as essentially a new age movement. The new age groups tended to attract those who had begun to question organized religion but weren't ready to make the leap to atheism. As society becomes increasingly secular and agnostic do you think interest in these intermediary "churches" will wain? In 100 years I predict either everyone is going to be a Catholic or an atheist! Yes?

What about the evangelicals? The Protestant evangelical movement - the non-denominational movement - is huge, growing, and having a major impact. A wonderful book on the power of Protestant evangelicals in this country is Jeff Sharlet's "The Family." Important book if you are interested in religion.

Hi Janet - Are celebrities treated any differently than other, non-celebrity members?

Yes, and I spend two chapters on this in my book. There are more ways than i can describe in a short space.

Have you been served with cease and desist orders while doing this chat? I can only assume that the legions of paid Scientology apologist pitbulls are inundating you with demands that you not discuss this topic or accusations of bias. Right?

so far and happily, i have been enjoying this chat.  freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. 

Was there anything from Dianetics or any Scientology practice that seemed to you to be beneficial to individuals?

I think a lot is beneficial. Auditing, by all accounts, is hugely beneficial to many people. And the community is also beneficial -the sense of togetherness, shared mission and purpose... all of that was very good and as you (hopefully) will read in the book, many people who joined Scientology responded extremely positively to those things.

Hi Janet. Looking forward to reading your book (waiting for UK Kindle version to become available). I heard you got bumped on the Today Show appearance. Is there any chance that are going to reschedule an interview? I was looking forward to it, especially since it was Matt Lauer on the Today show who was accused back in 2005 of being "glib" by scientologist Tom Cruise the psychiatry "expert" and set off the wave of mainstream criticsm of scientology which has never stopped.

I hope so... I think this is being worked out but I have no further information. I was looking forward to talking to Matt Lauer too!

A tithe is a percentage of your earnings so if you don't make a lot, you don't tithe a lot; a temple may charge a membership fee, but you can attend without being a member; a Catholic collection is voluntary as well, based on what members feel they can pay. . . Plus, one is Morman, Jewish, or Catholic based on what one believes and how one acts, not based on how much they pay. Is there a way to be a Scientologist at the "upper level" if you are poor, or do only celebrities like Tom, Kristie, and John Travolta get to rise to that level.

that's a wonderful way to answer the question of what's the difference between tithing and what scientologists are asked to pay. To my knowledge, it's very hard to be an upper level "public" - non-staff -scientologist without money. In the Sea Organization, though, which is the senior management of the Church, many people have achieved "upper level" status and have virtually no money because they got this auditing for free.  But the average person who does Scientology tends to need a real income to become an "OT" because it is pricey... that does not mean they have to be rich; they just have to have the money to pay for those courses - some people spend all the money they have on Scientology, and are by no means rich.

Thanks a lot everyone - i have to leave now, but this was great. 

In This Chat
Janet Reitman
Janet Reitman is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. Her work has appeared in GQ, Men's Journal, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Marie Claire, and the Washington Post, among other publications. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, and was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in 2007 for the story "Inside Scientology."
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