Interview with Norbert Potthoff

Transcript from the TV-Interview N24 with a former Member of Scientology

on Sunday, 6. April 2008

Published on my website with the friendly permission from Norbert Potthoff and from the Translator of this Interview

This is an unofficial translation from the German Interview

Welcome, Norbert Potthoff. You left the Scientologists after being a member for seven years. How did you end up joining them back then?

I joined them because of the natural human desire to become better. At the age of 17-18 I grew tired of faith and left the church [this refers to one of the two main Christian churches]. From then on, the human being itself was the be-all and end-all to me and exactly on this level acquaintances – I was working at an advertisement agency at that time – did introduce me to this new philosophy, Scientology. It sounded very enticing.

What exactly was enticing for you about it?

To work on yourself, to reduce points of weakness. The thing is, Scientologists like to play with ambitioned people. They are not interested in someone who has no interest in getting better. So people who always want to improve, who are aspiring, they are easier to catch, and I was one of them.

Has it been also a religious issue for you? You could have found that at a Christian church too, couldn't you? We all want to improve ourselves, after all!

At the age of 17-18 I had my boy scout phase behind me, that was the generation of '68, we couldn't care less about family issues, christian welfare, religious secrets. We had other things on our minds, like the world and peace in Vietnam and other things. We had no access to faith then.

The first step towards the Scientologists, what does it look like when you enter in there? Are you led into a big room with Scientologist standing inside or how does that work?

No, back then it was something called "College of Applied Philosophy", so it sounded much more harmless. And also, the word "Scientology" at that time, it was 1981, did hardly ever, if at all, appear in the media and was only known to certain insiders. The offer made to me was a communications training course. I was a communication designer back then and I wanted to get ahead in my profession and with improved communication, I was told, it would be easy to do that. The first point of contact was a nice and tidy office, a friendly looking lady and a warm welcome, and everything was highly scientific. First I had to take a test, a personality test with over 200 questions, to find out about strengths and weaknesses. Because we wanted to work focused and not with a shotgun approach. This seemed to be very logical and reasonable to me as well, how it was presented to me and I was completely unsuspecting.

Then you basically attended sessions called "auditing". What is that, is it derived of [the latin word] "audire" – to hear? Do you get into a kind of committee, where you have to recount things, or how does that work?

No, auditing is a behavioral training with the Scientologists, it starts with the communication training. You have to practice to be in the present time, they say. To do this, you practice to outright stare into someone else's eyes for two hours without any facial expression. And this is a concentration exercise at the highest level, but it has a crucial catch: This training is extremely stressful and releases endogenous hormones. You get dizziness, hallucinations, even fainting fits, you are then on endorphins, at a blissful level. And this mocks up incredible freedom, the power that from now on – or when you are in that state – you won't be afraid anymore. Not afraid of business people asking awkward questions, or of fee-requests for professional services, which I always found embarrassing, and such things. Sure thing, when you're high on drugs, a lot of things seem to be easier, but the trouble is, you can even get addicted to endogenous drugs. I didn't know that.

Are you already that high after two or three sessions, that you're ready to break up with your wife as you did? You disconnected from your whole social environment.

Not necessarily after the first or second week. It took seven weeks. (Q: You were addicted after this?) It's really fast. This is the stunning thing, and I have always given the advice, you haven't got much time, after you hear someone has been exposed to it, to the technique of manipulation, it catches on very quickly and you shouldn't give in... don't try an approach like: Just let him run against this [wall, if he wants to do it], it would be very tragical. Because of that you should help and intervene as early as possible, or else it's almost not possible any more.

After seven weeks you were basically ready to say, "now I want to be a part of them, these people"? Is it the case that you have the feeling "now I want to join this new group"? And is this the reason you disconnect from your past? You left your marriage, you left your circle of friends, did you find new friends then?

