Author Topic: Death of a Scientologist- Chicago Reader  (Read 959 times)

Offline mefree

  • High Value Target
  • Posts: 4,369
Death of a Scientologist- Chicago Reader
« on: June 15, 2010, 07:59 »
An archived article in the Chicago Reader from 2002 definitely worth a re-run:

Death of a Scientologist

By Tori Marlan

Greg Bashaw's father respected him and trusted him to make wise choices. Even after he chose to devote his life to Scientology.

While the shock and grief of his son's suicide were still fresh, Bob Bashaw read back through their decades-long correspondence, looking in particular for references to Scientology. "I wanted to see what there was here I missed," he says. His son Greg had been a member of the Church of Scientology for more than 20 years. During that time other relatives, fearing he belonged to a cult, had voiced concerns. But Bob supported his son's choice, because he believed people should be free to practice their religion without getting hassled about it--and because he couldn't find a good enough reason not to. That changed in November

2000, when suddenly, he says, Greg broke into "a hundred pieces." He'd recently lost his job in advertising. And now, Greg told his father, his church had excommunicated him. Seven months later, more than $50,000 in debt, he ended his life on the shoulder of a Michigan road, leaving behind a wife of 20 years and a teenage son, to whom he'd written a brief, unemotional note.

In the year since, Bob has struggled to reconcile Greg's final act with the life he lived. "I had to understand it," he says, "because I knew him and this wasn't him. He was a loving person--kind, and paid his bills, and showed affection. Hugged and kissed. What the hell happened here?"

Bob is a young 74, tall and agile, with a ruddy complexion and a full head of hair that's wavy on top. Greg wasn't quite as tall or as thick around the middle, but people told them they looked alike. Greg was Bob's firstborn, the only one of his three children he'd been close to.

When Bob was 46, the age at which Greg committed suicide, his life had been turned upside down too. He'd lost his job, filed for divorce after 22 years of marriage, been diagnosed with skin cancer, and been told he needed a gingivectomy or he'd lose some teeth. But as bad as it got, he says, he never considered suicide. So at first he couldn't understand why Greg hadn't been able to imagine a different end to his suffering or why he'd been unresponsive to the efforts of many to help him. But after Greg's death Bob discovered things about his son he hadn't known. And he learned quite a bit about the Church of Scientology. "I think his final choice was the only one he felt he had left," Bob wrote to his younger son a few months after Greg's death. "And maybe he was right."

Bob learned of Greg's interest in Scientology by accident. In December 1979 Greg had written a letter to a friend, then absentmindedly stuck it in an envelope addressed to his father.

Greg was 25 at the time. He'd graduated from the University of Kansas a few years earlier with a degree in journalism. A woman he dated in high school and college says he was the kind of person who thought "relatively deeply about things" and wanted to "explore what the world was about." He studied Buddhism, practiced yoga, traveled around the U.S. by bus, and hitchhiked across Europe.

By all accounts Greg was artistically inclined, throwing himself into creative pursuits with intensity and passion. He played trumpet and piano by ear and, according to his ex-girlfriend, would sometimes sit in at jazz clubs. When he was mugged at gunpoint in Spain one Christmas season, he scraped by playing piano in bars until Bob could wire him money.

Greg also wrote short stories and poems--on top of the writing he did for a living. After college he worked briefly as a reporter, for a newspaper in Kansas and for United Press International, then followed his father into advertising. Bob says Greg was writing ad copy for a firm on Michigan Avenue when he met Laura, the woman who would become his wife. Greg and Laura took a trip to Vail at the end of 1979, and it was from there that he mistakenly sent the letter to his father. Bob says Greg gave him permission to read it.

In the letter Greg seemed nearly giddy, delighting in such natural wonders as a "finch on a porch rail, woodchucks in the snow, beavers building high in a snow gorge." But the trip was stirring up more than an appreciation for wildlife. Greg was undergoing a spiritual awakening. "Destiny also pulls upon me here," he wrote. "I am committing to memory the fundamental axioms of Scientology." He reported that he'd found his "life's spiritual work" and that it was "an odd, unused feeling." It had taken him by surprise. "After so many seasons of winter," he wrote, "one is wont to ask where came the spring?"

Bob had been careful not to force religion on his children. His own upbringing had included what he once described in a letter to Greg as "crammed-down-my-throat Lutheranism." He'd emerged from his parents' home with his belief in God intact but with an aversion to doctrine.

