Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #24: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

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Going Clear is a comprehensive and objective look at Scientology, its beliefs and its leaders over the years.  The scope of information in this book is actually pretty mind-boggling. Wright first looks L. Ron Hubbard’s early life to his creation of Dianetics, which would evolve into Scientology. This takes up a large chunk of the book and it’s fascinating and a bit unbelievable – the man literally created his own religion.  Though never stated, Hubbard’s history paints the picture of a man who is not well and most likely has some sort of psychological issues that are untreated. This shows the most in his hatred of psychiatry and his constant assertions that psychiatrists are the root of evil in this world. Reading about his life and later adventures, especially at sea, reads like an adventure novel of a crazy old coot meandering the world and getting into shenanigans and hijinx.

Scientology has fascinated me for years; the stories of all the horrors that ex-members suffered, the stifling Hotel California-esque method of entry (you can check in any time you like, but you can never leave) and the dogged pursuit of those that try to leave or escape. I wondered how this could be allowed to call itself a religion when it is clearly a cult (an opinion that was only solidified by this book). Well apparently, it’s hard to distinguish the line between religion and cult when the members don’t actually feel they’re being abused. People are systematically manipulated and broken down so that they become dependent on the church (both psychologically and monetarily), making it hard for anyone to leave even if they want to. Wright covers all of this and more, and it is just truly fascinating and horrifying.

Wright takes an objective stance to all of this (and given what happens to people who speak negatively against the church, it’s not hard to see why) and it’s really impressive because I hit several points in the book where I was I thought “these people are crazy! N-U-T-S!”  His research and documentation is meticulous though, and it shows in the writing. There is also some unintentional humor peppered throughout – Wright will describe some awful event or practice that occurred within the church and then there is a footnote (and then another and another) reading: *The church categorically denies all claims that this happened. The cult church says it doesn’t abuse people?! Crazy talk. Anyway, it gets pretty amusing at the sheer number of denials the church issues.

A lot of attention is devoted to David Miscavige (total sociopath. Dude is scary.) and Tom Cruise and the Hollywood factor of Scientology. Scientology goes out of its way to recruit and cater to celebrities, which is really an ingenious way to keep your church front and center and always in the news.

There is so much more in this book, some scary stuff too. The most disturbing to me is Operation Snow White in which Scientologists basically infiltrated several foreign and domestic government agencies and gathered intel for blackmail and extortion. Seriously. This happened.

I want to just keep writing because this stuff is fascinating, but instead I will encourage you to read the book because it’s an engrossing read, and one that feels almost too crazy to be true.

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