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Going Clear
Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Lawrence Wright
read on August 1, 2014

I don't really know why any of this book surprised me, but it certainly did. I didn't know anything about Scientology before reading it, nothing at all. I liked that it had "Science" in the name, I guess, though I wasn't actually naive enough to think that it was a scientific enterprise. I remember living in Tacoma right next to a beautiful roman-style scientology church. It even had some anachronistic misspelling in it, I think it was called "CHVRCH OF SCIENTOLOGY". Anyway, Scientology always seemed a bit different to me, so I wanted to know more about it.

It turns out that scientology is crazy, in the most literal and derogatory sense of the word. It was founded by a completely crazy, deplorable man, and it was propagated, and continues to be propagated, by completely crazy and deplorable people.

All religions are crazy. Religion itself is a socially acceptable label to use whenever you want to believe something that doesn't make sense, or when you want to stop asking questions. But Scientology is unabashedly crazy. It revels in it's own crazyness.

I don't think it's helpful to me, or anyone else, to re-hash why it's so crazy - or describe the absurd things that scientologists actually believe to be true. Wright has a very obvious bias against scientology, and he doesn't pull any punches in describing their ridiculous history. Wright (convincingly) paints the organization as a predatory, for-profit cult. I'm inclined to believe every word in the book, but to be fair, he doesn't cite many sources. This particularly bothered me when he would describe scenes/events that clearly took place in private, among very few (high ranking) people. I don't feel like he was forthright about when he was speaking factually, vs when he was citing a single source (who likely had agendas of their own).

Most interesting to me were the following topics (which weren't necessarily even discussed in the book, but what I've continued thinking about in the time since finishing it).

  • What kind of person starts a religion? Having just read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich before this book, I couldn't help but think about Hubbard as a Hitler-esque persona. Not to say that Hubbard was evil, but they had similar personality traits. Singular focus on themselves and their own goals, unwavering belief that they are true born leaders of an exclusive group of people (and are leading them to salvation), willingness to lie and hurt others to advance the cause, etc.
  • Is scientology different from any other religion? This is a very controversial question, as the tax-exempt status of the organization literally depends on it. Hubbard (pre-scientology) was quoted many times of his aspirations to start a religion to make money, but it's unclear what his motives were once the ball really got rolling. To me, scientology's biggest offense is how recent it is. For whatever reason, I find crazy religious beliefs to be acceptable if they have thousand-year-old mythologies supporting them. But whats really the difference between someone claiming to have magical powers thousands of years ago, and someone claiming to have magical powers in 1970? I don't know why, but to me the difference is profound. If I meet a catholic, I think "well, that's how they were raised". But if I meet a scientologist now, I'll think "this person is an idiot". I'm not sure exactly why, or what the difference is, or if I'm right.
  • Does scientology help people? If so, is it good? (or at least acceptable?) The answer to the first question is unequivocally yes. (Not necessarily on balance, I doubt scientology provides a net societal benefit, but it definitely helps some people). The answer to the second is much harder.

Lastly, I'm not really sure what's going on with the cover here, but I find the not-so-subtle crucifix iconography to be a bit out of place. Is that just because this is a book about religion? Is it comparing scientology to christianity? Hubbard to Christ? Either way, it seems to be implying a dialogue not found in the book.

Author Bio:

Lawrence Wright (born August 2, 1947) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, screenwriter, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and fellow at the Center for Law and Security at the New York University School of Law. Wright is best known as the author of the 2006 nonfiction book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11