Life Inside Scientology: Physical Abuse, Psychological Torture and Billion-Year Contracts

The New York Times has a lengthy, front-page story about Scientology today and while it doesn't break much new ground—many of the more salacious tales first appeared in The St. Petersburg Times over the past year—it's worth reading.

First and foremost, Scientology is nuts, and reading about its nutty, abusive cultishness never ceases to be fascinating. Laurie Goodstein's article focuses on Christie King and Chris Collbran, second-generation Scientologists raised in the church. As teens they joined Sea Org, the church's bizarre pseudo-navy, and signed the requisite billion-year contract "in keeping with the church's belief that Scientologists are immortal." Later, they became disillusioned by the abuses they witnessed, which included:

  • Sea Org officers hitting and otherwise abusing subordinates, including teenage minors
  • Working 16-hour days for $17/week
  • Christie's parents spending so much money on Scientology, they couldn't afford to attend her wedding at Manhattan's Scientology Center
  • Leaders lying about church membership to fool Sea Org staff into believing they were saving the world
  • When Chris had doubts about Sea Org, the church assigned him to menial labor halfway around the world and blocked Christie's attempts to contact him for three months
Sea Org complaints not attributed to the Collbrans include:
  • Physical beat-downs at the hands of church chairman David Miscavige
  • Pressure to get abortions against their will (Sea Org members may not have children)
  • Some members gave up to $1M to the church
Getting out was even worse. Since the church had the Collbrans' passports in its possession—and since their family and loved ones were still part of the church—they had to endure a slate of further abuse:
  • Sign false confessions about their private lives
  • Pay the church $10,000 they "owed for courses and counseling"
  • Become estranged from their loved ones, who, according to church doctrine, had to cut them off when they left
  • Christie hid an intentional pregnancy until it was too late to abort, specifically to expedite her exit from Sea Org
The second reason this story matters is that it confirms and lends credence to earlier reports about Scientologists, primarily from The St. Petersburg Times . Scientology leaders and some prominent members deny stories like the Collbrans'. (Even Sea Org members say the "average Scientology member, known in the church as a public" wouldn't know about most of these abuses.) The Village Voice 's Tony Ortega notes that this is good for ex-Scientologists trying to raise awareness of their cause:

But mostly, it's the St. Pete Times that wins here. With only a few weeks until the 2009 Pulitzers are announced, it's hard not to see the timing of Goodstein's piece as anything but accidental: the New York Times has just sent a clear endorsement of a Pulitzer for last year's blockbuster series by the St. Pete Times.

Defectors Say Church of Scientology Hides Abuses [NYT]
Scientology Gets Polite Slap on the Wrist from New York Times [VV]
The Truth Rundown [SPT]