Here’s another repost from the original blog. I wrote this in January 2019, just before the old blog went “poof”. I am reposting it as/is here, since I recently reviewed Not Without My Sister, a book about sisters who were raised in the Children of God cult. This was the first post I wrote about this cult; I first heard about it on the A&E series mentioned below.
Having now exhausted Leah Remini’s Scientology episodes, at least for now, I moved on to another A&E series hosted by Elizabeth Vargas, called Cults and Extreme Belief. Since yesterday afternoon, I’ve seen three episodes. The first two, about NXIVM and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were disturbing enough. But the third one, about the Children of God (now known as The Family International), made me stop and blog.
Before I watched the show, I had heard a little bit about this religious cult, founded in California in the 1960s by a charismatic preacher named David Berg. Originally called “Teens for Christ”, this group mostly consisted of runaways and hippies, and preached to each other about salvation, happiness, and a coming apocalypse. Creepy founder, David Berg, was frequently known by the alias Moses David, and gave himself the titles of “King”, “The Last Endtime Prophet”, “Moses”, and “David”. His first wife, Jane Miller, married him in 1944 and divorced him in 1970, two years after he started his cult. Berg married his second wife, Karen Zerby, in 1970. She is currently leading The Family International, since Berg died in October 1994.
One thing that struck me about this cult is that it was full of musically talented people, children in particular. One of the children involved was Berg’s granddaughter, Merry, who was also known as Mene. Merry, who died in her sleep in December 2017, was fifteen days older than I am. She was musically talented and very ethereal looking, with beautiful blonde hair. Merry was featured on musical recordings done by Children of God, as well as videos.
Other talented children were also used to make songs about love and sex, and some were also forced to do strip teases. Aside from that, there was rampant sexual abuse. Merry was one of the most victimized of the bunch, having endured multiple forced exorcisms as well as extreme abuse on all levels. She was forced to live in different places, locked in a closet for six months, whipped, tied up, and screamed at by her grandfather, who claimed she was possessed by the devil.
The whole story was very disturbing to me, but I think what really captured my attention was the way these kids looked. Here they were, maybe ten or eleven years old on these videos from the 70s… a lot of them are probably my contemporaries. Most of them were attractive and musically gifted, singing so beautifully songs about love. But the love they sang about was inappropriate and forbidden because it involved sex. Indeed, these children were commanded to go “flirty fishing” to entice new people to join the cult. The flirty fishing was more than just flirtation; in fact, it included sex. David Berg preached sex.
As I watched the above video, I was eerily reminded of the beauty pageants that used to be so popular in the 1980s. The lyrics sound so wholesome, yet all of the singers look like they’re in a trance. These teens in the video were likely born into the cult and knew nothing else. It’s all about worshiping their sick leader, who was supposedly an alcoholic and may have also suffered from mental illnesses.
As a child of the 70s and 80s myself, I am also aware of the late actor, River Phoenix, who was extremely famous and much beloved by people of my generation. Phoenix died in 1993, having overdosed on drugs at The Viper Room in Los Angeles. He and his similarly talented siblings were raised in this cult when they were very young. Phoenix once claimed that he lost his virginity at age four, but later said he was kidding.
David Berg unofficially adopted Ricky Rodriguez, nicknaming him Davidito. He was born in the Canary Islands, the son of Berg’s second wife, Karen Zerby, and a man she “flirty fished”. In 2005, when Rodriguez was 29 years old, he murdered a woman who had been his nanny and sexually abused him. Then he killed himself. Rodriguez was forced into inappropriate sexual relationships when he was a child and developed deep seated resentment toward Berg and Zerby because of the abuse he suffered.
I know I heard of this cult before I watched Elizabeth Vargas discuss it this morning. I remember hearing about River Phoenix and his siblings being in a religious cult when they were young. It’s tragic how many youngsters were affected by this cult, which was considered a “religion” and granted special privileges. Many who were raised in The Children of God later committed suicide because they had no foundation from which to launch their lives beyond the cult.
It’s amazing how many cults there are out there and how people get caught up in them. It’s tragic that children grow up in these organizations and are left with nothing when they come of age. I may have to find something a little lighter to watch later.
I hunted down the recording and listened to it. Fuck the message; that’s a mood-disordered, entitled shithead if I ever heard one. Maybe it’s just a bad idea to make movies until everyone can be vaccinated.
