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5 things we learned about Scientology from Leah Remini’s Reddit AMA

Remini says she doesn’t want to destroy Scientology, but it seems like that’s what she really wants.

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Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Leah Remini made her name as a sitcom actress; many TV fans know her for her memorable 1991 guest arc on Saved by the Bell, or for her starring role on the CBS family comedy The King of Queens, where she played Carrie Heffernan for the show’s entire nine-year run. But of late she’s become more well-known for being an outspoken critic of Scientology.

A member of the Church of Scientology since she was a young child, Remini left the religion in 2013. Since then, she’s been forthcoming about her experience (in both TV and magazine interviews), written a book called Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology (2015), and on Tuesday debuted a new eight-episode docuseries on A&E titled Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.

Though the TV series has received mixed reviews, Remini’s hugely critical view of the religious organization is intriguing in that Scientology is, at best, confusing to outsiders and at worst seen as an abusive cult. And Remini has a reputation of telling it like it is; her statements about Scientology are as forthright as we know her to be.

In support of her new show, Remini recently took part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session and answered a variety of questions ranging from how much she donated to the religion to what kind of abuse she witnessed to what her end goal is in publicly denouncing Scientology — what she believes she can achieve by speaking out.

Here are five takeaways from her fiery AMA.

1) The criticism goes both ways

Remini’s vocal and pointed criticism of Scientology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The organization has gone on the record claiming that she’s assailing the church in an effort to boost her career.

On Reddit, Remini revealed that the Church of Scientology has made it nearly impossible for her to contact any of her friends who are still part of the church:

“I am an SP [a Suppressive Person, which the church defines as someone who ‘seeks to upset, continuously undermine, spread bad news about and denigrate betterment activities and groups’]. You are not allowed to be in contact with an SP [if you are still part of the church]. I would love to talk to my former friends and see my goddaughter,” she wrote, adding that “former high ranking Sea Org members like Debbie Cook and former members like Katie Holmes are forbidden to speak to other SPs. Certain members are forced to sign agreements that [do] not allow them to speak to ex members.”

2) Scientology is really good at marketing

A common refrain surrounding Scientology is that many Hollywood actors and actresses take part in it. Remini says this is due to savvy marketing on the church’s part, and that the number of celebrities who believe in Scientology is actually very small:

If you really look at the numbers at the entertainment industry, in comparison to the small number of scientologists that are celebrities, the number wouldn't even register. I think Scientology has done an amazing job convincing people that there is a great number of celebrities in the "Church."

Remini also noted that higher-ups within the church would oversee her acting work and the interviews and photo shoots she participated in, and would crack down on her if they felt anything didn’t fit the image they wanted:

I was punished for doing Stuff magazine because it was too racy. They would not want us to do anything that would be considered not "becoming of a Scientologist." I see they have since changed their stance of what they believe is "becoming of a Scientologist."

Remini didn’t offer any other explanation on what the stance might look like, but it seems to imply that there’s more leniency now. However, she asserts that even though Scientology might not be strict when it comes to things like racy pictures, it still has a keen sense of its image and marketing.

3) Remini asserts that Scientology officials sexually and physically abused members

One Reddit user asked Remini what the most “unusual” action was that she witnessed the Church inflict on someone, and she responded that it was sexual, mental, and physical abuse: “The most abusive thing that I've experienced is seeing the victims being further victimized by an organization that claims these things did not take place ... from physical, to sexual, to mental abuse.”

The first episode of Remini’s new docuseries also addresses this topic, in telling the story of a woman named Amy Scobee. Scobee had joined Scientology at the age of 14, and alleges that she was sexually abused by a man, her boss in the organization, who was 35 at the time.

“He was married,” Scobee says in the episode, “and he had me stay back when everybody else left, and basically we had sex. This was statutory rape, and I was too afraid to tell anyone about it.”

USA Today asked the Church of Scientology to comment on these allegations; the church responded to say that Scobee’s claims are false.

4) Remini says she knows that Scientology sounds bizarre, but also understands why it succeeds

The most revealing questions Remini was asked on Reddit were about what she was thinking during her time as a Scientologist, whether she was aware of the general criticism and suspicion surrounding the organization, and, if she did know, why she continued to pursue it.

Remini wrote about her first encounter with the world of Xenu, aliens, and volcanoes — the Scientology origin story that’s now part of South Park legend. She wrote:

[M]y first reaction was "Are you all fucking nuts?" and then I looked at my mother and said "What kind of bullshit did you get me in?" My only option was to leave, but at the time my family was not ready to go. The "church" told me I didn't need to believe it, just do it. And they always pose this question: "Are you ready to leave everything you've ever known?"

Remini was also frank in explaining why, if so much about the religion sounds bonkers, people believe in it. The key, she says, is that Scientology is built around accomplishment. And people naturally seek accomplishment — even if it’s wrapped around a weird story about aliens:

They gain a purpose. They gain a group. They gain a sense of accomplishment (awards, certificates). They gain an education that in the real world LRH states would be equivalent to getting a "PHD in life." You become an elitist. That you have all the answers in life. If you have a question about life, you are made to think that Scientology has the answer.

Finally, Remini noted that Scientology has a strategic process to make sure its followers don’t seek outside sources that challenge its teachings:

Because very early on in the brainwashing process, L. Ron Hubbard's "technology" teaches you that outside sources (i.e. The news, the Internet, books, magazines) are ALL LIES and hellbent on destroying something decent like Scientology. The AMA, and APA, and all "governments" do not give scientology its due because they have a vested interest in not healing people and not helping people. And Scientology is in the business of making people better. So Scientologists are taught that their safest bet is to get their info from the only true decent people and those are Scientologists.

5) Remini says she doesn’t want to destroy Scientology — but she clearly sorta does

At different points in her Q&A, Remini talked about what she’s lost by taking part in and now speaking out against Scientology. She said she gave the organization millions of dollars. She said she’s lost friends and godchildren. She said she’s aware that the organization now considers her an enemy.

Still, “I feel very safe,” she wrote. “I have the support of my family and friends. And, I feel strangely protected by the world at large.”

She also claims she doesn’t want to destroy the religion but merely wants people in the organization to be honest to their followers:

I don't want to destroy Scientology. I only want them to admit to the fraud that they promote, to not deny the confidential upper levels of the religion, so people can decide if they want to spend $250K and their lives doing it. That they admit to the policies of Fair Game [the idea that anyone who speaks out against Scientology is an enemy and that there’s no limit to quashing that dissent]. That they allow people to decide for themselves where they get their information. That they admit to disconnection and leave families the fuck alone.

Of course, based on everything else Remini has said, one might assume that honesty from church leaders would essentially “destroy” everything that Scientology is. No matter how Remini describes her objective, her underlying motivation seems clear.