At first it was different. I received tremendous acknowledgment from my friends, among business partners, customers, who noticed that my presence was clearer, more confident, and this was in extreme contrast to the goals of my wife, who was more dreamy, who loved her laziness, which I couldn't appreciate myself at that time: That laziness also can make you happy and that it pertains to a happy life. Not to be lazy all the time, but now and then. So she found the right measure for her, but for me it was suspicious. My acknowledgment came from the customers who told me "it's really incredible how you have changed. Very Nice!" And affirmation is something that keeps you going. And then it all went down pretty fast. The changes in my gesture in my language stroke my friends and they started to turn away from me.

What changed there?

I must have become a bit of a fanatic, as I wanted to convince others... "Look, I'm feeling great. I want you to feel good too." So that's the next effect, because Scientologists aspire to recruit others for the organization. It's your responsibility. I hadn't noticed at all that I was right in the middle of a missionary phase, so to speak, and I also would have strongly denied it if anybody had pointed it out. But that's how it was. And the result was that I lost contact with the normal people of Krefeld and as an act of defiance I went right towards the group.

Did you clamber up the career ladder a bit?

I was looking for my career as a graphic artist and advertising specialist in the Scientology Organization and initially I found it.

And this career is vocational, so one improves ones' skills, or is it also spiritual or a type of training or do you become a teacher, or what does it mean to say that "You make a career in Scientology"?

The career is: you produce. That's the be-all and end-all of the Scientology system, that you produce effectively. A proverb of the founder, Hubbard, is "Produce, produce, produce", that's all that counts. And...

That's a very modern economic view.

Of course. It's also why Scientology seems to remain attractive today still in many ways, because the economic system functions similarly – I don't want to say that it works the same way, but in some ways similarly – and also in the economy, [?], the individual is seen as a machine, as human capital, that is there to be exploited and used. And there are some nasty points of contact between the modern economy, capitalism and Scientology. And in my case it was that via my vocational knowledge I succeeded in the areas of marketing, PR, advertising, recruitment of new people, building new groups. And that resulted in advancement within the system. Spiritual development naturally didn't happen, I was just being drilled, without paying attention to it.

This "produce, produce, produce", what's behind that? Is the individual according to this Scientology teaching someone, who is only considered [to be] someone, when he has accomplished something? That would really be the opposite to the occidental way of looking at things, where we speak of mercy, the individual has intrinsic worth and is consequently also valuable when he is not able to achieve something. Is it the case that somewhere in the teachings there is "You're only something if you've managed to achieve something"?

I'll give an example to clear it up: the Scientology organization, who in parts also refer to themselves as a "church", refer to Church doctrine. Amongst other things it's, "We from the church believe that Man is essentially good". That sounds great to start with. When you know the language of Scientology, though, then you know that the word "Church" internally means "Technology center", "Man" internally means "Machine", "to be good" internally means "to be productive". When you translate the phrase correctly according to meaning, then it would be "We from the technology center believe, that Man is a productive machine". And only according to this he is evaluated.

The word "Ethics" that you have in the title of this program, has another meaning in scientologist thought. Ethics mean being productive, and there it starts to become both dangerous and also contemptuous towards the individual.

Someone who can't produce anything is nothing.

Exactly. And someone who doesn't produce is ill, and should be weeded out. At this point another, worse case does appear, that people who don't produce, that you don't help them, but that you virtually throw them away. They have to find their way back under their own steam, and if they don't, so what?

How did you experience this, this discarding, how did that happen?

With friends within the group, who suddenly stopped showing up, who appeared on the ethics list.

Merit list ?

They were described as suppressive persons, as really awful people, right up to being banned from entering organizational buildings or to being shunned from the organization. And then it took stronger forms, and when a new friend suddenly disappeared, then you would start to think about it bit by bit.

As you describe that now... you tolerated this for seven years. How could that be?

Yeah, in the end I asked myself the same question, and that was the worst time, coming to terms with myself, as I really didn't want to forgive myself for it at all at first. Although I had left the [christian] church, at my core I was a Catholic and a Christian and terms like altruism and help and compassion took a decisive role, and all these expressions were frowned upon in Scientology, even ostracized. So those were really difficult years, coming to terms with myself and why I hadn't noticed all of this earlier.

What was the catalyst then, which got you to say, "I'm quitting"?

