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Wright, Lawrence (2013, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 448 pp., ISBN-13: 9780307700667

Sweeny, John (2013) The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology, Silvertail Books, 336 pp., ISBN-13: 9781909269071  

If Scientology is a religion, entitled to first amendment protection, as well as some incredible tax benefits, then perhaps it is time we looked at our tax code. Maybe it is time to cease paying for any of the religions that currently flourish at the taxpayers' expense. As well as the super-wealthy Catholic Church, the tax exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church is paid for by those of us who do pay taxes.

I wonder if Mitt Romney was thinking of the Church of the Latter Day Saints when he talked about the 47% of Americans who are takers. I don't really care what god people choose to worship. They could, like Scientologists, believe that the great space lord Xenu loaded up seven volcanoes with excess thetans and then blew them up with hydrogen bombs, scattering them all over the earth and forcing them to find new homes in human bodies.

I just wish I didn't have to pay for their fantasies.

In his interview with Christian Amanpour of CNN (shown below), Lawrence Wright makes the very good point that the only important opinion as to whether The Church of Scientology is indeed a church and entitled to the benefits and protections of a religion, is the IRS. 2300 lawsuits against the IRS and individual IRS employees were dropped as a result of the 1993 decision of the IRS to grant tax exempt status to this organization. In so doing, the IRS wiped out the billion dollar debt that the Church of Scientology owed and settled for 12 million dollars.

Someone had to make up that 988 million dollar difference. It was us, in higher taxes and reduced benefits. Something we should keep in mind whether the taker is a corporation or a cult that bullied its way into being called a church.

Lawrence Wright won the Pullitzer Prize for his 2006 book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qeada and the Roots of 9/11, considered by many to be the go-to book on the subject. It is likely that his latest work, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, will become the foundation for those who wish to understand this organization on an intellectual basis.

Starting with the strange life of L. Ron Hubbard, Lawrence Wright examines the roots and guiding principles of Scientology and how, under the administration of David Miscavige, it has become something else. Not that is was anything but crazy under L Ron Hubbard, but it has become a rather bizarre, evil force under its current leadership. Of course, that is only my opinion, Lawrence Wright is far more objective, and presents the church's point of view through its responses in a well researched look at its current practices including its search for celebrities to heighten its profile.

In the book there are multiple examples of the church going after its critics, with the license granted by L. Ron Hubbard in 1965 in a policy paper

titled “Fair Game Law,” in which he laid down the rules for dealing with Suppressive Persons. That category includes non-Scientologists who are hostile to the church, apostates, and defectors, as well as their spouses, family members, and close friends. “A truly Suppressive Person or Group has no rights of any kind,” Hubbard wrote. Such enemies, he said, may be “tricked, lied to or destroyed.” In 1965, he wrote another policy letter ambiguously stating, “The practice of declaring people FAIR GAME will cease. FAIR GAME may not appear on any Ethics Order. It causes bad public relations. [The new ruling] does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP.”
The church brought suit against Time Magazine for its 1991 cover article, "Scientology: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power." And although Time won the suit, which went all of the way to the Supreme Court, it was the costliest legal battle the magazine ever fought.

Also discussed is the attack on journalist Paulette Cooper that included faking bomb threats and accusing her of committing them, a possible assasination attempt, and their efforts to have her declared insane. See "Scandal Behind the Scandal of Scientology" on her website, as well as the book that started it all, Scandal of Scientology, available online.


The church would have a hard time claiming that Wright is hostile to Scientology as he provides ample opportunity for it to present its case, in direct quotes as shown above in the body of the text and countless blanket denials in the footnotes. There were times when I really wanted Lawrence Wright to step from behind his reporter's mask and express some outrage at what he found. It just didn't happen.

