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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 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 assertation ( 1255714 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:03PM (#42718835)

    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.

    - all have done unethical acts ( read your history )

    - all have beliefs people not brought in the religion would call
        superstition ( and less respectful terms )

    - all what people not brought in the religion would call myths.

    - all, from my viewpoint, are man-made (apologies to the women in the audience for the term )

    The only thing I can think of that separates Scientology from any of the "legitimate religions" is that Scientology is so new that there are people outside of the religion old enough to remember seeing it be created by a person.

    My guess is that "being created in murky distance" past as well as being brought up in a certain way gives other religions an aura of credibility that Scientology lacks.

    However, when you look at they claim, how they act and what they do, it all seems the same, from an atheists point of view.

    No disrespect meant to anyone.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:29PM (#42719131)

    Puh-leez. Scientology has been consistently losing members and shrinking in size and power for at least 15 years, if not longer. Check out and for more details.

    David Miscavige's successful takeover of the cult has been a disaster for them, and the Internet has been a much worse one because the cult's secrets are now so readily available.

  • Scientology's Growth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:32PM (#42719181) Homepage Journal

    "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 stopped growing a long time ago. All of their claims about them being "fastest growing religion" are lies, pure and simple.

    They reached their peak in the 70's and early 80's. After Hubbard died and Miscavige took over, their membership's been declining steadly ever since. Ask anyone who's been around the orgs in the 70's and 80's. Look up the service completion stats in the Auditor magazine from that time period and compare to recent numbers.

    Miscavige is no Hubbard, he doesn't have a cult leader's charisma or reality distortion field. However, he turned out to be very talented as a brutal dictator and a bully. He can put used car salesmen to shame when it comes to high-pressure sales tactics.

    So while Miscavige has been unable to inspire people or attract new followers, he has used his talents to beat the staff into submission and extract/extort more and more money from the existing public. But lately with the Super Power scam he's taken it to a new level, and things are so bad that even diehard loyalists are speaking out.

    Debbie Cook (longtime Captain of Flag) complains about the relentless money-grubbing and tells the Scientology public to disobey Miscavige's non-Hubbard-policies. []

    Jan. 2013 - High level public members Luis and Rocio Garcia sue Scientology for fraud []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @04:37PM (#42719247)
    Take a look at the behavior of the Catholic Church. Priests raping children, threats against anyone who even suggests reporting them - it still leaks out of course, but then so do all of the attempts at coverups. Their current Pope was in charge of managing those cover-ups for years! Doesn't matter if the old monster didn't rape any children himself, he was a party to ensuring that the vermin who did rape children not only weren't punished, but that they were re-located to new, unsuspecting territories, so that they could commit their vile crimes again!
    There's a man currently on the run from his home country, because the Catholic Church there wants him thrown in prison or executed for pointing out that their "miraculous crying statue" was actually caused by leaky pipes.
    A doctor and an 8-year-old girl were excommunicated and branded as evil heretics because the 8-year-old girl had an abortion to get rid of the pregnancy (which would have killed her) caused when her father raped her. Since the father opposed the abortion, the Catholic Church declared that he was totally an OK guy.
    Does this sound like they've been forced to stop their abominable acts? How can anyone with even a shred of conscience or morals support such a vile, disgusting organization?

    That being said, it doesn't mean Scientology is not "bad", either by comparison, or by being "like the others" - they're still scum who need to be marginalized, shunned, and quite often imprisoned in the situations where actual crimes are being committed. If all religious nut-jobs were treated alike, you'd see a lot of priests, high ranking scientologists (whatever their title is), and other religious figures rotting behind bars, usually for crimes that even most of the other prisoners find repugnant.
  • by RazorSharp ( 1418697 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:00PM (#42719575)

    - all have done unethical acts ( read your history )

    But Scientology is an unethical institution. That can be said about pre-Lutheran Christianity, Islam during its jihadist spread, and Hinduism with the caste system applied. But I find it hard to point to, say, the Lutheran Church as being an unethical institution at any point in time. Or Buddhists. I'm sure someone would be quick to point out terrible things done by Buddhists or Lutherans, but that's not the same as the institution being unethical in its organization and practice. So no, not all religions have done unethical acts. People of all religions have most likely done unethical acts, but one would be hard pressed to find any person, religious or not, who has a clean record in that regard.

