Blown| Lauren Halsted Burroughs | 2016 | ISBN 978–0-692-68160-2 | Read Online
There is currently only one other novel (that I know of) set in the closed social world of Scientology, “The Symphony of Lief“, by Paul Y Csige. “Blown” is a welcome addition to this tiny sub-genre.
“Blown” is written by an outsider who is acting as a ghost writer for an ex-Scientologist. The content is based on her principal’s experience as a young, female, second generation Scientologist, who joined the Sea Org at an early age.
The Sea Org presents itself as equivalent to a monastic order, where the most dedicated Scientologists dedicate themselves to the cause. They wear pseudo-naval uniforms because the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard served in the US Navy. Although his career was actually undistinguished, Scientologist are told that he was a war hero.
The reality of Sea Org ‘service’ is equally disappointing. Many members are children of Scientologists who are pressured to join, or recruited straight out of Scientology schools (Download Evening Standard article about the UK’s “Greenfields School”). Having had no meaningful education they are consigned to a life of manual labour, for example restoring buildings bought by the Church of Scientology.
At the same time, they are required to ‘study’ Scientology and are subject to direct control over every aspect of their lives. This occurs both indirectly (through the requirements of Scientology and practice) and directly (though the application of military-style ‘discipline’ that is indistinguishable from abuse).
“Blown” principally follows the lives of two sisters (Amory and Riley) and their friend Daisy through their early careers in the Sea Org, and shows how destructive this kind of total institution is to human relationships and welfare.
As an outsider myself, I don’t know how accurately the narrative speaks to the real experience of the Sea Org. However, from what I know of Scientology doctrine and practice, and the culture of the Sea Org, it all seems accurate and well-researched.
The narrative touches on all of the repressive and controlling aspects of Sea Org life – the restricted diet, sleep deprivation, abusive ‘discipline’, internal politics, manual labour and the smug, infuriating arrogance of those in ‘authority’, for whom the ends justify the means.
One early scene follows the kids signing Sea Org contracts which bind them to a tragi-comic billion years of service to the Sea Org, through many reincarnations. This contract, and this practice is real, and taken quite seriously.
Telling it all as a story which revolves around a few individuals, all of whom are victims of the Sea Org regime, brings home the human consequences of this kind of high-control situation, where the welfare of the individual is totally subordinated to the interests of the organisation.
In a brave move, the author assumes that the reader knows enough about Scientology to understand (for example) what happens during Scientology ‘auditing’ and the implications of being sent to ‘ethics’. This allows the narrative to flow, but if you are a newcomer to Scientology-watching, you may need to look up Scientology doctrines and practices which play a crucial role in the plot.
She manages to cover a lot of ground, including the awful reality of Sea Org policy regarding children. If a Sea Org ‘officer’ becomes pregnant, they are placed under considerable pressure to terminate that pregnancy. If they decline to do so, they will be placed in a punishment detail (the RPF) where the pressure will increase.
The few who do not yield are dismissed from the Sea Org in disgrace, and this threat is a powerful motivator. Look at it from the point of view of young people who entered the Sea Org at an early age:
- They have little education and less experience of the world outside Scientology
- They have no meaningful qualifications – only Scientology ‘certificates’ which are of no interest to employers.
- They have been told that the wider world is hostile and corrupt, and they would not survive there for long without the protection of the Church of Scientology.
- Friends and even family may be required to shun them, under a policy known as ‘disconnection’
- They have no documented:
- Work experience
- Credit rating
As with “The Symphony of Lief“the ending of the book is problematicl. One small detail of Amory’s final escape from Scientology is not feasible. It seems to be an attempt to bring resolution to the final pages of the book and to set up a sequel (tentatively entitled “SP”) which will likely follow Amory’s career as an ex-Scientologist and anti-Scientology activist.
Considering the situation of people who leave the Sea Org are placed in, its a near impossible task to bring a books which ends with the protagonist walking away from Scientology to a satisfying close, and I look forward to the promised sequel.