Though its basic tenets fall somewhere between Amway and a Star Trek RPG, the Church Of Scientology is still one of the most powerful fake religions on the planet, comprised of a dedicated membership so humorless about attacks on their “faith” that they have already skipped to the bottom of this article to begin composing an angry comment, no doubt containing at least one use of the phrase “hurtful misconceptions” and quite possibly accusing this site of slander and/or religious persecution. But as much as it enjoys seeking out and quashing the ill-informed scribbling of “suppressive persons” who cannot accept the “space opera” and are therefore cursed to live in their “meat bodies” forever, there’s one thing the Church hates even more than a vocal non-believer: A defector—and it may soon have its most public break-up yet if, as rumors suggest, John Travolta decides to leave Scientology behind.
The death of Travolta’s son, Jett, continues to be one of the thorniest issues Scientology has ever faced: Shortly after the 16-year-old died while the family was on vacation in the Bahamas, the Internet lit up with accusations that the Travoltas had been withholding seizure medication from their son, and had in fact been denying his autism all along in accordance with Church doctrine. While the former has been proven to be patently untrue, there’s still some doubt about the latter—and indeed, it’s been widely reported that both Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, adhered to the Church’s recommendations for treating autism (which they believe to be psychosomatic), which boils down to a “detoxification” ritual involving vitamins, vegetable oils, and trips to the sauna. And now, according to this deeply depressing profile on Travolta in TheDaily Mail, rumors have it that it’s the fact that Scientology didn’t do more to help his son—beyond offering a regimen that sounds less like a cure for autism than a prescription for “getting your groove back” in an issue of O Magazine—that has given one of the Church’s most visible supporters doubts about, and even resentment toward, Scientology.
According to the article, Travolta has been in a state of veritable self-flagellation ever since Jett’s death, making next to no public appearances, driving around aimlessly by himself at night, and appearing, according to friends, to be “in a state of almost constant distress.” Which is all perfectly understandable behavior for anyone who’s lost a child, and it’s just the sort of thing that often leads people to take solace in their faith. But what happens when your faith is not about giving yourself over to a higher power and coming to terms with its mysterious will, but rather about identifying and ridding yourself of negative “mental pictures” of the suffering your soul may have undergone when it was a robot factory worker toiling for the Galactic Confederacy, etc.? Well naturally, this happens:
Travolta is also said to be upset that senior members of the sect have instructed him to undergo intensive sessions with one of Scientology's 'ethics officers', trained to question the actor and other grieving family members to establish whether their 'negative influences' might have contributed to the tragedy.
If that sounds like a particularly callous reaction to any member’s personal tragedy—let alone a man who put his entire reputation on the line to make Battlefield Earth for you—it’s nothing compared to what would happen if Travolta did end up refusing those sessions and leaving Scientology for good. The Church has a long history of intimidating its defectors; among other techniques, those who have left have reported being outright shunned—like former “poster boy for Scientology” Jason Beghe, who said that once you leave the Church, you can “never so much as speak to another Scientologist” again.
But although the threat of not being able to make small talk with Kirstie Alley or Jenna Elfman is one thing, it’s another altogether to consider that the Church makes a rule of taping its audit sessions, during which members reveal each and every one of their innermost secrets and moral transgressions in exhausting, embarrassing detail, so that all their body aliens will stop screaming (or whatever). In the past, the Church has used these tapes against detractors—often in the most clueless way possible, like when it responded to allegations from former Scientologists that it intimidated people by releasing statements calling them liars and then using their own confidential confessions against them as evidence that they weren’t trustworthy people—which is really bad news for Travolta.
Why? Because as anybody who’s ever read a magazine in the last 30 years knows, Travolta has long been plagued by rumors that he’s a closeted homosexual—a perception he hasn’t exactly banished by doing things like marrying Preston out of the blue, coincidentally right after allegations surfaced that he’d had a two-year affair with a gay porn star, or turning up in a 2006 photograph kissing the Travoltas’ “nanny,” Jeff Kathrein, on the lips. And what’s more, his fear of being exposed as a punishment for abandoning Scientology isn’t exactly new, either; for example, this comes from a Time exposé written in 1991:
High-level defectors claim that Travolta has long feared that if he defected, details of his sexual life would be made public. "He felt pretty intimidated about this getting out and told me so," recalls William Franks, the church's former chairman of the board. "There were no outright threats made, but it was implicit. If you leave, they immediately start digging up everything.” Franks was driven out in 1981 after attempting to reform the church.
The church's former head of security, Richard Aznaran, recalls Scientology ringleader Miscavige repeatedly joking to staffers about Travolta's allegedly promiscuous homosexual behavior. At this point any threat to expose Travolta seems superfluous: last May a male porn star collected $100,000 from a tabloid for an account of his alleged two-year liaison with the celebrity. Travolta refuses to comment, and in December his lawyer dismissed questions about the subject as "bizarre." Two weeks later, Travolta announced that he was getting married to actress Kelly Preston, a fellow Scientologist.
Naturally, 18 years of subsequent speculation and eventual “outing” fatigue have made those threats even more superfluous—at this point, would anyone really care that Travolta is gay?—but what’s particularly depressing is that this story still exists. Despite all of the interviews with members revealing them to be vindictive and borderline thuggish, despite every revelation of a scripture that, at its absolute best, sounds like a particularly lame episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater, and despite every video of Tom Cruise that gets compared to Joseph fucking Goebbels, the Church of Scientology is nevertheless still so powerful that Travolta would rather not endure more rumors about his sexuality—rumors which would persist with or without the Church’s intervention, it must be said—than finally leave it behind, even after a supposed two-plus decades of privately “considering” it, and maybe even after starting to believe that he lost his son because of its teachings.
If this assessment of Travolta's current state is true, he’s now trapped between a “religion” that offers no solace, and its vengeful backhand should he try to escape. Really, there are no words for how depressing that is—or how depressing it is that this story will likely disappear and resurface several times more in his lifetime, until Travolta finally surrenders and admits he's gay, or the Church is finally revealed to be a fraud, or Tom Cruise finally, successfully leads the Great Scientology Uprising and "cleans this place up," and all the suppressive persons are eradicated, and everybody gets to go have space ice cream and fun learning adventures and lots of vitamin B with the reincarnated L. Ron aboard his golden rocketship. And at least one of those scenarios is a little farfetched.