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

With both horror and fascination, I just finished reading the Lawrence Wright exposé called Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.

This exquisitely researched book takes us into the bowels of Scientology, a religious group that has apparently systematically lied, cheated, abused its followers, sought to destroy its detractors, devastated families, amassed giant amounts of money which impoverished many and landed in the pockets of very few, and pandered to celebrities whose egos got stroked by the maniacs who run the show.

Scientology doctrines do not actually address the major religious concept of a holy God or the idea that there might be a moral and good center to the world.  It is based on the idea that people, by following its scientific principles, can become essentially super-human and immortal.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t show much respect to science.  The whole thing was built on the science fiction imagination and highly prolific pen of one L. Ron Hubbard, whose writings have been elevated to the state of Holy Scripture, forever and unquestionably true.

But there is little holy about them or about the organization.

A lot of people have been sucked into it and had the life sucked out of them. Wright’s work particularly chronicles the life of Paul Haggis, highly successful screenwriter (multiple well-known TV shows and movies, such as Crash and Million Dollar Baby), the years he spent in it and his eventual journey out.

Haggis was told never to read anything about Scientology that someone outside the fold wrote.  Should he disagree with anything that Hubbard wrote, no matter how crazy it sounded, the entire problem was within him and he must change his own thinking.  The rule: NEVER question what he was being told or taught.

Secret upon secret, lie upon lie, he and his family were pulled through the upper ranks of this organization.

Haggis finally could no longer tolerate the organization’s abuse of his daughter. He began to ask questions and read materials from outside the fold.

He had indeed been in a prison of belief, along with others who may have been unable to escape. The structure and insularity of Scientology consumes their entire lives. Wright documents spiritual, mental and emotional abuse heaped on many loyal Scientologists, most of whom entered the organization as sincere seekers of greater spiritual truth and emotional freedom.

How could this be?

I think all of us long to be surrounded by a group of like-minded people whom we believe understand us and are in general agreement over major life issues. And most of us like being near the seat of power. This desire appears early–the so-called “popular” boys and girls not only call the shots, but other children vie get near them, to have some of the aura of popularity rub off on them.

Dangerous religious groups draw people in by keeping the real secrets of the faith tenants hidden until strong personal connection is already made.  They also create enticing incentives to move to the inner circle which will than have them deeply enmeshed in the culture of secrecy they have created. Because this touches a basic human need, the movements may grow rapidly.

I contend that when an aura of secrecy dominates any religious group and those in the inner circles are there to be served rather than to serve, there is something terribly, terribly wrong. Belief has indeed become a prison.

Wright has done us all a favor by writing this book.  He has probably also put himself at risk.  Scientologists have a long history of stalking, threatening, and piling lawsuit upon lawsuit on those who have dared to question or expose their secrets. This is a courageous piece of scholarship and deserves a careful reading.

Let’s think, people.  If we can’t read critiques of our belief structures and their histories without attacking, there is something very, very wrong.

5 thoughts on “Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief

  1. Love that Christy, one of the young men working this Epiphany brought out exactly this point. He is a recent college graduate and wanted to make sure we as leaders stressed to the young men at the facility and in fact any teens seeking Christ these days. He felt many times in his life he had been told not to question his faith, believe it or else… His thought when attending a bible study or other forms of education ask ask ask, It’s ok to ask questions about your faith– if someone tells you this is not allowed, you are more than likely going to fall for a false god.

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  2. You have provided some interesting facts about the reality and the evils of Scientology as researched by Lawrence Wright. The Hollywood personalities who belong to this cult are fairly well known. There are probably many other well-known people who belong who may prefer not to have that fact made public.

    Your statement that, “Most of us like being near the seat of power” seems a little out of place coming from an ordained Christian minister. Did you mean to say that? What “power” are you referring to?

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    • Good question. I just think it is the human condition to want to get to the top of the heap. Remember the story from Mark 10 when James and John, thinking Jesus is about to be crowned the earthly king, ask for seats at his right and left hand? There is something about reflected glory that we find attractive. I’m not saying this is a particularly desirable trait–just a very common human one.

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      • Very helpful explanation. Thank you, Rev. Thomas. I remember that Gospel account well, but your term “reflected glory” adds a little more to my understanding of that sometimes puzzling passage.

        You are so right. Getting to the top of the heap, as you say, is so deeply ingrained in our human psyche. Standing on the shoulders of giants intellectually in the name of human progress is one thing but standing on another person’s head to get to the top of the heap is quite another.

        I’ve been spending quite some time lately reading about Franciscan spirituality (from Rev. Richard Rohr and Gerry Straub) so I found the word “power” a little jarring.

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