What got my attention was a dribble of “suggested posts” on my Facebook time line. They are from the Church of Scientology and are something like these:
I have some previous acquaintance with the Church of Scientology, so the term “Going Clear” wasn’t strange. “Going clear” is a term used in Scientology to mean going through their auditing process and clearing yourself of whatever Scientology means for you to clear yourself of. Something like twenty years ago a friend in Dallas told of his encounter with a Scientology recruiter. I contacted him to confirm my recollections. He did not recall the telling, but back then he said the recruiter told him he could go clear for only $16,000. My friend now reminds me people are paying much more.
As it is, Going Clear is a documentary that aired on HBO directed by Alex Gibney. This has been going on for several weeks, at least one post per day, and it indicates some concern on the part of the Church of Scientology. The assumption is that Facebook charges real money for these “suggested posts,” so the CoS is going to some expense to make sure I know that Gibney is a propagandist and a liar. For ample reason I am not surprised the CoS is going to this expense.
Going Clear is highly critical of the CoS, and those people react typically in this fashion when anybody seeks to shine unflattering light on their doings, such doings characteristically done in their own recesses and not very complimentary to their corporate image. For example:
Gibney, Wright, and the former Scientologists who appeared in the film told a post-screening question-and-answer session that they hoped the film would raise public awareness about the alleged abuses committed by the Church of Scientology, and would prompt the media and law enforcement agencies to investigate further. Gibney later called in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece for Scientology’s tax exemption to be revoked in the light of the allegations of abuse documented in the film.
The “Wright” mentioned in the above is Lawrence Wright, author of the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. The CoS response to the documentary has been typical. The Facebook postings are linked to pages aimed at heaping scorn on Gibney. It’s a time-worn tactic of the CoS, lacking little factual defense:
Philip Alexander Gibney, son of journalist Frank Gibney whose career was tainted by his secret ties to the CIA in writing a book on a Russian spy, is an American documentary film producer and director. Alex Gibney churns out films that have been increasingly criticized for going for the cheap buck via sensationalism. Whether the subject is Scientology in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief or the late Apple founder Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, the common criticism is that he specializes in one-sided hatchet jobs. In Going Clear, Gibney produced a film on a new religion that he never would have produced about the Jewish faith. Imagine if one produced a documentary about Jews. Instead of interviewing rabbis, Jewish leaders and scholars and everyday members of the faith, it uses as its sources and interview subjects outspoken anti-Semitic bigots who sue synagogues, operate anti-Semitic blogs and regularly express to the media hatred toward Judaism. That is effectively what Alex Gibney did. Click here to learn more and to watch the videos produced by the Church of Scientology.
This churned my interest, and my response was to obtain a Kindle edition. I completed reading it this week, finding much previously unknown to me. I will skim the contents, pulling out quotes of interest. You should see the video, read the book.
A central character is Paul Haggis:
Paul Edward Haggis (born March 10, 1953) is a Canadianscreenwriter, producer, and director. He is best known as screenwriter and producer for consecutive Best Picture Oscar winners, 2004’s Million Dollar Baby and 2005’s Crash, the latter of which he also directed.
Haggis had a chance encounter with a Scientology recruiter on a London, Ontario, street and subsequently signed on for the long stretch. He was an aspiring film maker at the time, and it’s likely his early success traces to this encounter. Haggis met Scientology in 1975, and by 2008 he had risen to the upper ranks—all the while his career soared. Came the debacle of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, and Haggis found himself on opposite sides of the issue with official statements from the CoS. A slur directed toward a waiter (likely homosexual) got the ire of Haggis and prominent Scientologist John Travolta, triggering a very public row with Tommy Davis, chief spokesperson for the CoS and also son of Scientologist and noted Hollywood actress Anne Archer.
