|Scientology leader David Miscavige|
Debbie Cook, who worked for the Church for three decades and led its Flag Service Organization (as many of you will know, this kind of jargon is standard Scientology fare) in Clearwater, Florida before leaving the post a few years ago, began the New Year by sending an email to 12,000 Scientologists criticising its notoriously uncompromising leader David Miscavige.
The email is long and jargon-filled (you can find it in full here), but, to summarise, it accuses Miscavige of mismanagement and failing to uphold the legacy of the cult's founder, pulp science-fiction author L Ron Hubbard. In particular, Cook suggests that the Church's vast wealth, accumulated through donations and the large sums required to take Scientology training courses, goes against the teaching of Hubbard, who wrote that lifetime membership should cost no more than $75:
"Currently membership monies are held as Int [jargon for Scientology's international management] reserves and have grown to well in excess of a billion dollars. Only a tiny fraction has ever been spent, in violation of the policy above. Only the interest earned from the holdings have been used very sparingly to fund projects through grants."What's particularly interesting about Cook's email is that it is not the work of an ex-Scientologist looking to discredit the organisation, but rather someone who continues to firmly believe in the religion, as it was imagined by Hubbard before he died in 1986. Cook makes this clear at the end of her email, where she urges fellow Scientologists to protect Hubbard's legacy by taking action against Miscavige's mismanagement:
"I [...] know that I dedicated my entire adult life to supporting LRH and the application of LRH technology and if I ever had to look LRH in the eye I wouldn’t be able to say I did everything I could to Keep Scientology Working if I didn’t do something about it now."While the Church's organisational discord is fascinating, and welcome news for those who have followed stories concerning Miscavige's hardline leadership (see, for instance, my interview with whistleblower Marc Headley from a couple of years ago), this persistence of belief among some of those who have rejected Scientology in its current, Miscavige-led form is of equal interest to cult-watchers. The former senior Scientologist Mark Rathbun has been criticising the Church in this manner for a number of years, even going so far as to regularly leak confidential documents via his blog, but he still professes his belief in Scientology. That those who have witnessed the abuses of Scientology at first hand, and have even gone so far as to publicly split with the Church, can nevertheless continue to hold beliefs that are widely dismissed and ridiculed in the world outside certainly provides an interesting case study in the resilience of religious belief.
It will be intriguing to observe how this apparent schism develops this year – could we be seeing the beginnings of a breakaway Church of Scientology, and if so how popular will it prove with those currently within Miscavige's organisation?