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review 2014-06-17 17:00
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright

Quick and Dirty Analysis (I know I can get long-winded)

Good book, well-researched, that will tell you all you want to know (and possibly more) about the inner workings of Scientology. 


"Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing." - Ken Kesey

I think a good litmus test for people, movements, groups etc., is their ability to laugh at themselves. Yes, some things in life are very serious, but almost anything, when taken to an extreme, becomes humorously absurd. Consequently, one of the reasons I love South Park, is its "nothing's sacred" approach to satire. Some of my favorite episodes lampoon aspects of myself (e.g. the thrill of Obama's victory, see About Last Night; driving a hybrid, Smug Alert...you get the idea).


So, while I'm sure there was some religious outcry about the likes of The Passion of the Jew, Red Hot Catholic Love, and All About Mormons, the level of outrage around the "Scientology episode," Trapped in the Closet, (including the decision by longtime cast member and Scientologist, Isaac Hayes, to leave the show) was, to me, a symptom of a dire case of an organization/group taking itself too f*cking seriously. (It's also what makes the ad taken out by Comedy Central congratulating South Park on its Emmy-nod for the episode so brilliant!)


South Park Scientology Emmy ad


What's the deal with Scientology?

Well, frankly, to answer that question property, you'd need to write a book (which, conveniently enough, Lawrence Wright did). It was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, shown below during his brief stint in the Navy, as a sort of self-help (well, guided self-help) treatment.


L Ron Hubbard


Without getting into it too much, the "treatment" (called auditing) involves going through past experiences while holding on to the tin can-like handles of an apparatus called an E-Meter


L Ron Hubbard with his Children in the 1950s


So far, I'm fine with that. Therapy can come in many forms, and if people find that this helps them, then go for it. However, you start off with the auditing and then you're on a journey on The Bridge which, in addition to being kind of endless, is a pricey endeavor.


Scientology Chart


So, it's a lifetime commitment to solving your problems?

Well, yes and emphatically no. The Church of Scientology (and, should you read this, you'll get the ins and outs of their battle with the IRS) has a subgroup called the Sea Org which you can join at the ripe old age of eight (for the child's experience check out Beyond Belief) by signing a billion year contract. However (in addition to the abusive conditions that would have OSHA in a fit), should you want to bounce early, you'll have to pay them back for all that free auditing, which typically amounts to somewhere north of $500,000. 


So is it, or is it not a cult?

Well, there are certainly some signs that would suggest so. For one, you've got your centralized leadership whose word is The Word. After L. Ron Hubbard's death decision to vacate his earthly body for a little while, the power (already tilted in this direction) was left in the hands of David Miscavige (referred to as C-O-B, chairman of the board), who (though not a prophet like L. Ron) was/is free to make unilateral decisions with harsh consequences. 


David Miscavige


There's basically a checklist of techniques that social psychologists have drawn up that, historically, groups (many of which have been called cults) have employed to elicit obedience and sacrifice from their members.* While a single technique is not itself all that powerful, the combination can be a perfect storm of destructive, blind obedience (e.g. Jonestown). Examples?


  • Isolation of recruits from non-cult influencers, Scientology has this one down pat, anyone declared a suppressive person is to be avoided at all costs, and just by being in touch with an SP (so much lingo), someone can be labeled a potential trouble source (PTS).
  • Sleep deprivation, yep.
  • Love bombing, certainly, and also, threat of love withholding which can be equally, if not more powerful.
  • Repetition, I'd say so, especially in the event of someone trying to leave.
  • Denial of privacy, assuming having someone listening in on your calls, or straight up watching you all the time (oh, and all those deep dark secrets you share during auditing), I'd say we can check this one off.
  • Fear mongering, yes on so many levels (seriously, just read a book). 


Tinsel-Town True Believers

Hollywood, the place where dreams are made (and also crushed, and probably resold on the streets as a hip new drug). You can google Scientology celebrities and, yes, the list is of decent length. In Eric Hoffer's 1951 book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, he reports a somewhat curious finding that it is often those with unlimited opportunities who become swept up in mass movements. However, Scientology has a history of courting celebrities as a way of bringing people in...hey, if I join I'll be BFFs with Tom Cruise! Right? The answer there is an emphatic no. But, by god (or Xenu or L. Ron or whatever) will they make him feel special while he's around. 


