Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & The Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Is Scientology a cult?

Going Clear is a fascinating history of Scientology from the birth of L. Ron Hubbard to the present day. A lot of what Wright reports is difficult to believe – even the undisputed facts. Much of Hubbard’s life and the church’s practices are disputed by the Church of Scientology, with contested documents, stories from defectors as opposed to stories of church officials, and the shady practices uncovered by the FBI in the 1970s. No matter which version you believe, the life and times of Hubbard are amazing. He was the most prolific writer ever, he sailed around the world, and he founded a religion.
Many of the beliefs and practices of Scientology are based on a combination Hubbard’s lies about his own healing abilities and his paranoia of psychology. He claimed (and the church maintains) that he healed himself from debilitating injuries in World War II. The U.S. government has no records of anything other than some eye problems and arthritis. In his later years, it became clear that his body was deteriorating and that he did not have the power to heal it. Hubbard’s dislike of psychology and psychologists seems to have stemmed from the American Psychological Association’s dismissal of Dianetics, his supposed healing process that is the basis of Scientology’s audits.

One of the creepier aspects of Hubbard is his penchant for women, especially young women. When the church first started out and was exiled to the sea, he gathered a group of preteen girls that he called Messengers to be his personal servants and, well, messengers. It reminded me a lot of the allegations against another alleged cult leader, Bill Gothard. The cover-up of alleged physical and sexual abuse reminded me of the recent child sexual abuse cover up allegations against Sovereign Grace Ministries. Keeping things within the community, suspicion of outside law enforcement, internal punishments, and the threat of cut-off and exile if they leave the church – never again to see family, friends, and in many cases everyone they know. These are all signs of a cult. Even those who are placed in hard labor, the Rehabilitation Project Force, still remain in the church after their sentence is up.

Once Hubbard died and David Miscavige, the current head of Scientology, took over, the church became an even stronger cult. Miscavige allegedly abuses men and women at the highest levels.  He fought for the church’s tax-exempt status, which means it has a veneer of legitimacy – and saves millions in taxes each year.

HBO produced a documentary based on the book that includes interviews with former Scientology members. The church brushes off abuse allegations by saying they are from disgruntled former members. I am looking forward to watching it and finding out more about this cult derived from nothing more than a smattering of psychology, marketing, and the delusions of a charismatic bully.

Author: Lisa M Fry

Freelance writer & copy-editor. Book lover. Feminist. American in London.

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