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Book Review - Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

by Lawrence Wright

Alfred A. Knopf, 2014

Following earlier attempts to get at the heart and soul of Scientology, such as Paula Cooper’s “The Scandal of Scientology (1971) and Bent Corydon’s L. Ron Hubbard, Messiah or Madman? (1987), is Going Clear, Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (2013) Only the most recent attempt to reveal the “thriving cult of greed and power.” According to an ex-church leader, Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright’s incisive investigation is compelling reading.

Part one sets out the theological landscape following the spiritually troubled times in 1940s post war America, as organized religion faced a growing competition from splinter groups—Satanists, Pagans and...Psychiatry.

Psychiatry especially was seen by mainstream church leaders as suspicious—too European, a Jewish import—time consuming and expensive.

Enter L. Ron Hubbard, ex-Navy supply officer back from the Pacific, turned science fiction writer darkly brilliant with more than his share of megalomania, Hubbard, (not to be confused with Elbert Hubbard founder of the American Arts and Crafts Movement and the Roycroft Aesthetic who with his wife the noted suffragette Alice Moore Hubbard went down with the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915) as a writer of fantasy fiction and esoteric cosmological treatises found a ready acceptance of his imaginative skills among such contemporaries as Robert Heinlein and Issac Asimov.

His growing confidence as a writer and buoyant riveting charisma convinced Hubbard he was destined to seek a “visionary understanding of human behavior, a totalistic universe in which every turn was mapped and described” not only that but could prosper well beyond penning paperback sci-fi.

In 1951 Hubbard published his self-help book Dianetics a therapeutic chapter by chapter literature of revelations which in 1954 became the foundation of the official Church of Scientology. (drawn to “Dianetics” were young white Protestants with a pronounced interest in science fiction).

In over 200 interviews with current and former Scientologists the author patiently probes the inner workings of Scientology’s quest for tax status as a legitimate religion, its secret campaign to infiltrate the US government, its vindictive treatment of critics and abiding phenomenal wealth.

Wright follows the course of Hubbard’s invention of the religion with himself as church leader. Realizing the boundaries between reality and illusion were “soft,” Hubbard soon invents the “E-Meter (from Energy-grams) to “audit” his followers’ emotional and spiritual attitude at optimal intervals and proscribe corrective mental adjustments through ecclesiastic pronouncements as “prophet, revelator and friend to mankind.”

The auditing practice was thus intended to eventually clear the planet of its cycles of self-destruction through “eight levels of spiritual insight” culminating for an individual in what was known as “going clear.”

Dianetics was intended to “wake people up” and “hunt down the original insult to well being.” Adherents to the founder’s precepts were to recite the details of a personally traumatic incident until it was released of its emotional charge.

The author reveals the intricate bureaucracy of the church in a roller coaster ride of former Scientologists’ recollections detailing members’ inferiority complexes, paranoid delusions and bizarre confabulations of events as the devout of Hubbard’s inner sanctum vie for position within the Order of the “Sea Org” (for organization) aboard the small fleet of ocean going yachts Hubbard commissions to take Scientology abroad. At the time of Hubbard’s failing health the Scientology fleet was barred from harbors in the eastern and western hemispheres with the IRS seeking back taxes stemming from a case filed in Hawaii challenging the legitimacy of the Church’s tax exempt status.

Following the founder’s death in 1986 and highlighting attempts of the upper ranks to advance the church’s goals through intimidation and recrimination was the extremely secretive and hostile “Snow White Program”—intended to covertly place Scientologists in government agencies, embassies, consulates, newspapers in any of the worldwide entities that found critical fault with the aims and conduct of the church.

Named for Snow White and her Seven Dwarves, the program coded governments by name: “Grumpy”, Germany; “Bashful”, Belgium; “Dopey”, Italy, etc.

With Hubbard’s death, the failure of his followers to challenge his delusions of grandeur and his pronouncements (by sheer mental power) to project his intentions—made them, the church executive, complicit in the creation of the mythical figure he became—conspiring to protect Hubbard’s legacy as seer and prophet.

Part Two of the book involves the task of preserving the church in the face of ongoing scandal and continued legal assaults. David Miscavige, Hubbard’s autocratic successor, employs psychological techniques developed from Chinese Communist, Korean era “mind control” experiments, those being patterned after the methods of USSR Chief of Intelligence, Lavrenti Beria, the notorious mastermind behind the Stalinist pogroms of the 1930s.

The furious pursuit of Hollywood celebrities was also an essential part of the upper echelon of the church’s attempt to promote Scientology and advance the church’s goals.Soon, actors John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley, the starlit household names of the 1990s were firmly part of Scientology’s pervasive outreach. Plied with expensive gifts they were lauded for their creative success and celebrity in service to the church.

The author introduces the reader to several young members many of whom grew up in the church having signed the “billion year contract” investing their years working with little pay in hardship posts. Wright investigates the policy of shunning those who voice perceived criticism of the church—wherein members so charged per force become “disconnected” from friends and family.

First-hand recollections reveal the violence long instilled in the strict discipline of the church hierarchy’s inner sanctum where a kind of mob psychology—“Contagion Aberration”—meaning “a group of people can stimulate each other to do things that are insane,” pervades the behavior of the faithful…trained to believe that whatever unfortunate thing happens to them is somehow their fault allowing a submissive response to the purge or confinement awaiting their transgression.

In Going Clear, Lawrence Wright’s sharp observations and keen understanding of human behavior shape what could have been merely a sensational tell-all into an accessibly balanced but no less rigorous narrative examining what makes a religion a legitimate body in the eyes of the law—raising the question of whether Scientology deserves the protection of the Constitution it achieved—(in that it prevailed over the IRS), ultimately winning its case for tax exempt status.

Finally the church’s anathema, psychiatry, continues to be held in contempt not only for undermining the tenets of Scientology faith but for “many of the ills affecting humanity...all in the pursuit of social control and profit...manipulating human behavior and instituting world government.”

The irony of the last part of that statement appears to be lost on the leaders of the church today.

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