Thanks to Tom Cruise, basically everyone in America is aware of the Church of Scientology. Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief demystifies the Church of Scientology and exposes the true nature of the organization. As a nerd, I am disappointed to report that the organization seemingly has almost nothing to do with real science. Still, what kind of nerd doesn’t enjoy a little science fiction?
I know that many people ridicule the Church of Scientology for propagating beliefs that seem completely absurd, such as the idea that Xenu, the leader of the “Galactic Confederacy,” is the ruler of the universe. However, it really is not fair to critique any religion based on these sorts of views. Imagine that you are explaining your own religion (whatever it might be) to someone who has never heard of it before. All faiths are filled with claims that seem strange to people who are not culturally familiar with them. Thankfully, Lawrence Wright’s criticism of the Church of Scientology has more to do with the eccentricities of its founder and the human rights abuses that had reportedly occurred within the organization.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’s biography takes up a great deal of Wright’s book because it is truly impossible to separate the Church of Scientology from its founder. L. Ron Hubbard’s career as a science fiction writer eventually led him to create the Church of Scientology and begin the process of converting others to his cause. “Going clear,” from the title of the book, is a reference to the process that Hubbard invented for Scientologists to achieve spiritual development. Wright does a wonderful job of interweaving the personal struggles of Hubbard’s life into the narrative of the evolution of his organization. Hubbard becomes increasingly erratic and intolerant as he ages which corresponds with the manner in which he ran the Church of Scientology in his later years.
Additionally, Wright interviews many former members of Hubbard’s organization and builds a startling picture of “the prison of belief” that the Church of Scientology reportedly became for many of its adherents. Members of “The Sea Organization,” which is for the most “dedicated” members of the Church of Scientology, receive especially harsh punishments for disobeying orders. Forced manual labor and separation from family are just a couple of the possible outcomes for more independent minded members of the organization. Wright also interviews former members of the Church of Scientology about harassment that occurred after they managed to escape from the organization. Threatening phone calls, baseless claims aimed at destroying reputations, and frivolous lawsuits are all techniques used by the Church of Scientology to hound their escaped members.
In all fairness, I feel the need to point out that Lawrence Wright reports that the Church of Scientology officially denies all of the claims of abuse that have been made by former members.
My only real criticism of the book is that at times it seems to go into even more detail that I felt was necessary. The detailed nature of the book is not necessarily a negative point, but it does require a time investment to read through. Regardless, it is extremely enlightening and provides a revealing look at one of the world’s more mysterious organizations.