I was raised in a cult.
I’ve experienced the joy of knowing that I am doing the most important work one can possibly do. I’ve had the overwhelming exuberance of sharing vital information with a friend that would save his life and that of his entire family. I’ve felt the delight of unconditional love and acceptance.
I’ve also known the confusion of seeing inexplicable hatred towards a group that loves the wrong gender. And the dread of losing everything that means anything.
I often heard sermons about lapsed church members. They are cast out, and are supposed to be shunned by all believers. The sermons speak of how disavowed young adults (and sometimes teens) are locked from homes, whose family won’t even look at them or acknowledge their presence, and those family members are lionized and held up as a shining example for us all. Occasional testimonies tell of someone weeping outside their mother’s window for hours, until weeks later they finally relent and rejoin the church. This sparks the triumph and love of re-welcoming a lost sheep, of an endangered soul once again saved by grace. I wasn’t completely terrified of coming out as atheist to my parents, because I suspected, deep inside, that they wouldn’t go that far. And they didn’t. When I came out, my mother left the dinner table and went to her room, and I didn’t see her again for three days. But in the end they didn’t abandon me. Couldn’t. I felt very lucky.
When I was at my closest friend’s house, where I spent half my free hours, and I said that I wouldn’t be studying the Watchtower with him anymore, he physically assaulted me. It wasn’t that big a deal – he wrestled me to the ground, and kept me in a submission hold until I relented. I went upstairs and studied the Watchtower with him and his parents that night, and didn’t stay over on Saturday nights any more after that. It was still more violence than I was used to in my life.
I have very strong feelings about cults. I hate religion with a passion, probably in large part due to cultism. And I partly blame my lack of ability to form trusting bonds with groups due to my cult past.
SWFA is considering no longer accepting winning the Writers Of The Future as a qualifying sale for purposes of qualifying for SWFA membership, due to the fact that the Scientologists administer the contest.
I was really impressed with the Scientologists at the Writers of the Future workshop. They were, for the most part, extremely respectful of the fact that none of us winners were Scientologists. You could see the passion bubbling up in them whenever they spoke about Hubbard or his works. And yet they never proselytized, never tried to sell us on their religion. I *know* how hard that is, when you have this joyous, wonderful thing inside you that can help other people so much! I hear that things used to be less muted in the past, and their reserve is a feat I appreciate.
Ironically, I think this very reserve is why people are now upset. From what I’m hearing, there’s a few people who feel like they were tricked into “supporting” Scientology, somehow. This is frustrating, because A. the connection to Scientology was made as thin and weak as possible (to the point that the term “firewall” was frequently used) not because the Scientologists are trying to trick anyone, but because all us non-Scientologists prefer it that way and they are accommodating us, and B. the contest boldly advertises itself as “L. Ron!! Hubbard!!!! Presents!!!! writersofthefuture.” This ain’t exactly a secret.
The experience of WotF from a non-Scientologist view point is overall very positive. They pay a ridiculous amount of money for a short story. I got more per-word in cash money than I’ll likely ever get for short work again, unless I become Gaiman/King/Rowling level famous. And that doesn’t even count the extra expense of flying me out to LA and putting me up in a hotel for a week, to get to meet and be tutored by famous authors. AND then a fancy award ceremony on top of it all. It was pleasant. I made some life-long connections and (I hope) friendships with fellow authors and illustrators. I learned some valuable things, and I have a great award to add to my cover letter. I feel any new author would benefit quite a lot from winning this contest and attending the workshop.
I admit this post is in large part prompted by the “scandalous” revelations posted earlier this month by a former winner. They were given a free flight to a book signing, and stayed without charge at a Scientologist-owned hotel, where copies of Dianetics were in the drawers rather than the Bible. Also basically the entire book signing was just tons of Scientologist buying the book en masse.
This is underwhelming, as a scandal. Anyone with any familiarity with the exuberance of cults can only roll their eyes in sardonic amusement.
This doesn’t address the issue of the Church of Scientology itself. The Church has a history of abusing the legal system to censor and punish people who speak out against it. I find this morally repugnant, and our legal system should be reformed to fix this. I’m glad that Anti-SLAPP legislation is gaining ground in the country, and I hope there is a strong federal version passed as well. For every act of legal attacks on free speech that the CoS has committed, I hope they suffer righteous punishment.
I do not, however, think that delisting WotF from the SWFA-accepted markets is a good tool for doing that. It basically does nothing to hurt the CoS or deter that sort of legal abuse. It doesn’t help authors either, because as I said above, I believe authors are indeed helped by the contest. It seems the primary purpose of such a move is to make the statement that “We don’t associate with those kinds of people.” I think this is an ugly sentiment. I think it is being applied to CoS only because they are the most visible right now, not because of anything exceptional they’ve done to deserve it. And I believe that if it’s successful, it will simply continue on to the next-most-visible target, because that sort of destructive purity-demonstration always needs another target.
I think SWFA is a great organization, I plan to remain a member, and I hope they refrain from joining in the pettiness.