“This show will tell stories the Church of Scientology says are lies. Stories you should hear.”
This is the tagline of Leah Remini’s documentary series on A&E, titled Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath, focuses on educating the public about the Church of Scientology and exposing the realities many still refuse to believe are true. Actress Leah Remini, who was a devout advocate of Scientology until her public split with the church in 2013, travels with a former high-level Scientology executive to interview various ex-church members about their experiences living within the upper echelons of the church, and how they escaped.
Before this show, I really didn’t have any idea of what Scientology was all about or why it was such a big deal with so many controversies attached to it. The show does a good job of explaining the tenets of Scientology, in which parishioners continually work to improve themselves while simultaneously working to improve mankind as a whole. They do this through a series of classes in which they study various “gospels” from founder L. Ron Hubbard, to advance themselves along a chart of personal and spiritual advancement.
Now, I can see why many people would be drawn to these basic ideas: achieving spiritual enlightenment through hard work and self-improvement is a lovely thought, especially for those who cannot grab hold of the more traditional religious institutions. And when you are told that humanity depends on your hard work, it would be very difficult to turn away from it — which you can see plainly from the ex-members that are interviewed here.
The show focuses mainly on the practice of Disconnection, or shunning. It seems that the leaders of Scientology were (and are) so afraid of people discrediting their beliefs, that once a member says anything negative about the church or Scientology, the are deemed a Suppressive Person and all members are required to disconnect from that person — which means they have no contact with the person whatsoever, regardless of personal attachments. Therefore, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, etc. can be disconnected from and set out on their own with nothing and no form of support to help them make their way. The toll that Disconnection takes on families is deeply felt on the show, particularly for one member whose brother passed away before they could reconcile.
Another major focus of the show is on the auditing process, which seems to be the Scientology version of confessional. However, in Scientology, the quiet, anonymous, voluntary confessions of Catholicism are replaced with a series of torturous, coercive actions designed to tear out the will of the subjects under audit. While the process continues to remain in practice in the church, the technology has been largely discredited as the form of psychological treatment the church touts it to be.
The main goal of Leah Remini’s show seems to be at once educating those within and without the church about the realities of a widely recognized, and often celebrated, cult; but it’s other goal is to attack and bring down the church’s leader, David Miscavige, who has been accused of assault and other illegal activities by multiple former members.
Each episode focuses on a different aspect of the ridiculous practices and beliefs of this contemporary religion-turned-cult, while always returning to the realities of Miscavige’s leadership. Remini is a fireball of determination, stating again and again that her goal is to stand up to Miscavige and show him that victims of his heinous reign will not be silenced. It is an extremely captivating show full of outrage, sadness and anger that only serve to fuel the fire to fight back and rescue those still blindly following a false god.
When I first began watching this show, one of my main concerns was the accuracy of it all. Shows like this often fall into traps of sensationalism and often heighten the drama of several moments into overkill — making it seem fake. I think that while the show often toed the line, they rescued themselves from falling into the reality-TV trap by backing up their sources with research, letters and documents from the church, photos and more. With a show like this, I’m sure there will always be doubts about its authenticity; it’s practically unavoidable because only those who have lived it know what it’s really like. And when you are a journalist or a documentarian, you have to rely on your sources and what you observe yourself. I think this may be one of the few reality TV shows that have presented their information with as much supporting information as possible so that it will have its desired effect.
Simply speaking from personal experience, this show has opened my eyes and ignited my outrage. I can’t believe people are still supporting this torturous, degrading, cheating and dangerous cult. So, I suppose the show had its desired effect, at least on me. And I hope that gives survivors some semblance of hope.
I highly recommend streaming the first season of Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath, which you can do now on A&E’s website or through your cable provider. With where we left off, I am excited to see what season two may bring.
What do you think about Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath? What did you know about Scientology before and what has this show taught you? How can reality TV documentaries like this one avoid sensationalism to achieve their desired effect? Let’s talk.