Author of My Billion Year Contract reflects on life in elite Scientology group
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Wikinews interviewed author Nancy Many about her book My Billion Year Contract, and asked her about life working in the elite Scientology group known as the "Sea Org". Many joined Scientology in the early 1970s, and after leaving in 1996 she later testified against the organization. Published in October, Many's book has gone on to become one of the top selling new books on Scientology at Amazon.com.
Scientology was founded by writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1952. At the time Many joined in the early 1970s, she was a college student attending Salem State College in Massachusetts. She agreed to become a member of the elite Scientology group known as the "Sea Org" in 1972 – the title of her book refers to a document she signed when joining that group.
She moved to Scientology's base of operations in Clearwater, Florida, and rose to a high-ranking position within the organization. Many describes how she recruited others into the organization, and sold Scientology products to celebrities. She participated in intelligence operations as a spy working for a secret unit within Scientology, and she writes that she covertly became part of the mental-health-care community in Boston, Massachusetts.
Many recounts how Scientology executives decided to remove her from her leadership position within the organization. As laid out in the book, she was instructed to reside in a parking garage, remove herself from family, and perform hard labor. Her account highlights she was ordered to perform these tasks by Scientology officials whilst five-months pregnant. These experiences led her to later have a mental breakdown and eventually leave Scientology.
My Billion Year Contract was first published in October. Since then it has risen to the second spot among recent best selling books about Scientology on the website Amazon.com – the number one spot is held by Marc Headley's book, Blown for Good.
Catholic Online associate editor and former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, Randy Sly, compared My Billion Year Contract to other insider accounts by former Scientologists, including Headley's and that of Monica Pignotti. "Their books and essays, along with many others, have publicly called into question a number of Scientology beliefs, claims and practices over many years," wrote Sly.
In an article this month about the book for The Boston Phoenix, Chris Faraone wrote, "even if just some of her trials really happened [...] her new memoir might still be the most shocking nonfiction work featured at this week's American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Boston." Faraone commented, "My Billion Year Contract is a horror story."
((Wikinews)) Can you describe a little bit about yourself and your background, and how you came to be interested in Scientology?
Nancy Many: I was a college student, just starting out in the early 70’s. It was a time of turmoil, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, The deaths of JFK, MLK and Bobby Kennedy were still close to our time period. Viet Nam was polarizing the nation and dividing families. Woodstock had happened a few years before. The culture held no real anchors – it seemed everyone was experimenting. The progam to become a counselor at my college was losing it’s funding, I had just broken up with a long term boyfriend, and every one I knew was either into drugs or Alcohol. Never big on alcohol I was growing tired of the drugs.
((WN)) When you first started getting involved in Scientology, what attracted you to it?
NM: That they were going to make the world a better place, that they did not do drugs and lived a communal lifestyle.
((WN)) What positive aspects did you gain from your experiences in Scientology? What benefits does Scientology have to offer people who take its courses?
NM: I gained more self confidence, I gained an ability to work in sales. In the first course I gained the ability to quiet my mind and to just exist in the universe. I think these same benefits are there today for new people, but do I think they are worth the Price Charged, or Years of one’s life given --- No I do not. Last I checked to do all of Scientology, and make it to the top of the bridge – Operating Thetan 8, it would cost approximately $250,000. In the old days you could sign a contract for up to a Billion Years and get those services at no cost, but to my knowledge that is not the type of counseling staff are getting now. And if you did leave before your particular contract was over, you will receive what is called a “FreeLoader Bill”, a total of all the services that you received in exchange for your working for them. The current and past food and pay situation for staff members is below the illegal workers in this country.
((WN)) If you desired something that Scientology offered - and felt you gain positively from some of your experiences while inside the organization - have you sought out and found such values elsewhere, for example, spirituality or another form of a religious belief system?
NM: After I left Scientology I did make a list of all the courses, things I learned, personal abilities I had and what I liked from it. Over the years I have been able to find much of what I liked in other philosophies written years ago by different authors. L. Ron Hubbard originally acknowledged all those learned men in the beginning of the book Science of Survival, but over the years that list has dwindled, until now it seems that L. Ron Hubbard invented all this material. What I will give him credit for is that he put it in simple, modern day English, so it was easier to grasp, but of my list of things I have found useful, I was able to find them elsewhere, and for a much less expensive price.
((WN)) You speak in the book about the psychology term cognitive dissonance, which you describe as "the feeling of uncomfortable tension, which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. This can cause an individual to fight within their minds to somehow make it make sense." (p. 54) Do you still experience cognitive dissonance when reflecting on your experiences in Scientology? Why and how so?
NM: I no longer experience Cognitive Dissonance when reflecting on my experiences in Scientology. I have done further study of it and find it to be a common human ailment.
"Cognitive Dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent such as 'Smoking is a dumb thing because it could kill me' and 'I smoke two packs a day.' Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find a way to reduce it." (Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me, Carol Travis.)
I experienced several levels of Cognitive Dissonance while in Scientology. They say Church on the door, but the day to day operations are not those of a church – those contrary thoughts were assuaged for years because of the Hubbard Policy – Religion 1970, wherein he stated something like we are a religion for accountant and attorneys, nothing about our daily operations will change. That plus the line that I was often given and gave to others new to the Church –it’s not a faith, it is an Applied Religious Philosophy, non-denominational in nature, you can still belong to your own church and be a Scientology.
That held my discomfort together until years later I read the Messianic Program, wherein Hubbard laid out the steps to make himself the next Messiah for planet earth.
Another cognitive dissonance was why are we attempting to destroy and take over the entire field of mental health, if we are a church, well the same answer, we aren’t really a church.
When LRH [L. Ron Hubbard] himself wrote to me that he wished he had never gone the "Church" route at all, it made me happy and erased the tension of the Cognitive Dissonance.
Why were the prices so high? If we were supposed to Clear the Planet, and help make the world a better place, then why did we charge so much? Very few people could afford that level of money and still survive and raise a family.
((WN)) In the book you write, "I have studied the research done on the power that groups can hold over individuals and the mindsets and peer pressures that got me to that place." (p. 92.) What types of resources did you use for this study? Can you recommend any references for others wishing to learn about this topic?
NM: Opening Skinners Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century by Lauren Slater
((WN)) It is understandable that the act of writing down your experiences on paper could be a cathartic process but - why publicize it as a book?
NM: As I write in my Preface the book was written almost two years ago, but the fear of publishing books on the subject of Scientology, got it no where in the area of publishing, Scientology is too frightening and scares even large publishing houses. I even got turned away by a "Print on Demand" – where I pay for it myself. They were just to frightened of repercussions on them as a company and on the staff as individuals.
But one night, an old friend who had been in Scientology for 36 years and had reached the highest most level in Scientology (Operating Thetan Level 8) arrived at my door suicidal. I knew I had to do more. For the past 10 years I had been dealing with Mentally Troubled individuals one on one, but this woman brought to my door the fact that what I was doing wasn’t even cracking the egg of mental abuse. So I took my book off the shelf and my husband and I started our own publishing company.
((WN)) Did you fear publicizing your experiences could subject you and your family to the Scientology practice of "Fair Game" ?
NM: Of course. In my particular case they had already interrogated me to the point of psychotic meltdown, and there wasn't much more they could do to me. I hear the clicks on my phone, I’ve gotten the private investigator with the CIA past placed on my car. I’ve had people show up. But as long as I am truthful and don't make things worse than they were, nor better than they were, this is America, land of Free Speech. While working to get the book out (in those two months) I came to learn of 3 more deaths of people who experienced mental breakdowns while under the care of Scientologist, it only spurred me on.
((WN)) Have you experienced anything from Scientology after publicizing your story that you feel is retribution or a form of Fair Game?
NM: I'm never certain if it is coincidence or not, but yes little things, not like the others that are coming out now and testifying at court cases. I also think Scientology is a little busy with just being declared a Fraud by the Government of France, Belgium has been preparing their law suit and should be coming out shortly. Here in America, the current head of Scientology and the corporation have just been served with a lawsuit on human trafficking. An eight year old boy was signed up with the Sea Org (Billion Year Contract) and he was put to work scrubbing pots and pans from that young age. I know of under aged children who signed Billion Year Contracts, they were promised their High School educations, which they never got, but those children were 13 or 14 – this is an 8 year old boy. Senator Xenophon in Australia has just stood up and asked for a government inquiry to the human abuses of Scientology. His documentation includes part of my book. Yes there are many things they can do to me, but I am tired of them Mentally and otherwise abusing people to the point of suicide.
