Ilse Hruby and the Xenu Liberation Front on the Donau

My time in the cult

An interview with Gerhard Foerster

Published with his kind permission

Vienna, Austria
December 14, 2001

Interviewer: Ilse Hruby
A translation from Joe Cisar
Original Interview in German Language:

How were you recruited into Scientology?

Interviewee: Gerhard Foerster
Like most of the others, with the nonsense they tell people on the street about a personality test. I thought I had landed in some kind of psychological institution with the Catholics (that was because of the cross on the wall), and I signed up for the communication course. I was 19 years old and still rather naive. Besides, that was in 1974 and back then practically nobody had heard of anything like psychocults yet. I must have been somewhat susceptible, because apparently there are people who are immune to it.
Back then I was impressed with father figures, like John Wayne. And my understanding was that the overall purpose was to get better. Applying that to Scientology, that meant that you couldn't exactly be picky about recruitment methods because, after all, we wanted to "clear the planet." It was communicated to us that, through his research, L. Ron Hubbard had found the solution to the problems of mankind, so that history was running a race between the atomic bomb on one hand and Scientology on the other. Naturally that gave us a license to act in many different ways and we realized sometimes you had to make sacrifices.

Is that the way people turn into fanatical cult adherents?

Yes! But with me that worked only to a certain degree. Subconsciously I knew very well that a human being should always take precedence, no matter how "glorious" the ideology may be. Nevertheless it was quite a while before the consequences of my actions sunk in. Maybe a part of that was due to pride. In a cult it is relatively easy to look the other way. All I really wanted to do was to keep my promise to give Hubbard a chance. But somehow they sucked me in. The pseudo-scientific role is part of what did it. They wouldn't have been able to get me with the Jesus thing or with the hopping Hare Krishnas. Those have different target groups.

What do you think about Scientology as a religion?

It's a "con" (trick) by the organization to a) get tax exemption and b) gain insurmountability with religious status. A certain Vaughn Young said he reinforced the religious connections for Hubbard in the late 50s. You'd have to say, in any case, that certain spiritual aspects are actually present. Unfortunately Hubbard and his epigones lacked the modesty needed to progress in that area, therefore Scientology conveys an adolescent form of spirituality. People who do not have much experience with life can possibly be impressed with their bombastic ideas, but life teaches you that spirituality can be found in small, simple things. That's what it taught me, anyway, at least to the extent that I learned you can't buy enlightenment from Scientology!

Did your parents or family know about this?

(In the 1970s, anyone under 21 years old in Austria was underage.) Since I was still underage, I had to let my mother know. It was somewhat embarrassing for me to hear from her that a "strong man" such as myself "should not need a psycho-course." After a while, though, I was no longer ashamed, but boldly sprinkled little crumbs of my wisdom around my parents. My father didn't care as long as I thought of it as a hobby. But when I became a staff member in 1975, he was devastated. It looked to me like he thought I had done as good as joined the Nazis. I never thought it might ever turn out that he was right.

Did you have any particular duties in Scientology?

When you're taking a course, all you have to worry about is finishing it (that and the interviews that don't stop until you've signed up for the next service). As a staff member, my first job was to talk people on the street into taking the personality test. Later I was promoted to "test rater." That's what I did for 2 1/2 years. Every day I had "study time" from 9 a.m. to noon, where I took staff training courses, etc. Work hours were from 1 to 6 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m. (with Thursday afternoons and Sunday evenings off). But work did not end on time if there were still a couple of diehards waiting in the test room for their results. My contract as staff member was up after three years. After that I took a couple more courses, but was no longer under "spiritual spell" of the organization. The stark contrast of everyday Scientology theory with the practice of real life slowly brought me out of Scientology, a little bit at a time.

When did you know for a fact you were out?

Despite everything I was still closely connected to the organization, really more to the people there. My friends were there. Not "Scientology fanatics" but real friends; I'm still in contact with some of them today. Naturally they've also been out for a long time. One of these friends was thrown out when he made things uncomfortable for management. I sided with him, and so we both ended up getting declared as a "suppressive person."

What kind of financial effect did Scientology have on you?

The Scientologists were not able to cure me of my budget-mindedness. I didn't invest much money with them. With my disposition, it was easier for them to exploit my willingness to work, instead.

What kind of effect did Scientology have on your life?

Hard to say. What came first, the chicken or the egg. The fact is that I am a child of a performance-minded society and this is exactly the clientele Scientology aims for. There are still some things I do today that I wouldn't want to change, such as how to act in times of crisis. Perhaps sometimes I make my own problems, but when there is real difficulty, rather than look away, I try to do the right thing instead. Scientology pounded that into me.
Other times it's not so easy to shake the typical Scientology fantasies of all-powerfulness. But when that happens, real life brings you down to earth again real quickly. You don't end up gaining anything with the "Think big" mentality, because you lose the joy of sunshine, or of seeing children smile. You are driven by bogey men - pure insanity!
In regards to this I think that I've turned around completely. These days it is easier for me to let things happen that I myself didn't cause. Accept things, experience people, let love happen. All the things that are alien to the Scientology caricature of capitalism. It's a shame I had to waste the "best years of my life" with that kind of scam, but I got over it. Today I'm doing well, thanks to me alone and not to some training! Just don't be afraid to live. That's all there is to it. But you can't make money by saying that, so every 5 minutes a new kind of life management training pops up.

Scientologists have a very poor reputation and even ex-Scientologists are sometimes regarded with suspicion ....

There's probably a good reason for that, and ex-Scientologists can always help out in that area. It's easy to get paranoid. I also think the concern about Scientologists infiltrating and taking over a company is exaggerated. In my opinion, Scientology is, a) a rather dilettantish mishmash and b) very inflexible, as is the case with most cults. If they have undercover operatives, they'll turn up sooner or later. It's also possible that I'm underestimating the risk, but I think you should view ex-Scientologists as people. It's not the worst people that end up in a cult. We shouldn't alienate them but try to get them back in contact with real life, without being dogmatic, without endless arguments where everyone is trying to blame and convince everyone else. I'm also saying this for my own benefit, as I sometimes tend toward that sort of jabber. Let's also try confronting the cultists with humor. I presume that it is humor that the guru fears most, isn't it?

two sample of cartoonist Gerhard Foerster's work:

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