Yeah, quitting is a process, the pressure increases. And in the last phase of my life as a Scientologist this pressure got right to me. My wife was threatened and I felt forced, or was forced, to make ethics declarations about my wife, i.e. "Where did she screw up?" And that was the first time I refused to carry out an order, and then ended up becoming a case for ethics myself. For days I had to clean toilets, clean windows in Copenhagen. And that was the last that I would have done, to put my own wife to the knife. And then it finally became really clear that the line had been crossed.

How it went on after there, and if you still feel threatened, we'll talk about right after the break. Stay tuned!


Great, that you're back at N24 "Ethics- By God's Will" [it also means "for heavens' sake"]. I'm talking today with an ex-Scientologist.

Mr Potthoff, as you left, you mentioned "I can't betray my wife" You let yourself be humiliated while you were in the process of leaving. What happened next?

My wife left with me, but it only took a few weeks until she stopped being able to stand the calls for return, there was also the internal pressure.

And then she went back?

Contrary to me she had become dependent on this system, a life outside Scientology was no longer conceivable to her. At least I had several good professional skills as a graphic artist, as a sculptor, as a photographer, and also had the courage to have a go at living an everyday life, but she didn't have that courage. And those were again bad months, dealing with this bereavement, as I had no chance at all of getting anywhere near her. Then there was a disconnection order, which stated, that contact was utterly forbidden, until she had completed her training i.e. her auditing, her indoctrination. That naturally never was completed, so the marriage was imperatively ended by Scientology.

With increasing distance, and also with the review of "What have you done wrong", there came the self-recriminations, that were fortunately again absorbed into a deep faith. In this phase I became a Christian again, a different Christian from the one at 17 years of age, and an adult Christian with a lot more certainty and clarity concerning what it meant, to think this way and also how to pull together a life on this basis, with production on one side and the infinity of faith on the other, to unify it.

What have you then discovered within your belief? What was the new, or the fascinating things that you have seen there?

Something amazing, there is forgiveness. And the ability – with this woman, who committed adultery – when I am not judged, I can't do it myself either. "Go, and sin no more". And that seemed to me to become my motto, too. "Go in peace, build yourself a new life and don't do again what you did there."

And as a start, you had to forgive yourself.

Yes. And that was the first step back into acceptance of oneself, to win back the acceptance of parents and old friends and people, who one knew well, as I had actively dealt with my membership, had gone to journalists and talked about things that at the time were totally unknown. It then of course continued, that I was actively interviewed, called on by journalists, to hold lectures... also for me a totally strange area. In all my school reports it said "Norbert is too quiet." So to suddenly have to stand on a stage and talk freely for an hour and a half, that was indeed a massive challenge, but also a great feeling, to discover new abilities in oneself, which also had something to do with my rediscovered belief. To find something valuable, not by improving things which the environment wants to see changed as it was in the beginning, but rather to discover something within
 yourself and to bring it to fruition.

No one pulling your strings, but the discovery that God has created me and I have a mission in this world.

Exactly. To do it from my own strength and own love for life and satisfaction, that was a whole new feeling in life.

But when you went public, weren't you afraid, I mean, Scientology has its connections too, and you're talking in a totally open and very critical manner, you say it as it is. So isn't that dangerous, can we two just chat about it with each other or ought we to be a little concerned, that there's a system there somewhere, as it's so often portrayed, that can be dangerous to us, to you? With the benefit of hindsight, did it become dangerous?

It was tried, I myself...

For example?

Right at the start there were murder threats against my landlord. That led to…

Murder threats?

Murder threats. Against the children, against the landlord. That led to – for four years I had been living on a farm – that I had to leave that farm. So I lost my livelihood once more. I had to start again from the beginning. With scarce financial means, a giant mountain of debts from my Scientology time that was quite frightening and that is also what the Scientologists aim at: to intimidate you in such a way that you tell yourself: "No, I'd rather leave it; keep your mouth shut and live on in peace." But now two things come into the play: For one another recourse to 1968, that I knew: with totalitarian fascist systems you must be brave. You must not kneel. And, the other point was – it may sound a little pathetic, but I was strengthened in faith, and because of that I also had the courage to testify. That made me also so strong that I went to the stage time after time.

