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Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief Paperback – November 5, 2013
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*Starred Review* Immersed in this book, the reader is drawn along by tantalizing revelations while simultaneously exhausted, longing for escape from its cloistered world—mirroring the accounts of many former Scientologists on the record, here. 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. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The publisher’s announced first printing of 150,000 seems right on the money. Wright will be promoting the book on a seven-city tour, but its reputation precedes him. --Keir Graff --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“An utterly necessary story. . . . A feat of reporting.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Brings a clear-eyed, investigative fearlessness to Scientology . . . a rollicking, if deeply creepy, narrative ride, evidence that truth can be stranger even than science fiction." —The Washington Post
“A hotly compelling read. It’s a minutiae-packed book full of wild stories.” —The New York Times
“Courageous. . . . Devastating . . . will come as news even to hardened Scientology buffs who follow the Church’s every twist and turn.” —The Daily Beast
“Essential reading. . . . Lawrence Wright bend[s] over backward to be fair to Scientology. . . . This makes the book’s indictment that much more powerful.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Not to be read home alone on a stormy night: Going Clear, Lawrence Wright's scary book about Scientology and its influence. . . . It’s a true horror story, the most comprehensive among a number of books published on the subject in the past few years, many of them personal accounts by people who have managed to escape or were evicted from the clutches of a group they came to feel was destroying them. . . . Wright’s book is a tribute to fact-checkers as well as to his personal courage.” —The New York Review of Books
“Insightful, gripping, and ultimately tragic.” —The Boston Globe
“A fearless, compelling, exhaustive work of muckraking journalism and a masterpiece of storytelling. . . . A ripping yarn about ego, money, abuse, faith, and the corrupting nature of power when wielded by the wrong people. It’s as lurid, pulpy, and preposterous-seeming as anything Hubbard or Haggis ever wrote, but it’s much better, because it has the benefit of being true.” —The A.V. Club
“Invaluable. . . . Completely and conclusively damning.” —Salon
“Who’d have thought a history of religion would offer so many guilty pleasures? Lawrence Wright’s enthralling account of Scientology’s rise brims with celebrity scandal. To anyone who gets a sugar rush from Hollywood gossip, the chapters on Tom Cruise and John Travolta will feel like eating a case of Ding Dongs.” —Los Angeles Times
“Admirably judicious and thoroughly researched. . . . Being Clear is an inducement to darkness and disarray. You may laugh at it at first, but get ready to weep.” —The Guardian (London)
“Not only a titillating exposé on the reported ‘you’re kidding me’ aspects of the religion, but a powerful examination of belief itself.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A fascinating read, and a chilling one. . . . The power in Wright’s book lies as much in his meticulous investigative reporting as in his evenhanded approach.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Absorbing and important. . . . Scrupulous parsing is vintage Wright; his footnotes are as vital as those of any nonfiction writer alive.” —The Plain Dealer
“Mr. Wright’s reportorial techniques seem impeccable. . . . Lawrence Wright shines a light on a world that prefers to keep its players off stage, and the public in the dark.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A powerful piece of reportage. . . . Detailed, intense and at times shocking.” —The Miami Herald
“Wholly engrossing stuff.” —The Austin Chronicle
“Wright’s brave reporting offers an essential reality test. . . . Poses larger questions about the nature of belief.” —Publishers Weekly
“Devastating. . . . Wholly compelling. . . . Each page delivers startling facts that need no elaboration.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Jaw-dropping. . . . A fascinating look behind the curtain of an organization whose ambition and influence are often at odds with its secretive ways.”—Booklist
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Top Customer Reviews
Many aren't familiar with Scientology, in part because the Scientologists have been relentless and devoted to stamping out dissent and negative portrayals of their religion (previous books on L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder ended up with the publisher abandoning the project due to law suits and the British publisher of this book, dropped it for fear of libel law suits [which are easier to win in the UK]). New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright, who is known as one of our great investigative journalists, has prepared himself by doing an incredible amount of due diligence and fact checking (apparently the fact checkers at the New Yorker, which first published an article on Scientology by Wright, made herculean efforts to make sure they got the facts right).
Scientology does not come off well in Going Clear. Wright portrays Scientology as in large part an expression of L. Ron Hubbard's whimsy: "Even as Hubbard was inventing the doctrine, each of his decisions and actions would become enshrined in Scientology lore as something to be emulated -- his cigarette smoking, for instance, which is still a feature of the church's culture at the upper levels, as are his 1950s habits of speech, his casual misogyny, his aversion to perfume and scented deodorants, and his love of cars and motorcycles and Rolex watches. More significant is the legacy of his belittling behavior toward subordinates and his paranoia about the government. Such traits stamped the religion as an extremely secretive and sometimes hostile organization that saw enemies on every corner."
Wright, however, does not create a simple portrayal of Hubbard and Scientology. He grants him greater complexity than a simple con man. It seems Hubbard, who had a fertile imagination and intelligence (amazingly, he wrote 1,000 books--no small feat even if you were just the typist), believed in his own ideas. Obviously, there was something powerfully charismatic about him, but as someone who tends to gloss over at Hubbard's cosmology and "discoveries," it's hard to understand (and watching an interview of him online didn't shed any light for me on his appeal). It seemed that Hubbard was a congenital fibber--one of those people for whom reality just wasn't good enough so he had to embellish it and ultimately couldn't himself separate out his fantasies from reality. What's whacky and fascinating is that he got others to deeply believe in his ideas too. Why though? It was that part of this overall incredibly researched book that I found a bit lacking.