Tom Cruise and David Miscavige salute



* I learned about these in social psychology, but I'm pretty sure they're straight out of the textbook we used, which I believe was Social Psychology Alive

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review 2014-06-09 20:45
Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright

i've never been particularly interested in scientology. when it does come to mind, i think of tom cruise and that hilarious south park episode. i grew up a jehovah's witness, so i'm fairly familiar with how unorthodox religions are often ridiculed by people who don't understand the basic tenants of the religion to begin with. i'm not a practicing jehovah's witness (or a practicing anything, for that matter), but i reserve my scorn for people who try to force their religious beliefs on others, rather than for people who believe things that might seem strange or abnormal to me. so if you tell me you believe in Xenu and thetans and the power of e-meters, i'm likely to think, "well that's kinda strange, but more importantly, is L. Ron Hubbard's Battlestar Galactica really worth reading?"  


but i read in a few places that Going Clear practically read like a nonfiction horror story. and the moderators at the end of this year's Tournament of Books remarked upon how, if they'd had a similar contest for nonfiction, this would've made the list. apparently some strange things happen in this history and examination of scientology. so i decided to give it a read.


and a pretty good read it was. it was fascinating, to say the least. the first half of the book deals largely with Hubbard and his founding of the Church of Scientology; the second half with the more recent activities of the church, and it's dealings with celebrities like tom cruise, john travolta, and paul haggis. i must say that i enjoyed the first half the most. how and why a man with hubbard's background, education, and abilities founds a major church is awfully engrossing.


the first half also introduces a running theme, which is the corrupting influence of being enamored with your own ideas and the power it can bring over people who believe in those ideas wholeheartedly. i think the quote i'm looking for is "absolute power corrupts absolutely." (John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton). it's a tale as old as time, and scientology's founder and current leader David Miscavage have no monopoly on the despicable and just plain bonkers things people do when they have the power to carry out their most ridiculous and horrifying whims. it's sad when these whims destroy people's lives, but it's not new.


i can't vouch for the veracity of the facts in this book, but wright strikes me as a journalist with integrity who sincerely tries to uncover the truth of what really happens in the church. but even if you read it as complete fiction, it'll still be a damned eye-brow raising, engrossing read (i almost gave myself a headache a few times), because the consensus is that this is one crazy book. and they're right - it is.


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text 2014-05-10 05:48
Is this non-fiction or science fiction?
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright

At first blush, L. Ron Hubbard seems quite disturbed. He is described as an accomplished liar. Even his memories of his military career cannot be documented as he wrote it. Most of the information in his background, that he provided, is unsubstantiated and false. He seems like a philanderer, without values. He cheated on his wife, was a bigamist and an abuser. He was a prolific writer, however, and his books sold and still sell millions of copies.
His main interest seemed to be to accumulate wealth and power. His doctrine was based on the simple premise that you can decide what is good and bad for yourself. If you think something is good, than it simply is, regardless of what others think. His followers were largely wealthy entertainers, actors who played roles in life and perhaps lost touch with what was in the real world. Writers of science fiction, like Hubbard, followed him and supported him financially, as well. If nothing else, they all had creative imaginations.
Many of those who associated with him also created wild, untrue narratives about their lives and experiences. Perhaps in writing science fiction, they too lost touch with the real world.
Hubbard’s fame is mind-boggling to me. How could rational people pay any attention to him, how could they dismiss his lies? Yet, this is a charade that many fell prey to, and many still do. This is a man who was sued often but nothing ever stuck. There was never enough proof. Scientology, designated as a religion, is exempt from many things ordinary people and business are subject to, and therefore, Scientology can get away with a great deal in the interest of religious freedom.
The bulk of the book is a very detailed and precise exploration of the founding of Scientology and its practices and progression to the current day, but the author also delves into other unusual religions at the end of the book. He talks about the Branch Davidians, the followers of Jim Jones and their mass murder/suicide, the Amish, and the Mormons, among others. However, most of the book is about Scientology and it followers.
The religion would appear to be ruled with an iron hand by a harsh master. Severe punishment is meted out to those who commit infractions, though they may not even understand what they have done; they are virtually kept prisoners and find it difficult to leave or escape. After years of living with and following the guidelines of Scientology and mixing only with Scientologists, it is difficult for the follower to adjust to the outside world and interact with others. It is almost like they are brainwashed. The whole was more important than the individual and, as a result, the individual often was unable to act independently. In addition, secret files were kept on the followers to blackmail them should they desire to leave.
Although I did not love listening to the book because there was sometimes too much detail, I have to admire the amount of research that went into it. It was such a thorough examination of this “cult-like” religion. It was so deftly done that the reader will come away with an understanding of the complexity of the religion and its followers, in so far as the author understands it. I think it will be impossible for the reader to drawer any other conclusion, other than the one that Wright puts forth and seems to prove.
Hubbard seemed insane as does David Miscavige who stepped into Hubbard’s shoes. He is a cruel taskmaster, was odd as a child and is even odder as an adult. Many famous names are associated with Scientology. Tom Cruise, Sonny Bono, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman, Paul Haggis, Kirsty Allee, among many others who were at one time or another associated with Scientology, and many of them still are. They donate millions to keep it alive and well. It is beyond me that they can look beyond the punishments meted out, the demands made of the followers, the hierarchy and its inequity and still believe in, follow, and support its doctrines. They don’t seem to practice what they preach. Hypocrites, they live in rarefied air, and they either don’t care about others, or they simply want the rest of the followers to smell foul air. How can they not see the insanity in the leader, the inequity in the approach of the religion and the greed of the Church itself? It owns real estate, businesses and it would seem to own people as well. Followers are afraid to leave for they might find themselves exiled to a place where no one will ever find them. Even L. Ron Hubbard was in exile, apparently, for the last half-dozen years of his life, kept that way by Miscavige.
Dianetics, the most famous book written by Hubbard, was probably written by a Sociopath, by a very disturbed man, and yet, people read it and follow its path and still respect the man named L. Ron Hubbard. They believe the practice of Scientology helps them. It is Hubbard’s cure for all the ills of the world. Actually, he claimed he could cure almost everything, blindness, diabetes, cancer, etc.! How can sane, intelligent people believe the ravings of someone who was sometimes a madman? Wright made it seem like Scientology was a corrupt, deceptive religion, existing only to make the “Church” and the higher-ups wealthier and more powerful.
Has Hubbard pulled a fast one, has he pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, eventually creating a monster, the monster of unintended consequences? Was he really only writing science fiction which attracted a fan club? In his own madness, did he then believe his own imaginings? Reader, read on and draw your own conclusions!

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review 2014-02-20 23:50
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright,Mark Bramhall

Going Clear's subtitle defines the book's structure. The first section pretty well covers "Everything you ever wanted to know about Scientology (and quite a lot you'd never have thought to ask)," and that begins with the rather colorful biography of its founder, the exceedingly prolific writer L. Ron Hubbard. Everything in Scientology's belief system comes directly from Hubbard's texts, some of which seem to be strongly influenced by his earlier science-fiction writing. That said, Hubbard grasped the human need for explanations and answers, and he devised some that have made sense to a huge number of people for over six decades.

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review 2014-02-07 00:00
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief - Lawrence Wright Fascinating, head-shaking, and very readable, in a nutshell. Beyond that, the author seems as though he's bending over backwards to be even-handed in this book, even though I'm sure he's been on the receiving end of what the church of Scientology dishes out to anyone who says anything negative about them (stalking, harassment, slander, etc).

As has been mentioned, the book is an expansion of Wright's article on Paul Haggis (former Scientologist) in the New Yorker, so the evidence leans on Haggis's interviews a lot. But the background on Hubbard is truly fascinating. I had always pictured him as kind of laughing in his sleeve about all the crazy stuff he came up with as a cosmology for the Scientologists, as he milked more and more money out of the believers. But according to Wright's read of Hubbard, he (Hubbard) was also a true believer, at least in the later part of his life.

I found Wright's analysis of church vs. cult very interesting and even-handed too, as well as his discussion of whether the organization engages in human trafficking with its Sea Org members (the somewhat-sequestered clergy who do all the grunt work).

This is, of course, where Scientology's greatest criticism is: the abusive practices against its most dedicated members, and the resulting difficulty in "escaping" the church, which is what leads journalists to use the word "cult" in describing the organization.
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