Scientologist Greg Bashaw reached far beyond the mythical plateau of achievement that Scientologists call "clear." Bashaw rose to Operating Thetan Level 7 or "OT7."
Putting this in pop perspective, movie stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise have not yet reached the level Bashaw achieved.
The highest level a Scientologist can hope for is OT8.
But after 20 years of Scientology courses, auditing and training Bashaw killed himself.
He was married and left behind a teenage son. Bashaw was once a successful advertising executive, but he died broke, deeply in debt and unemployed. And the church he had dedicated so much of his life to abandoned him through "excommunication."
Greg's father Bob struggles to understand what happened to his son. He says, "I knew him and this wasn't him -- What the hell happened here?"
However, Bob knew about his son's dedication to Scientology. Early on Greg borrowed thousands of dollars from his father for Scientology-related courses.
Bob says Greg used one of the loans to go with Laura to the church's Los Angeles complex for course work; he paid it back with interest, explaining that he'd felt pressured by the church to pay. He wrote his father, "Our financial officer for the Church informed us we would need another $1,700 to pay for the package we were securing. It was imperative to get it this past week; otherwise the annual price increase, which he had held off for us through administrative fancywork, would go into effect. Simply put, if we didn't send the money Wednesday, the prices would have gone up on us by $500."
Greg's parents were divorced. His mother quickly realized that her son was involved in something she felt was potentially dangerous. Bob received a letter from his ex-wife during 1981 citing an article about Scientology in Reader's Digest titled, "Scientology: Anatomy of a Frightening Cult."
Greg's mother said in her letter that when she'd questioned Greg about the article, he claimed it was part of a conspiracy contrived against Scientology by "psychiatrists."
Greg's mother passed away before her son's suicide, but it was clear that she was deeply concerned about his involvement with Scientology.
Bob instead essentially accepted his son's involvement and did nothing.
Bob knew about Scientology's bad press, but when Greg said the stories about were not true, Bob accepted it.
Greg unsuccessfully tried to recruit his father.
Bob continued to have nagging doubts, but says, "There wasn't any big red flag that went up. And that's really what I was looking for."
At times Bob defended Greg to other family members. He said that he would "do battle" with Greg's aunts. In a letter to one of them he wrote: "The horror stories of Scientology victims and my imagination, plus what I have read, certainly conjure up rage and anxiety." But he couldn't bring himself to take any action. He said, "Integrity does not permit me to have a loving relationship with him while covertly working against what he sincerely believes in."
Bob concluded that his son was "free to make his own choices in life."
Greg largely cut his mother off after she criticized Scientology. Bob was afraid the same thing would happen to him. A bitter divorce had isolated him from his other children, but Greg had been away at college during that period. Bob wondered, "Do I take this position to not alienate him because he is the one of three children of mine that I am in touch with? The only one I can share my feelings and he truly shares his feelings with me? The answer is no."
So Bob decided to remain silent about Scientology.
Greg went to Clearwater, Florida, a bastion of Scientology, to take courses, which strained his budget. His wife and son did not accompany him because it cost too much. Money became tight for the Bashaw family, despite the fact that Greg earned a large income.
However, like most Scientologists Greg thought it was all worth it. He wrote, "Scientology has saved my ass, that's for sure. Now I'm unstuck, in the know, and working towards completion. It will be a new life when I get back."
Greg even believed his training enabled him to talk to the dead. He wrote Bob, "It's easy, like talking on a telephone, when you have the hang of it." Greg didn't divulge details because his talks with the dead "happened in the context of formal auditing sessions and so are confidential."
Bob remembers thinking, "What is this crap?" He considered doing something and claims he knew it was "bullshit." But in the end he did nothing. He rationalized; that maybe it is possible to speak with the dead?
Greg seemed to have a "good life." Married with a son, living in a two-story house on 16 acres of land in Barrington Hills, Illinois. And he was a highly paid successful executive at a well-known advertising firm.
But Greg was spending large sums of money on Scientology. Greg not only paid for costly courses; he donated even more cash to the controversial church. So much that they made him a "patron" of the International Association of Scientologists.
And Greg Bashaw decided to take on Scientology's critics by harassing them at anti-cult conferences.