The closest he came was in writing that, "nothing in American history can compare with the scale of the domestic espionage of Operation Snow White." Operation Snow White was conceived by L. Ron Hubbard in 1973, as a response to what he felt was the unfair machinations of the UK and the US to stop the spread of his cult worldwide. In addition to placing some 5,000 Scientologists in 136 government agencies of nations around the world, Hubbard dedicated Project Hunter to the US: 

Project Hunter was the United States, where Scientologists penetrated the IRS, the Justice, Treasury, and Labor Departments, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as foreign embassies and consulates; private companies and organizations, such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Better Business Bureau; and newspapers— including the St. Petersburg Times, the Clearwater Sun, and the Washington Post— that were critical of the religion. In an evident attempt at blackmail, they stole the Los Angeles IRS intelligence files of celebrities and political figures, including California governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, and Frank Sinatra. 
No wonder he wound up living on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean. Much of the current Scientology internal structure reflects Hubbard's imaginary heroic career in the Navy and his love of the sea. The members who would be considered ministers and missionaries are known as the Sea Org and receive special training in Clearwater, FL where the "Flag" Base is located.

The other base of operations is just outside of Hemet, CA, in Gilman Hot Springs. It is known as Int Base because it is the international headquarters and home of church leader David Miscavige. It is also called Gold Base which taken from the name of the movie production company that the church owns and locates.

In Going Clear, Wright uses Paul Haggis' story to tell of the cult during the 1970s. Best known for writing "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby," Haggis became a Scientologist in 1975.

Intellectually, faith didn’t call to him. Scientology, on the other hand, was exotic and tantalizing. The weirdness of some of the doctrines was hard to fathom, but there was no doubt in Haggis’s mind that he had gained some practical benefits from his several years of auditing and that his communication skills had improved through some of the coursework.

None of that had required him to “believe” in Scientology, but the religion had proved itself in certain ways that mattered to him. The process of induction was so gradual that things that might have shocked him earlier were more acceptable by the time he came upon them. Whenever he ran into something on the Bridge to Total Freedom that he couldn’t fathom, he convinced himself that the next level would make everything understandable.

Although he was uncomfortable when he learned that children were performing hard labor, it was only when the Church endorsed Proposition 8 in California, that Paul, father of two gay children, finally left the Church. But Paul Haggis was only one of many high profile Scientologists who have left the organization and gone public with their stories. Next week I will share a couple of those with you.

But first, there is another journalist who has published a book on his experience with Scientology. Following twelve years with the UK Observer, covering "wars, revolutions and chaos in more than 60 countries", John Sweeney now works as an investigative journalist for the BBC program Panorama. One of his assignments was an investigation of the Church of Scientology.

His book, The Church of Fear, Inside the Weird World of Scientology is the tale of what he learned while making that documentary and of what the experience of documenting the Church of Scientology was like. It differs from Lawrence Wright's work in that it is a first person account of a rational man grappling with an irrational organization. It is similar in that it too, covers the basic structure and beliefs of the church.

In 2007 Sweeney came to the States to do a film about Scientology. His two handlers, Mike Rinder and Tommy Davis (son of actress Anne Archer) were sent by Scientology to keep an eye on him as he traveled to Clearwater, FL. In Clearwater he met with defectors from the church. In one interview, Donna, a former Scientologist explains the difference between being a public Scientologist and a member of the staff:

‘In the Sea Org, on staff,’ said Donna, ‘you are controlled by derision, ridicule, being screamed at the top of someone’s lungs right in your face. They train people how to scream at somebody and how to intimidate somebody and how to make them feel like dirt. It is called ripping your face off. You get right up in somebody’s face, nose to nose, and spittle flying out of your mouth, scream in their face.’
Mike, another former Scientologist, explains why it took him 34 years to leave the church:
‘I have 35 family members in Scientology: my mother, my brother, my four sisters, my 22 nieces and nephews, and my son. And the only ones that are outside the church are myself, my daughter, and my father.

It is hard to leave an organization that has consumed your youth and your money and then takes away your family.