The big picture how he did it is that Hubbard parlayed the success of Dianetics, his self-help bestseller, into a religion. In a way Scientology is a truly modern religion in that it mixes a faux-scientific veneer (it's founder after all was a sci-fi writer) with a belief system and psycho-spiritual approaches. What I wanted was a better understanding of how that self-help book>religion initial transition actually worked. Not what are Hubbard's beliefs, but how he created believers. Hubbard seemed oblivious, even allergic, to practical details. It seems his third/ish wife (his marriage to his second wife wasn't legally sanctioned) Mary Sue, was the real organizer, but I still was left scratching my head about that leap from self-help and sci-fi writer to guru. It was clear what was in it for Hubbard; he became fabulously wealthy and revered. But what was in it for the followers, especially the initial ones who didn't have legions of fellow believers to bolster Hubbard's saintly status?
Going Clear, however, is not just about L. Ron Hubbard. Wright covers the violent and tight-shipped rule of David Miscaviage. Miscaviage comes off as a classic tyrant (the purges and public community confessions reminded me of Mao's China) who needs to be deposed, yet he seems to have built an impregnable fort around him. As an outsider, one is mystified as to why Scientologists would accept such abuse. But by the time Miscaviage's associates get to his inner circle they have invested years in the religion and all their friends and often family are believers. Being cast aside comes with a very heavy cost.
Overall, this is a very worthwhile book. It reads well and raises interesting questions about what is a scam and what is a religion (for example, we mostly accept belief in a virgin births or parting seas as part of legitimate religions, but balk at Hubbard's visions of outer space theology). There are no easy answers, but one is left by a very uneasy feeling about Hubbard's legacy.
If you're considering joining Scientology, I encourage you to not only read what they say about themselves on their website, but also read the neutral and critical perspectives of Scientology as well, including this book. This organization is not a joke. I quietly left in November, and to this day, I still receive daily phone calls, texts, emails, letters, etc. They wanted me to forget about my education and work for Scientology, since they view their religion as the most important thing in the whole world, of all time. I was told by one staff member that studying for a graduate entrance exam was not as important as studying Scientology. I was also pressured to buy books and lectures, even when I said that I didn't have enough money. I was pressured to join staff at "the org", even after repeatedly stating that I had no time with school and work, and even after explicitly stating that I didn't want to. If you value your time, your education, and most importantly your money, do not join Scientology. This book will only corroborate what other former members have been saying for a long time. And really, the purported super powers of "Operating Thetans" (the higher levels of the Scientology religion) are non-existent, even after the hundreds of thousands of dollars one spends to get to those levels (which includes getting rid of the spirits of deceased aliens that are attached to our bodies, that cause all of our problems, found at OT III, i.e. the Xenu story, which can be found in Hubbard's own hand writing. This material is discussed within the book. It still amazes me that Scientologists still deny this material (not just saying that they can't talk about it, but saying that it isn't true).). Scientology provides no peer-reviewed, scientific studies to support its claims (especially for its purported efficacy over the medical specialty of psychiatry), besides "LRH said so".
In this book you'll find out about the various high ranking Scientologists that have left the church (odd that such "suppressive persons" were able to advance so far up the Bridge to Total Freedom, and up to high ranking offices in the Church...seems the Church can't even detect "suppressive persons"!). You'll find out about how Hubbard was not who he said he was, according to official documents freely available. Wright's statement that "Hubbard entered the School of Engineering at George Washington University in the fall of 1930. He was a poor student-failing German and calculus-but he excelled in extracurricular activities" is classic. Wright's overview of what a Suppressive Person is is important, especially as we see how Scientology is dealing with the release of this book. He also covers Scientology's evolution from a "science of mental health" to a purported religion. Of course no book on Scientology would be complete without discussing the two "first Clears", and how they didn't have the abilities Hubbard claimed Clears would have. I also loved the discussion of life in the early Sea Org (Scientology's elite order of the most dedicated members, who sign billion-year contracts), as this is something that many of us are not familiar with. While much of the information in this book can be found elsewhere, such as [...], it is great to have much of it in one place/book.
Hubbard said "what is true for you is what you have observed yourself". I and many others that have been there have observed Scientology to not be what it claims, and that it will ruin your life, as they try to mold you into what they want, to serve their purposes. This well-researched book supports that observed truth. I bought the Kindle edition but now will also buy the hardcover copy as well. It's that good.
Here's the bottom line: L. Ron Hubbard was a complicated and slightly crazy man. John Travolta is a confused man worthy of our compassion. Paul Haggis is a curious man and a contrarian. David Miscavige is a bad man, a very bad man. All simple enough but what is not simple or easily ignored is the fact that the one person that could "fix" Scientology and evolve it into a less brutal, contemporary but still fringe Religion is one Mr. Tom Cruise.
I do not know Tom Cruise but I think it is reasonable to consider that he may be so wedded to his celebrity and near zero accountability for anything in his very comfortable life that he is unwilling to put something at risk and challenge Miscavige to stand down or just force him out altogether.
That makes Cruise a coward, ironically the complete and total opposite of the majority of characters he plays and certainly not the model of what Hubbard would define as a "Operating Thetan VII".
Maybe he's not such a bad actor after all.
There is still another book to be written. The one that chronicles the church afters its collapse or criminal prosecution.