Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
By Lawrence Wright
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison Of Belief – The HBO Special
By Alex Gibney
Which? Without a doubt, choose the book if you want a thorough understanding of Scientology, from origins to current practices. After, by all means watch the film, very loosely based on the book, to see what many of the people Lawrence Wright introduces you to look and sound like.
Wright answers several questions in his fine, balanced, well researched and presented examination of Scientology, in particular, about its Hollywood connection, leaving the single biggest one for readers to decide for themselves.
Who was L. Ron Hubbard? What experiences led him to found his own religion (a categorization many would strongly dispute but won by doing something few can: bringing the IRS to its knees)? Why did people join and proselytize Hubbard’s belief system? What do celebrities, among them Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Anne Archer, and others, find compelling about Scientology? What ideas comprise the beliefs of Scientologists? Why is Scientology secretive and what are those secrets? With Hubbard long dead, who currently leads Scientology? How has Scientology succeeded in surviving and amassing considerable wealth since the death of its founder? And, finally, the question Wright leaves readers to answer for themselves: is Scientology a religion, a religion in the making, or is it a cult, a very visible, wealthy, and pugnacious one at that?
You’ll find much that’s sensational in Going Clear, and much bearing the hallmarks common to religious cults, among them Jim Jones’s People Temple, Moses David’s (David Berg) Children of God (now The Family International), and Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis (which Hubbard affiliated with after WWII), to cite a few.
You’ll see these similarities on full display in Wright’s book. These include a charismatic leader, proprietary knowledge without which salvation cannot be had, absolute devotion to the exclusion of family and past friends that promotes a binding insularity and captivity, to note just a handful. For comparison, and especially if cults interest you, you might want to try Tim Reiterman’s biography of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple march to tragedy, Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People. While different in approach and membership, you’ll recognize how Scientology tacks to the cult course. Of course, as Wright develops in his epilogue, a movement may actually be a nascent religion in the making that appears alien and threatening to the reigning orthodoxy, as did Christianity and Mormonism, to cite an older and newer example. A further apt point made by Wright concerns how a religion’s set of beliefs can appear absurd when an observer views them without the faith of the believers, something that can call into question the precepts of most any religion.
As for the sensational, these do not result from Wright’s even writing. They spring from Hubbard and Scientology itself. Examples include Hubbard’s manufactured naval history, the harsh punishment of members in the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), the original organization of Commodore’s Messengers Organization employing pubescent girls, the low pay and miserable living conditions of members compared to the lavish furnishings of top leaders, the special treatment afforded celebrities, the aggressive stances against perceived church enemies that often included physical intimidation and endless and expensive legal suits (which serve to restrict unauthorized published information and which the church used to win their designation as a tax-exempt religious organization in the U.S.), and many more.
Recommended as an insightful exploration of a movement, its influence, and its claim to religious legitimacy. w/c