The full title of Jenna Miscavige Hill’s book is Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. Hill is the niece of David Miscavige, the head of Scientology who is often mentioned along with Tom Cruise in articles about Cruise’s involvement in the cult. The full title is telling, as much of Hill’s book talks about the systemic secrecy and brainwashing that goes on within the non-public side of Scientology. It is a very strange and frightening organization, and this book is very revealing.
Hill grew up in Scientology, as her parents rejoined the Sea Org, an insider’s organization within the church that seems to basically run the entire church, which is in essence an enormous business. Sea Org members, including small children, sign contracts with the church giving their life over to the organization for a billion years. The brainwashing begins even as the children are tiny; Hill and her older brother are basically left to raise themselves with the help of Scientology staff and schools while their parents are sent off to different parts of the country to work for Scientology – Hill was two years old when her family rejoined Sea Org. She and her brother basically lived alone in an apartment until moving to a run down ranch a few years later, put to work remodelling the buildings and grounds while learning how to be good Scientologists. Hill was part of this strange world, and seemed to be subject to extra scrutiny and abuse by nature of her family history. After her brother and parents leave the organization, Hill eventually struggles free herself, accompanied by her husband.
Children who are brought up in the cult are enormously isolated, although it seems public Scientologists and of course the celebrity members have much different experiences. The children are basically made over into a slave labour force, with minimal education, forced separation from family and subject to mental and emotional abuse. It is appalling to read – these children are mistreated and I have to assume that their parents know and understand what is happening to them, particularly since the adult members of the cult seem to be treated in much the same way. Hill writes clearly and in a matter of fact manner, and I suspect she demonstrates some remarkable restraint in terms of providing telling details about people within the cult and some of the abuses perpetrated there. I am baffled about why public Scientologists, who are not as sheltered as inner member are, can continue on in this organization as some references to the abuses must be available to them. Groups like Anonymous and ex-members like Hill are certainly doing their best to bring these out into the light, and the information in the book makes it even harder for me to appreciate celebrities in the cult – it is willful blindness, shameful.
I am honestly unsure about why Scientology’s programs are legal in the Western world at all, and I found this book enormously disturbing. I admire Hill’s courage in telling her story and efforts to bring light on this really appalling situation, and hope her friends and family still within Scientology are able to free themselves one day as well.