Book Review - The Complex An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology

Cultic Studies Review, 8, (2), 2009, 187-189 

The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology

By John Duignan with Nicola Tallant

Merlin: Dublin, Ireland. 2008. ISBN-10: 1903582849; ISBN-13: 978-1-903582-84-8 (paperback). price: $16.00; Eason (Dublin, Ireland) price Euro: 12.99. 318 pages.

Reviewed by Edward A. Lottick, M. D.

The Complex is the successful work of a former 22-year Scientology member working with a journalist, and the result is a striking autobiography. The story is often gripping and always interesting. John Duignan’s initial recruitment into Dianetics processing in the first chapter was especially eye-opening for me because that was the same path that my son Noah took. John’s induction led to 22 years of largely undercompensated servitude in the Sea Org, during which he exercised skills on behalf of Scientology. The time not entirely a loss, John emerged from the experience older and wiser. My son was recruited into Scientology, but his story lacks a happy ending. I am happy for John that things finally went right and he ultimately emerged much wiser. Noah’s experience in Scientology went shockingly wrong, but that is another story.

John’s boyhood was sad. He lost both parents and had trouble with recurring bad feelings. Dianetics Center operatives who he happened upon were warm, supportive, and directive, and his induction into Scientology was fairly positive. He was recruited further into the Sea Org and traveled from Ireland to Los Angeles to the Complex, the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital building. At a Cult Awareness Network meeting in the early 1990s, a former resident colorfully described the Complex sotto voce as “the powder-blue flop house.”

John Duignan lost contact with his large family back in Ireland and entered upon a consuming career as a Scientology middle manager. He endured Scientology’s recurring cycles of being built up and then being torn down. There is apparently never much security and resting-upon-laurels in Scientology. It does not appear to be much of a career option.

Auditing (trance-induced reveries into one’s past) was ongoing. I am greatly indebted to John Duignan for clarifying that Dianetics auditing is not like hypnosis, it is hypnosis. If I understand correctly, every time there is an auditing session, a hypnotic trance state ensues. The subject is probed into self-revelation, and suggestions are often implanted by the auditor. False memories that emerge from the trance state are often reinforced. Understanding that this process goes on all the time makes it easier to understand why inductees become so compelled, partisan, and dedicated, and why it is so impossible for outsiders such as former family and friends to sway, direct, or liberate them or often even converse productively with them.

Sea Org indoctrination in the Complex was gulag-like and extremely regimented. After I had read The Complex, my United States Army basic training seemed like a far healthier romp. After a time in Los Angeles, John moved from L. A. to St. Hill in England. In his auditing at St. Hill, John achieved what he calls “time travel,” which he attempts to describe. He asserts that it occurred during an awake, rather than an asleep state; but his perceptions while entranced were, for example, “dream-like pictures of riding a Jeep in a desert 8000 years ago.” These reveries are then interpreted as examples of prior reincarnations.

John Duignan was a successful member of Scientology but was disadvantageously treated as one of many routinely regarded drones. He felt he had many friends or associates while he was in Scientology, but he was always curiously on his own. His is a fascinating story that conveys what Scientology is all about and also conveys a good idea of what it is not about.

John finally began to sneak peeks at computers not outfitted with Net-Nannys. His leaving Scientology followed naturally after he began having insights about what he was accepting. I suggest that you read The Complex and let him tell his story as he does so very well.

Whether you are an old hand or a novice, this book is worth reading. I believe it is especially useful for students of many fields—cultic studies, psychology, sociology, education, journalism, criminal justice, political science, history, and in fact almost all liberal arts and preprofessional studies, especially medicine and law.