I think they are spread a little too thin and there is nothing in my book that was not posted on the internet, either under my pseudonym “Kathryn”, or in internet posts. In addition I was on the stand in court for one of the Lisa McPherson hearings on her death, and they had free opportunity to question me on these matters.
((WN)) Towards the end of your book you describe how you still kept in touch with a son who was still actively taking Scientology courses - and that you had friends still working in the organization. Have you experienced the Scientology practice of "Disconnection"? Have any of these people been instructed by Scientology to cease communication with you?
|It is so freeing to now be able to decide who is a friend and who is not – on my own with no other influences.|
NM: My son is his own person, and I am proud he makes his own decisions. We don’t discuss it other than the discussion I described in the book.
Yes I have had people Disconnect from me, and it is sad. I used to be a member of this group, so I also disconnected from others. It is so freeing to now be able to decide who is a friend and who is not – on my own with no other influences.
((WN)) During the recounting in the book of your mental breakdown, you cite your husband and family as key factors in helping and supporting you. What else, or who else - what other factors have helped you recover from your mental break after disengaging from Scientology?
NM: The other factors that helped were that I did have a lot of friends who were not and had never been Scientologists, so I could hang with them and the subject would never come up. Thereby not "triggering" me back to Scientology language or way of life.
I also have/had a deep faith in God and an internal strength that made me pull my way out of the intermittent hell that lasted for years. I knew this was life or death. There were simply people or places I could not be around.
((WN)) Recently another book by a former member of Scientology's Sea Org was published, Blown for Good by Marc Headley. Have you read other books on Scientology? What other books about the organization (other than those produced by it) stand out for you as important in understanding its impact and the internal workings of the movement?
NM: I love Marc Headly's book and feel very strongly that our books are so different that they (together) give a vivid and 3 dimensional view of the world of Scientology.
I have read all other books about Scientology that were not in a good light. The one that stands out for me as the best of all time is Helen O'Brien's Book entitled Dianetics In Limbo. She was an early Dianeticist and joined during the first wave of Dianetics in the early 50's. Some things have never changed and that is why that early book is such an important read.
((WN)) You worked for Scientology's intelligence division the "Guardian's Office" (GO) and then later for the current incarnation of its intelligence department, the "Office of Special Affairs" (OSA). (pp. 154-155, 289.) From your experiences working for GO and OSA, does the workings of the management of operatives by these groups differ? How so?
NM: The largest difference in the management of operatives is who those operative are. In the GO days many were Scientologists and Private investigators rarely used. Now it is the opposite, the Church has attorneys – with whom they have privilege, and it is the Attorney's who hire the Private Investigators. Now if a PI gets caught during an operation, it can only go back as far as the Attorney, the church is protected. There is a deposition on the internet about one of the Churches attorney's who was present when the discussion of breaking into the opposing attorney’s doctor’s office was discussed – by Church Executive, lawyers and PI’s. That, to me, is no different than what the GO used to do, like break into an enemy’s doctors office and get their files.
((WN)) You recount in the book how you later felt badly about things you did while in the organization, including "stealing library books that were negative toward Scientology". (p 199) Was this type of action a common practice in the GO? OSA? Sea Org in general?
NM: Stealing, or taking out an not returning books from libraries that put Scientology in a negative light. I know it was done for years, I would not be surprised if it is still done, but I have no proof. The libraries would though.
((WN)) How do you think Scientology management can improve the way it conducts its operations? If you were the head of the organization, what would you do differently - what would you change about Scientology practices?
NM: If I were the head of Scientology Management at this time, I would strip it back to basics. Stop all Human Abuse and Human Rights abuses, and then have an open forum as to whether it wants to be a "Church" or wants to be a Self Help Group. Church’s ask for titheing (based on your income) a Self Help group has fixed prices for it’s counseling and services.
Scientology now has "Fixed Donations" the weirdest oxymoron I have ever heard.
((WN)) Looking back on your experiences in Scientology, you describe several instances in the book where you considered leaving the organization or at least leaving the Sea Org - most notably when you were ordered into the "Rehabilitation Project Force" while you were pregnant. (pp. 85-94.) Why did you choose to stay?
