Growing up in the Church of Scientology 

Written by
Church of Scientology building in Los Angeles, Fountain Avenue by PictorialEvidence – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Going Clear,” the recent documentary on Scientology, has brought the church a lot of unwanted attention recently. The film is a highly-critical look at the origins of Scientology and its current practices. It relies on recollections of members who have left the church to talk about what went on behind closed doors. But the movie didn’t cover what it was like to be born and grow up in the Church of Scientology. KCRW’s Press Play spoke with two such young people about what it was like to grow up Scientologist.

Bob*, 23, and Carole*, 17, sat down with host Madeleine Brand. (*KCRW withheld the real names of the interviewees because they feared retribution for themselves and their families from the Church of Scientology.) Click play to hear the whole interview and read on for notable selections from the chat.

A detailed response from the church can also be found below.

On attending a school that uses a Scientologist curriculum:

Madeleine: Did you go to school in special Scientology schools?

Bob: Yeah, they don’t call it that though. If you call it that, the teachers will get very cross with you. Because they front as a, just a regular, secular private school. People send their kids there not knowing it’s a Scientology school.

On being a Scientologist in a secular private school:

Carole: I went to private schools in LA, so there were time where people were like “What is Scientology,” or like, “You don’t take medication when you’re sick?” And stuff like that.

Madeleine: And would you defend it?

Carole: I didn’t know what to do. Because I didn’t know why anybody would be against it when I was a kid.

On being wealthy in the Church of Scientology:

Carole: I always had, like, very positive experiences. In fact, I felt like I was almost treated like a princess my whole childhood. I think because my family’s prominent in Hollywood that the church protected me and shielded me from what Scientology really is. I didn’t meet anybody who wasn’t really wealthy.

On what it costs to be active in the Church of Scientology:

Carole: My mom told me there was a certain amount of money that they put on account when I was a kid and it was, like, $250,000… For my mother and I, but she didn’t do as much as I did.

On the rigors of religious studies in the Church of Scientology:

Madeleine: How much time would you spend at the church and what would that entail?

Carole: I spent a lot of time there. I would say I went there at least six days a week after school. And I was going to very competitive private school… It was like five hours of homework then three-and-a-half hours of course work…. On top of that I would do seminars on the weekend.

On performing the “Purification Rundown” at age 12: 

Carole: They encourage it for every Scientologist to do to “become clear.” But it’s also used for people who have been on drugs or people who have been exposed to chemicals. So for the Purification Rundown you sit in a sauna for… five hours a day. You get breaks but you take the vitamins that you’re supposed to take and then you run for twenty minutes on a treadmill to start sweating so that the Niacin will start working in your system.

Bob: They make you take an insane amount of Niacin by the way.

Carole: It makes you have a crazy skin reaction… and then you come to your final “End Phenomena” and that’s when you stop experiencing the sunburn from the Niacin and you stop getting headaches. I had terrible migraines… If you don’t hit the “End Phenomena” you have to keep going. And it costs more and more.

On what it means to not succeed in the church:

Bob: There’s this thing in Scientology called “No Case Gain,” and there’s a very heavy stigma attached to it within the community. Basically, if you don’t get “End Phenomena,” if auditing doesn’t work for you, if the courses don’t work for you, [if] you don’t have a win… You’re deemed “No Case Gain,” which means you are likely a suppressive person, and immediately stigmatized and ostracized from the group.

On Xenu and other church lore: 

Madeleine: Did you know the whole story of Xenu?

Carole: No. People said aliens and I said no, don’t talk to me about that and that’s not true, I’ve never heard that before and most Scientologists have never heard of that story before. Because you’re told that if you read about it or hear about it then you won’t be able to progress on your bridge. And when you’ve put so much money into it, it’s really hard to say, ok, I’m going to do something to risk all of the work I’ve done.

Bob: I was told that I was going to die of pneumonia if I read Xenu… Possibly get hit by a truck… Every time even just like a waft of it came up in conversation it was immediately shut down by any adult that was nearby.

Why he left the Church of Scientology:

Bob: You can’t raise questions that people don’t want to answer. And the reaction that they have to you is kind of aggressive and very dismissive. So, I think when I got to the point when I felt I could no longer identify myself with them was that I had a friend who was my age, 14 at the time, and her family went to Florida so that her mother could do courses at Flag… [She] was just cooped up in her mother’s apartment in Florida and she was getting suicidal and she was not eating. And I had been aware that there were people who couldn’t talk about their situation because you’re not allowed to be weak and be a Scientologist. But actually seeing it happen – it made me sick… I thought I don’t feel ethical pretending to be this just so that I don’t have to get in trouble.

