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Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief 353

benrothke writes "In its first week, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief was #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 Scientology by 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." Keep reading to be clear about what Ben has to say.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
author Lawrence Wright
pages 448
publisher Knopf
rating 10/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-0307700667
summary Compelling and engrossing book, thoroughly researched and extensively fact checked
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 site for 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.

You can purchase Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @03:50PM (#42718697)

    Litigation is actually one of the lesser threats that a Scientology critic has to face. In the past, open character assassination, attempts to jail critics (sometimes successfully), attempts to get critics audited by the IRS, attempts to get them fired from their jobs, sending private detectives to comb through their trash and harass them--these are all typical tools in the CoS toolbox. When Germany labelled them a cult, they even sent Tom Cruise to meet with Richard Armitage and Dick Cheney in 2003 in an attempt to get the U.S. government to try to strong-arm Germany (a fact that only came out by accident during the Scooter Libby/Vallorie Plame scandal, with details of those meetings still remaining largely classified).

    They've taken on entire *countries*. Hell, they even made Slashdot their bitch [slashdot.org] once.

    So litigation is the least of your worries when you mess with those guys. Kudos to Lawrence Wright for his set of brass balls.

  • by assertation ( 1255714 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:09PM (#42718905)

    I mean no disrespect to you or anyone else, but that is simply not true. If you read the news you can find plenty examples of long established, "legitimate religions" still doing shitty things to people.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:12PM (#42718931)

    Scientology keeps its beliefs secret. You have to cough up cash to learn the beliefs. With all the major religions, the beliefs are all published and freely available (and, in many cases, promulgated way beyond the boundaries of politeness).

    Scientology drives members to donate every penny they have to the religion, and to attempt to get money out of friends and family to give to the religion. The other great religions usally cap their recommended member donations at around 10% or so.

    Scientology teaches that all non-members are enemies and are "fair game." Other religions have also done this, but the majority of them teach at least a grudging acceptance of neighbors who refuse to convert.

    So, there are some differences, though none of these discount your post. They are more alike than different. The need to rely on other humans to tell you God's will makes them all equally dangerous (with the possible exception of Buddhism since it doesn't believe in a God or Gods).

  • Re:Bias (Score:1, Informative)

    by briancox2 ( 2417470 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:14PM (#42718957) Homepage Journal

    While Scientologists range from slightly crazy to dangerously crazy and are obviously biased against the book, this "review" is just as bad in the opposite direction and not particularly coherent either. Don't try to combat garbage with more garbage.

    You do not have a good sample of Scientologists to make any determination of their level of sanity. You mostly see the overly visible Hollywood types who are, as Hollywood types seem to go, flambouyantly ridiculous. I'm a Scientologist. NOT in the cult known as the "Church of Scientology". Practicing outside the corruption that is going on. I'm not crazy. Feel free to read all my comments to make your own decision if you want.

    If you want "bias", look at your comment. It basically says that to get the whole picture of what has been going on, you only need to hear the opinions of those that disagree with Scientology. To truly combat bias we should listen to ALL points of view. They're all valid.

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:26PM (#42719095) Homepage

    I'm not a Scientologist. I've encountered a few (to the best of my knowledge, fairly low ranking), and they on average seemed no better or worse than most anyone else. And as far as their belief system goes, I'm not sure it's any crazier than any other religious belief system.

    A friend of a friend, though, came up with an excellent evaluation rubric to determine how dangerous it was to belong to any organization, regardless of their beliefs. This has been used by law enforcement as well as cult survivor organizations. The tool is the ABCDEF [unc.edu], short for Advanced Bonewits (the inventor's name) Cult Danger Evaluation Framework.

    The idea here is that you don't rate the groups beliefs at all. Instead, you rate their behavior. Groups that score low on the ABCDEF are those that are open about what they believe and stand for, have rights and reasonable expectations of members, and make it easy to leave. Which means that if they or their leadership start getting really crazy, normal people can see that and leave.

