Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood,
by Lawrence Wright
& the Prison of Belief
After spending a (very) long night watching the Oscars, I thought it would be appropriate to review a book about Hollywood-centric religion, namely Scientology. I actually had to think about whether and how I would review it, though, because the book's non-stop litany of how Scientology's leaders attack anyone who speaks against them is chilling, and makes one quite paranoid.Oh well. According to the author, there are only 25,000 of them left, so here goes.
First, let's get the credentials out of the way. Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize winner, the author of many other books, and a meticulous reporter for The New Yorker who had this book vetted by a veritable army of lawyers. He even tries, where called for, to be very fair and to present both sides. But the facts aren't pretty, and should give anyone pause.
Let's be clear (pardon the pun), this is country that celebrates its craziness and righteously defends its right to whatever religion one wants to join. And many of those religions have started out in odd, and in some cases unbelievable, ways.
But Scientology's founding and early days are beyond the pale. Consider that L. Ron Hubbard (L. is for Lafayette) began as an "explorer," a man who wanted to find fame and glory, or to invent it if need be. His first "glorious adventure" was prescient: a strange expedition that was underfunded and over-promised by Hubbard, with the participants calling it "the worst and most unpleasant" trip they had ever been on.
And then consider that Hubbard started his writing career in pulp fiction, churning out lurid and amazing stories full of aliens, zombies, and overlords. Sound familiar?
By the middle of Going Clear, a not-very-flattering portrait of Hubbard is in place. He is a bully, a misogynist, a dreamer, and a man full of hubris. He has obsessions – with women, with drugs, with reaching a "higher plane," and he begins to believe in his own omnipotence.
He could have been just another overblown and under-accomplished man if he had appeared at any other time in history. But the post-war generation of the '50s and '60s was in search of meaning and many weren't finding it in the usual religions. Hubbard's ideas and beliefs sounded just "out there" enough to be true. After all, it was all supposed to be based on science, with a dash of psychotherapy thrown in for good measure.
The shock for me is how big the Church of Scientology once was, since its initial extensive reach occurred before or during my early childhood. For example, in 1963 the FDA seized all E-Meters, instruments critical to "reading" subjects and helping them on their path to unblocking their minds and becoming "Clear" (hence the title).
In 1967, the IRS removed the Church's tax exemption, and many countries banned the religion and refused entry to Hubbard and his followers.
But the most shocking (and well-cataloged) point in the book for me was the revelation of Operation Snow White, which saw as many as 5,000 Scientologists placed in governmental agencies in countries around the world in the '70s. That includes the IRS, the Justice, Labor and Treasury Departments, the DEA, and more in the United States. The idea was to affect any decisions that would adversely impact the Church, and to also try to "take over" a country that the Church, and Hubbard, could run. And then there are the many documented cases of the Church suing anyone and everyone who tried to thwart their goals.
In its earliest days, Hubbard wanted to target Hollywood, where he saw the richest and most vulnerable pickings. By using his network's influence, and the lack of confidence in many of Hollywood's citizens, the Church was able to manipulate many to believe that its teachings could change their careers and their lives. The Church's leaders would go to extreme lengths to keep its stars happy, and under the Church's control.
It's telling to me that more attention was paid by the general public to the Church and its oddities after Hollywood's big names became involved than when all of the thousands of other nameless people became so wrapped up in it – often suffering loss, pain, and degradation in the process. Thus is the way of our Paris Hilton world, I suppose, but it's galling.
Before this review gets too long, because I could talk about the book all day, let me just say that it is well-written, well-researched, and endlessly fascinating. It's really the last part of Wright's title that had me so enthralled: "The Prison of Belief." As we all search for meaning in the world, it can be far too easy to be trapped by what we seek, rather than to be happy with what we find.
Recipe: A Clear WinnerI don't know about you, but all of this talk of existentialism has me jonesing for a drink. One of my favorite drinks is a fabulous punch full of crazy ingredients. Hmmm, a not-so-subtle complement to a crazy group that packs a punch, no? Sip slowly, or it will go to your head.
1 10-oz package of frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
1 cup fresh lime juice
bunch of mint
1 cup water
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup Pernod
3/4 cup sugar
10 ounces of ginger ale
Drain raspberries and mash gently through a sieve or colander to get 1/2 cup juice. Stir all liquids together with sugar until the sugar dissolves and then chill. Add ginger ale before serving in tall glasses with raspberries added. Use mint as desired.