For years, many of us have read up on the Church of Scientology, gobbling up Tony Ortega articles and Going Clear like a second career. To witness this billion-dollar corporation get away with abuse and cult behavior while, at least ostensibly, thriving is infuriating and fascinating. In all my years studying the organization, I’ve learned a lot about what they believe and how they do things. What I’ve never understood is why people stay. How otherwise intelligent, decent people can possibly continue to be part of this “religion.”
Enter Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath.
This docuseries is well made and fascinating, but what has most surprised me is how deeply personal it is. Unlike Going Clear or other works, the series is not merely pointing out the ridiculous things the church believes or the questionable mission of its questionable leaders. Nor is it focused solely on the abusive practices within the church, though that is a large portion of the content and is both captivating and heartbreaking. At its core, this is a series about the victims of Scientology and how and why they stayed as long as they did—and the lingering connection they still have to the church that destroyed their lives.
We watch as Remini, outspoken advocate against Scientology, is surprised by just how many lies the church spews, as it publicly fabricates numbers and statistics of how many people Scientology has helped with its members’ hard-earned, hard-stolen money. To listen to the examples Scientology gives is to us on the outside complete nonsense (at one point they proclaim to have all but halted drug use in all of Italy, single-handedly) but for those who’ve given their lives—and dollars—to this corpo-ligion, it wasn’t immediately obvious that this was a bald-faced lie. A former member highlighted in this week’s episode, who had to disconnect from his identical twin brother who was kicked out of the church, and who he never saw alive again (his brother died in a car accident)—says “It’s embarrassing to look back on—in my entire time on staff and working for the church, it never occurred to me that anything I was told was false. Ever. It didn’t even cross my mind.”
From forced abortions to tearing apart entire families, it’s been interesting and horrifying to learn about the abuses of the church. But it’s been just as devastating to learn how much people still believed, how much it took to make them wake up—if they truly did wake up. Don’t write off Scientology and the Aftermath as reality fare—it’s doing far, far more.