Married with two children, Juli Wunderer lives in Zurich and works full time for the Church of Scientology. Inured to criticism of the controversial religious movement she has been part of all her life, Wunderer seems content with her choices.
She has read 18 books by L. Ron Hubbard, the prolific writer and founder of Scientology, and completed 20 of his courses. Now aged 36, Wunderer was born into a Scientology family in Germany. She has been in Switzerland for 19 years and lives with her husband, who is also a Scientologist, and their two children in canton Zurich. While she works and studies at the Church of Scientologyexternal link five days a week, her children go to a private crèche affiliated to Scientology.
“We lead a pretty normal life. We might go for hike or see a movie on the weekends, get on well with our neighbours and have many friends, some of whom are with Scientology and some of whom are not,” Wunderer says shyly, but with a friendly smile.
We meet at the Scientology church in one of Zurich’s industrial zones. The young receptionists give us a warm welcome; people are flitting up and down the hallway, the cafeteria is filled with chatting customers, and students of all ages are buried in their books in the rooms on the upper floor. The revered founder L. Ron Hubbard is ubiquitous in pictures, books and DVDs, and the walls are covered in organograms, diagrams and instructions about learning processes aimed at getting the disciples move up the ladder step by step.
Wunderer spends a lot of time in these halls, where she works as an auditor, which is a sort of counsellor. “This gives me the opportunity to help people solve problems and come to terms with past traumas. They can develop personally and spiritually, and can be happy in the present.”
During her auditing sessions, Wunderer uses a so-called E-Meter – a device Scientology opponents describe as lie detector or charlatanism. When the needle of the E-Meter goes beyond a marked reference point, the audited person is apparently “emotionally charged”. Wunderer thinks it is ingenuous. “Hubbard took a decade to research it and it works. I know this from my own experience. This device is not about finding out whether someone is lying; it’s about making people feel better.”
A normal family
As a child in Germany, Wunderer attended a state school. The fact that she was the only Scientologist in her year was never an issue. “I was never isolated. My only negative experience was when the mother of a close friend no longer allowed her to spend time with me.” She was 12 years old.
“We led a normal family life; only sometimes did my mother use simple Scientology methods to solve problems.” When she was 11 years old, Wunderer and her brother visited a seminar on confidence boosting and easy learning methods.
Wunderer stresses that she was always free to choose her own path. “Had my parents forced me, I would have rebelled. I never had the urge to break away.”
Her parents separated, when she was six years old. Her father left Scientology and Wunderer went to a Scientology-affiliated private school in England.
Giving her children the freedom to go their own ways is also important to her. “Everyone is responsible for their own lives, and I will let them decide what they want to do. No matter what they do, they will always be my sons.”
What’s right, what’s wrong?
It is hard to associate this nice woman with the criticism Scientology receives in the media. Is it really all about free will? No repression; no brainwashing?
“A lot of things you read in the press about Scientology are simply not true. There are certain interest groups, who don’t like what we say or don’t believe that we can be happy without drugs.”
And what about brainwashing? “I think this is terrible. I would never ever let anyone tell me what to think,” she says. Even criticism is allowed. “It is not about being obedient; it’s about being more autonomous.
But what about allegations that people are being ripped off? “There are also cheap courses available for CHF 55, such as the life improvement course. Every individual is free to decide, and look at my family: we are not in debt.” Wunderer gets paid very little for her work as an auditor, but can attend courses for free. “My salary wouldn’t be enough to live on, but my husband has a normal salary.”
Recipe for life
Wunderer seems to be happy with her life and describes herself as ‘a well-balanced” person with few problems. “Whenever a conflict arises I try to deal with it rather than bottle it up.”
So, Scientology offers recipes for leading a better life? “Absolutely,” she says. “We are by no means perfect, however, I would be a different person if I had not learnt so much from them.”
Translated by Billi Bierling, swissinfo.ch