Wednesday, January 1, 2014

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

I will confess that last year I watched the Kevin Bacon series The Following all the way to the end.  While the show started out well--excellent acting, a fascinating premise, loads of plot twists, intelligent scripts--it soon descended into sheer stupidity. I found myself spending the last three or four episodes screaming, "Oh, Please!" to the screen.  The ending was possibly the dumbest thing on television since Nancy Reagan delivered an anti-drug message on Different Strokes.

For example, there was a scene, about halfway through The Following, when the F.B.I. discovered a secret hideout where the murderous cult leader had imprisoned some of his followers.  These cult members willingly stayed in what was essentially a Medieval dungeon because the cult leader had convinced them it was the only way they could purify themselves and ascend to the next level.  Whatever, I thought.  Who's going to volunteer to stay locked up for weeks just to prove their loyalty to some yutz, I thought.  This show is already getting stupid.

Turns out, this scene could have been based on the history of Scientology, the 'religion' started by L. Ron Hubbard.

In his new book, Going Clear, Lawrence Wright details the life of L. Ron Hubbard, and the history of Scientology.  It's worse than you think.  The 'church' denies most of the events Wright talks about, but he presents enough eye-witness and documentary evidence to support the story he tells, in my opinion.

Although he does not talk about this, I was intrigued by how similar the story of Scientology was to the story Wright told in his book  The Looming Tower about the rise of Al-Queda and the events leading up to the second World Trade Center attacks.  The way members of each group prove their loyalty are uncomfortably similar, if memory serves me correctly.  I'd love to have Mr. Wright over for dinner to discuss this topic.

Somehow everyone I've talked to about Going Clear, whether over dinner, a cup of coffee or in passing, already knew much more about Scientology than I did.  Many of the things I was shocked about, they had already heard of long ago.  The Thetans, Xenu, the high cost of auditing, Sea.org, the secret bases, all old news to everyone but me. I guess I don't watch the right television shows or read the right websites, but most of what's in Going Clear seemed shocking to me.  I may live in something of a bubble, but it's a nicer place than the real world much of the time.

One thing that  surprised and interested me was Wright's account of Sea.org, the group for young people dedicated to L. Ron Hubbard's teachings.  Sea.org provides the foot soldiers for Scientology, young people who will work for nothing to advance the mission of their 'church.'   It seems that many, possible most, of the children who grew up in Scientology joined Sea.org at some point.

Mr. Wright describes how members of Sea.org, along with members of Scientology in general, are subject to punishment when they fail to perform up to the standards set by church leaders.  Punishment has included time spent in conditions that were pretty darn close to those in The Following.    Critics of Scientology along with former members are plagued by legal action, and sometimes friendly sometimes not-so-friendly intimidation.  By the end of Going Clear, I couldn't put the book down, which is probably the reaction Mr. Bacon et al were going for with The Following.

By the end of Going Clear I felt that I owed Kevin Bacon something of an apology.  While The Following certainly got stupid by the end of the series, it wasn't nearly so bad at the halfway point as I thought it was.  I guess The Following   was more believable than I thought.  

4 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

I bought this book in my December 31st Kindle spree. I loved The Looming Tower, and it is fun to learn about how messed up the world is sometimes.

Off topic, I just got like five or six posts of yours come through on my reader, all at once. Like some book reviews, a challenge and two Sunday Salons. Very strange.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

>>It's worse than you think.

Hahahaha, this could be the precis of how I have described this book to every single person I've spoken to about it. I couldn't and can't believe how much worse it is than you think.

Amy Rea said...

I got this from the library during one of those unfortunate "oops I lost control of my library queue" events where a gazillion books I want to read all show up at once, all with waitlists. So I returned it unread. But I think it comes out in paperback soon, so read it I shall. After the Triple Dog Dare, of course!

agoodstoppingpoint said...

Don't feel alone. I knew almost nothing about Scientology either before I read Going Clear. I think I knew that Tom Cruise was in Scientology and that's about it.