This review appeared on my original blog on January 29, 2017. I am reposting it as is.
It probably comes as no surprise to regular readers that I’ve been watching actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini’s recent series about Scientology, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. I am fascinated by so-called “fringe religions”. I also read Remini’s book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, which was Remini’s account of her experiences as a Scientologist. I learned of Ron Miscavige’s recent book, Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me while watching Remini’s series. I decided to read the book because Ron Miscavige fathered Scientology’s current leader, David Miscavige, yet he and his second wife, Becky, still had to “escape” from the organization in March 2012.
Ron Miscavige and his first wife, Loretta, joined Scientology in 1970. Miscavige, a former Marine and professional musician, had grown up in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. Although he writes that he and Loretta had not been particularly suited for each other, they still managed to have four children. The eldest was Ronnie, followed by twins Denise and David, and then the youngest child, Lori. Miscavige and his family had joined Scientology at a time when its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, was still alive and well. Hubbard’s philosophies seemed to make good sense to the couple and they enthusiastically became involved.
The Miscaviges bought into the religion so much that they moved to England twice during the 1970s to spread Scientology to Britons. They did this, even though the British government was trying to keep Scientology out of England. All of the children worked for the church, along with their parents.
When David Miscavige was about sixteen, he decided he wanted to become a member of the Sea Org, which is supposedly Scientology’s group of elite members. Because the Miscavige family was so gung ho about Scientology, they were fine with David moving away from the family to work full time for Scientology. That was the beginning of the end of Ron Miscavige’s relationship with his younger son. David Miscavige did very well in his work and eventually ingratiated himself into L. Ron Hubbard’s inner circle. When Hubbard died in 1986, David Miscavige was there to take his place as head of the church.
A few years ago, Ron Miscavige was minding his own business as he took care of a routine errand. He was wearing a t-shirt with a breast pocket, where he had stashed his cell phone. As he bent over in his car, he reached up to prevent the phone from falling out of the pocket. He didn’t know that his son, David, had hired a private investigator to follow him. When they saw him reach for his chest, they thought he was having a heart attack. The investigator called David Miscavige, who told him that if Ron was having a heart attack, not to intervene. According to Ron Miscavige, his son said, “If he dies, he dies.”
Ron Miscavige became aware of his son’s chilling comments when police officers informed him that they’d caught the investigator. I suppose it was the great deterioration of the relationship between father and son that inspired Ron Miscavige to write his expose about Scientology and what a corrupt organization it is.
This was not the first book I’ve read by a former Scientologist. Besides Remini’s book, I also read Jenna Miscavige Hill’s 2012 book, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. Jenna Miscavige Hill is David Miscavige’s daughter and Ron’s granddaughter. Her account, like Remini’s and Ron Miscavige’s, lends credence to my impression that Scientology is a scary cult that exploits and enslaves people.
Those who read Ruthless will read about people who spend their lives working for slave wages in the interest of spreading Scientology. These people endure a prison like existence. They do not have the freedom to leave the church. They are told what to eat, where to live, what to wear, and what kind of work they will do. They have their mail read and their phone calls monitored. They live on guarded compounds. When Ron’s brother died, he was accompanied to the funeral by two “minders”, who prevented him from speaking to his family.
Ron Miscavige writes that in many ways, being David’s father made his life as a Scientologist more difficult. Even though he enjoyed some “perks” like getting birthday presents from John Travolta and Tom Cruise, David Miscavige was determined to show everyone that his family did not get any special treatment. Consequently, David would go out of his way to make his father’s life harder.
I found many aspects of Ruthless fascinating. It’s amazing to me that in 21st century America, people are voluntarily signing up to be slaves to a religious organization. However, even though some of this book fascinated, other parts of it annoyed me. Toward the end of the book, I kept expecting it to end, only to be confronted with another chapter. The book could have been whittled down a bit. Also, although the book is co-written by Dan Koon, it could have used some polish. It’s not as well-written as it could be. Miscavige seems more interested in writing about how hurt he was by his son. He doesn’t explain why Scientology is a bad thing and, in fact, even implies that he still believes in some of what Scientology teaches. So the book becomes more about a tragic father and son disconnect than an indictment of an organization that exploits and enslaves people.
Of all of the books I’ve read about Scientology, I was most impressed by Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear. I would recommend that book to anyone wanting to learn about Scientology. Read Ron Miscavige’s book for a story about how Scientology tore apart a family and how one man devoted most of his life to promoting a cult. I think I’d give this book about three stars out of five.
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