"None of my encounters with Greg were pleasant," says Reg Alev, a former executive director of the now defunct Cult Awareness Network (CAN), which was bankrupted by Scientology lawsuits. He says Greg even confronted him on the way to the bathroom, yelling about CAN being a terrorist organization. Alev adds, "He was extremely confrontational and loud."
Jim Beebe also once associated with CAN says Greg picketed outside the CAN office and even outside staff members' homes. In 1992 Greg and other Scientologists sued the group, claiming religious discrimination, when they were refused membership. And Greg filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
Cynthia Kisser, executive director of CAN after Alev, said Greg's actions were part of an organized effort to "harass and disrupt" the network. She says that during the early to mid 90s Scientologists like Greg filed 50 nearly identical lawsuits and human rights complaints against CAN. Eventually they were dismissed, but they took their toll on the organization financially. Scientology eventually sued CAN into bankruptcy.
Greg left one advertising firm for another in 1997, but it was demotion according to his father. Bob later found out Greg quit after his old firm took on Prozac as a client, a drug that Scientology's Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) claimed could lead to "homicidal rages," suicide and had tried to get the FDA to ban.
Scientology believes they have the answers for mental health and are totally opposed to psychiatry and psychiatric drugs such as Prozac.
Bob says he could tell Greg was changing. His conversation was stilted and often he just repeated what someone else said. He wasn't his usual self. A former professional associate characterized Greg as "a deep thinker," but observed that his old friend's "creativity was not at the same level of consistency." Greg admitted that this was "connected to the auditing." Auditing is the intensive question and answer sessions Scientologists undergo with their "auditors," in an effort to supposedly "clear" themselves.
In September of 2000 Greg Bashaw returned once again to Clearwater for more Scientology training. His father finally said, "Greg, you're spending a hell of a lot of time down there. I don't understand it. You're spending time away from your job, and you're spending time away from your family." But Greg only answered, "You're right, dad. You don't understand it."
Greg was now an OT7 and he didn't get back from this trip for a month. When he saw his father again he admitted that he'd been fired from his job.
When Bob met with Greg later after that trip he learned that his son planned to kill himself. Greg was going to drive to a forest preserve and drink a bottle of Drano. Bob said, "I'm holding him, and he's saying he failed everybody, he isn't worth anything, he's a total failure."
Greg's last trip to Clearwater was apparently a disaster. "They threw him out," Bob says. Greg told his father that his church said they couldn't help him and sent him away, telling him never to return.
At this point the reality of his son's situation hit Bob hard. He said, "This is when the whole thing hit the fan with me. I realized what the hell [Scientology] had done to him."
Bob wanted his son to go to a psychiatric hospital and he says Greg's wife agreed. "That surprised me," Bob said, but it seems by this time Greg's wife had quit Scientology.
Greg checked into the psychiatric ward of a local hospital, such places are anathema to Scientologists who ardently oppose psychiatry.
The following morning in the psych unit, the first thing Bob told his son was that Scientology was evil and that it was his enemy. Greg seemed upset by this. "It was as if I'd slapped him in the face," says his father.
Greg tried to commit suicide twice in the next couple of months. His teenage son found him the first time on the floor, almost dead. The second time he emailed a suicide note to a friend who alerted the police. They arrived just in time to save his life again.
Then Greg promised his father he wouldn't try to kill himself again.
A Scientology spokesperson denied that the church excommunicated Greg. She said, "He seemed to be having some rather large troubles and he left the church to go sort out his life." But she added, "Frankly, no Scientologist would ever seek psychiatry as a solution to their problems."
When asked why so many former Scientologists so ardently oppose the church its spokesperson said, "There's only one reason and one reason only, they have lots of words they don't understand." A cryptic allusion that whatever failure there was it was a personal failure, rather than anything Scientology did.
In the Spring of 2001, things seemed hopeful. Greg was working again. An old friend found him a job. Bob visited with his son and he seemed to be getting better.
But Bob still wondered would he be alright? He wrote his son about a retreat for cult survivors in Ohio called Wellspring. Greg wasn't interested. He responded that "One of the things that happens when you have the bad experiences that I've had is that people assume your own beliefs are faulty." Greg rejected any possibility of professional help Wellspring might offer.
