Join us for the February Ruth Group meeting as we discuss Going Clear by Lawrence Wright.
Scientology presents itself as a scientific approach to spiritual enlightenment, but its practices have long been shrouded in mystery. Lawrence Wright—armed with his investigative talents, years of archival research, and more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists—uncovers the inner workings of the church. We meet founder L. Ron Hubbard, the highly imaginative but mentally troubled science-fiction writer, and his tough, driven successor, David Miscavige. We go inside their specialized cosmology and language. We learn about the church’s legal attacks on the IRS, its vindictive treatment of critics, and its phenomenal wealth. We see the church court celebrities such as Tom Cruise while consigning its clergy to hard labor under billion-year contracts. Through it all, Wright asks what fundamentally comprises a religion, and if Scientology in fact merits this Constitutionally-protected label. Brilliantly researched, compellingly written, Going Clear pulls back the curtain on one of the most secretive organizations at work today.
In efficient, unemotional prose, Wright begins with the biography of founder L. Ron Hubbard: his days as a prodigiously prolific writer of pulp fiction, his odd military career, the publication of his breakthrough self-help book Dianetics (1950), and the influence, riches, and controversy that have followed since he founded the Church of Scientology in 1954. For those aware of Scientology through its celebrity adherents (Tom Cruise and John Travolta are the best known) rather than its works, the sheer scope of the church’s influence and activities will prove jaw-dropping. Wright paints a picture of organizational chaos and a leader, David Miscavige, who rules by violence and intimidation; of file-gathering paranoia and vengefulness toward apostates and critics; of victories over perceived enemies, including the U.S. government, won through persuasion, ruthless litigation, and dirty tricks. Even more shocking may be the portrayal of the Sea Org, a cadre of true believers whose members sign contracts for a billion years of service, and toil in conditions of indentured servitude, punished mercilessly for inadvertent psychic offenses. Their treatment is a far cry from the coddling afforded to the much-courted celebrities. (Wright does point out that, for whatever reason, most Sea Org members remain in service voluntarily.) Page after page of damaging testimony, often from formerly high-ranking officers, is footnoted with blanket denials from the church and other parties (e.g., “The church categorically denies all charges of Miscavige’s abuse” and “Cruise, through his attorney, denies that he ever retreated from his commitment to Scientology”). Readers will have to decide whether to believe the Pulitzer-winning author’s carefully sourced reporting, or the church’s rebuttals. But, quoting Paul Haggis, the Academy Award–winning film director and former Scientologist whom Wright first profiled in the New Yorker: “if only a fraction of these accusations are true, we are talking about serious, indefensible human and civil rights violations.” Going Clear offers a fascinating look behind the curtain of an organization whose ambition and influence are often at odds with its secretive ways.