Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
I live pretty close to Clearwater, passed by the Scientology base there many times, I have seen their tables with e-meters in the local malls, and years and years ago, when I was working around Times Square in NYC, I peeked into their center there as well. For many years, I assumed it was a harmless cult for people in search of some spiritual need, the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, something new and exciting in their lives. After all, isn't that what all religions give us? However, as I was learning more about this particular cult, I realized that its dangers exceed any other religions we are familiar with, due to its secrecy, extend of its influence on people, and pure lunacy of its beliefs.
Now, after reading Wright's excellent book, I have even more contempt for this crazy cult and its followers, especially those who seem to have "brains" to think for themselves, and just refuse to do so, because they are too invested (either psychologically, or financially) in something that is so blatantly crazy.
The book has basically three logical parts:
- L. Ron Hubbard's early years - his war "heroism", his science-fiction writing career and the beginnings of his methods of mind control.
- Hubbard's "public" years - the crazy voyages across the seas, the beginnings of the religion of Scientology, dealings with foreign governments, the first battles with the IRS, and finally his "disappearance" (real and metaphysical).
- Scientology under David Miscavige - the victory over the IRS, and the expansion of the church, especially into Hollywood.
"Going Clear" is not only an excellent primer on Scientology itself, but it is also a great study on how a new religion can be created in a very short time, given a charismatic leader, a few lies here and there, and a group of people with enough problems in their own lives, that they would follow anyone and anything like sheep. Scientology, along with the Mormon church, is the second "major" religion created in the last 200 years, with enough historical records to study this strange human behavior and better understand human needs for community and belonging, and how those traits can be used and abused by others.
I guess, the only complaint I have about Lawrence Wright's book, is its very ending, in which the author actually seems to be giving Scientology a free pass, by comparing it to older, more mature religions and implying that since most of us need some kind of religious affiliation in our lives, Scientology could, and should become just one of many religions, that guide us through our short and miserable existence.