Stephen A Kent Phd professor of sociology at the University of Alberta at Edmonton, Canada
Originally published in Cultic Studies Review Vol. 4, No. 2,
In this paper, Kent examines the attitudes of a number of “high control groups” (including Scientology) towards children. In all of these organisations he finds that:
- The overwhelming majority of the second generation abandon their parent’s ‘faith’, leaving as soon as they are old enough
- The reason for this is that group membership made such demands on the time and attention of parents that they did not have any time to spend with their kids – let alone time to indoctrinate them into a ramshackle belief system that was being made up as it went along.
These observations are certainly true of Scientology – ‘Public’ members are taught that their Children are reborn ‘immortal souls’ (Thetans) who can use the experience of ‘past lives’ to look after themselves. Their parents are encouraged to focus not on their children but on their own Scientology ‘training’ (and, of course, making donations to the cause).
This attitude is taken to extremes in the Sea Org (Scientology’s pseudo-military ‘inner party’). From it’s inception, Sea org members were required to consign their children to squalid, understaffed group nurseries while they worked long hours. Initially, they were allowed one hour ‘family time’ every day (although this was made effectively conditional on job performance in 1989).
Today, sea org members are not allowed to reproduce at all – if they do become pregnant (and resist intense pressure to terminate the pregnancy) they are dismissed in disgrace.
In order to identify how these groups distance parents from their own children, Kent applies a model of social-psychological conditioning developed by the psychologist Anthony Stahelski to a number of “high control groups”.
These include Scientology, The Unification Church (AKA Moonies), Hare Krishna, The Children of God and the Branch Dividians.
He finds that the same pressures are applied to parents in all of these groups, and seem to emerge naturally from their social situation. They are all small, socially isolated and follow a charismatic leader who requires total commitment to the needs of the group (as defined by himself).
When your aim is complete control over your followers, family bonds represent a threat, and must be eliminated.
This extract, from Kent’s conclusion, could have been written for children who escaped the Sea Org , but actually applies to all of the groups that he examined.
[…] adults, even parents, […] view the younger generation in dehumanizing ways. The youth become burdens or loads that adults should dispense with in order to get on with their “godly” work, or adults label them as unspiritual failures who do not deserve adults’ time, energy, or resources.
In extreme cases, adults demonize their children, as has happened in at least one group in which former childhood victims, now adults, demand justice for the violations that they suffered. Demonization of one’s own sons and daughters appears as a desperate measure, an attempt to prevent current members from listening to what former-members-turned-critics have to say.
The only positive thing that can be said about this situation is that, now that Scientology’s ability to recruit the general public has collapsed, it’s membership can only decline.