Scientology Exposed

The Exhaustively Researched Tell-All the World's Been Waiting For

Scientology Exposed
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The world has been waiting such a long time—decades!—for something like this book, and now that it's finally arrived, I'm pleased to report that it's just as good as we could've hoped. Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief is a great journalistic achievement—a comprehensive history of L. Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology, from its inception in the late 1940s to today, constructed with what appears to be airtight reportage.

That "airtight reportage" bit is important because, as the book details, the Church of Scientology has sued people who have dared to write about it. But the book incorporates pieces of Wright's New Yorker profile of screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, an outspoken former Scientologist, and that story remains unchallenged by the church's attorneys to this day. (The meeting between the church's legal and PR representatives, Wright, and a ragtag collection of the New Yorker's editors and fact-checkers is the book's climactic scene; that there have been no repercussions for Wright thus far make the scene, thankfully, a kind of anticlimax.)

For nearly four hundred pages, Wright grabs hold of the church's most sacred beliefs and cheerfully dismantles them, beginning with the story of its founder, sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard. From what I can tell, Scientology considers Hubbard to be the greatest man who ever lived, a cross between Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, with some Indiana Jones and Captain America slathered on top, but Wright paints a much darker portrait. The Hubbard we're introduced to—who comes across as an egomaniacal compulsive liar, a man who beat one wife and abandoned a child he had with another woman—is pretty much the height of heresy for the church. Wright notes in the acknowledgments that it's been decades since any author has attempted a Hubbard biography, because former attempts have been discredited or suppressed by the church's lawyers.

With the heart of the Scientology story turned inside out, Wright then lays the whole church bare. He loosely outlines the outlandish beliefs of the church, which slowly become revealed to inductees as they contribute more money and climb the ladder of self- improvement, as dictated by half-assed therapy sessions performed on the church's pseudoscientific "E-Meters." (If I had one wish for the book, it's that Wright would spend more time explaining the full science-fiction story of the church, with its "tyrannical overlord named Xenu" and its central myth, which begins "seventy-five million years ago in the Galactic Confederacy, which was composed of seventy-six planets and twenty-six stars.")

But the Church of Scientology is obviously more interested in terrestrial stars. Wright explains the great lengths to which the church has gone to keep their most visible member, Tom Cruise, happy. Those close ties between the church and Cruise can't help but alter your perception of the movie star. I can't think of Cruise now without also picturing the terrible crimes for which Wright blames the church—blackmail, human rights violations like kidnapping people who tried to escape the church, and forcing people into inhumane work conditions that sound more like slavery than anything else. These are serious allegations, and certain precautions must be taken. Thus, the narrative is spiked throughout with short footnotes inserted for the sake of legal protection: "Cruise's attorney says that no Scientology executives set him up with girlfriends," "The church characterizes this as an attempt at extortion," and "The church denies that Miscavige has ever abused members of the church."

Which brings us to the church's second (and present) leader, David Miscavige. Miscavige is the kind of blessing that is granted only once in a journalist's life—a stereotypical villain, a perfectly unbelievable figure in the flesh. (Hell, even his last name sounds like something terrible that happens to you by accident.) The Miscavige portrayed in Going Clear is an out-and-out monster. He physically abuses his subordinates, he makes sure that anyone who opposes him—including his wife—gets sent away to de facto prison camps, and the church's forced-work laborers, who earn pennies a day, are expected to buy extravagant birthday gifts for him. You won't find a more hate-worthy villain in a book this year. recommended

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Comments (14) RSS

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Jenna Miscavige Hill's "Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape" dropped February 5th. She's David's niece.
Posted by Che Guava on February 6, 2013 at 6:20 PM · Report this
Re: LRH being a cross between Indiana Jones/Captain America - have you seen the creepy commercial that starts out "He was the youngest Eagle Scout ever..." and proceeds to detail Indiana Jones/Captain America-like exploits and ends up with, "He is... L. Ron Hubbard!"

What the hell?
Posted by MLM on February 7, 2013 at 8:00 AM · Report this
Big portions of Kate Bornstein's recent memoirs (_A Queer and Pleasant Danger_) concern her time spent in Sea Org on those ships. It's one personal view, but it adds to the story, and the book is overall excellent.
Posted by Cow on February 7, 2013 at 8:07 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 4
The story of Lil' Lafayette Hubbard is a reminder to confront compulsive lying in children early on, before they become pathological liars.
Posted by Sir Vic on February 7, 2013 at 8:34 AM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 5
Jon Atack did this over twenty years ago in his book 'A Piece of Blue Sky'. It is now available free via the Interwebs. But it's good to see it come up again to inoculate a new generation against Scientology.

And yes MTM, that creepy commercial repeats all the utterly-disproven self-aggrandizing bullshit that Hubbard made up about himself, all things that Atack refuted in his book.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on February 7, 2013 at 8:47 AM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 6
Oh, and funny story via Atack's book about Hubbard and his claimed exploits and achievements. Way back in the day, an older Hubbard was bloviating at some Hollywood cocktail party about his exploits and the person he was bloviating at stopped him thus: "Mr. Hubbard, if you were to have accomplised even some of these things you claim, you would have to be nearly a hundred years old!"
Posted by Dr_Awesome on February 7, 2013 at 8:49 AM · Report this
Womyn2me 7
I bought it last night while I watched the Daily show.
Posted by Womyn2me http://http:\\ on February 7, 2013 at 9:09 AM · Report this
stjerome 8
I got the audiobook verson from so I can listen to it while I'm working. It turned into the most fascinating audio documentary I've heard.
Posted by stjerome on February 7, 2013 at 9:33 AM · Report this
Another great book is Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman, which is only about a year or so old. Haven't read Wright's book yet, but that book has a great journalistic take on the church as well. And Kate Bornstein's A Queer and Pleasant Danger is wonderfully sad and inspiring at the same time.
Posted by bookworm on February 7, 2013 at 9:40 AM · Report this
SPG 10
If I had the money I would hand out copies of this book to all the people sitting down for "stress tests" downtown every weekend.
Posted by SPG on February 7, 2013 at 10:34 AM · Report this
Enigma 11
@9 I was just about to post about that book. 'Inside Scientology' was a great read and while I was watching 'The Master' I couldn't help hear Reitman's voice commenting about action.
I did feel there was a stronger voice in the book from the years of Hubbard's life, so I'm happy to hear this new book focuses on the current leader just as much as on Hubbard.
Miscaivage really does sound like a creepy, scary guy.
Posted by Enigma on February 7, 2013 at 10:45 AM · Report this
I finished Wright's book last night and thought it was brilliant. I'd also like to add that much of the biographical stuff about L. Ron Hubbard is particularly hilarious. The real Hubbard was a fuck-up, a whiner, a back-stabber and a bully but managed to used his master bullshitting skills to convince some people that he was the savior of humanity. It's as if a religion formed around the Most Interesting Man in the World from those Dos Equis commercials.
Posted by The_Passenger on February 7, 2013 at 11:20 AM · Report this
Michael of the Green 13
I'm sure everyone has seen this article that got Time Magazine in so much trouble with the church. Great read.
Posted by Michael of the Green on February 7, 2013 at 11:34 AM · Report this
My father wrote science fiction stories for pulp magazines in the 1950s, as did L. Ron Hubbard. My parents met him once at a science fiction convention. He told them he was going to start a religion so he could avoid paying taxes. I guess it worked for him.
Posted by EdgeOfTheWoods on February 7, 2013 at 11:54 AM · Report this

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