The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology by John Sweeney

So far the books related to Scientology I have read have been all written from the perspective of Americans as you’d expect with Scientology being what could be argued something that could only come out of America.

The Church of Scientology although today deemed to be relatively small in number do have a presence in other parts of the world. In Britain it has the base of Saint Hill in West Sussex for esample. After reading about how the Church of Scientology affected the lives of its own members and critics in the United States I wanted to know how people from outside the US perceived them. Should you ever look it up there are many commentaries and observations from other areas. It is the British perspective of Scientology that I would like to take a look at however, mainly for the reason that it is easier for me being British. It appears that for all the good intentions presented by the Church and its well known supporters, there seems to be many more critics. While I’m sure there have been people who have benefited from the Church (Tom Cruise being the most famous), it is hard to avoid the fact that there are many more people out there who have not benefited at all.

Church of Fear by John Sweeney. The cover has a reference to Hubbard’s Dianetics on the cover.

Among the British commentaries, there was a British interview (Links in the comments) of L Ron Hubbard himself done by Granada in the sixties. Louis Theroux made his own documentary about the Scientology and there has been writers such as John Atack who wrote about his time with Scientology.

There is however, one famous commentator from the UK who was made famous for shouting at a Scientology rep which was filmed and taken advantage of by the Church itself. John Sweeney when doing a documentary for BBC’s Panorama would have his own experience of what it would be like to confront the Church of Scientology. Sweeney’s book is remarkable in that though not at the same level as with Paulette Cooper, we read about the ruthless tactics used to scupper John Sweeney’s making of the documentary and the harassment he received. Other known commentators such Marc and Claire Headley, Russell Miller and Amy Scobee all feature in John Sweeney’s book (for those of you in the loop, these are well known critics/survivors of the Church)

The Church of Fear introduces readers to what Scientology along with how it was founded and how it has affected the lives of its victims. The most fascinating story being John Sweeney’s confrontation with the Scientology reps Tommy Davies and a certain Mike Rinder in 2007. As John would later mention in the book, Mike Rinder himself defects from the Church and becomes one of its biggest critics. There is even an albeit staged interview with a famous celebrity Scientologist who would later work with Mike Rinder on her show Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath of which John Sweeney would later appear. It is fascinating that in some way, Sweeney helped in Mike Rinder himself defecting

John Sweeney pulls no punches on what he thinks about Scientology, how they pestered him and there is a real feel that there is no love lost in Sweeney’s passionate style of writing and what he thought of his experiences. For any of you who are familiar with what Scientology is and what it does you will already have an awareness of things John Sweeney is referring to (Narconon for example and the RPF for example) but for everyone else it would be hard to believe that such an organisation with its celebrity followers would be how Sweeney describes them. If you can ever find a copy of John Sweeney’s documentary, give it a watch it will help in picturing what Sweeney is describing in the book.

What must be noted is that though John Sweeney is writing things that may come across as a bit far fetched about the organisation, it is not unprecedented and many more books have been written since that mirror Sweeney’s own observations. Take from that what you will. Although L Ron Hubbard created something at first that people could take solace in, it has become something if not different, incredibly domineering as it has been perceived by many observers.

Expert Witness by Jesse Prince

When I read Marc Headley’s book about his early time in the Sea Org of the Church of Scientology, he writes about how he stumbled across a man not in uniform sitting back reading a magazine when everybody else was working. This man introduces himself as Jesse Prince and little did Marc know at the time, Jesse Prince was not just any slacking Sea Org member, this was once one of the highest ranking Sea Org members. This is Jesse Prince’s experience with the Church.

The Expert Witness by Jesse Prince

Unlike Marc who spent most of his time in Golden Era Productions the publishing arm of Scientology (with respect to it media and publications), Jesse was also part of the Religious Technology Centre which saw (and still does) the running of Scientology. Unlike Marc, Jesse did not grow up with Scientology (he tells us briefly of his time in growing up in Illinois with the racism he came across and to put it plainly.. that he had a busy sex life). Jesse gets approached by a young lady promoting Scientology, he listens to what she has to say because he fancies her goes down the rabbit hole of Scientology. He should have been joining the US Navy but instead makes a decision that would change his life for ever. (Not quite  related to this here, I wonder if getting attractive people for recruitment is a deliberate thing. I once met a Latter Day Saints/Mormon missionary in town once and my lord was she attractive, I was seconds away from booking a flight to Salt Lake.. Anyway I digress, back to the blog).

