Pssst…cough, Scientology… Shush!

19 Oct

The reasonable, fair-game fearing (fear-gaming?) part of me has resisted writing anything about Janet Reitman’s book Inside Scientology because I appreciate my basic freedoms. I like that people who haven’t met me and who might one day employ me, don’t already hate me and I’d like to keep it that way. It’s likely I’ve given myself way too much credit here, what would wily Scientologist’s want with me? It’s Reitman they’re likely to rip to shreds until she can’t spell another word let alone publish a new book. It runs against the grain of common sense that well respected journalists can be tarnished for their hard won right to investigate the underbelly of pseudo-religious ‘gangs’ but it happens all the time; Scientologist’s are like bee hives waiting to be kicked. Except no water will keep them from your skin.

It’s this (and other) extremely unsettling behaviors that make scientologists both a terrifying and tantilising topic for a book. I’ve spent quite a bit of time lazily trying to investigate them myself; I’ve watched that BBC documentary Scientology & Me where journalist John Sweeney loses his voice what with all the screaming he does at Tommy Davis whilst they’re visiting the exhibition Psychiatry: An Industry of Death. The ‘fact’ that psychiatry caused the holocaust proves too much for Sweeney who does his best impression of a 5 year old who’s been asked to put his toys away.
I’ve watched a longer documentary too, some time past, where I learn’t more about L.Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder and the author of its ever changing, advancing, doctrine mainly referred to as Dianetics. But I’d never found anything that put all these tantalising yet skewed perspectives together into a chronological, thoughtful, unbiased look at what Scientologist’s really believed, who they were and the philosophical underpinnings of their ‘church.’

Reitman is a journalist for Rolling Stone, she was a war correspondent for the magazine prior to her equally combative stint at (or around) Clearwater (the spiritual mecca of Scientologists in Florida, where they’ve pretty much bought the whole town). In many ways she’s the perfect person to write this book; she cut her teeth during war time, so she knows how to fight. She is well known enough so that strange lies might not stick and she  doesn’t seem to have any ties to the sex industry – which always puts a dampener on a persons life when a Scientologist gets wind of it.
Reitman’s writing is dry, it’s nearly without any style whatsoever, and that’s fine, that’s good actually because if this were a quirky read, laden with jokes and head nods to Xenu, high fives to South Park and such we might not actually be able to decipher the real from the hyper-real, the schtick from the truth. So strange is Scientology (in many ways it’s also normal but so is normal stuff and we’re not here to talk about that), that it needs a totally deadpan delivery. It needs facts, citations, references, first hand accounts and years of research for you to believe what you’re reading. And that’s exactly what Reitman delivers with Inside Scientology- if you weren’t reading about people signing billion year contracts to work for something called the Sea Org you’d be forgiven for thinking you were reading a text book.

It’s been a hard time for the ‘church’ lately (they’re considered a religion in some countries, not others, religious status often confers tax exemption and other freedoms from and too and some countries can’t figure how they would deserve these entitlements) , they’ve left the age of adventure and charisma in which L.Ron Hubbard flourished and entered the modern capitalist age where only the pretty and the weird gain a real foot hold in the sloping mountain of fame; hence their interest in Tom Cruise as an agent of conversion. It used to be that secrets were kept secret, but now with dissenters making much of the upper tier practices of Scientology available online, some of the magic, a lot of the profits and much of their credibility are in tatters. Indeed Reitman reveals in the book that Tom Cruise, like a good scientologist, had kept his head out of ‘non-scientology’ media and as a result was completely surprised to discover that an intergalactic warlord was responsible for many of his troubles. Pesky thetans!

I don’t want to give anything away. I want you to read this book, especially (well probably only) if you’re as strangely intrigued by this movement as I am. More and more I find myself thinking that every book is in some way a commentary, intentional or otherwise, on the current state of the planet. Scientology reeks of the cultural disease of greed and insecurity that plagues us. Money! Quick-fix! Done-in-a-lifetime! Power! These things often give us less of what they promise and more of a backhanded ‘wake up fool!’ slap – for followers of Hubbard this often comes in the form of internal justice, forced abortions, extreme poverty, extreme debt and the inability to leave. Seems that ‘becoming clear’ can be a double edged sword.  Hubbard started this movement with, it’s fair to say, mixed intentions and even though it has a dubious religious status depending on what country it’s in, it has become very much like other religions; follow us and you’ll be fine, challenge us and you’ll be damned. Except with Scientology it’s not the distant threat of an unrelenting god who will judge you upon death but the scientologists themselves who threaten you with immediate destruction.

And finally, read this book for no other reason than to get better dinner party stories; I’ve found I’m a hit now that I can explain Xenu, give the chronology of Lisa Ferguson’s unfortunate and controversial death, and explain how David Miscavage took power from Hubbard after his death.

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One Response to “Pssst…cough, Scientology… Shush!”

  1. Gina Smith October 20, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    Scientology. It’s always worse than you think. You should also check out “The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion” by Hugh Urban.

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