In its first week, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Beliefwas #3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list and will likely be #1 soon. The fact that the book is in print is somewhat miraculous given the voracious appetite Scientology has for litigation. It is the first time that such an expose could have been written and found such wide-scale reading.
An interesting analysis of this fact is found in Why the Media Is No Longer Afraid of Scientologyby Kim Masters. But as mesmerizing an expose as the book is, I doubt that this will be more than a speed bump to Scientology's growth and fund raising.
Scientology has long called anyone who has written against them as having a vendetta. It calls former adherents heretics with a vendetta. But after such hyperbole, it is illogical and questionable that Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright would risk a distinguished career to write an expose simply based on those with a vendetta. But to cover all bases, including those of litigation, the books nearly 50 pages of notes puts Wright and his publisher in a strongly defensible position in case the church decided to litigate.
Wright is aware of the dangers of writing against the church, as he details the story of Paulette Cooper. Cooper, whose 1971 book The Scandal of Scientology, was sued nearly 20 times by the church and harassed for years due to its contents. The book details that an FBI raid a few years later found a Scientology file about Operation Freakout, which had the purpose of getting Cooper in a mental institution or jail.
The book places Church President David Miscavige is a negative light (over 20 people in the book accuse him of abuse, including being kicked, punched, slapped, choked and more). Karin Pouw, a Scientology spokeswoman states that details about Miscavige are false and defamatory.
The church created a web sitefor what it believes are errors in the book. While Wright is short on drama, the web site hyperbolically states that the book is "so ludicrous it belongs in a supermarket tabloid". The web site states that British publishers have chosen not to print it "which speaks volumes about their confidence in its factual accuracy". The truth is that British libel laws are so onerous and archaic, that publishers are reticent to publish such a work. While it might not be published in the UK, it is easily available via the Amazon UK web site.
In Going Clear, Wright has created a fair and balanced overview (if such a thing is actually possible) about Scientology. The book has interview material and facts from over 200 current and former members of the Church of Scientology, and takes a historical look of its history, and that of its founder L. Ron Hubbard and successor, current President David Miscavige.
In the introduction, Wright notes that he was drawn to write the book by the questions that many people have about Scientology; such as: what is it that make the religion so alluring? What do its adherents get out of it? Why do popular personalities associate themselves with a faith that is likely to create a kind of public relations martyrdom? He notes that these questions are not unique to Scientology, but that they certainly underscore its story.
As 372 pages covering 3 parts and 11 chapters, Wright is a mesmerizing author that creates a non-fiction spellbinding page-turner. The 4 main characters of the book are Hubbard, Miscavige and actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
In chapter 2, the book details the many discrepancies between the legend of L. Ron Hubbard and fact. While Scientologist's may think that Wright has a vengeance against the group, he writes that it is a fact that Hubbard was genuinely a fascinating man. He writes that Hubbard was an explorer, best-selling author and the founder of a worldwide religious movement. At the same time, Wright's research found that the truth is counter to some of the postulated facts about Hubbard's naval career, his miraculous recovery from wartime injuries and overall naval accomplishments.
As to the manipulation of facts, in the final pages of the book, Wrights notes some of Hubbard's medical records do not corroborate his version of the actual events. Some of the naval medals that Hubbard supposedly won were not created until after Hubbard left active service. The supposed Purple Heart medal for being wounded while serving on duty that Hubbard claimed to receive was also different from the Purple Heart medals given out at the time.
In Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Hubbard specifically names psychotherapy as being dangerous and impractical. Hubbard felt that other methods of mental science are based on principles that are opposed to the principles of Scientology, and Hubbard had an anathema of psychiatry and psychology until his dying day.
Wright observes that Dianetics arrived at a moment when the aftershocks of World War 2 were still being felt. And that behind the exhilarations of victory, there was immense trauma for millions of Americans. With Dianetics, Hubbard offered a do-it-yourself manual to that claimed to demystify the secrets of the human mind and produce guaranteed results, for free, and that was bound to attract a large audience.
Wright notes that given Hubbard's biography, it would be easy to dismiss Hubbard as a fraud. But that would fail to explain his total absorption in his project. Hubbard would spend the rest of his life elaborating his theory and obsessively construct the intricate bureaucracy design to spread and enshrine his understanding of human behavior.
Wright notes that for all of Hubbard's enormous wealth, he spent much of his time in his ship cabin alone, auditing himself with an E-Meter (the electronic device used Scientology auditing sessions) and developing his spiritual technology. Wright rhetorically notes that while Hubbard may have been grandiose and delusional, if Hubbard was a fraud and a con, why would he bother creating such a system?
As objective as Wright is, he takes no quarter when he details Scientology's approach to children. Hubbard viewed children as adults in small bodies. While they were physically small, Hubbard felt that they were responsible for their own behavior. Young children would be sentenced to virtual prisons for weeks, for minor infractions such as messing up an incoming telex.
In Scientology parlance, such an individual was a suppressive person. One young girl, who was deaf and mute was placed in a locker for a week because Hubbard thought it might cure her deafness.
A large part of the book deals with celebrities and how Scientology sees celebrities as a boon to the church. Wrights notes that Scientology orients itself toward celebrities and by doing so, the church awards famousness a spiritual value. People who seek fame in the entertainment industry will gravitate to Hollywood, where the Scientology Celebrity Center is waiting for them, validating their ambitions and promising a recruits a way in. The church has long pursued a marketing strategy that relies on celebrity endorsements to promote the religion.
Some celebrities prominent in the book are Paul Haggis, Travolta, Nancy Cartwright (famous for being the voice of Bart Simpson) and Tom Cruise. Haggis is an ex-Scientologist, recently leaving the church after nearly 40 years, who is interviewed in the book.
Wright is highly critical of Cruise, who he notes that probably no member of the church derives as much material benefit as Cruise does. Cruise then consequently bears a moral responsibility for the myriad indignities (which the book points out in great detail) inflicted on members of the Sea Organization (a unit of the Church, encompassing its most dedicated members), sometimes directly because of his membership.
Wright concludes with the notion that Scientology wants to be understood as a scientific approach to spiritual enlightenment, but has no grounding in science at all. Serious academic study of the church has to date been constrained by the church's vindictive and litigious reputation. Researchers and academics are terrified by Scientology and reluctant to direct their research into the church. The book observes that compared with other religions, the published literature on Scientology is improvised and clouded by bogus assertions.
In Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Wright has composed a bombshell of an expose. This is a compelling and engrossing book, thoroughly researched and extensively fact checked. The book is a perfect read for a long flight as it is riveting and fascinating. Wright has a unique ability to keep the narrative flowing and interesting.
But with all that, it is not a Silent Spring, which 50 years ago helped launch the environmental movement. Had the book come out 20 years ago, it is likely that lawsuits from the church would have prevented its release until today. Yet the passive public has a short memory and Scientology has believers that sign billion year contracts with the church. As salacious as every page of this book is, one is hard-pressed to envision the church of scientology contracting or being hurt in any way by this book.
Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know."