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Title & Author: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Genre: Nonfiction, Religion & Spirituality
Going Clear is a well-researched book that looks into L. Ron Hubbard’s life, the foundations of Scientology, and its connection to well-known celebrities. It’s very balanced – for every assertion from someone who has left the church there’s at least one opposing viewpoint from a higher-up within Scientology. I feel like Wright did an excellent job of showing both sides.
I found Going Clear completely fascinating. I’ve long been curious about Scientology – not because I want to join at all [I promise, Mom] but because it’s so shrouded in mystery. Maybe that’s why they keep it mysterious, who knows? According to Wright, Hubbard once told one of his associates,”To keep a person on the Scientology path feed him a mystery sandwich.”
Or maybe they keep it mysterious because a lot of it sounds…far-fetched? Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things about other religions sound far-fetched too (the virgin birth, etc.). The thing that’s different is that Scientology doesn’t have thousands of years of cultural indoctrination – it was created in the 1950s. A spiritual leader creating a religion and dying within the span of the last 60 years would make any religion seem less plausible. If Jesus were around now doing the same types of things he did thousands of years ago, most people would think he was crazy. Newness does not benefit religions. Neither does a past as a science fiction writer but that’s another story.
I had long considered Scientology a cult and this book softened that stance somewhat for me. Based on the definition of what constitutes a religion, it seems to qualify. That said, I’m no religious scholar and I still have no interest in joining or being audited. I’ve never been a fan of the rules imposed by religious groups, many of which seem arbitrary, and Scientology is no exception. At one point Hubbard ruled that no woman in Sea Org [a division within Scientology that contains its most dedicated members, all of whom sign a billion-year contract of service to the Church] was allowed to get pregnant without his permission. Wright describes how “…according to several Sea Org members, any woman disobeying his command would be ‘off-loaded’ to another Scientology organization or flown to New York for an abortion.” In addition to Going Clear, the website Ex-Scientology Kids goes into detail about the problematic nature of Sea Org from their view as former Scientologists. (The Church denies these claims in Going Clear and other websites).
The allegations of abuse from the Church, which are refuted repeatedly by leaders within the organization, are very concerning. There are stories of members allegedly not selling enough classes or books, committing a perceived slight against the Church, or other misdeeds and then being “sentenced” to what basically amounts to 16+ hours of hard labor per day. The Church refutes these allegations and says that members are allowed to leave whenever they’d like. A large portion of the time, members will stay and serve their punishment. According to Wright, “Scientologists are trained to believe that whatever happens to them is somehow their fault, so much of the discussion in the Hole centered on what they had done to deserve this fate. The possibility that the leader of the church might be irrational or even insane was so taboo that no one could even think it, much less voice it aloud.” Members who do leave legitimately – instead of just bolting at the first opportunity – are often [allegedly] given a bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of auditing courses. And if you’ve grown up in Scientology (or any religion where you are cut off somewhat from the outside world) and then decide to flee, you may find that you are quite lacking in both life and job skills, as well as money, friends and family. Everything – whether originally intended this way or not – is designed to make staying the easiest option, no matter how hard that may seem.
Going Clear also details the Snow White Program. According to Wright, Scientologists were placed as spies within the IRS, the Justice Department, the Treasure Department, the Labor Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The purpose was for those spies to find (and steal) files those agencies had put together about the Church. The program was run through the “Guardian’s Office”, an organization within the church that was operated by Mary Sue Hubbard [L. Ron Hubbard’s third wife]. The FBI raided Scientology Centers in LA, Hollywood and New York in 1977; the raid in LA lasted over 21 hours on its own! By 1978 the spy network was (supposedly) dismantled and 12 high-ranking officials within Scientology, including Mary Sue Hubbard included, were indicted on numerous charges. The raid also revealed information about Operation Freakout, a plot to frame Paulette Cooper, a journalist who was openly critical of the Church and its policies.
Verdict: I really enjoyed learning more about L. Ron Hubbard and the history of Dianetics and Scientology. While Wright certainly did his research and cross-checked facts, I still wonder how much of the book is really true. I say that not because of anything Wright did and only because memories can get fuzzy with time. How much of the book is really a true account versus someone’s memory of their experience – what they think is a true account – is up for debate. A lot of records on Scientology or L. Ron Hubbard weren’t provided by the Church and there are discrepancies in Hubbard’s military files so it limited Wright’s ability to use recorded facts. I tend to believe the former members of Scientology but there’s always the possibility that they just want to show the organization in a bad light.
Recommended for: Anyone with an interest in learning about alternative religions in general or Scientology in particular should find this fascinating, unless you’re a Scientologist.
Price: $11.47 (Kindle), $13.50 (paperback) or $19.50 (hardcover) on Amazon
*Note: I am not, nor have I ever been, a Scientologist. (I would probably be what they term a “Suppressive Person”.) The Church of Scientology denies allegations made in Going Clear. I’m just reviewing the book.