Every once in a while I take a break from bitching about movie trailers on Twitter and delve into more academic pursuits. I have always had an interest in ‘alternative’ religions specifically their organizational structure, mythology and sacrosanct texts.
In the early 2000′s I took a heavy interest in Mormonism after reading John Kruaker’s Under The Banner of Heaven which chronicles the origins of Mormonism and the rise of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) which espouses plural marriages (The most infamous of the FLDS sect was former leader Warren Jeffs who is currently serving life in federal prison on charges of child sexual abuse). I went so far as to actually obtain a copy of The Book of Mormon. It read like The Lord of The Rings, just with Native Americans hanging around with Jesus in the Southwest.
Recently I’ve taken an interest in the origins of Scientology and the writings and work of L. Ron Hubbard. There have been a lot of former members of Scientology popping up in the news in which they told their stories about life inside the Church of Scientology. The most notable is Hollywood screenwriter/director Paul Haggis, who defected after learning of the Church’s stance on Prop 8, the acts of violence at the highest levels of the hierarchy, and the forced labor of its underage members. While this has all been refuted by the Church itself, the corroborating accounts continue to pour out as more defectors come to light.
In Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison of Belief
Lawrence Wright uses Paul Haggis’ story to frame out how a person first encounters the Church of Scientology and its teachings. Like most religions it is often a person who is spiritually floundering, in need of finding the truth in their life and the world around them. Wright was tireless in his efforts researching the origins of L. Ron Hubbard and his seemingly knack for hucksterism in Post World War II America. It wasn’t until Dianetics: The Modern Science Of Mental Health was published in 1950 did Hubbard begin to build out the framework of what would become Scientology.
I found Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison of Belief to be incredibly engaging and extremely accessible. A lot should be said for the countless interviews, court documents, and Hubbard’s personal writings that are put together in way that the reader does not get bogged down in the farcical psuedo-science that makes up the foundation of Dianetics and Scientology. There comes a point in the narrative where you can visualize an ailing and hyper paranoid L Ron Hubbard hiding out from the federal goverment in the back of a camper in the hills of California in that he is essentially Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau.
This really is a fascinating account of one of the most private organizations on the planet. By the end of this book I certainly do get why people, especially the Hollywood elite find themselves heavily involved in the Church of Scientology. Will you find me getting audited with an E-Meter by some fresh faced acolyte down in Center City Philadelphia? Hell no. But I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a passing interest in Scientology and the controversy that surrounds it.