Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief
By Lawrence Wright
The Church of
Scientology doesn't like this book, but -- to the best of my knowledge -- they
haven't tried to ruin the author's life with threats of legal or physical
harassment, at least not yet.
I guess. Critics of the organization haven't always been that
lucky, according to those critics anyway; Scientologists usually deny it.
Scientology, in case you've never heard of it, is a religion and church, at least for IRS purposes. Sometimes its members say that it doesn't conflict with belief in Jesus Christ or his teachings. It involves application of dianetics, “the modern science of mental health,” and denial of psychotherapy, especially the drugs used to control mental problems.
Both Scientology and dianetics were created -- or revealed, discovered, whatever word you care to use -- by L. Ron Hubbard, a writer of science fiction and other fictional genres. More than most religions, Scientology's scripture involves science fictional concepts, such as alien overlords and spaceships. Those science fictional revelations aren’t supposed to be revealed until you've reached the right spiritual level because premature knowledge of it might harm you. Attaining that spiritual level requires auditing and courses, all of which must be paid for by the acolyte. Some members who join the church’s Sea Org inner circle must sign billion year contracts. Celebrities are courted to become Scientologists because it’s believed this will generate good publicity and help spread the message of the church, which will help save and elevate humanity. Those who choose to leave the church are often visited by other members to attempt to persuade them to return. The church denies charges by critics that threats are used, or that contact with family still in the church will be denied if they don't return.
The first time I
remember learning of Scientology was in the book What Really Happened to the
Class of ’65 by Michael Medved and David Wallechinsky. This book -- which followed
the lives of some students from the graduating class of Palisades High School, referenced
in a Time magazine article -- included a chapter on Jamie Kelso, “The Idealist.” Kelso,
not long before the authors began working on the book, had signed his standard “billion
year” contract with the Church of Scientology, so they contacted CoS to
interview him (figuring, as they put it, he had a few years left on the contract),
only to discover that he was no longer there, the Church representatives weren't supposed to talk about him, but were
still looking for him and would appreciate it if the authors would tell them
where he was if they found him. When they located Kelso, he explained that he had become one of the top Scientologists in the world, only to become disillusioned when
he learned what they believe, i.e. the whole Xenu galactic warlord story (if
you’re not familiar with it, look for the South Park episode “Trapped in the
Closet”). At that time, he had joined the John Birch Society, which he claimed was misunderstood. (Currently he's a white supremacist who used to work for David Duke).
Next, I heard
about dianetics, the precursor to Scientology (as The Fountainhead is the precursor to Atlas Shrugged or The Hobbit is to Lord of the Rings), in “My Affair with Science Fiction,” an autobiographical article by Alfred Bester
(you can read it online here). John W. Campbell, the famed and respected editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine (later renamed Analog) asked Bester to remove some Freudian terminology from a story because L. Ron Hubbard’s dianetics had made Freud and psychotherapy obsolete. Campbell had Bester read Hubbard's first dianetics article on the spot, then tried to get him to use dianetics techniques to recall harmful events from his past that were damaging him. Bester
tried to prevent himself from laughing at this man he liked and respected, and
instead said “You’re absolutely right, Mr. Campbell, but the emotional wounds are too much to bear. I can’t go on with this.”
I don't remember when I next encountered Hubbard’s Bridge. Maybe it was the publication of his novel Battlefield Earth, which was followed by the 10-volume Mission Earth (all mention of which is absent from the main text of Going Clear, along with allegations that there was manipulation of the sales figures to get them on the New York Times bestseller list). Maybe it was news stories about Scientology’s attacks on its critics.
I'm not sure if Scientology was mentioned in Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, or in the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's magazine Skeptical Inquirer, or Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions by James Randi. I do know that I never found it an attractive philosophy or organization, and nothing in Going Clear made it sound more attractive.
Expanded from a New Yorker article about Academy Award-winning director Paul Haggis, who left Scientology over its apparent homophobia and support for a ban on gay marriage (Haggis’ two daughters are gay), Going Clear gives a brief biography of Hubbard and his development first of dianetics and then Scientology, based on first-person accounts, private documents and the public record. Much is based on former Scientologists’ testimony, which the church denounces as untrustworthy because they hold a grudge.
It’s true that all current and some former Scientologists quoted in the book deny most of Wright’s charges of physical and mental abuse. If true, it seems people stay and take the abuse, either because of fear, brainwashing or because they still believe Scientology is the only true path to salvation.
If even half of what the book says about Scientology is accurate, Hubbard seems to have been crazy in his later years. I’d always assumed he was just a hack sf writer and con man (he was alleged to have said something like “If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion”). I guess that's progress, too.