We've just finished Jenna Miscavige Hill's memoir, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, and we can say that it packs a powerful punch in its final pages as the niece of Scientology's leader considers his behavior and its effect on her life, both in and out of the church.
Along the way, we get one of the most complete and compelling narratives of how someone grows up in, and falls under the spell of, this organization which wields so much power over its members through interrogation, intimidation, and control.
And behind it all is one man, David Miscavige, who comes off as a meddling, tyrannical, but ultimately cowardly man who Jenna and other ex-Scientologists are determined to expose.
"To me, the Church is a dangerous organization whose beliefs allow it to commit crimes against humanity and violate basic human rights. It remains a mystery to me how, in our current society, this can go on unchecked. It is particularly insidious because of its celebrity advocates and affiliated groups, such as Narconon, Applied Scholastics, and the Citizens Commission on Human Rights," she writes.
"The problem is that Scientology is a system that makes it nearly impossible for you to think for yourself. People like my uncle are enablers who create an environment of fear that discourages independent thought. Get rid of them and you would continue to have a system that, almost by definition, restricts individual freedoms."
When Lawrence Wright's lengthy history of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, Going Clear, came out less than three weeks ago, some reviewers complained that he hadn't quite succeeded in one of his stated goals -- to explain why some people are drawn to this group, which seems to have such outlandish beliefs.
Jenna Miscavige Hill's book answers that question in more detail than any critic could ask for. Because, while Beyond Belief is ultimately one of the most devastating takedowns of Scientology ever published, Jenna isn't afraid to talk about the parts of her experience that she enjoyed, the things in the church that inspired her, and ultimately the things that made it hard to reconcile with so much abuse she witnessed.
In fact, it's that terrible contradiction -- how something that had meant so much to her growing up, could turn into such a malevolent organization in the end -- which gives her story its power.
-- Read the rest of this review at tonyortega.org