Monday, January 16, 2017

"Beyond Belief" by Jenna Miscavige Hill

You've probably noticed by now that I'm a bit fascinated by Scientology—not with the "religion" itself, but with the stories of those who have left. Jenna Miscavige Hill is one such person, only her story is a bit different from the others I've heard because of her family: her uncle is the current Scientology leader, David Miscavige.

Jenna Miscavige was raised to obey. As niece of the Church of Scientology's leader David Miscavige, she grew up at the center of this controversial organization. At 21, she made a break, risking everything she'd ever known and loved to leave Scientology once and for all. Now she speaks out about her life, the Church, her escape, going deep inside a religion that, for decades, has been the subject of fierce debate and speculation worldwide.

Piercing the veil of secrecy that has shrouded the world of Scientology, this insider reveals unprecedented firsthand knowledge of the religion, its rituals and its mysterious leader—David Miscavige. From her prolonged separation from her parents as a small child to being indoctrinated to serve the Church, from her lack of personal freedoms to the organization's emphasis on celebrity recruitment, Jenna goes behind the scenes of Scientology's oppressive and alienating culture, detailing an environment rooted in control in which the most devoted followers often face the harshest punishments when out of line. Detailing some of the Church's notorious practices, she also describes a childhood of isolation and neglect—a childhood that, painful as it was, prepared her for a tough life in the Church's most devoted order, the Sea Org.

Despite this hardship, it's only when her family approaches dissolution and her world begins to unravel that she's finally able to see the patterns of stifling conformity and psychological control that have ruled her life. Faced with a heartbreaking choice, she mounts a courageous escape, but not before being put thru the ultimate test of family, faith and love. Captivating and disturbing, Beyond Belief is an exploration of the limits of religion and the lengths to which some went to break free.

I'll be honest: the first part of Beyond Belief was a bit boring. It's important to the story, as Jenna explains how her family became involved with Scientology and details some of the Scientology education she went through. It's appalling, really, how children were treated like little adults—because of Scientology's belief in reincarnation, children aren't really children, they're just reincarnated in a child's body. But as disturbing (and abuse-filled) as Jenna's early life was, I had some trouble really engaging in her story. I even gave up on the book for a while, opting instead for Leah Remini's Troublemaker.

I was still curious about what caused Jenna to leave Scientology, though, so I eventually went back to the book. And as I continued reading, I found myself more and more drawn into Jenna's story. The most interesting thing to me was just how brainwashed she was—to the point that when her parents decided to leave, she refused to go with them. Still a minor, she should not have been allowed to make that decision for herself, but she was. Jenna found herself under intense scrutiny many times, and she talks repeatedly about how she would end up making things up or confessing to things she didn't do just to get the questioning to stop. But then, suddenly, it was like she just snapped back to reality, and the brainwashing was over. She knew she had to get out.

From what I can tell from other articles and books I've read, Jenna's experience was different from the normal Sea Org member because her uncle is David Miscavige. She definitely received some privileges as a child/early teen, but once she was on the outs with her uncle (for reasons I never could understand), she was punished for those privileges ... privileges she never asked for. I also think her escape from Scientology was perhaps a bit easier than some others'—because of the church's desire to to avoid a PR nightmare.

I do think the subtitle (My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape) is a bit misleading—while I'm sure to someone who lived it, the escape from Scientology would feel "harrowing," but that's not how it translated on the page. Really, Jenna's time in Scientology—with forced labor, verbal abuse, and coerced confessions—seemed more distressing than the actual leaving. Still, I'm glad to have read Jenna's book—it confirms the corruption within the "religion" that I'd previously learned about and gives insight into what it's like to grow up in the church. 3 stars.

Jenna Miscavige Hill is the niece of David Miscavige, current leader of Scientology. She grew up as a member of the Sea Organization, and was disconnected from her parents at a young age. She left in 2005, and is now happily married, living a fulfilling life outside the church. Jenna has been an active opponent of Scientology abuses, and hopes that her work can help educate others about the dangers of Scientology and the Sea Org. Her grandfather is author Ron Miscavige.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself and chose to review it. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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