When Sweeney returned to his hotel at midnight that evening, his two handlers were there waiting for him with their Scientology camera crew. He had not told them where he was staying or who he was seeing. Davis was furious at Sweeney for meeting with those who had left the church and berated him in front of the rolling cameras. Fortunately, Sweeney's Producer was also filming.

The following afternoon, while interviewing a Clearwater man who had been filming the church members on the streets of Clearwater, Tommy Davis and cameraman pulled into the parking structure and lectured John Sweeney on the criminal history (partially true) of his informant.

The church has its own security service that tracks journalists and it paid special attention to Sweeney, following him as he flew to LA for more interviews. For a solid week, they followed him in vehicles, interrupted him during interviews and did everything possible to make his job difficult if not impossible to accomplish.

Finally, after hours spent in the church's psychology museum, John Sweeney lost it. On camera, he flew off the handle at Tommy Davis. In a memorable episode that has been viewed a minimum of seven million times John Sweeney yells at Tommy Davis. Scientology has, of course, posted the video on YouTube.

Here is the thirty minute documentary that John Sweeney was working on which includes his loss of temper.

Form the Introduction to Church of Fear:
I apologised then and I apologise now. I was wrong. Civilised discourse is the engine oil of democracy and by losing it and doing an impression of an exploding tomato I let down the values I cherish.
I would imagine that there are few things as devastating for a professional news reporter than to behave the way John Sweeney did. Part of what may have caused his reaction was the brow-beating he took in the museum. Unable to get a word in edgewise with his tour guide who, using standard Scientology techniques, talked non-stop in between breaks for videos that described the "horrors of psychology." His building frustration is apparent on the film, especially when his guide blames psychologists for the Nazi concentration camps.

Again, from the introduction to Church of Fear:

From the early 1950s, psychiatrists blew the whistle on the Church. In return, L Ron demonised the doctors of the mad, accusing ‘psychs’ of ‘extortion, mayhem and murder’. Hubbard believed that psychiatrists were plotting a conspiracy to take over the world on behalf of the Soviet Union: ‘Our enemies are less than twelve men. They are members of the Bank of England and other higher financial circles. They own and control newspaper chains and they, oddly enough, run all the mental health groups in the world… Their apparent programme was to use mental health, which is to say psychiatric electric shock and prefrontal lobotomy, to remove from their path any political dissenters. These fellows have gotten nearly every government in the world to owe them considerable quantities of money through various chicaneries and they control, of course, income tax, government finance. [Harold] Wilson, for instance, the current Premier of England, is totally involved with these fellows and talks about nothing else.’

The Church of Scientology is still waging a dangerous war against psychology, as covered in this Daily Kos diary, by Brit.

Two years after the BBC broadcast Sweeney's investigation, Mike Rinder left the church and met, once again, with John Sweeney. That meeting is included in this follow-up BBC documentary, "The Secrets of Scientology."

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Comment Preferences

  •  Next week: Beyond Belief and Blown for Good. (16+ / 0-)

    Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

    DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
    SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
    Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
    Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
    MON 11:30 AM Political Book Club Susan from 29
    Mon 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery Susan from 29, michelewln
    Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
    TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
    alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
    alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
    Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
    WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
    Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
    THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
    Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
    Thu (third each month - on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
    FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
    Fri 6:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
    SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
    Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

    We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty - Edward R. Murrow

    by Susan Grigsby on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 10:30:54 PM PDT

  •  No worse than any other religion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan from 29

    I do commend the author for almost admitting that Scientology is no worse than any other religion, and the best thing we can do is defund all religions, but like anyone who is raised on a christian, base, she too easily drinks the kool aid.  To wit

    nothing in American history can compare with the scale of the domestic espionage of Operation Snow White
    The thing about scientology is that it does not have operative on long term deep cover assignments in government the way that christianity does.  Therefore when Scientology does something, it it very overt.

    On the other hand christianity can have Michelle Bachman make statements that denigrate a large potion of the US population, and instead of blaming Christianity for the words, the deep cover operative gets blamed.