In 1958, when Greg was around four, the Bashaws settled in Elmhurst. The suburb had just gone through a postwar development boom that included an "explosion of church-making," according to Alan Ehrenhalt's The Lost City. A few winters before the Bashaws arrived, the local Jaycees had launched a campaign to "Put Christ back in Christmas," trying to dissuade people from using the term "Xmas" and urging merchants to display biblical scenes in their shopwindows. The Elmhurst Press pontificated about the importance of attending church regularly.

Bob eventually joined the most independent church he could find, the First Congregational Church, which was governed by its members rather than an ecclesiastical body. He enjoyed taking his children there for services but didn't much care when Greg ditched Sunday school in favor of shooting pool.

Greg showed more interest in religion when he lived with Bob for several months after college. Bob remembers discussing Buddhism and Christianity with him during that time, and at Greg's request they even visited the Urantia Foundation, a group that says its scripture was authored by "celestial beings." Bob knew Greg was in search of spiritual meaning. He was glad to learn from the Vail letter that his son thought he had found it.

The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954, the year Greg was born. In 1967 the IRS determined that it operated more like a business than a religion and revoked its tax-exempt status, which the church would regain after a 26-year battle. Today it claims to have eight million members worldwide.

Scientology grew out of the theories science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard espoused in the argot-laden 1950 book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard purported to have identified the single source of unhappiness--and its cure. Unhappiness, he claimed, stems from the "reactive mind," which contains "engrams," or mental images of everything a person perceives when unconscious or in intense physical or emotional pain. Later in life, similar perceptions can trigger the engrams and cause unnecessary suffering. The key to happiness is to obliterate the engrams--to herd them like "little sheep...into the pen for slaughter."

Hubbard promised great things once someone's engrams were gone: higher intelligence, better eyesight, and freedom from a host of troubles, including psychoses, psychosomatic illnesses, neuroses, compulsions, and repression. He called this state "clear" and said that attaining it was possible only by using a breakthrough therapy he'd created called "auditing."

Auditing requires a person to sit in a room and answer questions--not ones you'd hear in typical talk-therapy, but specific sets of them devised by Hubbard. Auditing was a precise "technology," he claimed, and if applied correctly it would always produce the same results. In 1959 he introduced a small machine called an E-Meter to help with the process. The person being audited holds the machine's electrodes--hollow electroplated copper cans--which allegedly pick up energy generated by the person's thoughts. According to the Church of Scientology, the auditor "reads" the movements of a needle, which have specific meanings, and uses them as a guide for which topics to address further. Hubbard believed people were immortal spirits carrying around baggage from previous incarnations, and Scientologists often think they're turning up engrams from past lives during auditing sessions.

Hubbard's theories confirmed Greg's worldview. "My own personal beliefs are that man is a spirit; that he lives through many existences," he wrote to his father many years after joining the church, "and so the trouble he encounters in a particular lifetime is a result of all his previous experience. This belief made my transition to Scientology a natural one, as Scientology basically takes this belief and works out a therapy based on it."

Before Hubbard died in 1986 he mapped out the exact steps necessary to achieve spiritual freedom. They include pricey auditing sessions, training seminars, and advanced courses--though the church says whatever money people pay is a donation. From the get-go, this was no ordinary church: in the process of attaining enlightenment--by crossing what Hubbard called the Bridge to Total Freedom--you just might go broke.

Greg seemed willing to do whatever it took. Early on he borrowed thousands of dollars from his father for Scientology-related endeavors. Bob says Greg used one of the loans to go with Laura to the church's Los Angeles complex for course work; he paid it back with interest, explaining that he'd felt pressured by the church to cough up the money. "What happened," he wrote Bob on January 21, 1981, "is that our financial officer for the Church informed us we would need another $1700 to pay for the package we were securing. It was imperative to get it this past week; otherwise the annual price increase, which he had held off for us through administrative fancywork, would go into effect. Simply put, if we didn't send the money Wednesday, the prices would have gone up on us by $500."

Today the church encourages beginning Scientologists to spend 12 and a half hours a week auditing. According to spokespeople at the church's Illinois branch, sessions can run up to $200 an hour, but the cost varies depending on whether people team up and audit each other or work with a professional auditor. The spokespeople also say it's not unusual for a person to spend between 150 and 200 hours trying to become clear.

In March 1981 Bob received a letter from Greg's mother, who'd read a disturbing article about Scientology in Reader's Digest. "Scientology: Anatomy of a Frightening Cult" depicted Hubbard as a megalomaniac "surrounded by aides who cater to his every whim," including young women "who light his ever-present cigarettes and catch the ashes." The writer stated that the church operated its own "punishment unit," the Rehabilitation Project Force, and kept detailed records of intimate things people revealed in auditing sessions in order to blackmail them should they decide to defect or denounce the church.