I agree with the idea of suspending movie production until more people can be vaccinated. The fact is, people are really tired of COVID-19 and they’re going to do human things, even though people have been preaching about COVID-19 precautions for months. It’s perfectly normal and natural for people to want to socialize with each other. In fact, it’s a healthy thing for most people to socialize– that is, when there isn’t a pandemic going on. I’m sure working with Tom Cruise is hard. He’s a well-known perfectionist about a lot of things, and as we noted yesterday, he’s not shy when it comes to throwing massive profane tantrums.
Another commenter assumed that maybe Cruise had finally just lost it after multiple meetings about taking COVID-19 precautions. This same commenter is irritated about people not following the pandemic rules. Because of that annoyance with people flouting the rules in general, in the commenter’s view, what Tom Cruise did is totally okay. I had written that I disagreed with that notion. I think Cruise could have made his point about maintaining social distancing without calling his employees motherfuckers and screaming at them. I think he could have done that, even if there had been “multiple meetings” and he was at the end of his patience with his crew. He certainly could have addressed this problem without flying into a rage, even if it meant counting to ten and cooling off for a few minutes first. I think most people have enough self control to contain themselves if they try. Clearly, Cruise didn’t think he needed to try to control himself.
This morning, I found this comment from the commenter who is fine with a good old fashioned hissy fit:
Perhaps I have been desensitized by having listened to Trump for the past years. Given everything he’s gotten away with saying and doing I’ll still give Tom a pass.
I had to stop and think about that for a moment. Because of Donald Trump’s completely uncivilized conduct, some folks are now “desensitized” to similarly bad conduct by other people? Based on that comment, I’m assuming that this person isn’t a Trump fan. Indeed, I remember when Joe Biden was announced the winner of the 2020 election, this person expressed delight that we might soon be rid of Trump. But now, because of Trump’s constant abuse of his position and the people who work for him, they are “desensitized”? Does this mean that Trump has now made people meaner and less civilized? Even the ones who don’t admire him and his toxic brand of leadership?
I think it’s really sad that some people are evidently willing to accept Trump style leadership in people like Tom Cruise, just because they’ve had to listen to Trump’s verbal diarrhea for the past four years. Even if Cruise had a valid point that his staff needs to practice health and safety precautions on the movie set, his message is drastically weakened when it’s delivered in the way it was. And, to be totally frank, I doubt Tom Cruise really cares that much about COVID-19, anyway. To me, he sounded like he was getting off on the power of being a movie star and Scientology power player. No one else is going to be allowed to freak out like that on his movie set. And certainly, they won’t be allowed to do it to Tom Cruise. He’s made it clear that he’s just itching to fire them.
I didn’t want to get into an argument with this person, even though I completely disagree with the notion that Cruise’s outburst is acceptable because of Donald Trump. I pointed out that listening to Tom scream like that brought back awful memories of my father’s alcoholic and PTSD inspired rages. My dad never used the language Cruise used. He hated profanity. I almost never heard him use a word stronger than “damn” or “hell”. I think it was because his own father, who was also an abusive drunk, would go into rages and use a lot of filthy language. Hearing curse words would remind my dad of those ugly rages he’d been on the receiving end of by his own father. But even though my dad didn’t curse like Tom Cruise obviously does, the insanely angry mood was still there.
I remember, when I was a child, being terrified when my dad would get extremely angry. His face would turn red. Veins would pop out. His eyes would glaze over and look piggish as he would let loose with his fury. My dad, who was much bigger and stronger than I was, would grab me and administer corporal punishment with all of his strength and energy. Afterwards, I would be left quaking in my room, hysterical, while he’d finish cooling off. Then later, he would act like nothing happened. I was expected to forgive and forget.
I always hated my father after those rages. I didn’t have respect for him for beating on me or screaming at me. I was angry and humiliated, and his outbursts made me afraid to be around him. Thankfully, I’m a decent person, and I would eventually forgive him. At least until the next episode.
Fortunately, my dad didn’t go into rages on a regular basis. It happened more times than I can count, but it wasn’t like it was a weekly or even a monthly thing. And in between those rages, he was basically a good man. As an adult, I realize that he had his own problems. He was chronically depressed and never dealt with the traumas of growing up during the Great Depression with an alcoholic father. He went to Vietnam and saw action, which caused him to suffer from PTSD for the rest of his life. He used to have nightmares that would cause him to jump out of bed while he was still sleeping. One time, he almost lost his middle finger because he punched the wall while he was sleeping and having a nightmare. He injured his finger so badly that there was talk that it might need to be amputated.