    - all have beliefs people not brought in the religion would call superstition

    Read Immanuel Kant. Even if you disagree with him, the basis of his philosophy (which is the basis of his Christianity), is logic. He was a logic professor. One would be hard pressed to label what many Buddhists believe to be superstition as well. I suggest you read some interviews with the Dali Lama, or better yet, one of his books. If you think that religion necessarily involves an invisible man in the sky, you don't know much about religion.

    - all what people not brought in the religion would call myths.

    Again, this is simply not true. While myths are common with most religions, 1) the inclusion or exclusion of myths has no bearing on whether a theology is defined as a religion 2) even when myths are present, that has no bearing on whether the theology is objectively true or not. Most non-fundamentalist Christians, for example, don't believe any myths. Do you believe the Trojan War occurred? [] Many myths are based on fact. The definition of 'myth' is pretty ambiguous. Oftentimes the only thing distinguishing a myth from a fable is that at one point the myth was taken to be literal truth. Most religious people don't believe the myths they preserve, such as Jesus turning water into wine. It's not like Greeks think that Zeus is a part of their history.

    - all, from my viewpoint, are man-made (apologies to the women in the audience for the term)

    First, in English 'man' isn't necessarily masculine if the sex is unknown or it's used to encompass both men and women. There's no need to apologize for using proper English.

    Regarding your actual point, this one is a doozy. It's a sort of chicken/egg type question, but anyone who believes in objective morality would argue against your point. Robert Pirsig, who to the best of my knowledge isn't religious, argued that man didn't make God, God made man. What he meant was that our morality, our sense of good, is the characteristic that uniquely defines what it is to be human. This is something that man discovers through the application of logic (Aquinas, Kant, etc.), it's not something that man makes up on a whim. It wouldn't be objectively true if that were the case. Man cannot discover something that doesn't exist, hence objective morality, which is the goal of every religion to uncover (note: this is a key reason why Scientology is a cult, not a religion).

    from an atheists point of view.

    And what point of view would that be? Most atheists seem to be disinterested in religion in general and don't take the time to learn about it. You seem to be one of those. You sound like the uniformed guy who doesn't vote who says, "All politicians are the same, the political parties are all the same, etc." To me, all reality TV shows are the same, but since I don't really watch them, since I'm thoroughly uniformed about their specifics, I wouldn't take the bold step forward of claiming such a statement to be objectively true.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:02PM (#42719607) Homepage

    Does anybody still care about Scientology? They've been shrinking since Hubbard died. They've sort of centralized at Clearwater, FL, but other than that, not much seems to be going on.

    The amusing thing about Scientology is that it doesn't use science. It's locked into Hubbard's writings and 1930s technology. The "E-meter" is a skin resistance measuring device, the least useful of the three classical polygraph channels. By now, Scientology should have had online and mobile systems as part of their "auditing" process. A modern "E-meter" should have heart rate, respiration, and face gesture recognition sensors, with functional MRI in R&D. But no, they're still using skin resistance.

    This may be just as well. With modern sensors, and detailed historical data for each member, much more monitoring and control over the emotional states of members would be possible. Fortunately, Scientology is too inept to bring that off.

  • by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:50PM (#42720183)

    ...against their fellow man.

    Interesting choice of words. One of the (few) criticisms that has been be leveled against Jainism is that it has discriminated against women []. It generally involves the usual excuses: women are impure during their menstral cycle, women must be clothed or they will give men evil (sexual) thoughts, etc.

    So, less evil than slaughtering thousands of non-believers (although another criticism of Jainism is that it practices extreme starvation, occasionally resulting in death), but still shy of that "untainted" mark by my estimates.

  • Re:Bias (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrHanky ( 141717 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @06:18PM (#42720477) Homepage Journal

    I can't speak for the GP, but it's not very well written, for one. The first four paragraphs are about the dangers of speaking out against the CoS, and end up in a -1, off topic point about British libel laws. What is this, self-aggrandisement for daring to write about the CoS? The review lacks focus, and plods randomly from point to point, often without making one:

    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.

    The first sentence doesn't parse (and who the hell cares about number of parts and chapters anyway?), the second (after the comma) is in dire need of justification, and the third is simply irrelevant. That's just one paragraph, of course, but the first half of the essay is structured almost as poorly. The rest, I consider tl;dr material.

    One thing this review does give me is more appreciation for the skill and effort needed for writing book reviews. It's difficult to do well, and perhaps not everyone can do it.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.