Thursday, April 23, 2015

‘Beyond Belief’ (Book Review)

Scientology has always been a bit of a mystery religion to me; that is, a mystery because, to be frank, I know very little about it. Having never actually read any of L. Ron Hubbard’s books (or those of his critics, for that matter) or personally known a self-identified Scientologist, it’s been pretty easy to ignore, despite having actually driven past the church on Sunset Blvd. a number of times. Sure, everyone around me seemed to have an opinion: It’s a dangerous cult. Dianetics is a lot of psychobabble. Et cetera. But what adherents actually believe and practice were never made clear to me.

Jenna Miscavige Hill’s “tell-all” memoir Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape (HarperCollins, 2013) has changed some of that. Niece of the current Scientology leader Dave Miscavige and co-founder of ExScientologyKids.com, Hill talks about what life was like for her with both parents in the elite Sea Org and being raised by the system. Even though she was prevented what most of us would call a “normal” childhood, Hill remained committed to Scientology for years, rising up its ranks. Eventually, she had enough: Enough of the E-Meters and auditing sessions designed to root out subversive behavior. Enough of the favoritism and inconsistencies. Enough of authorities keeping her from being with those she loved. In the end, Hill left Scientology kicking and screaming…literally, if I read correctly.

While Beyond Belief was certainly an eye-opener into the hidden world of Scientology, I closed the book with mixed feelings. It really was poorly written. Like many other memoirs, the story is weighted down by the author trying to account for absolutely everything, as if it were a courtroom testimony rather than a general retelling of the most important events. There were a number of obvious typos and needless repetitions. The book wasn’t terrible; just sloppy and disorganized. I don’t fault Hill. She isn’t a writer by profession, and any problems can be easily blamed on her inadequate Scientology schooling. However, I do fault Lisa Pulitzer (the “with” co-author) and the editing staff at HarperCollins who all should’ve known better. Hill had an important story to tell, but I really wonder if this book will really help her cause.


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