Monday, January 21, 2013

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright.  New York: Alfred A. Knoph/Random House, Inc., 2013.  e-book, 526 pps., incl footnotes, bibliography, index.

Twitter  @lawrencewright

I've been reading many books on cults, brain-washing, thought-stopping, betrayal of the self, Scientology, Mormonism, culture of abuse, and W.W.A.S.P.S.  I eagerly awaited the release of Going Clear in a format that I could read.  [Due to perception problems, an e-reader is a necessity for me in spite of my objections related to Intellectual Property Monopolies].  Going Clear is a fine, delightfully subversive, and powerful book.  It offers a fresh and compelling viewpoint into the mire that is Scientology.  Lawrence Wright has the luxury of being a third party.  He fills in more of the history and background to the events that ex-Scientologists referred to in their memoirs.  Wright manages to convey the human stories entwined in his tome.  He also includes the extensive objections by Scientology to each of his findings.

Going Clear does feature Tom Cruise, the actor.  But Going Clear is about far more than Tom Cruise, the recruiting of Hollywood stars and wannabe stars, and history.  This book gets into the nitty-gritty of how Scientology attracts/recruits followers.  Similar to many sales pitches, first there is the approach and then the addressing of any ambivalence or animosity on the part of the potential believer.  After that, the recruiter looks for what Scientology calls "the ruin."  The ruin is a regret or a weakness or a problem that the potential believer has not been able to fix.  Finally there is assurance that Scientology can handle it via a recommended course.  As with anything else that one wishes someone else to do, a reason why another should do one's bidding must be provided.  It must be powerful and attractive enough to overcome any resistance.

L. Ron Hubbard was no doubt a consummate salesman as well as a highly intelligent man with vision.  But the nasty stinking elephant under the rug will not disintegrate.  The courses leading up to the state of "Clear" are very expensive.  Hollywood stars can afford them.  Regular people can't.  Some of those people re-mortgage their houses or take out loans and more loans to pay for them.  Others opt to join Sea Org.  Those who join the Sea Org-- Scientology's vast clergy class who agree to work for far less than minimum wage for life but get courses and auditing included with the deal-- quickly become isolated from the rest of society.  Once in, it is difficult to leave.  Sea Org staffers are impoverished and lack privacy to make an unmonitored phone call to anyone on the outside.  With limited viable options, they stay on in spite of being sentenced to the R.P.F. and all of the other abuses.  Those who blow [leave by escaping] are tracked and brought back if possible.  Those who sign out are presented with Freeloader Bills for the courses and auditing that they have received.  The motive for paying the bills is being allowed to remain in good standing with the Church of Scientology i.e. being allowed to remain in contact with any family members within Scientology.  Those who don't pay are shunned.  If a staffer blows out or is thrown out with the label of "Subversive Person" attached, their family members are instructed not to have contact with them.  Thus, leaving for any reason becomes fraught with difficulties ranging from "How do I get out of here? and "But I love my family..." to "Where can I go?" and "What can I do for a living now?"

sapphoq reviews says:  Lawrence Wright deserves recognition and another Pulitzer Prize for writing Going ClearGoing Clear portrays the human rights abuses that happen within Scientology.  That a religious institution does not get prosecuted for wrongful imprisonment or human rights abuses happening behind its' walls is to the shame of the laws of the United States that falsely assume that religious bodies are worthy of our trust.  They aren't.  

The similarities between Sea Org operations and W.W.A.S.P.S. facilities are ones that I could not ignore.  I understand something about the culture of abuse that [in my opinion] underpins the fabrics of both Scientology and W.W.A.S.P.S.  Both organizations teach the older ones to abuse the ones coming up behind them.  Both also use the denial of sleep, food, and basic medical care.  Neither place offers its adherents the right to investigate criticisms of their system or the right to complain to an outside authority.  W.W.A.S.P.S. schools use face down restraints and isolation rooms.  Scientology's Sea Org staffers have been known to use physical abuse as well as unlawful imprisonment in basements and boiler rooms and crowded trailers as a means of punishment.  Even though these abuses have been written about on the Internet and in books and magazine articles, Scientology continues to garner converts and W.W.A.S.P.S. enterprises [a.k.a. Teen Help and a myriad of other names] continue to have parents, judges, and a few talk show hosts send in their kids for behavioral modification via abuse.  The folks who run W.W.A.S.P.S. are Mormons in good standing with the L.D.S.  At times, I have wondered if there is a connection between W.W.A.S.P.S. and Scientology because of the rampant abuse.  W.W.A.S.P.S. tells parents that the kids will lie about stuff.  W.W.A.S.P.S. claims its detractors are troubled liars and sometimes accuses them of looking for financial gain.  Scientology claims its defectors are not the folks they used to be [before they left the religion] and therefore not to be trusted.  But the cries of "Foul!" by those who stand accused of human rights violations fall hollow.  There are too many survivors of both places to easily discount what they say.  Going Clear underlines the reasons why Anonymous organizes worldwide protests against Scientology.  But to write about Scientology thus is dangerous.  Writing about W.W.A.S.P.S. is also dangerous.  Both places know how to use take-down orders and lawsuits to their advantage.  The justice system apparently does not cultivate the understanding that any business lost to the Church of Scientology or W.W.A.S.P.S. is a direct result of exposing their [alleged] abuse of human beings.  The message in Going Clear needs to be heeded.

The epilogue points out some of the parallels between Scientology and other religions.  The fictions inherent in Scientology and in all other religions are exactly the reason why I am an atheist.  Hubbard's beliefs are no more [ir]rational than Joseph Smith's or the [un]Holy Roman Catholic Church and her Pontifex or any other religion.  We become habilitated to those things that we are surrounded by, whether it is widespread systemic abuse or legends common to the religious institutions around us.

 Going Clear is bound to appeal to readers who are admirers of the work of Robert Jay Lifton and to those who have read material written by ex-Scientologists such as Marc Headley and Jenna Miscavige Hill.  Activists involved in the fight to stop abuse-- whether it is the abuses found in the troubled teen troubled industry [of which W.W.A.S.P.S. is but one player] or any other systemic or familial abuse pattern-- ought to give Going Clear a good read.  Folks who are into the lives of celebrities ought to get their heads out of the fluffy magazines and get into some of the real issues surrounding Hollywood.  Highly recommended for thinkers and movers.

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