What I found interesting was with respect to Scientology courses and auditing, it is mentioned how the courses and auditing did have a way of making you believe it had some positive effect. Which it may well have. Scientology does appear to give a good first impression and to a point it appears to help people (I wouldn’t know myself I’ve never tried but when people see instant results, you can see how people are enthralled by it).

A young Jesse Prince in Sea Org uniform.

Once Jesse joins the Sea Org, encouraged to so by others and goes through the courses offered by Scientology and becomes an expert in dispensing what Scientology calls ‘Technology’ (like a Scientology priest but not quite, no masses for example), he would become an expert witness for Scientology in court cases. Prince was in the Sea Org during the transition period from L. Ron Hubbard’s time as leader to David Miscavige’s. He saw it all happen. What surprised me is that after reading Marc Headley’s book where David Miscavige is the head, the ‘Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center’ and is portrayed as incredibly unforgiving and ruthless, Jesse Prince writes about an earlier time where Hubbard was still leader and David Miscavige was kinder gentler soul if albeit learning all of Hubbard’s method of leadership after being a Commodore’s Messenger (who acted like Hubbard’s extended eyes, ears and voice). Prince saw Miscavige as like being a younger brother. We see Miscavige as loyal to his friends, a bit more vulnerable but still intense when it comes to being loyal to Scientology. As Jesse writes however this would all change, to Jesse Prince’s and many other’s expense.

When Jesse Prince started at the Sea Org, Hubbard is in hiding and didn’t want to be seen as being the leader of Scientology (tax reasons) but is still defacto leader through messages called ‘advices’. Prince writes how the Hubbard of this time isn’t the Hubbard of the books and courses thinking people are out to get him, purging people he didn’t like out of the Church.

Prince’s book is also a confessional of sorts. He tells us of the times when he was implicit in taking on the Church’s enemies, mostly what Hubbard would call the Squirells (like Scientologist who split from the original Church, Scientology protestants if you will). One of the hardest things to read about was when he was sent to convince Hubbard’s daughter to give her child over Scientology when she wanted to leave. That felt like an awful thing to go through and Jesse Prince’s regret is visible and is quite an emotional thing to read.

What I also found hard to believe is when Prince writes about Hubbard’s death, his situation and the negligence around him at the time. This was meant to be the top man, the messiah and yet he was deteriorating slowly both mentally and physically.

Prince tells us also about the time leading to him leaving (I assume this is when Headley met him not knowing who he truly was). Prince also tells us about how helped others after leaving and seeing the tactics used by Scientology he saw when on the other side.

I was genuinely taken aback by the stories in Prince’s book. How far Hubbard and Miscavige would go to achieve their objectives and how unforgiving they could be. Prince also reminds us however, that there are some genuinely nice people in Scientology as well who would do what is expected of them.

I won’t go on too much about his time after leaving Scientology and his association with the Lisa McPherson Trust, I’ll leave that Jesse Prince himself when you read the book for yourself. I will say that it’s beggars belief that people could be like that (I’m not talking about Jesse here obviously) as well as his life afterwords

Expert Witness has been one of my favourite Scientology related books I’ve read. I would like to know what someone who has never heard of Scientology would think of this book, what I read about particular people in it I have come across in other books about Scientology and I already had some sort of knowledge about them. Marty Rathbun in particular who Jesse Prince does have some opinions about, especially how he compares things differently from Marty. Jesse also avoids ‘Scientology speak’ where at all possible. There is also an appendix showing when Jesse Prince was used as expert witness in Scientology related court cases.

Prince should be proud of what he has written. He comes across as a genuine no nonsense guy and I imagine it was hard for him to bring back old memories of his time associated with the Church and to put it in this book. A marvellous achievement.