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It is very important to understand that Scientology is carefully constructed like an onion and people's perceptions and opinions are based on their personal experience as it relates to what layer they progressed to. Even within the Sea Org there are several layers. There is a lot of compartmentalization of information and communication and self-censorship within the culture so consequently some people can have relatively pleasant naive experiences and be defensive of it or they can experience the worst. Some people want to believe in the doctrine and Hubbard and that it is really their religion while blaming the corporation and a few people like Miscavige for the things that are wrong.
I have been out for a long time but from what I have seen there has been something of a transformation in the Sea Org from the time Hubbard ran things. The emphasis used to be on delivery of his hobby horse, training and auditing of Scientology, but under Miscavige it has evolved into primarily a real estate holding company. Personally I think this is because Miscavige doesn't understand the sophistication of the original con but he understands real estate and that has become his hobby horse.
It's a disturbing and complicated subject but there are a lot of lessons to be learned from it so welcome.
The Scientological Onion
(Excerpted from the Addendum section of L. Ron Hubbard, Messiah or Madman?, 2nd and 3rd editions. This is the shortened version that appears in Brainwashing Manual Parallels in Scientology
Scientology could be described as a "layers of the onion" operation.
The outermost layer of the "Scientological Onion" is not identifiable with Scientology at all, being composed of front groups that conceal their connection to -and control by - the Scientology organization. Front groups might be said to constitute Layer Zero: a place where the tentacles of Scientology can grope incognito.
The first layer of the Scientological Onion is meant to be very visible...
Layer One includes Scientology's pampered clique of celebrities, and various public relations ploys. It reverberates with noble sounding sentiments about creating a better world. Scientology seeks to equate itself, and its founder, with anything broadly viewed as desirable or good. A little further along, this layer would include introductory courses with the stated aim of "knowing oneself" and "being free."
Here exist the potentially beneficial aspects of the many masked Scientology operation. The tragedy of Scientology is that the "positives" are used as "window dressing" and "bait on the hook," when they should have been the core and foundation. Thus the Scientology organization reeks of hypocrisy.
Also, at this much publicized layer, L. Ron Hubbard is presented as an engineer, war hero, nuclear physicist, and the "greatest humanitarian of all time," and the author of "22 best sellers with more to come."
The "first layer" is what Scientology wishes the outside world to know as Scientology. And it is essentially what new converts to the "movement" believe.
It includes most of what is good in the subject: The dream of peace on Earth, the desire to help, practical wisdom, civilized communication, and some potentially beneficial counseling procedures. The word freedom is used a great deal at this layer, and a heart felt desire for greater personal freedom, and freedom for all Mankind, is not unusual to new recruits to Scientology.
(Any inconsistencies or contradictions between the publicly stated aims of the movement, and actual practices or facts, become irrelevant as the individual becomes subject to the Dark Side of Scientology. And the deeper one descends into the "onion" the darker it gets.)