    So a reasonable position might be that Scientology is a belief system like any other, but the Church of Scientology is dangerous.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:29PM (#42719145)

    On this scale?

    Is there any other religion right now which still keeps slaves? Or kidnaps people?

  • by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:40PM (#42719285)

    I'm an atheist without any love for Scientology. I don't see Scientology as any different from the "legitimate religions" that people have grown up in.

    I'm an atheist, but my mother-in-law is a practicing Catholic. Are parts of the Catholic church offensive? Absolutely, but I would argue they're leaps-and-bounds less bad than a gang like Scientology. No one follows Catholics around with cameras. No one oppresses Catholics who, for whatever reason, have left the church. If you object to church policy publicly eventually they might excommunicate you, but heck, if I object publicly to my employer they fire me.

    Catholics certainly don't demand that members cut off contact with their families.

    The Catholic church, at least here in Vancouver, does all kinds of charitable works with the poor and suffering - In the 80s it was the local Catholic hospital that was treating gay men who were dying of aids, back when other hospitals were putting up barriers. When asked why, the Catholic organizations replied that they were practicing Jesus's teachings. I don't see any evidence of the local Scientology "church" doing any good works, other than free "personality tests" which is nothing but indoctrination.

  • by Sigg3.net ( 886486 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:44PM (#42719357) Homepage

    Yes, there are notable differences:

    1. Scientology adheres to rigorously pouring out your soul, which it keeps records of.

      2. Scientology employs methods to erase your self-esteem that is taken from Soviet counterintelligence.

    3. Scientology isolates members from nonmembers. This is ascribed to cults, not religions.

    4. The E-meter ritual basically employs a lie detector to read emotional stress when talking about vulnerable episodes in the subject's life, which the subject then must render unemotional.

    5. Scientology's worldview is essentially a naive 1950s, and it cannot evolve from it; because only Hubbard can write the truth. This is apparent in their anti-psychology stance and views of science.

    6. There is no inter-faith collaboration as with all of the world religions.

    7. Scientology employs a special language and terminology which categorizes and classifies aspects of the world, especially all potential "enemies" (SPs). This is cult methodology.

    8. A person reaching 'clear' may need years of deprogramming to function in modern society and just learn to trust people again.

    9. There is no individualism and no constructive criticism, just obedient navy suits. A Scientologist learns to think in truisms, so analytical thought is out of the question.

    10. Scientology's structure is militarist / fascist and incompatible with democracy.

    Feel free to add to the list.

  • Re:Bias (Score:4, Informative)

    by Unnngh! ( 731758 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:53PM (#42719471)
    Truly, for the parent to claim to be a Scientologist and assert this claim in the same posting is ludicrous. One of the principle tenets of Scientology is that not all opinions, or even information, are equal and valid, which flies in the face of post-modernist doctrine but is really just common sense. Honestly, a lot of Hubbard's writing consists of very spot-on observations of human interactions, and a lot of common-sense and decent prescriptions, at battle with the tendencies of a machiavellian sociopath.
  • by TimeandMaterials ( 2826493 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:15PM (#42719739)
    Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulette_Cooper [wikipedia.org] Paulette Marcia Cooper (born July 26, 1942) is an American author who is best known for activism against the Church of Scientology and the harassment she suffered as a result. Cooper's books have sold close to a half a million copies.
  • by tgd ( 2822 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @07:07PM (#42720943)

    If you read the news you can find plenty examples of long established, "legitimate religions" still doing shitty things to people.

    For the most part, those shitty things aren't officially sanctioned parts of the religion. Some of the things (I'm thinking of the handling of catholic pedo priests) are widespread enough that you could make a reasonable argument that they are instuitional, but they are not doctrine To the best of my knowledge, Scientology has not had any sort of reformation yet.

    You need to read some history, kid. Or... hell... play Assassin's Creed if a book is too much of a stretch for you. Because rape, murder, genocide, persecution and things like formed not only a core institutional policy of the Catholic church for five centuries -- the parts of the Bible they skipped in Sunday School *still* call out those behaviors... as the literal word of "God".

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.