The Billion Year Itch

Have you ever seen that infamous episode of South Park where they rip apart Scientology and arguably it’s most famous member, Tom Cruise? Well, if you haven’t, you should, and after reading about Jenna Miscavige Hill’s personal hell that was her childhood, you’ll need to. In Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, Jenna Miscavige Hill (with Lisa Pulitzer) paints a grim and disturbing picture of her life within Scientology, as well as the dogma of the church.

Jenna Miscavige Hill grew up in the inner circle of Scientology. Her Uncle, David Miscavige, was the man who took over the church after L. Ron Hubbard’s death (the inventor and founder of Scientology) and Hill’s own parents were at one time high ranking members in the Sea Organization. The Sea Organization is Scientology’s inner core of the parish and its members are responsible for running and operating the churches, raising funds and recruitment of new members.  Sea Org. members sign a billion year contract, promising to return and serve in their next life.  The length of the contract might be a little overwhelming, but hey, at least you’ll know what you’re doing for the next billion years, right?

Growing up inside the church, Hill never had a normal childhood. In the book, she describes her childhood as constant regime of learning Hubbard’s nonsensical teachings and hard manual labour all the while being separated from her parents for months at a time. More so, Hill outlines in painful detail the strict practices of the church’s outlandish beliefs. From reading Hill’s candid memoir, you get the sense that Hubbard’s scripture is comical in nature, but truly frightening in practice.

As Scientology has always been famous for its secrecy, Hill gives readers a first hand account of the insane practices of the church. The brainwashing of its members and the separation of family members Hill describes throughout the book seem to be only a small slice of the power the church holds over its members. Hill recalls, as a child of seven, the day she signed her billion year contract with the Sea Organization and how excited she was to do so. In this particular reflection, the past devotion Hill felt for the church almost oozes from the pages.  Even though the adult Hill is now living her life outside of the church’s influence, you get the sense the brainwashing practices of her childhood still linger today. On the other hand, other reflections within the book such as the two times Hill’s describes almost committing suicide throb with desperation of someone at the end of the rope and their only escape is death.

If nothing else, Beyond Belief is a cautionary account of what happens when we as individuals lose our own identities in hopes to belong to something bigger than ourselves. Hill’s own parents left her and her siblings to fend for themselves as they climbed their own spiritual ladder, and Hill almost fell into the same clutches of Scientology’s controlling beliefs. Fortunately, she made it out and now lives a life of counselling and helping ex-Scientologists as they struggle to find a meaning in their own lives since their exodus from the church.

Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard viewed Scientology as his greatest contribution to mankind, however he didn’t mind making a dollar off of his own believers.  After all, reaching the highest spiritual levels of the church isn’t cheap. Nevertheless, as the School Counsellor from South Park would say “Scientology is bad, m’kay”. Unfortunately, for those indoctrinated into Scientology, the line that’s drawn between what’s right and wrong isn’t so obvious.