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.
Cannonball Read V: Book #21/52
Besides the random Xenu and/or Tom Cruise joke here and there, I didn’t really know that much about Scientology before reading this book. I knew science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard was somewhere involved, but that was it. This book is a really solid history of the religion as well as the man who invented it.
L. Ron Hubbard was a bizarre man who created an equally bizarre “religion” (it’s been under fire many times for not actually being a religion as they do not have a deity or any sort of worship or prayer like most religions). This book follows Scientology from Hubbard’s beginnings, through the impact it had on Hollywood stars (most famously being John Travolta and Tom Cruise), and through the current leadership under David Miscavige.
Read the rest in my blog.
Strangely, I wanted to read Going Clear, not because it’s about the crazytown that is Scientology, but because it was written by Lawrence Wright. I lovedThe Looming Tower and Wright’s ability to define and explain the birth and history of Al Qaeda had been clear and relatively free of prejudice. I was impressed with his ability to create a roadmap of the terrorist network from it’s fundamentalist beginnings to the massive 9/11 attack and was impressed with his informative and yet accessible writing style. I knew an examination of Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard made a perfect undertaking for Wright’s investigative journalism skills and I was not disappointed.
Going Clear is really a story in two parts. The first, examines the life and work of L. Ron Hubbard, the inventor of Dianetics and subsequently, The Church of Scientology. The Church is notoriously protective of it’s founder’s image, yet Wright seems to have dexterously separated the facts from the fiction—mostly propagated by Hubbard himself. I found this section to be the most fascinating. It’s a deep-dive into the psyche of a seemingly self-loathing sociopath who managed to turn himself from a charismatic prevaricator into a messiah; a man who used his own self-defeating tactics to create a never-ending series of humiliating tests that would keep his followers on an unobtainable quest to become “clear.” Since Hubbard himself began his career as a science fiction writer, it will surprise no one that ultimately his new religion would include aliens and a quadrillion-year back story that generally serves to confuse even the most committed acolytes. I had heard jokes aboutXenu and Thetans, but upon reading the full explanation, I was laughing out loud.
Mrs Smith Reads Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
I guess I should begin with what you already think you know about Scientology…
It’s true. When a church member is deemed worthy of attaining the level of “Operating Thetan III” he, or she, is led into a room and presented with a document informing them that billions of years ago the evil Galactic Emperor Xenu brought millions of innocent souls (thetans) to Earth on spaceships resembling DC-8s, stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. That story is, however, neither the most interesting nor the most controversial part of Scientology, nor of Lawrence Wright’s exploration of it in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Continue reading →