NM: I felt I had no choice but to stay, we had no non-scientology people in our lives to give us safety and help us get on our feet. I was five months pregnant –who is going to give me a job. And we literally had no money. We had been with them as a group and only with them as a group for about a decade, you lose touch with family friends etc who are not scientologists. If we left we would be put on the “to be shunned list” and none of our public Scientologists who had jobs for us could help us, without severe consequences to them.
The people who had left before us, they become non persons and you have no idea where they went. I wanted to leave without being put on the shunning list, which we eventually were able to do, that allowed us to get help from other friends who had previously left the Sea Org, but not Scientology.
((WN)) In the appendix of the book you reference and discuss The Lucifer Effect by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. You cite how "Zimbardo isolated 7 social processes that grease the slippery slope of evil," and acknowledge, "I found myself in all of these seven steps, to a greater or lesser degree. ... In hindsight, I can see each on of these points were present in the apple barrel of Scientology that I lived through." Which of Zimbardo's steps were most applicable to your experiences in Scientology? Knowing what you know now from the knowledge in Zimbardo's book, how would you approach this differently in the future if placed in a similar situation again?
NM: The step for me was "Mindlessly taking the first step", there was no internet back then. Books against Scientology had either been removed from the libraries or never been allowed to be printed. The first class I took when I left Scientology was called "Critical Thinking" – If I had taken that course PRIOR to Scientology, I doubt I would have mindlessly taken that first step.
Today we have the internet, which allows us free speech, and we now have a lot of free speech about Scientology – They still try to "Steal the library books of the internet", but funny, now that just makes more copies.
((WN)) Several popular culture references are made in the book to illustrate your experiences. You talk about the film Poltergeist and how your husband compared it to his experience of pulling you out of your psychosis (p. 219). You reference the film The Omen as a way to describe L. Ron Hubbard's view in a purported version of the Scientology level "OT 8" that you read on the Internet, writing, "[Hubbard] said that he had his next mission lined up that was to come back in a healthy body and join politics - a modern-day Damien from The Omen." (p. 202) Scientology has itself been the subject of depictions in popular culture, for example the Obie Award-winning satirical musical A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, and the Emmy-nominated parody episode "Trapped in the Closet" by the comedy program South Park. Have you seen any parodies or depictions of Scientology in popular culture? What are your thoughts about them?
NM: These were all great shows. I went to the "Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant", with my youngest son who had been through the roughest parts of my mental collapse with me, and we just laughed and laughed. It was so great. If it’s in your town, don’t miss it.
The South Park episode was great. I kept it on my replay for months so I could watch again with friends (ex Scn or never Scn) who had missed it.
|I wish the public, especially America, would not be so star struck that they ignore the Human Rights Abuses happening within our own borders...|
((WN)) Do you have any thoughts or advice for others either curious to find out more information about Scientology or those seeking to leave the organization?
NM: If you are thinking about joining, stick to the internet for a while, a long while – they have their own websites, so you can see both sides.
For those seeking to leave the Sea Organization, just get up and walk out. If they touch you you have a million dollar lawsuit – but how to get the information inside to you????
((WN)) Are there any other points regarding your experiences that you would like to elaborate on or explain?
NM: I wish the public, especially America, would not be so star struck that they ignore the Human Rights Abuses happening within our own borders, or just find it too had to believe.
A friend of mine told a famous actress my story, and she couldn’t believe it, come to find out another friend of theirs had reported the same thing and they had simply thought she was delusional.
((WN)) Nancy Many, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview with Wikinews.
NM: You’re Welcome.
- "Senator Xenophon of Australia calls for criminal investigation into Scientology" — Wikinews, November 19, 2009
- "Blown for Good author discusses life inside international headquarters of Scientology" — Wikinews, November 13, 2009
- "Court in France convicts Scientology of organized fraud" — Wikinews, October 28, 2009
- "Authorities in Belgium raid Church of Scientology" — Wikinews, April 12, 2008
- "Hot New Releases in Scientology" — , January 14, 2009
- Chris Faraone. "Scientology defector tells all: Many's Rivers to Cross Dept." — , January 13, 2010
- Lilly von Marcab. "Human Rights Activists Celebrate 2009's Many Wins Against Scientology Cult" — , December 24, 2009
- Randy Sly. "A Response to a Scientologist: The Truth Shall Make You Free" — , November 30, 2009