The end result of all of this is that I have a very low tolerance for verbal abuse. I can’t stand it. It brings out a visceral reaction in me. This effect has gotten worse the older I get. I used to be able to put up with being screamed at a lot more than I can now. So, in my case, being exposed to people like Donald Trump and Tom Cruise has made me more sensitive to abuse, rather than less sensitive. But I’m only one person. Maybe some people are fine with a Tom Cruise style freak out in the workplace. I am definitely not, and when people freak out on me now, they can expect to be kicked out of my life. There’s no place for that in my world. But then, I also realize that my position is a very privileged one. If I were trying to support a family, I might be forced to accept abusive behavior from a narcissistic creep like Tom Cruise or Donald Trump.
I mentioned yesterday that I think Cruise’s fit was less about COVID-19 than it was about being in control. It’s interesting to me that the commenter on my thread brought up Trump, because I think Cruise and Trump have some things in common. They are both very wealthy and famous. They are both charismatic. They both had abusive, neglectful fathers, although Trump’s dad at least stuck around when he was growing up. In the Wikipedia article about Cruise (sorry, not the best source, but I’m lazy), it says of Cruise’s father:
Cruise grew up in near poverty and had a Catholic upbringing. He later described his father as “a merchant of chaos”, a “bully”, and a “coward” who beat his children. He elaborated, “[My father] was the kind of person where, if something goes wrong, they kick you. It was a great lesson in my life—how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe and then, bang! For me, it was like, ‘There’s something wrong with this guy. Don’t trust him. Be careful around him.'”
I find it very interesting that Cruise supposedly said those things about his dad. I see the very same tendencies in him. I have read about him being very generous and heroic in some situations, and that makes him look like a great guy. I’ve seen news articles about how Cruise has a tendency to sweep his love interests off their feet and shower his children with luxurious gifts and outings. But then, when Cruise gets pissed off, I read other accounts of the hellish fury he delivers on those who land on his shit list. If you’ve ever studied the behavior of abusers, you find that this is a very familiar pattern.
Actress Leah Remini, who knows Cruise personally, and was a Scientologist and a member of the Sea Org, says that Cruise’s tantrum was for publicity reasons only. She’s quoted in US Magazine:
“Tom’s reaction that was released yesterday shows his true personality. He is an abusive person,” the King of Queens alum said of Cruise, who is a high-profile member of the Church of Scientology. “I witnessed it, I’ve been a recipient of it on a small level … This is the real Tom.”
“Tom does not care about the families of his crew; this is all for publicity,” Remini, a former Scientologist, continued. “Tom does not believe in family values. I mean, how anyone is falling for this is just mindblowing. I would bet that Tom had this rant written for him and had his Scientology assistant record and release it. Hearing a rich actor with enormous power address his crew in this way is a sign of weakness and a deeply troubled person. This is not just a rant of another a–hole actor. Tom Cruise pretending that he cares is why a few have called him out. They know this is a publicity stunt, they know what Tom really is and what Tom really believes.”
Yes… you see, it kind of blows my mind that Tom Cruise would allow anyone on set to have a recording device handy. Seems to me, he’d want his staff to sign non-disclosure agreements and put their phones away for safe keeping. But either way, someone knew that he was going to melt down and was ready to record him. Whether or not he orchestrated this rant in an attempt to make himself look “caring” to the masses, or someone snuck in a recorder and taped him unawares, it says something that he was recorded going off like this. Either he’s done this as a stunt, or he’s abusive often enough that someone was fully prepared to tape his next meltdown. They knew it was going to happen.
While many people are siding with Tom, mainly because so many of us are so sick of the pandemic lifestyle, and many more of us are feeling sanctimonious these days, the fact remains that Cruise’s meltdown was totally inappropriate. If he had been going off about anything besides COVID-19, would people think this was okay? How about if he threatened bodily harm because he was enraged? Imagine how he must behave behind closed doors.
“No one needs to be ‘addressed’ by Tom about safety codes. There are producers who could have and should have handled the situation privately and professionally. What more likely happened was, two crew members who were in the same zone were talking to each other and Tom saw this as an opportunity to appear as the epitome of strength; of a leader who is taking this pandemic very seriously,” she added. “This behavior is not normal or appropriate. No one can respond to his outburst without being fired.”
Exactly. There are other people on that set who can deal with the crew members, and they would have handled the situation professionally and, hopefully, privately. It’s not really Tom’s job to go off on crew members like that. He’s just trying to look “heroic” and doing so in the most bullying manner possible. I think his stunt has backfired, though, because although a lot of people are fully supporting him, other people are seeing his behavior for what it really is– pure verbal abuse and narcissistic rage. It was completely unprofessional and inappropriate.