Why she left the Church of Scientology: 

Carole: I wasn’t doing well. I needed support and I didn’t have any friends in the church. I never had any peers in the church… Eventually it was almost like there was an intervention with my school, where I needed help and I got the help that I needed

Madeleine: Is this mental health help? Because they’re anti-psychiatry?

Carole: Yes. I didn’t see a psychiatrist. I was not allowed to even say that word. But I got the help I had been asking for and I felt like I had to separate myself from my family to a certain extent.

On the fallout of leaving the church: 

Bob: I remember the first thing was my mother called my name from the other room. And she says, “Get in here. Close the door. So you’re not a Scientologist anymore. This creates a pretty big problem for me, you know?” I guess it probably did create a problem for her because my family, for a while, was being pestered by people – many of whom were their friends and colleagues – about my “condition.” From that point on, they were just very angry with me for a long time.

Carole: There’s fear instilled in me still… It wasn’t until two years after I left that I even Googled the church for fear that they would track my Internet usage or my computer history.

Bob: I don’t really have any connections to anyone still involved… But there is a fear that stays there. There’s a constant paranoia that persists for years after you’re involved.

Response from the Church of Scientology (printed verbatim):

The claims made by your so far “anonymous” source are false and bigoted. They take aspects of Scientology and twist them to the point they are unrecognizable solely to create prejudice against members of my Church.

The information about the Church of Scientology and its religious practices is so readily available that journalists can no longer claim ignorance about them as a reason for being conned into airing obvious blatant lies from individuals with personal axes to grind. Five minutes on the Church’s very accessible websites provides enough information to arouse concerns that the reporter is being misinformed. Thus the airing of such obviously biased claims without challenging the source and providing the Church with a meaningful opportunity to respond is irresponsible.

Columbia Journalism School’s recent criticisms of Rolling Stone magazine highlighted a similar fault. Just as you do here, the Rolling Stone’s reporter fed University of Virginia officials a few general allegations and asked for “comment,” but failed to provide the details that would have enabled university officials to ferret out the lies. Your questions are similar, which is why I asked for amplification.

In that light, here are my answers:

Claim: Some Scientology schools are marketed as secular private schools, and some parents send their children to these schools unaware of their affiliation with Scientology.

There are no “Scientology schools” of the type you suggest. Our Churches contain course rooms which provide purely religious instruction in Scientology. Some secular private schools have elected to utilize the education methodologies developed by L. Ron Hubbard. These schools are licensed by Applied Scholastics to utilize Mr. Hubbard’s discoveries in this context. They do not engage in religious instruction. They all make their affiliation with L. Ron Hubbard’s methodologies clear to students and parents.

Claim: Church representatives recruit for SEAORG at these schools.

False. To join the Sea Organization religious order an individual must meet the legal age requirements to work for whatever jurisdiction they are in. This varies from country to country.

Claim: Church members who don’t make progress or become ill are stigmatized and ostracized and can ultimately be labeled “Suppressive Persons.”

This utterly misstates our beliefs. Scientologists who become ill are urged to seek medical treatment. They also seek spiritual counseling pertaining to their illness, but this is never at the expense of medical treatment.

Claim: The Church is formally or informally against secular education.

This is absurd. L. Ron Hubbard devoted years of research into finding out why people had trouble learning and to developing methods to improve their ability to learn any subject. He thereafter made this technology broadly available outside the Scientology religion to help people learn. His contribution to the field of education has been acknowledged by educators all over the world.

Claim: Children as young as 12 are put through the Church’s “Purification Rundown,” with extended periods of exercise, saunas and high-dose supplements such as Niacin.

The Purification Rundown is a religious practice, the participation in which is subject to prior medical approval and, in the circumstances of an individual under 18 years of age, parental approval.

Claim: Families of members who leave the Church are no longer allowed to be in contact with them. Members of wealthier families may be exempt the requirement to “disconnect.”

This misstates our practice. The Church’s voluntary practice of disconnection in circumstances where individual’s spiritual progress is imperiled by continued connection to people hostile to their survival is explained on our website at
Courts have addressed this voluntary practice and have validated the Constitutional rights of the Church and its members to freedom of association, which must necessarily include the right not to associate with someone:

“A church is entitled to stop associating with someone who abandons it. Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc’y of N.Y., Inc., 819 F.2d 875, 883 (9th Cir.1987) (holding that the free exercise clause protects the practice of shunning, explaining that when “[t]he members of [a] [c]hurch” “no longer want to associate with” someone who has “abandon[ed]” them, those members “are free” under the First Amendment “to make that choice”). A church may also warn that it will stop associating with members who do not act in accordance with church doctrine. The former is a legitimate consequence, the latter a legitimate warning.”
– Headley v. Church of Scientology International (9th Cir. 2012) 687 F.3d 1173, 1180.

Karin Pouw