Ultimately Haggis left the CoS, and unloaded heavily. Interestingly, despite his decades association with the CoS and his high position, he learned of the darkest side of the CoS only after his interchange with Davis.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard is, of course, central to the story. L. Ron Hubbard parlayed an unsuccessful career in the wartime Navy into his legend as a Naval hero and his own self doubts and mental problems into a philosophy that was to morph into Dianetics and finally into Scientology. Before World War Two and afterwards Hubbard was a prolific and successful writer of pulp fiction and rose to prominence in the world of science fiction. It was with his science fiction writer friends he first hinted at his true calling:
Until now, religion had played little or no part in his life or his thought— except, perhaps, as it was reflected in the cynical remark he is reported to have made on a number of occasions, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 100). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
His acquaintances of the time noted his darker nature:
Sara repeatedly refused Ron’s entreaties to marry him, but he threatened to kill himself unless she relented. She still saw him as a broken war hero whom she could mend. Finally, she said, “All right, I’ll marry you, if that’s going to save you.” They awakened a minister in Chestertown, Maryland, on August 10, 1946. The minister’s wife and housekeeper served as witnesses to the wedding. The news ricocheted among Hubbard’s science-fiction colleagues. “I suppose Polly was tiresome about not giving him his divorce so he could marry six other gals who were all hot & moist over him,” one of Hubbard’s writer friends, L. Sprague de Camp, wrote to the Heinleins. (In fact, Polly didn’t learn of the marriage till the following year, when she read about it in the newspapers.) “How many girls is a man entitled to in one lifetime, anyway?” de Camp fumed. “Maybe he should be reincarnated as a rabbit.”
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 59). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
“Heinlein” is science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. L. Sprague de Camp and his wife Catherine are notable for taking on and continuing the Conan the Barbarian character from the late Robert Howard. At a meeting in Dallas Catherine told members of the North Texas Skeptics that Hubbard was the most evil person she had ever met.
That winter, they moved into a lighthouse on a frozen lake in the Poconos near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. It was an unsettling time for Sara; they were isolated, and Ron had a .45 pistol that he would fire randomly. Late one night, while she was in bed and Ron was typing, he hit her across the face with the pistol. He told her that she had been smiling in her sleep, so she must have been thinking about someone else.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 60). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The history of the CoS can be viewed in three phases:
- Sea Org
- Hubbard’s Decline
- Under Miscavige
The Sea Org phase may be the most curious. Encountering legal troubles during the CoS’s early times, Hubbard purchased and outfitted three ships and staffed them with amateur crews of Scientologists:
Neither the public nor the celebrity tiers of Scientology could exist without the third level of membership— the church’s clergy, called the Sea Organization, or Sea Org, in Scientology jargon. It is an artifact of the private navy that Hubbard commanded during a decade when he was running the church while on the high seas.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Incredibly, none of these vessels was lost at sea despite some harrowing episodes with weather and engineered malfeasance. These early argonauts became the core of Scientology when it beached at the end of this tumultuous period. These ships stayed away from American ports, keeping clear of a threatening subpoena authority. Even so they frequently met trouble, being kicked out of a number of Mediterranean and African ports and finding no legal refuge in others. Sea Org duty was no Carnival Cruise:
When Eltringham came aboard, she found dozens of crew members housed in the old cattle hold belowdecks, illuminated by a single lightbulb, sleeping on stained mattresses on the floor. They were dressed in black overalls, called boiler suits, and forbidden to speak to anyone outside their group. They ate using their hands from a bucket of table scraps, shoveling the food into their mouths as if they were starving.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 155). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Hubbard finally beached in the mid 1960s A secret order instigated by him in 1973 was named “Snow White Program.” It was audacious to the extreme, and it involved massive attacks on government agencies, individuals and NGOs.
Under Mary Sue’s direction, the GO infiltrated government offices around the world, looking for damning files on the church. Within the next few years, as many as five thousand Scientologists were covertly placed in 136 government agencies worldwide.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 151). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
It was a sword that cut both ways. The CoS pilfered files of great use against its enemies, but the disclosure of the operation nearly brought the organization down. Eleven Scientology executives were indicted, including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue Hubbard. She was thrown over by CoS authorities, including David Miscavige, a 21-year-old rising star in the organization. She served a year in the clink and never saw her husband again.
A tenet of Scientology is the invincibility, even the immortality, the cleansing effect gives to adherents. The truth was that Hubbard was in poor health and headed toward his inevitable conclusion.
FOR YEARS, Hubbard’s declining health was a secret known to few in the upper levels of the church. Only a handful of his closest followers were allowed to see him. He had made no clear arrangements for a successor, nor was there any open talk of it. There was an unstated belief that Operating Thetans did not grow frail or lose their mental faculties. Old age and illness were embarrassing refutations of Scientology’s core beliefs.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 224). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Hubbard did not officially bequeath stewardship before his death, but the logical heirs were Pat and Annie Broeker, two close friends and next in rank. In the mean time David Miscavige had maneuvered into the position as the sole conduit to the failing leader. His move following Hubbard’s death was swift, relentless and brutal. The Broekers were caught unawares by Miscavige’s initial moves.
Miscavige told one of the other executives he didn’t want to see “any grief bullshit.” Sinar Parman, Hubbard’s former chef, arrived that morning, to help with cooking and logistics. He found Annie Broeker sitting on the floor of the cabin, with Miscavige’s wife, Shelly. Annie had obviously been crying. Meanwhile, he noticed Miscavige and Broeker in another room. “They were joking,” he recalled. “They were ecstatic. They’d never been so happy.”
That Sunday, Hubbard’s ashes were scattered in the Pacific.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 227). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Other possible successors had been purged or had fled the organization, however, leaving only the Broekers as rivals. Neither of them was a match for Miscavige. He angrily told Prince that Pat had made a fool of himself at the Palladium. Prince was surprised. Until that night in the Liberace mansion, he had been convinced that Miscavige had no interest in leading the church; now he realized that Miscavige felt compelled to remove the Broekers in order to keep Scientology from being destroyed. Whatever reservations Miscavige had had about seizing power had fallen away.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 229-230). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Soon Miscavige began to move against the Broekers. The Broekers had Hubbard’s blessing but little else. Pat Broeker thought he held a trump card in the form of an unreleased CoS documents, documents vital to the organization’s IRS qualification as a church. Little short of thuggery sorted out the matter.
Miscavige concentrated his attention on Annie. He took her to a separate room and interrogated her as a detective barred the door, preventing her husband from seeing her. Eventually, Annie admitted that Pat kept a storage locker in nearby Paso Robles, and she coughed up the key. Rathbun’s team found more files, but not what they wanted. Rathbun eventually came to the conclusion that there were no further OT levels— no OT IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV— it was all a bluff on Broeker’s part, a lie that the church would have to live with, since the levels had been so publicly announced. 8
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 238). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
End note 8 reads, “None of the promised levels has ever been released.”
Under Miscavige Scientology regained its footing and successfully exploited its Hollywood connections. Hubbard had early seen Hollywood as key. As a writer he worked speculation scripts and obtained links to the industry. The break came with the rising career of actor John Travolta.
A more insecure crowd you will never find outside stage and screen performers. What they sell is not just their talent but their persona. If somebody does not get a role, it’s not his talent that’s been rejected. It’s him. He’s been rejected as a person. The promise of Scientology has great appeal to this hoard of talented individuals elbowing for limited exposure. Such was Travolta when he went for the role of Vinnie Barbarino in the comedy series Welcome Back, Kotter. A host of Scientologists concentrated their minds toward willing his success, and his faith in Scientology was reinforced by the outcome. Saturday Night Fever cemented his status as a first rate talent, for which his own dedication and energy should receive the real credit.
Hubbard doubled down with the career of Tom Cruise, another convert. When Cruise clinched the upper rung in Hollywood stardom with Top Gun there was no looking back. Travolta and Cruise have carried the load for Scientology in Hollywood ever since.
Miscavige and Cruise became close, and it’s likely some of the leader’s assertiveness rubbed off. This supposedly migrated into the Cruise’s character in A Few Good Men.
He modeled his determined naval-officer hero in A Few Good Men on Miscavige, a fact that the church leader liked to brag about.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 258). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Sailing has not been ripple-free for Scientology in the years since. Legal and verbal attacks on Scientology have been routinely met with massive retaliation. Cartoonist Prasad Golla and I parodied these attacks as fearsome even to the late Osama bin Laden:
At a lower level, personal abuses, especially against members of the CoS have shattered the esteem of the organization. The death of Lisa McPherson was notorious and particularly damaging.
Then, on December 5, 1995, a Scientologist named Lisa McPherson died following a mental breakdown. She had rear-ended a boat that was being towed in downtown Clearwater, Florida, near the church’s spiritual headquarters. When paramedics arrived, she stripped off her clothes and wandered naked down the street. She said she needed help and was taken to a nearby hospital. Soon afterward, a delegation of ten Scientologists arrived at the hospital and persuaded McPherson to check out, against doctors’ advice. McPherson spent the next seventeen days under guard in room 174 of the Fort Harrison Hotel.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 291-292). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
McPherson died without ever receiving subsequent medical treatment. Malpractice was compounded by the submission of perjured statements to police.
Rathbun discovered that church officials in Clearwater had already lied in two sworn statements to the police, claiming that McPherson hadn’t been subjected to an Introspection Rundown. The church’s official response, under Rathbun’s direction, was to continue to lie, stating that McPherson had been at the church’s Fort Harrison Hotel only for “rest and relaxation” and there was nothing unusual about her stay.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 293). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Rathbun is Mark Rathbun, who rose to become the chief enforcer prior to bolting the organization. The McPherson case was a devastating blow to the image of the CoS. The publicity was impossible to escape.
She had suffered a pulmonary embolism on the way to the hospital. In the eyes of the world press, Scientology had murdered Lisa McPherson. She was one of nine Scientologists who had died under mysterious circumstances at the Clearwater facility.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 293). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Not the least of the Scientology scandal can be laid at the feet of new director David Miscavige. His bizarre behavior prior to taking over was compounded as his power and megalomania grew. A few excerpts from Wright’s book elaborate:
According to both men, the screen door suddenly flew open and Miscavige came out, wearing a terry-cloth bathrobe. According to Rathbun and Rinder, Miscavige hit Rinder in the face and stomach, then grabbed him around the neck and slammed him into a tree. Rinder fell into the ivy, where Miscavige continued kicking him several times. 5
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 294-295). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
End note 5 points to the following: “The church denies that Miscavige has abused any members of the church, saying that the abuse claims have been propagated by a ‘group of vociferous anti-Scientologists.’”
Then, according to Rathbun, out of nowhere, Miscavige grabbed him by the throat and slammed his head against the steel wall. 5 Rathbun blacked out for a moment. He wasn’t hurt, but the terms had changed.
Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 330). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
End note 5 reads “As previously noted, the church denies all allegations of abuse by Miscavige.”
I have cited only the two instances in the book involving Miscavige and also the term “slammed.” When these limitations are lifted the search results are embarrassingly fruitful.
Paul Haggis’s break with the CoS may be the catalyst for the most recent public turmoil. Scientology was already back into notoriety with the eye-popping antics of its notable public face, Tom Cruise. His couch-jumping episode on the Oprah Winfrey Show in May 2005 gave millions a look at what may lie beneath the surface. The supposed non-position the CoS took on Proposition 8 tilted the scales.
As Lawrence Wright was preparing his profile on Paul Haggis for The New Yorker in 2010 he requested an interview with Tommy Davis. This culminated in a meeting in Manhattan. Davis, along with his wife Jessica Feshbach and four CoS attorneys came. The Scientologists brought to the table, literally, 48 binders of documentation to address the 971 questions the New Yorker fact checkers wanted to address.
The concluding issue of the day-long session was the military record of founder L. Ron Hubbard. The upshot of this was that the story propagated about Hubbard’s military career and heroism was bogus. Awards for valor claimed for Hubbard were never awarded to him, principally because the awards named have never been used by the United States military. Nonetheless, Davis presented a copy of Hubbard’s Notice of Separation from the Navy, such document apparently being a forgery. In his book Wright provides links to the forgery and the copy obtained from the Navy:
I read Going Clear with notions already formed about Scientology and the supposed church. These notions have been formed by early encounters back in the 1960s. There was something not right with the attitude of Scientologists, and Scientology’s basis was definitely out of kilter, being founded on premises that were at variance with known facts. I know from the McPherson case and other public exposure that the CoS has used and still does use unethical and even physically rough tactics. I was not aware of the depth of the rot until I read this book.
A central question is what attracts otherwise sensible people to Scientology? The supposed reinforcement of self esteem offered to people who live by their image is perhaps understandable. What of the others? Are there so many with a level of self doubt such that they would surrender their volition to strangers—avaricious strangers at that? Who would tolerate the kind of abuse heaped upon so many of the Scientology rank and file, leaders, as well, for some imagined reward? It is a thing I could never find in myself. It’s possible I’m so full of my own worth that I would never consider giving up any part of my self control and certainly not the amount of personal dignity portrayed in this book. I’m concerned I would put up with about five seconds of what these people went through before somebody died.
When attacked with claims of transgressions, the CoS typically responds by attacking the claimant. This response I have found in my experience to be characteristic of somebody with dark matter to hide. Had they a legitimate case, I would expect them to respond with the facts, clear and documented. Scientology has not gained a round in this latest episode.
A defense employed by the CoS is that Scientology is not a cult, but is a religion, just like the Catholic Church is a religion. To this I agree, unfortunately for the Catholic Church. My take has always been that the difference between the Church of Scientology and a money-grubbing cult is difficult to discern.
Readers should be cautioned that I approach this issue with a decades-long aversion to religion of all kinds. Defenders of Scientology will find no comfort in this. In a family discussion of the matter earlier this week the wife and I learned we both had the same impression. The closest thing to the Church of Scientology without actually being the Church of Scientology has been the People’s Temple, headed by the late Jim Jones. The comparison was hard to escape.