January 2013, Week 3


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Sat, 19 Jan 2013 01:34:31 -0500
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'Going Clear': Scientology Exposed

     Lawrence Wright's enthralling, meticulously fact-
     checked account of the insular church and its
     celebrity members.

By Laura Miller
January 17, 2013

Several years ago, for a series of Salon articles about
Scientology, I was asked to review the founding text of
the church,  "Dianetics" by L.Ron Hubbard, first
published in 1950. The book seemed so clearly the work
of a man suffering from particular and pronounced
mental health issues that I became, for the first time,
curious about its author. Like most self-help books,
"Dianetics" frequently invokes case histories or
hypothetical scenarios, but unlike most self-help
books, Hubbard's stories featured an alarming amount of
violence, specifically domestic violence.

Over and over, when imagining a childhood source for an
individual's problems, Hubbard spins tales of
unfaithful wives and husbands who beat and verbally
abuse them, sometimes kicking their pregnant bellies.
Perhaps we can attribute some of this to a
preoccupation with prenatal trauma; "Dianetics" insists
that fetuses can understand damaging statements made to
the women carrying them. Nevertheless, to me, the most
striking thing about the book - besides Hubbard's
belief that it is "not uncommon" for women to make
"twenty or thirty" attempts at a self-induced abortion
with orange sticks and other implements - is its
author's assumption that such beatings are a
commonplace aspect of most people's home lives.

I wanted to find out if Hubbard had grown up amid such
abuse, or had experience of it in his adult life, so I
went online to poke around. What I found, on assorted
anti-Scientology websites and discussion forums, seemed
so outlandish and extreme that I decided not to refer
to those charges at all in my review. I couldn't be
sure they were substantiated.

Scientology has involved preposterous claims from the
very start - from before the very start, actually,
since "Dianetics" (published two years before the
foundation of the church) promises that a "clear" (an
individual who has succeeded in using the Dianetic
"technology" to free him- or herself of all impairing
"engrams") will attain assorted superpowers. These
include healing his or her own disabilities and
illnesses, as well as perfect recall, the capacity to
perform "mental computations" at lightning speeds and
various forms of mind reading and control.
Scientology's critics, on the other hand, accused
Hubbard of - yes - domestic violence (including an
incident in which he demanded that his second wife kill
herself to prove she really loved him), to bigamy,
lying about his service in World War II, engaging in
black magic rituals and throwing followers who
displeased him off the high deck of his ship. The
church has countered such attacks by flinging
accusations at its critics, from public drunkenness to
adultery and homosexuality.

The whole mess seemed like a seething farrago of
bizarre fantasies, vendettas and nightmares,
indistinguishable from whatever grains of truth
lingered here and there. A phenomenally diligent and
rigorous investigator could probably sort it all out,
but the Church of Scientology is notorious for using
nuisance litigation to hound skeptical journalists to
the brink of destitution and despair. Who'd be up for

Lawrence Wright was, and my long preamble is all by way
of explaining why his new book,  "Going Clear:
Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief," is so
invaluable. There have been other expos‚s of the church
- including last year's fine  "Inside Scientology: The
Story of America's Most Secretive Religion" by Janet
Reitman, a book Wright praises in his own - but this
one carries the imprimatur of both Wright, a Pulitzer
Prize-winner, and the New Yorker magazine, where Wright
first wrote about the church in a story on its
cultivation of celebrity members, as exemplified by
movie director Paul Haggis.

The church adopted its scorched-earth policy toward
critical journalists back when Paulette Cooper
published "The Scandal of Scientology" in 1971; she was
subsequently slapped with 19 lawsuits, as well as
subjected to a harassment campaign with the stated
intention of seeing her "incarcerated in a mental
institution or jail." What the organization did not
foresee was that the effectiveness of such tactics
could never be more than short-term. So ominous is the
reputation of the Church of Scientology in this respect
that when a major news organization of legendary rigor
committed itself to an expos‚, there could be no doubt
that it was fact-checked to a fare-thee-well. The
result, extended to book form by one of that
organization's most esteemed journalists, is completely
and conclusively damning.

Not that Wright is the least bit intemperate in his
account of the improbable rise of Hubbard from an
unimpressive career as a naval officer and pulp
science-fiction writer to a millionaire guru presiding
over a high-seas empire of slavish devotees to
reclusive leader holed up in a well-appointed mobile
home. He doesn't have to be. Hubbard's outrageous
shenanigans and flagrant misdeeds speak for themselves,
so Wright need only convey the facts with a minimum of
hoopla. He strives to be fair, noting all the ways that
Scientology resembles other religions that began as
suspect or fringe movements, but he catches church
spokesmen in so many lies and unearths so much evidence
of malfeasance that his caveats do tend to get swamped.

It turns out that even the craziest stuff I read on the
Internet back in 2005 is essentially true, and that the
history of the church under its current megalomaniacal
leader, David Miscavige, is, if anything, even more
disgraceful. (Hubbard died in 1986.) Wright has
assembled an overwhelming number of confirmed reports
of Miscavige punching, kicking and otherwise attacking
church leaders, often without warning or explanation.
He details a well-developed system of isolation and
indoctrination imposed on the members of Sea Org.
(Scientology's equivalent of a clergy), creating a
population that provides the church with virtually free
labor and submits to extravagantly harsh and
humiliating punishments, such as cleaning bathroom
floors with their tongues and scrubbing out dumpsters
with toothbrushes. Meanwhile, Miscavige lives in
luxury, bathed in Kim Jong Il-levels of totalitarian
hagiography, at the church's secluded base in rural
Southern California.

Wright's particular interest is in how the church
courts and coddles its celebrity members. These
Scientologists are carefully shielded from the harsher
conditions and uglier aspects of the organization. Tom
Cruise, John Travolta, Anne Archer and Jenna Elfman
number among the church's most prominent trophies, as
did Haggis - before he became disgusted with the
leadership's refusal to denounce an anti-gay ballot
proposition in California and decided to dig beneath
the flattering, gleaming face it presents to its
celebrity members. Wooing emerging actors and
entertainment-industry players was one of Hubbard's
most inspired initiatives, and the church continues to
deploy such people strategically, introducing balky
local politicians to movie stars and fostering the
impression that a Scientology affiliation will help
Hollywood aspirants climb to the top of a ruthlessly
competitive profession.

I could go on and on, listing Hubbard's tall tales,
paranoid delusions and eccentricities, as well as
Miscavige's brutalities and tidbits from the famously
wacky and decidedly unscientific Scientologist
cosmology. All of it makes for a wild ride of a page-
turner, as enthralling as a paperback thriller. But I
keep coming back to my original impression of
"Dianetics," and the sobering realization that one
man's personal damage can, if transmitted with
sufficient charisma and intuitive skill, infect tens of
thousands of people, many of whom believe they've been
helped by it.

Hubbard, as Wright acknowledges more than once, was a
charmer, with a knack for manipulating people. He knew,
somehow, that there is no behavior more likely to
foster fascination and dependence than intermittent
reinforcement, enveloping approval and assurances of
future bliss shot through with unpredictable episodes
of domination, insults and terror. That is the dynamic
of the abusive family, a dynamic that prevails in Sea
Org. and the hidden enclaves of Scientology. From what
Wright reports, it looks like my curiosity about
Hubbard's earliest years will never be satisfied. But
now I can make an educated guess.

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the
author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures
in Narnia" and has a Web site, magiciansbook.com.


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