    Or take the iraq war, costing taxpayer 1-5 trillion dollars.  This was a christian war, but this espionage that has put America in it's weakest state is not blamed on christians, but again on a few deep cover operatives that wish to destroy Israel to bring forth the end time.

    And take the institutional rape that has become part of the Boy Scouts and Catholic church.  BTW, institutional rape has been regarded by many as a crime against humanity for many years.  In 1998 it became a formal war crime by the geneva convention.  The ICC continues to push for rape as a crime against humanity.  Yet due to deep cover agents of the christian syndicate in the US government, we can't even get to court.  I think given the boy scouts collaborated with the criminals who wanted to rape boys, provided sanctuary for their obscene actions, and conspired to prevent the feds from prosecuting those actions, we might be able to get something under the RICO act.  That is if christians were not so dedicated to domestic espionage to prevent any consequences for the criminal acts fo their bothers and sisters.

    •  Don't be ridiculous (5+ / 0-)

      There's nothing "deep cover" about Michelle Bachman. She wears her religious beliefs on her sleeve. Moreover, Christianity as a religion, is not a monolithic, centralized institution, unlike the Church of Scientology. It contains a wide variety of differing and conflicting viewpoints, as does Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. Nothing could illustrate this better than your assertion that the Iraq war was a "Christian War", a view neither shared or promoted by the vast majority of Christians.

      Further, the Catholic Church is only one branch of Christianity and the Boy Scouts of America isn't a "Christian" organization at all. For example, the troop I belonged to as a child was largely Jewish, in keeping with the neighborhood in which I grew up.

      There are plenty of criticisms to be made both of Christianity and religion generally but this kind of overblown distortion undermines any legitimate critique.

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 10:29:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That was a quote from Lawrence Wright, not my (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, Aunt Pat

      personal opinion.

      nothing in American history can compare with the scale of the domestic espionage of Operation Snow White
      she too easily drinks the kool aid
      Personally, I think the antics of David Miscavige and the unwelcome attention the church is drawing to itself will effectively destroy scientology.

      And while I feel that the state sponsorship of any religion, through tax breaks that make them possible, is wrong, there is a greater wrong with this cult that used extraneous legal challenges to bully its way to recognition.

      Next week I will be looking at two books that show just how dangerous this outfit is on a personal level.

      We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty - Edward R. Murrow

      by Susan Grigsby on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:28:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for a great diary. (7+ / 0-)

    This sick cult should have been seized when they infiltrated their own government.

    Too many in this country feel the Constitution should include the 2nd Amendment. And nothing else.

    by blueoregon on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 09:21:32 AM PDT

  •  I just finished Beyond Belief. I worked with (7+ / 0-)

    the author, Jenna Miscavidge-Hill's dad Ron and aunt Denise, back in the 80s in a software company in NH that was owned by scientologistd. So Delighted that scientology is being Exposed. Sick Stuff That!

    "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones." "Life without emotions is like an engine without fuel."

    by roseeriter on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 09:42:08 AM PDT

  •  I agree with stopping the (5+ / 0-)

    over 200 tax exemptions for churches. I, for one, am tired of my taxes being higher so that pastors can write off their toilet paper.

    There are attorneys in this country that do nothing but advise churches on how to avoid taxes.

    By the way, in order to take advantage of the religion enabling tax free status, one must first be declared or accepted by the IRS as an official religion. So essentially the government is defining what religion is... which flies in the face of the Constitutional guarantees of separation.

    It's a wonder that wall still stands at all.

  •  they don't like it when I say so at church, but we (6+ / 0-)

    are a SECULAR country, and I like it that way. Church-goers if you want to have a church have it at someone's house with a potluck. When your group gets too big for that- well, take up a collection, and rent a venue or buy some property, but if you want to be that big you'll just have to pay taxes and fees like the rest of us.
    P.S. Corporations should not be getting any tax breaks, either, seeing as they're all just people, like the rest of us.

