It’s a sad state of affairs when I feel I have to second-guess everything I write. But, as Lawrence Wright‘s Going Clear (Knopf, 448 pps) makes clear, the people heading Scientology are nothing if not aggressive in the church’s defense. Its hounding of anyone who goes up against the, ahem, religion is well-documented, not just in Going Clear but elsewhere.
So what can I say about this book (or Scientology, for that matter) that won’t get my phone hacked or Tom Cruise jumping on my couch? Well, not a whole heck of a lot. (I know one person who uses asterisks whenever he writes about Sc*******y.) It makes me wonder if this – a fear of reprisal – is why Paul Thomas Anderson chickened out in The Master. (Anderson never actually names the church, although “the master” of the title is apparently based on Hubbard.)
First, why did I want to read Going Clear? I guess I find the subject of Scientology fascinating in a weird, twisted way. When I was but a wee lad of 19 or so, a friend of mine and I sauntered into Scientology headquarters in Winnipeg one evening. I recall taking the church’s patented personality test (oddly, not mentioned in Going Clear) the questions of which are so open-ended that no matter how you answer will reveal at least one flaw – a “ruin” in Scientology bafflegab, according to Wright’s book – that Scientology can fix.
It’s a numbers racket; we didn’t go back, but how many people take the test, and do?
Numbers racket or not, it still seems totally bizarre to me that something that is a well-documented product of the imagination of a sci-fi pulp writer (L. Ron Hubbard) could be taken seriously. Helloooo, people, he’s a science fiction writer! Science fiction. All he does is make shit up!
Scientology also has a weird patina of glamour about it. How many people know of it in the first place solely because of its celebrity adherents? And yes, there’s plenty of juicy Tom Cruise (and John Travolta) tidbits in Going Clear, including an incident where the church “apparently” pimped for the Mission: Impossible actor. Or should I say, set him up on a blind date?
Probably the main impetus for Going Clear was the defection and subsequent confession, if it can be called that, of Canadian-gone-Hollywood director/writer Paul Haggis (Crash, Casino Royale). Haggis joined at an early age and quickly moved up in the Hollywood hierarchy, thanks in part to the church. (One of the interesting facets of the Scientology phenomenon is Hubbard’s genius in targeting Hollywood from the beginning.) Haggis’s story frames Going Clear.
Another thing I find fascinating about Scientology is how it’s managed to survive this long, and if it can continue to do so. The church, it seems, has survived because it’s been able to keep many of its practices and beliefs, not to mention allegations of abuse, secret or at least hidden. Notwithstanding the fact that the church has pockets deep enough that it can buy airtime during the Superbowl, and that millions more will see the commercial than will read this book, it’s all there on the Internet.
Then again, Haggis could’ve found out just about any of this stuff at any time. If he’d bothered to look.
Vancouver content: a lot of early Scientology activity happened in Oregon, and Hubbard lived for a time in Washington state. The only direct Vancouver reference I found however was on page 91: “Dr. Stephen Wiseman, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, who has been a prominent critic of Scientology, speculated that a possible diagnosis of Hubbard’s personality would be ‘malignant narcissism,’ which he characterizes as ‘a highly insecure individual protecting himself with aggressive grandiosity, disavowal of any and every need from others, antisocial orientation, and a heady and toxic mix of rage/anger/aggression/violence and paranoia.'”