warning Former Scientology member Peter Griffiths reveals heartache, debt and court cases
‘I am to shine a light on the dark’
Scientology is a word that comes with baggage. Be it their A-list celebrity membership, courtroom dramas, or accusations by ex-members, one thing is certain; the self-proclaimed “fastest-growing religion on earth” is no stranger to bad press.
One man who is not afraid to join the battle, is Mayo-based healthcare assistant, Peter Griffiths. Born in the UK, he relocated to Ireland in the early ‘90s with his family. He fell hook, line and sinker for Scientology in the ‘80’s however now, he is one of their loudest critics this side of the Atlantic.
Founded in 1953 by science fiction author L Ron Hubbard, Scientology has always operated a pay-as-you-go membership, all under the guise of self-help. It’s this huge financial obligation that has lead many to label it a cult, rather than a religion.
It’s said that Hubbard once remarked, “The only way to get rich is to start a religion”, and he would appear to be right; it is rumoured that members who reach the highest levels can expect to part ways with roughly half a million Dollars.
After Peter took their personality test in 1987 — a method still used today to recruit new members — he was left confused by the test results, but intrigued by promises made by Scientology.
Speaking to Red Room Podcast recently about that test, he remarked “I didn’t agree with the results” but that he “did agree that you can improve. You can be a better you. I certainly did not join a religion; it was self-help that interested me.”
Peter became actively involved with Scientology, for seven years he dedicated himself to his local missionary, recruiting new believers.
“They say Scientology is all about brainwashing” says Griffiths “and they do sort of capture your mind… and I was mentally captured for 14 years”.
Griffiths distanced himself from Scientology in ‘94, however it was in 2008 that he began to truly question everything he once believed.
A turning point for Griffiths was when he was awarded the opportunity to host a large Scientology event, while running a mission in the North West of England. He describes arranging a lavish meal for members to enjoy, followed by a screening of some official Scientology films. There was one problem, he couldn’t afford to cover the cost of a 200-person dinner. He asked what to do, and senior executives told him to collect reparations on the night. Griffiths went table to table asking for money, and when only a third of the guests could offer partial reimbursement, he was left shaken.
“I’m sitting here with every Scientologist in my area and they can’t afford to pay for a dinner, and I’m going to be left with the debt”, he reflects, “I thought ‘what I doing, why am I doing this?’ I’m telling people they’re going to improve and be the best they’ll ever be [thanks to Scientology], and they can’t even pay for a simple meal.”
When Peter got acquainted with members of the controversial activist group, Anonymous, he said they opened his eyes to the truth, “I remember the evening when I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god, it’s all a lie, it’s all a con’”. Griffiths remembers, “going around the house and scooping up any Scientology books and posters and burning them”. Griffiths now dedicates his life to exposing Scientology, his website exscientologistsireland.org promotes his message.
As an outspoken, public critic of the Church, Peter was dubbed an enemy and became subjected to ‘Fair Game’; a policy where an ex-member’s character and livelihood are attacked by Scientologists. The organisation did not hold back on Griffiths, who was giving informative talks to schools around Ireland, warning students of the dangers of joining a cult.
A member of the Irish branch took it upon themselves to contact the school, sending the principal private pictures from Griffith’s Facebook account along with a colourful email, slandering his character.
Upon finding out, Griffiths felt his reputation was so badly damaged that he decided to sue the individual, but his legal trouble did not end there. While protesting the organisation with a fellow ex-member, things got heated. His associate forcefully grabbed leaflets being distributed by a member, while with Griffiths, who was deemed a co-conspirator and was ruled by the Circuit Court to pay damages for assault and battery. Griffiths recalls that the event was “unpleasant for anyone to have to go through” and however is confident that he was merely present, not an aggressor in the confrontation.
On Scientology’s influence in Ireland he remarks, “They would like to have a lot of influence here”, however is certain they remain a fringe group. When you follow the money, their appetite for an Irish presence is apparent; Scientology has invested millions here.
They opened their National Affairs Office on Merrion Square in 2016, spent €6 million on their Firhouse convention centre and considerable funding of a 56-bed drug rehabilitation centre in Ballivor, Co. Meath.
The Ballivor centre is run by Narconon, a branch within Scientology, who are - according to their official website - “a worldwide network that daily helps people recover from the devastation of drug addiction”, using the writings and teachings of L.Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder. The opening of the centre has met with huge resistance from the local community, “Their past record of Scientology and drug rehabilitation is terrible” says Griffiths “and yet they’re opening one in Ireland?”. Like Scientology, Narconon’s reputation is riddled with lawsuits, and accusations of ill-treatment.
As for Scientology’s future here, Griffiths is optimistic, according to him Scientology is “on its last legs”. They claim to have memberships in the millions, but Griffiths speculates “the number is closer to 20,000 worldwide”. Despite their failing popularity Griffiths maintains “It is dangerous” and, “People’s lives have been ruined”.
Reflecting on years of legal struggles, Griffiths laments “If I could just keep people out, that’s what I’ve intended to do”, he continues “if I could get any current member to think ‘oh my god, I’ve been lied to’, that’s all I want”.
Griffiths closes with, “Scientology needs to be continuously exposed. If you shine a light on something dark and shady, it’s no longer dark and shady, and that’s what we need to do, constantly”.
- Jenny Claffey is the host of Red Room Podcast, where the full interview entitled “Leaving Scientology: Pete Griffiths on Going Clear, Fair Game & the Cult of Scientology” is available.
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