One Sunday morning in the early Eighties, as he sat among the pews in church, Jamie DeWolf's life was changed for ever. Then just six years old, DeWolf was handed The Kingdom of the Cults by his pastor, a book examining new religious movements – among them Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists and Mormons.
Yet one group stood out for the young Baptist and, more specifically, one name. It was that of Lafayette Ronald (L Ron) Hubbard, a science-fiction writer turned prophet who founded the Church of Scientology. He was also DeWolf's great-grandfather.
"I remember coming home and saying, 'mom, what's Scientology?' and her face went really pale," says DeWolf, three decades later in his home in Oakland, California.
"I remember her explaining that Hubbard was a writer, then at some point kind of lost his marbles and wrote different kinds of books. She was like, 'I don't think you'd like them, there aren't many guns and spaceships', something I later found out was also untrue."
Never short of scandal since its first church opened its doors in California 60 years ago, Scientology was created with ideas derived from Hubbard's bestselling self-help book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, published in 1950.
Tired of being paid a penny per word for his sci-fi tales, Hubbard reportedly adopted the motto: 'If you want to get rich, start a religion.' Dianetics, a theory of the mind which had been discredited by the scientific community, was subsequently transformed into something based around faith, not fact.
Hubbard never painted himself as a messiah, instead claiming to have learnt the truths of existence while "dead" under anaesthetic during a dental procedure. He none-theless asserted, among other things, that he'd visited Venus, developed a formula for babies based on a Roman recipe and cured himself of debilitating optic nerve, hip and back injuries suffered during World War Two.
Despite his declaration he was not God, it's Hubbard's picture you'll still find hanging in every Scientology building, and Scientologists fully expect him to return one day. They're so sure of this that an office in each church is reserved for him, along with a $10m (€7.27m) mansion with full-time staff.
Ask Scientology's believers and they'll tell you the religion – recognised as such in the United States after a legal battle with the Internal Revenue Service in 1993, and in the United Kingdom as recently as December 2013 – is a pathway to spiritual freedom followed by many high-profile members such as the actor Tom Cruise.
Scientology's critics paint Hubbard as the planet's biggest charlatan and Scientology as a pay-as-you-go religion, one which extorts naive believers by promising the secrets of the universe in return for cash, while ordering them to sign a billion-year pledge of allegiance, disconnect from their families, endure squalid conditions and sometimes even suffer mental and physical abuse.
Leaving is even tougher, it's said, with the lifetime confessions of members recorded, filed and used against them, should they ever attempt to abscond. The church denies this.
One of Scientology's fiercest and most vocal critics today is DeWolf. Late last year DeWolf (his birth name was Kennedy, but he changed it to avoid clashing with a comedian of the same name) became a viral sensation after a 2011 performance of his poem 'The God or the Man' was uncovered on YouTube by the news website Upworthy. The piece is a poignant account of DeWolf's awkward family history, his ancestor Hubbard and the tale of his grandfather, L Ron Junior, who endured persecution by the church following his own defection.
Despite never meeting his great-grandfather – who disappeared in 1980, while facing 48 lawsuits, and died in 1986 – DeWolf had a childhood fascination with Hubbard, in particular his writing, which spanned a Guinness World Record breaking 1,084 works. Today, DeWolf concedes it was Hubbard who drove him to pursue a career in the arts.
Now 36-year-old DeWolf is a writer, poet, film-maker and performer. He was once a "hardcore Christian kid" who hoped to become a Baptist minister; he would regularly hand out pamphlets on street corners.
DeWolf now sees all religion as "an inherently absurd and flawed human concept". But he doesn't consider himself an atheist: "I feel like [that's] almost a little too easy."
As for Scientology, only one of Hubbard's descendants is known to subscribe to his teachings; for the rest, the party line is to maintain a stoic silence.
DeWolf is the exception, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Scientology borders on the obsessive. Since discovering the truth as a boy, DeWolf says it's been a "taboo subject". During his childhood the family was both embarrassed and fearful of the church – mainly because Hubbard's son, L Ron Junior, was still alive.
DeWolf's memories of his grandfather are nothing but warm. He was a loving grandparent, DeWolf says, who visited every Thanksgiving and bought him Star Wars toys on his birthday. Yet he was also a guarded, solitary individual who was very sick – eventually losing a foot to diabetes.
But Junior's early years, and his role in the formation of Scientology, remain a mystery. He died in 1991, aged 57.
Born prematurely due to what he claimed was a botched abortion attempt (an allegation he later retracted under oath), Junior weighed just 2lbs at birth and was kept alive in a homemade shoebox incubator, then a cupboard drawer, kept warm with an electric light and fed with an eyedropper. He once recalled his father dabbling in black magic and drugs, which he would also give to his children. As a teenager, Junior later confessed: "I believed in Satanism. It was the only religion in the house!"
Later, when Scientology was in its formative stages, it's believed Junior was Hubbard's right-hand man and enforcer. DeWolf claims it was Junior who was largely responsible for penning Scientology's infamous 'Fair Game' doctrine to pursue defectors and those seen as enemies of the church.
The specific reasons for Junior's exit from the church still aren't clear. DeWolf claims it was partially a dispute over money, with Junior unhappy that profit went "straight to the top of the pyramid" – ergo Hubbard.
Legend has it that Hubbard kept shoeboxes full of banknotes under the bed and burnt documents he believed would incriminate him, but DeWolf believes his grand-father simply began to see Hubbard for who he really was.
"I think he came to the view quite early on that his father was truly a grifter and a hustler," says DeWolf.
After leaving the church – or "blowing", in Scientology speak – it was assumed Scientology agents wouldn't pursue Junior, given they'd be using the policy he had devised against him.
However, Junior was stalked with "wiretaps, break-ins and death threats," the family were perpetually on the run, and "every adult was taught to use a gun".
In 2012, DeWolf appeared on a US news programme and the same evening was attacked during his own stage show.
These days, though, Scientology has enough to worry about. After cultivating a reputation as a boutique religion coveted by film stars, artists and creatives in the 1960s and 1970s, the church has suffered a PR battering in recent times.
There is a long list of prominent Scientology figures who have left the religion. Senior members have quit to expose the church's workings, as have celebrities including film director Paul Haggis and actress Leah Remini, who was helped to defect by Jennifer Lopez.
Perhaps the biggest foe Scientology is facing, is its own reputation.
Does Scientology have a future? It's a matter of perspective. Lawrence Wright's 2013 book Going Clear reports that Scientology has $1bn (€727m) of liquid assets and 12 million sq ft of property around the globe – including a new £20m (€24m) London HQ – valued at $168m (€122m). This suggests Scientology is in rude health.
On the other hand, although the church claims having eight million members worldwide, only 25,000 Americans and 2,400 Britons consider themselves Scientologists. For the sake of context, in the 2011 UK census 176,632 people identified themselves as Jedi Knights.
As for DeWolf, he has a daily reminder of his great-grandfather's legacy – a Scientology symbol on his right arm. "I'm a huge fan of irony," he says.