Tom Cruise is now pushed into the public by the Scientologists. A well-known actor. They put forward people that made something out of themselves and who also advertise very offensively for Scientology… what's your take on this?

Yes, that is of course the most important strategy of the Scientologists: show successful people that belong to Scientology and to say: You can do it, too! That is similar to the marshal's baton latently hidden in each soldier's backpack. Tom Cruise is skillfully instrumentalized by the system. They created their own organization for it: the network of the Celebrity Centers, where these celebrities from film, radio and television get a special treatment. That people such as Tom Cruise or also, back then, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta at times also can have their problems is nothing new. We hear again and again from actors, from successful people in other businesses, that they suddenly show a black side, that they also fight with their weaknesses and Scientology of course has a possibility to intervene there and to care for these actors and make them dependent.

But how can people be so stupid?

Yes… How can people be stupid? If they break at their own feeling of power and will to have power.

 … break by their own feeling of power and will to have power. And then an organization is presenting itself to them, saying: We got the trick in our bag how you can reestablish that.

One must imagine that it's like that. We probably tend to wanting to have and to use power in such a way and then it can sometimes be dangerous, if one does not use the correct means. That may happen to a father in education, to a mother, it may happen to a boss, it may happen to a famous sportsman when he loses all borders, it may happen to a top manager that he suddenly comes to the point, where he believes, laws are no longer valid for him, he stands completely apart from the usual system, he has his own system… however it also leads to personal and psychological difficulties.

Scientologen have a cross with eight points as logo. What does it mean?

For Scientologists those are the eight dynamics of life. Hubbard himself says, it is an old Roman cross, that he used there. But the eight dynamics of life for the Scientologists always are the most plausible explanation. That is the me-dynamic up to 8: infinity.

To you Scientology certainly is a company, you said business enterprise. Not at all a church. To the outside world they have used the word, inside however it is completely clear: it is about success. Produce, produce, produce!

It is about success. But even more than the economic aspect I would like to point out that Scientology is also a political system, because it completely clearly also aims at the change of the society.

Which change?

A society, which is led in a totalitarian manner, which strictly has to live according to the Scientology rules. Brave New World. There are always authors who had this as a vision already, of what such a system looks like and "Futurum Zwei", the book, describes it as well. And Scientology clearly has raised a socio-political claim.

Is that dangerous, Scientology? Is Scientology dangerous?

I would not like to live in a state, where everything is prescribed for me from above, where I as a human being would not have any value, where I am classified as a machine, which has to produce.

Scientology does struggle to be a church. After your exit you saw that Christianity also has other dimensions than those, which you perhaps saw as a seventeen year old. How do you see a "church" now? That's what I'm asking you completely openly. [?].

That is exactly the crucial aspect. If I reject Scientology as a system for society, in which there is no compassion... then the Christian ethics is the ethics to help the weak. That is how Jesus has lived as an example, priests do that, nuns do it in church institutions, where a hand is given to the weak, where one helps them to get back up on their feet and to feel comfortable in other people's company. Also in the company of other people who seemingly have got better and greater abilities. Everyone has the right to his own dignity and recognition.

Is Scientology every now and then coming back inside of you? Do you notice that?

No. No, I fought very hard against it. It was important to dismantle the drill. That was a difficult chapter of course. It cannot be done in a matter of days, it took me years to get rid of these instinctive assessments and behaviors. But I think, that I succeeded completely with the help of my friends, that sometimes have stopped me, when I went the wrong way. However… in all humility, I hope I succeeded.

Everytime when I find myself wanting to have power and go on a way which is not so good, then I remember Jesus words, which – one might put it that way – I have trained, and that's when what you described as an exit experience happens to me: to see a human being, like you did see your wife and to say: "Because of her I can not continue, I won't allow that to happen." In the same way we want to recognize in Jesus his offer for a relationship such that we do not fall for power, but in the long run fall for love. Thank you that you were with me as my guest and [addressing the audience] we'll meet again here soon. The best of wishes.

This text is a translated transcript of a TV Interview from Sunday, 6. April 2008 with N24.
Possible later changes of the issue are not considered.

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