  •  L. Ron Hubbard is a bit like Ayn Rand: (6+ / 0-)

    a second-rate creative writer whose lurid imagination appeals to shallow Egoists who like to see themselves as brilliant independent thinkers.

    ‘Our enemies are less than twelve men. They are members of the Bank of England and other higher financial circles. They own and control newspaper chains and they, oddly enough, run all the mental health groups in the world...
    This sounds like the cartoon paranoid nightmares of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or our present plague of right-wing hate media.

    Hubbard may have a wilder imagination than most finger-painters of fear and hatred, but he also built an organization so ruthless and deceptive it makes your skin crawl.

    This is a clear and ugly look at the insects crawling beneath the bark. Both of these books sound well worth reading. Thanks, Susan from 29.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:07:44 PM PDT

    •  If you don't get the chance to read them, the last (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, Aunt Pat, RiveroftheWest

      two videos provide a very good look at what John Sweeney wrote about.

      And the only real difference that I can see between the imagination of Hubbard and Rand is that Hubbard got the tax break. What could Ayn Rand have done with a billion dollars?

      We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty - Edward R. Murrow

      by Susan Grigsby on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:36:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  By wilder imagination, I mean the Xenu/Thetans (4+ / 0-)

        and such ideas in Dianetics, and the whole sci-fi career that proceeded it. But I only know those ideas superficially, at second-hand.

        I do think it's good to look at ideas themselves before condemning them. I know enough about the Church of Scientology's actions that I'm confident they're a force for evil in the world. But you could look at the Inquisition and say the same of the Catholic Church (I know this is a partial and imperfect analogy); that wouldn't discredit the Bible.

        So I picked up Dianetics, to see for myself. Halfway through the introduction, Hubbard used a scientific example. Many more obvious examples would occur to anyone with a scientific education. But the one he chose had a double-barreled name, and sounded particularly erudite and impressive. I saw that he had no interest in reason and clarity, his whole game was about image and aura. He and Miscavige have been very effective at that game. Breeding a host of fanatical disciples with ruthless dedication to your cause can get you pretty far.

        Many have tried too pull away the curtain from Scientology before. I hope these two books are the beginning of the end, for all this "Church" gets away with, and all the damage they wreak.

        I'll check out the videos.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:55:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Catholic Church tried a Counter-Reformation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Susan from 29

    from within too. It did some good, but had a much smaller effect than the Protestant spilt of half Europe away from the mother church. It was too little, too late.

    If Scientology reforms, they have still committed so many crimes, and such beastly trampling on the humanity of their followers, that world opinion won't forgive them. This amoral, ruthless, conspiratorial program is wound deep in their DNA. There is not enough goodness in them to heal their disease.

    Once they lose their Imperial Clothes (and the bribes and bullying that keep them hidden from universal mockery), more and more ex-Scientologists and damning evidence will come out of the woodwork.

    But I feel your weariness. Looking too hard into the abyss takes a toll. I'm glad you'll be doing another diary on this - and also glad that it won't be until next week.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 02:17:02 PM PDT

  •  Great Review - And What Do We Do With Religion? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Susan from 29, Brecht

    The more religious (authoritarian) a religion or religious denomination (sub-set) is, the more harm they cause.

    I think Scientology and Mormonism are plainly cults, but then so are Opus Dei, most of the Baptist denominations, etc. etc.

    The government takes taxpayers' money and hands it out to these folks, as Susan from 29 wrote. It seems that's a holdover from the days when religions had more control over the population than they do today. It's out-dated and harmful.

    I've read a lot about Scientology (and other religions), and have debated it with an acquaintance who is in the group. He argues that it's not a cult, though his eagerness to give them money and his total submission exposes that.

    Scientology is certainly the subject of a lot of exposes recently. My sense of the organization, from articles and from conversations with the ol' boy I know, is that it's on the skids financially. They waste an enormous amount of money, and all the recent publicity has got to cause a few of their followers to at least cut back on donations.

    Wasted lives. Wasted money. A shame.

    A Southerner in Yankeeland

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