A Billion Years by Mike Rinder
When I learned that Mike Rinder, former head of the Office of Special Affairs for the Church of Scientology, was finally publishing his memoir, I smashed that pre-order button so hard. I opted for the audio version, which is read by the author.
Rinder was raised in Scientology and rose in its ranks during his 40+ years in the church, including signing the infamous billion-year contract to become a dedicated member of the Sea Organization. Rinder knew the madman founder himself, L. Ron Hubbard, and worked alongside him as a special Commodore’s Messenger. But it was post-LRH’s death, when David Miscavige proclaimed himself the new leader of the church, that Rinder’s role became much more public-facing and prominent.
Bonus points: Rinder takes a moment to check in with everyone’s favorite Freedom Medal of Valor recipient, Tom Cruise, and reflect on his strange role as the most exalted celebrity Scientologist. (With additional appearances in the book by John Travolta and others.)
Perhaps no one is better poised and qualified to reveal the dark history of Scientology than Rinder, who helped orchestrate some of its most despicable crimes. Among those are its Fair Game policy, which targets so-called Suppressive Persons (SPs) who leave the church (see: Leah Remini, Nicole Kidman, etc.), as well as “enemies” of the church—aka, anyone who speaks out against its horrors. Rinder was front and center in the campaign to discredit BBC reporter John Sweeney in that iconic interview with church spokesperson Tommy Davis.
Rinder doesn’t shy away from telling about the numerous, nightmarish abuses that the church inflicted on its own devoted, often (if not always) at the direction of its leader Miscavige. But it was Rinder’s stint in The Hole: a place of severe punishment and re-education—that finally broke him and drove him to leave the church. He left with the clothes on his back, a handful of papers, and not much else. Worse yet, he knew that in painfully choosing his freedom, he was required to leave his wife and children behind. Indeed, the book is dedicated to Rinder’s children who, sadly, are still active in Scientology. It’s his hope that someday they will find their own freedom and leave as well.
After leaving, Rinder became public enemy number one and became subject to the Fair Game policy. Rinder has been stalked, harassed, lied to, and worse by those who believe that in doing so, they’re “saving the planet.” Somehow, Rinder has managed to keep going. He has since become one of Scientology’s most outspoken detractors. He has teamed up with fellow ex-Scientologist and fellow SP Leah Remini in their Emmy-winning TV series, Scientology and the Aftermath, as well as their podcast Fair Game.
Although Rinder’s recounting of his history in Scientology is both harrowing and mind-boggling, it’s also inspiring. Like other cults, Scientology is built in such a way that punishes, isolates, and seeks to destroy those who choose to leave—after draining your spirit and your bank account, respectively. It would be easier for Rinder to fade away quietly, to focus on the new life he has built with his new family. Instead, he has chosen to do what’s far tougher: to speak out against the abuses that the church has committed and continues to inflict daily.
I flew through this book in less than a day and highly recommend it for anyone who’s fascinated by the Scientology machine and cults in general. It’s a scathing exposé and indictment of the church, to be sure—but it’s also an inspiring survivor story that deserves to be told.
Related recommended reads:
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood & Scientology by Leah Remini
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright