Going Clear was the selection for my Book Club’s September meeting.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
by Lawrence Wright, Nonfiction (Released January, 2013)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: The story behind L. Ron Hubbard’s (LRH) founding of Scientology, its links to the entertainment industry, and the current state of the “religion”.
My Thoughts: I found it tough to separate my thoughts on this book from my thoughts on Scientology itself, so I will include both here. First, the book. If you’re using a Kindle, do not be alarmed at the very slow rate your “% completed” rises…the actual book ends before 70% (the rest is acknowledgements and sources). Going Clear reminded me a lot of Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, just swapping out Scientology for Mormonism. Part 1 is mostly about the Scientology beliefs and LRH’s life and is a bit tedious at times. Wright is known as a meticulous researcher (as evidenced in his book on Al Qaeda, The Looming Tower), but he sometimes goes overboard. A lot of the tedium for me was in the detail of the actual Scientology beliefs and in LRH’s writing, which can be completely unintelligible because the beliefs sound insane and they basically use their own language. The parts about LRH’s life were more interesting – he seems to me to be a narcissistic con man. Even his son is quoted in the book as saying LRH’s goal was to be “the most powerful being in the universe”. Wright illuminates the glaring differences between the Church’s narrative of LRH’s life and the actual evidence supporting their claims – and this is where his meticulous research is a huge advantage. Part 2 was my favorite. Why? Because it dealt with Scientology’s connections with Hollywood – i.e. celebrity gossip! Wright hits Tom Cruise at about 37% of the way through and he is a large presence through the remainder of the book. You also get some decent dirt on John Travolta, Kelly Preston, and Kirstie Alley. Part 3 is mostly about the current state of the religion (including statements from defectors and media critics). One of the most interesting aspects of the book (aside from the celebrity gossip, of course!) is the question of whether Scientology is a “religion” or a “commercial enterprise”. The Church fought the IRS on this point for years and is now classified as a religion, which means they get an astounding number of protections and benefits under the law. However, Scientology seems to me to be more of a self-help philosophy than a religion (which makes sense because it grew out of LRH’s 1950 self-help book, Dianetics). It does have some rational theories and methods for improving your self-esteem, communication skills, etc. And, this is the sales pitch that is used to attract recruits, along with the brilliant “rumor” that the highest levels of the entertainment industry are full of Scientologists who try to help out “like-minded” up and comers. What wide-eyed wannabe actress wouldn’t sign up for that upon landing in L.A.? But, the upper level beliefs are at times insane and sickening. For example, Scientologists believe that LRH did not actually die, but merely “dropped his body” and will come back to earth in the relatively near future. To be prepared for his return, the Church keeps a fully staffed $10M mansion stocked with his clothes and personal items. The most sickening parts are the Church’s views on family and children. Children “belong to the Church” and are basically separated from their parents at the upper levels and pressed into Church service. Sea Org (the Church’s “clergy”) members are not even allowed to have children. And, if your spouse begins to question the faith, a Scientology member will be “counseled” (i.e. forced) to divorce him or her. And, it’s a stretch of the imagination to take the actual beliefs seriously because they sound like a kids’ video game – using terms like “operating thetan”, “Xenu”, “Galactic Confederacy”, and “wall of fire”. You wonder about the sanity of people that truly believe this stuff. Going Clear contains a plethora of interesting discussion topics, so would make a great Book Club selection. I’m also adding it to my Books for Guys List.