Scientology Reacts to the Voice

Village Voice/May 16, 2008

If you watched Tommy Davis on CNN last week, you know that Scientology isn't very adept at public relations.

I was reminded of that now that I've been reminiscing about what it was like to write about Hubbardites back in the day, and writing numerous stories about Jason Beghe. Yesterday I heard from Los Angeles-based Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw, my old friend, who noticed that I'm back on the Scientology beat.

Pouw and I go back a long way. When I was writing about Scientology at a newspaper in Los Angeles about eight years ago, she invited my editor and publisher out to lunch at the Celebrity Centre, hoping to talk them out of printing further stories. Instead, at the last minute when it turned out the publisher couldn't make it, my editor brought me along instead.

Pouw didn't look too happy about it. But we soldiered on through a lovely lunch at the Centre, which is really swank.

I took the opportunity to ask her some questions. It was Pouw who told me something I had never heard before: that only 10 percent of Scientologists had reached the level of OT III. That stunned me. That's something I've been pointing out ever since: that the vast majority of Scientologists have no idea that eventually, they'll be told the wacky stuff about "Xenu" and that the whole point of their auditing is to remove "body thetans," something like alien souls, from their person. And at incredibly high prices.

But Pouw said something even more amazing at that lunch. Some Scientologists, like John Travolta, make the claim that you can be a Christian and still be a Scientologist as well. But didn't Hubbard, I pointed out, write in his Xenu story that Jesus was, in fact, just a bit of programming that had been inserted in our psyches? How was it possible for a Scientologist also to be a Christian if Hubbard claimed that Jesus was just a figment of the imagination?

Well, you can imagine that the lunch got pretty heated at that moment, and Pouw was clearly angry that I'd put her on the spot on her own turf. But eventually, she blurted out, "So we think Jesus is a figment of the imagination! So what!"

What a moment. That's not something I expect to see on Scientology brochures any time soon.

You can imagine what a pleasure it was to hear from Karin yesterday, who called because she noticed our blog item on Jason Beghe and Tommy Davis.

What followed was, unfortunately, the kind of conversation that's about as fun as a trip to the proctologist. What are you planning to write? Will this be in the paper or just on the web? Have you ever written anything positive about the church? Have you ever talked to someone who's still in the church?

I tried to explain that whenever a reporter wants to talk to everyday Scientologists, they're carefully herded-"handled" in Scientology lingo-so that they talk to spokespeople, who never answer any real questions. And an attempt by a Voice reporter to tour the New York org and speak to people there was rebuffed, by the way. And as for writing positive things about an organization that has been shown repeatedly, in court case after court case, to be a money-making scam that takes advantage of the gullible?

Well, I pointed out to Karin that asking that question is like asking why haven't I written any "positive" stories about the mafia.

She didn't seem to appreciate that very much.

I told her I'd love to hear her thoughts on Jason Beghe, who is causing such waves for publicly denouncing Scientology after 12 years as one of its celebrity trophies.

She said she'd e-mail me something.

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