Greg then began to shut down. Phone messages from his father went unanswered and letters were returned. Greg finally wrote back and explained, "It's almost as if I had a stroke on a mental and spiritual level, and I have to start with learning how to use a fork again, metaphorically."
Greg Bashaw finally admitted, "For the last 10 years I was fooling myself regarding the services I was taking [with Scientology], and whether they were advancing me. I wanted them to be... In retrospect, I would have been better the last ten years to have focused on simply building a family life, and on work, as most people do... Being on the services the whole time was almost unbelievably demanding in terms of time, money and commitment. The fact that it did not 'pay off' has been an exceptionally bitter pill to swallow. The fact that at the end of the road I ended up in worse shape than I'd ever been in my entire life... well, that has been completely irreconcilable with any concept of reality."
But Greg seemed to be considering his future, He said, "I would like to get to a point where the focus of my life is not on my disability. It's been very difficult talking to people lately, because typically the whole conversation pivots around how well I'm doing or not doing."
But whatever optimism Greg expressed it dissipated by that summer. A former Scientologist he confided in said Greg told him that he "had broken something that the Church of Scientology could fix, [but] they weren't going to fix it."
During the last two months of his life Greg had no work. He stayed at home and deteriorated. He owed the bank $27,000 and $29,000 on credit cards. Bob says that early that year Greg's wife talked about suing Scientology to recover the money they'd paid in advance for auditing and course work. Bob says he was told they had "a balance of nearly $200,000 in credit."
However, Greg wouldn't sue. He wrote his father, "It would subject me and my family to a great deal of shame and embarrassment, and additionally such a stance does not reflect what I believe to be true."
His old friend got a call from Greg. "He asked me, 'What can I do?' He was in torment. He felt like he was losing control. I didn't have an answer. I asked him to come here right away." Greg drove for hours to his friend's home in another town. His friend recalled, "He arrived at my house, coherent but just barely hanging on. Greg was shaking and had all but lost the ability to function."
Greg agreed to check himself into a hospital. At first he refused medication and counseling. As a devoted Scientologist he had been drilled to resist the evils of psychiatry.
Bashaw had spent more than 20 years in Scientology. He gave the group everything he had spiritually, mentally, and financially. He wanted to lose his "reactive mind," but in the end he just lost his mind. His father says, "There were periods of time he was rational and he realized he was losing it and it was a terror, a horrible thing to him."
A former long-term member of Scientology explained that the church claims "it has the solution to all your problems. Then you realize most of the problems you had, Scientology created. That former member, who met Bashaw concluded, "Greg knew this but couldn't accept it. Greg Bashaw could not let go of the mental indoctrination he'd swallowed hook, line, and sinker -- he had a hard time struggling with the fact that he'd been living a lie. Everything he thought was real wasn't real anymore."
Greg wrote his father for the last time during the summer of 2002, "I wanted to call on Father's Day but was hospitalized and had no calling card. My condition worsened dramatically three weeks ago. I have been in the hospital the last two weeks and am now moving to an intensive outpatient status."
But despite his condition Greg still insisted that his wife not sue Scientology. He said, "They would put 50 lawyers on the case. They would employ private investigators, and the like, to help win their case. And the stress would be enormous... If you could get her to consider these points, as I have repeatedly over the last few months, it would be greatly appreciated."
Greg then said, "I told them this morning I still felt depressed and suicidal," and ended cryptically, "P.S. Thanks for being a great dad."
After leaving the hospital Greg drove to his friend's house and had dinner. It seemed like he was recovering and he talked about further treatment. But just three days later Greg Bashaw pulled onto the shoulder of a road, duct taped a hose from the exhaust pipe of his car into a window and sealed it tightly with a towel. He then sat in the passenger seat until he took his last breath of carbon monoxide.
Greg Bashaw ended his life just like Scientology's founder L Ron Hubbard's son had 25 years earlier.
The police found a suicide note in his hotel room. It said simply, "Goodbye [son], you were a good buddy. Love dad."
Note: Based upon "Death of a Scientologist," by Tori Marlan, Published in The Chicago Reader August 16, 2002