In the white gown my mother had worn for her own wedding, I stood before the altar in a Catholic church. I was not Catholic, and my fiancé, Jamie, certainly wasn’t, but the venue happened to be open and available. Our pastor held a tome that contained various ceremonies penned by L. Ron Hubbard, including the vows addressed to us, which included the idea that “girls” need frills — perhaps “a comb and a cat” — and that I was to remind Jamie that his “promise binds,” for “men forget.” I hardly listened to the folderol. The words didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was marrying the man I thought I loved.
I see now that what I loved was Jamie’s certainty, a certainty that included his choice of religion: Scientology.
About a year before I met Jamie, my charismatic, brilliant elder brother had fallen from a bridge and sustained a massive brain injury. This loss of mentor as well as brother was monumental. Without him to lead the way — without him to push against as I created my own way — I was in a chaotic, grief-stricken tailspin that, although I did not see it at the time, whirled me straight toward the certainty Jamie and his religion offered.
Which is not how I thought of things on my wedding day, of course.
When Jamie first invited me to tea, I was reluctant to accept precisely because he was a Scientologist. But I soon found his implacable assurance attractive, as well as enviable, especially in contrast to the existential anguish that after my brother’s accident suffused my days Jamie's certainty — which I soon realized was Hubbard's certainty — was deeply comforting.
Hubbard seemed to have imposed order on a disorderly world. He’d taken abstractions — concepts such as Communication, Survival, Ethics, Spirit — and, by naming and explaining their component parts, made them concrete. His “Dynamics,” for instance, separated the complicated mish-mash of self, family, environment, spirituality, and the physical world into discrete modules that could be addressed and improved. For Hubbard, Understanding comprises three essentials — Affinity, Reality, and Communication — and when a misunderstanding occurs, one can solve the issue by finding in which of those three areas the problem has arisen (a difference in Reality, say, about what time a meeting is set). He observes that Morals relate to cultural ideas, and Ethics personal ones. All this order, imposed on what I’d been viewing as nothing but meaningless chaos, was transformational.
Yet even as I reveled in these and other of Scientology’s concepts (we have a body, we are a spirit), I found it disturbing that new recruits were known as “raw meat” and that someone critical of the church was considered “fair game”: did that mean that Scientologists might, say, smash the typewriters of those who wrote negatively about them? I wasn’t sure then, but I later came to believe that’s exactly the sort of thing it meant.
Jamie managed to explain away these ideas, and, as our relationship deepened, I adopted a new tactic: trying to ignore his choice of religion. I’d been brought up outside of any particular faith, and I projected that carefree attitude onto our relationship. I’d recently attended a Jewish-Buddhist wedding. And Catholics didn’t always marry fellow Catholics, did they? My understanding of religion’s role in a life, much less a marriage, was monumentally blithe.
Astonished, wary, I watched as Scientology simply became more and more a part of my life. Was this steady immersion how they “got” you? I worried about that all the time. And my own concerns were inflamed by those of my parents, who were virulently against my involvement. Jamie insisted that because my parents were against Scientology, that they were “Suppressive Persons” and that I must “disconnect” from them.