Still, I am baffled by the notion that Donald Trump has “desensitized” people to this kind of behavior and some of us are willing to let it slide because of our feckless soon to be former president. Donald Trump is not someone I want to emulate in any way, shape, or form. I would not praise someone else for emulating Trump’s abusive style of leadership. I would not excuse someone for behaving the way Tom Cruise did because I’ve been “desensitized” by abusive behavior from an authority figure like Trump or my father. Having studied human communication, as well as having taken a few courses in counseling and undergone it myself, I would never condone the screaming approach as a means of effecting change. All it does is cause people to shut down and become depressed or anxious. And it just makes Cruise out to be a tyrannical bully.
This review appeared on my original blog on November 15, 2015. I am reposting it as is.
When I heard that actress Leah Remini had decided to leave Scientology, I was definitely intrigued. Over the years, I’ve read a number of books about fringe religions, which I certainly consider Scientology to be. Leah Remini is also my age and I have seen her in a number of television shows, though not her big hit, The King of Queens. According to Remini’s book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, her sitcom, which aired for about nine years, was one of the most successful in television history. She achieved this success while still a devout Scientologist.
I decided to read Leah Remini’s book because I wanted to read her story and learn more about Scientology from the standpoint of a celebrity. Remini was not a celebrity when she became a Scientologist. She and her sister, Nicole, joined the church with their mother when they were young girls. Remini’s father was, from what she writes, an abusive and angry person, while her mother was more free spirited. When her parents split up, Remini’s mother sought a belief system that could help her make sense of the world.
Leah and Nicole joined the Sea Org when they were adolescents. The Sea Org is an elite group of Scientologists who are basically supported by the church in exchange for their work. They dropped out of school when Leah was in the eighth grade. Both signed “billion year contracts”, which meant they were expected to serve the church for a billion years. The girls didn’t last long in the Sea Org, though. Leah got in trouble for messing around with boys. Their mother saved the girls from being “RPF’d”, which would have meant they would have been basically Sea Org slaves for a time. But because they didn’t submit to the punishment, it meant they were out of the Sea Org. After that, it seemed that Leah devoted herself to becoming an actress. Lo and behold, she was eventually successful, but not before she and her family lived in poverty for awhile. There is a picture of Remini in a used Toyota Tercel that she bought. It was later repossessed.
As she became more and more successful, the church began to place more demands on Leah Remini’s time and money. She began to notice a lot of shenanigans and outright toxic behavior among church members, especially Tom Cruise, who has pretty much become the de facto kingpin of Scientologists. Though Leah enjoyed more prestige in the church, there were also more demands that she set a good example for other Scientologists. Meanwhile, she was asked to donate as much as $1 million at a time.
Never one to hold her tongue, Leah began speaking out against Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and David Miscavige, whose wife, Shelly, seemingly disappeared a few years ago. This outspoken behavior got her into more trouble with church leaders, who sought to stifle Leah’s outbursts until she finally decided to leave the church and tell her story.
Troublemaker was ghost written by Rebecca Paley, who does a pretty good job of making the book sound like it came straight from Leah Remini. In fact, I kind of think Paley did too good of a job projecting Remini’s voice. I am not known for being a shy, demure type myself, but even I got tired of some of the profanity in this book. I am not offended by the word “fuck”, but when it gets overused, it becomes annoying. I thought the crass, over the top, language used in this book, while certainly true to Remini’s reputed coarse vocabulary, was a bit overdone. I’m no stranger to obnoxiousness, but even I felt like Remini sometimes came across as obnoxious rather than funny.
I also got the sense that while Leah Remini is out of Scientology, she sort of misses some of it. She admits that some of the techniques she learned were useful to her in her career. It seemed to me that had the Scientologists not been so heavy handed and shifty in their treatment of her, she might have even stayed in the church. At the same time, Remini writes of protecting her friend, Jennifer Lopez, from being recruited by the church. It seems that Scientologists are on a never ending quest to find new celebrity members with big bank accounts.
Aside from Remini’s revelations about Scientology, she also writes about working with the likes of Sharon Osbourne and Sara Gilbert on The Talk. She was one of the original panel members when the show started in 2010. After the first season, she was let go. Then we saw her on Dancing With The Stars… or, at least some people did. I didn’t.
To be honest, I have read better celebrity memoirs. Also, while Remini’s stories about being a celebrity Scientologist are interesting, I have read better books about the church itself. In fact, just a few months ago, I read Going Clear, which is a vastly superior book. Those who really want to learn about the church should read that book over Leah Remini’s Troublemaker. From the standpoint of celebrity memoirs, I would say that Troublemaker is about average. Leah is probably laughing all the way to the bank, though, and more power to her.
As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from sales from Amazon made through my site.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.