This is a lengthy audiobook, exploring the history of Scientology and its founder L. R. Hubbard. In a nutshell, it accepts that Scientology is a “religion”, because the IRS says it is one. From there, Wright documents human and labour abuses within the church, political influence in numerous countries, and strong ties to Hollywood stars. It’s hard to imagine anyone reading the book and thinking “sign me up!"
Favourite Scene/ Quote
“Never have I felt so keenly the danger of new religious movements and the damage that is done to people who are lured into such groups, not out of weakness in character, but through their desire to do good and live meaningful lives.”
From beginning to end, Wright rejects the idea that Scientologists have been “brainwashed”. He assumes that they are seeking ways to improve their lives and to “do good”, and they get caught up in this particular religious community. It’s a different take on “cults” and the non-fiction cult genre.
Books like this usually read like fiction to me. The ideas and beliefs are often so wacky, so dogmatic, and so unfamiliar that it’s easy to read the book like a novel, to get caught up in the narrative.
Wright’s book is different. There’s not a moment in the book when you aren’t keenly aware it’s about real people in the real world. Haggis grew up not that far from me. Travolta and Cruise are real movie stars. Many of these stories played out on magazine covers very recently. All the players are so familiar.
That’s what makes the allegations of abuse, starvation, and manipulation so horrifying. There’s no voyeuristic pleasure in this book, no way to process it like a made-up melodrama. One guy had strong beliefs about humans and their role on this planet. He wrote a bunch of books and cruised around on ships with people who thought he might be onto something. He dies and another younger guy, steeped in the culture of the group, builds an empire. Along the way, people get hurt. And you recognize almost all of the names and places where this happens.
The book is deeply depressing. It seems to be fairly easy to convince people that humans are aliens with the ability to leave our bodies and meditate on remote planets. Easier, sadly, than convincing a critical mass of people to address the pressing environmental, social, and economic challenges of our time.
Cheer me the eff up.