You likely have heard criticism of Scientology, but if you are like me, Jenna Miscavige Hill’s memoir will show you that you really knew very little about what truly happens behind Scientology’s closed doors.
For me, and I think probably for many of us, Scientology didn’t start to interest me until Tom Cruise went off the deep end. In fact, on UrbanDictionary.com there is even a phrase for going completely nuts a la Cruise, “jumping the couch,” inspired by his notoriously erratic couch jumping behavior on Oprah. Admittedly, during that moment he was actually professing his love for Katie Holmes and not Scientology (barf), but that didn’t make me judge him any less.
No, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill is not about Tom Cruise (although he does make a brief appearance towards the end) – but if anything his absence makes it better, not worse. I don’t think I could listen to Cruise’s antics for more than a page, much less a whole book. Hill is the niece of Scientology’s current leader, David Miscavige, which gives her unique insight into the upper echelons of Scientology that very few have.
I actually didn’t know very much about Scientology before reading this book. In fact, everything I did know could be traced back to Cruise or John Travolta, and pretty much centered around the way that its members eschew medication in favor of more natural remedies. Yet, that tidbit is just the tip of a very upsetting iceberg. How Hill grew up was both completely shocking and disturbing.
Hill’s parents worked for the Sea Org, a Scientology unit dedicated to its most devout members. In Scientology, family comes second to the good of the organization, which means that for most of her childhood, Hill was separated from her parents to be raised communally, seeing them once a week, if at all. At the age of six, she moved to the Ranch, where rock hauling and construction were just two of the many laborious chores she was forced to do. When she was seven, Hill was asked to sign a billion year contract with the Church (Scientologists essentially believe the spirit is reborn after death into a different body, and signing the contract is committing all future lives to the Church as well). As she grew up, Hill was subjected to inhumane conditions, psychological and physical abuse, manual labor, harassment, unwarranted punishment, and worse, all for the “good” of the religion. She was constantly made to feel like something was wrong with her, that she was a failure, selfish, and unworthy, all for for experiencing the types of growing pains typical of most children. Any thoughts that didn’t conform to Scientology’s rigid tenets were routinely squelched to essentially create conformist drones. Hill, who had never experienced life outside of Scientology’s confines, was so thoroughly inundated into Scientology’s culture that for the longest time she was incapable of recognizing that there were other less oppressive ways to live.
The heart-wrenching memoir portrays Hill’s struggles to come to terms with who she is, and find the courage within her to walk away from everything she had ever known. Leaving Scientology wasn’t as simple as leaving a religion, it required Hill to cut ties with friends and family who were still members because she would be labeled a Suppressive Person (in other words, evil). Now Hill and her husband (also a former Scientologist) actively speak out against the Church in an effort to raise awareness of what Scientology is actually all about, behind its self-help front.
If you are even remotely interested in the topic of Scientology, I highly suggest reading this book. It was completely engrossing and an eye opening experience.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.