The article also referred to "fanatic operatives" within the church who'd "engaged in burglary, espionage, kidnapping and smear campaigns to further their goals." It said that after losing its tax-exempt status the church had inundated the IRS with lawsuits and that top-level Scientologists had gone so far as to investigate and harass agents, infiltrate government offices, and steal documents pertaining to Hubbard and the church. In 1979, the year Greg became involved in Scientology, Hubbard's third wife, Mary Sue, and several other top-level Scientologists were convicted in federal court of theft and conspiracy in connection with the church's battle with the IRS. (In 1993 the agency reversed itself without explanation after top Scientologists paid an unscheduled visit to the IRS commissioner; it granted the church tax-exempt status again, even though the Supreme Court had upheld its earlier decision to revoke it.)

The Reader's Digest article also cautioned that auditing could have detrimental effects: "As defectors have attested, subjects become hysterical and psychotic in their auditing. Then they are locked in isolation. Not surprisingly, suicides occur."

Greg's mother said in her letter that when she'd questioned their son about the article, he claimed it had been planted by "psychiatrists engaged in a conspiracy against Scientology." As Bob would later realize, Greg had already swallowed the party line.

Hubbard had a vendetta against psychologists and psychiatrists, who'd taken him to task for failing to support the lofty claims in Dianetics with empirical evidence. Not long after the book was published, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution forbidding its members to use Hubbard's techniques except for the purpose of scientific research. Prominent mental health professionals mocked Hubbard for his grandiose claims and worried about the potentially harmful effects of his techniques. "Dianetics has no respect for and no understanding of the complexities of personality," psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review in September 1950. "Problems of values and conscience do not exist. If the engrams are erased you have no conflicts. All great philosophical and religious teachers wasted their efforts. There is no problem which does not result from engram command and there is no point to their thinking since they did not know Hubbard's discovery."

Such criticism was the "shot that began a war," according to Scientology literature. Hubbard dismissed criticism from people in the mental health professions, saying they were motivated by self-interest. He claimed his brand of therapy posed a serious threat to their credibility and pocketbooks and would eventually expose them all as frauds. And he went on the offensive. One former church member says, "Scientologists are constantly indoctrinated with psychiatry as an enemy of mankind. Every course, every lecture of Hubbard's, every book is laced with antipsychiatry stuff."

The church is notorious for tenaciously attempting to silence its critics and for equating any criticism with religious bigotry. It even compares the plight of Scientologists to that of Jews in Nazi Germany.

According to numerous news articles and court cases, Hubbard instituted a "Fair Game" policy in 1967, apparently giving Scientologists the green light to cross the line into criminal behavior where "suppressive persons" were concerned. SPs are people who hold Scientologists back, people who work to foil the church's goal of "clearing" the planet. They include worried friends or family members who try to thwart individual Scientologists' progress, impassioned defectors who denounce the religion, and journalists who generate bad publicity. According to many reports, the Fair Game policy stated that SPs "may be deprived of property or injured by any means," including being "tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed."

Church spokespeople say critics misinterpreted Hubbard's original policy, and besides, he revoked it in 1968--reportedly citing "bad public relations." But according to various high-level defectors, the policy remained in effect. In 1969 the church established the Citizens Commission on Human Rights to investigate and expose abuses in the mental health professions. Over the years CCHR has published volumes of antipsychiatry and antipsychology literature under the guise of scientific study, arguing that psychiatrists were the "real scourge behind Hitler's Nazi regime"; that 10 to 25 percent of psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists openly admit to having sexually abused patients; and that two-thirds are themselves "seriously mentally ill."

As far as Bob knew, Greg's experience with the mental health profession had been limited. He'd seen a therapist his freshman year of college without seeming "to have much luck," but Bob didn't think his son had anything against the profession.

Greg's mother, who's now deceased, also wrote in her March 1981 letter that she wasn't the only one concerned about Greg's interest in Scientology. Bob says that after Greg got engaged to Laura he started "getting heat" from her family for getting her involved in the church. The letter from Greg's mother said that Laura's mother was particularly upset: "Greg said they had to go out early the day of Laura's shower to calm [her mother] down and explain things."

The Bashaws had gone through a bitter divorce. Bob says he rarely had civil contact with his ex-wife, so this letter from her stood out for its lack of hostility. He thought she was imploring him to do something, but he didn't know what he could do. Greg had chosen his religion, and he was 26--too old to have his parents managing his affairs. Life was full of choices, and Bob trusted that his intelligent, thoughtful son would make wise ones. Greg was trained as a journalist. He asked questions.

much more at
« Last Edit: June 16, 2010, 21:06 by mefree »
The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual's own reason and critical analysis.
-Dalai Lama