Sunday, April 10, 2016

As P.T. Barnum said, there is a sucker born every minute.  L. Ron Hubbard was determined to find them in Hollywood.   In the documentary, Going Clear, Scientology aimed big, looking to turn on famous Hollywood figures to its form of self-help therapy pioneered by Hubbard in the 1950s.  He used e-meters to gauge your emotional state and help you bring your anxieties under control.

Notoriously insecure actors are the perfect target, and Scientology nabbed some big names early on, including Gloria Swanson and Rock Hudson.  You would be surprised by some of the others that flirted with or are currently members of Scientology.  Basically it was a form of therapy, but with a large supporting group that gave persons a sense of belonging, which you wouldn't find in private sessions.

In the documentary, and the book it was based on, LRH comes across as a charlatan.  A man who used religion solely to make money.  According to Alex Gibney (director) and Lawrence Wright (author), Hubbard had no interest beyond cash reward -- a kind of prosperity theology that drives many tele-evangelists past and present.  You get as much as you give, moving up a "bridge" toward enlightenment at the OT levels of faith, where you are finally introduced to the origin myth Hubbard created, which left Paul Haggis utterly speechless.

He called it a WTF moment in his interview with Gibney.  Having spent eight years in the church he couldn't believe what he was hearing.  Thetans were held in cryogenic sleep for 75 million years, in volcanos no less, before being awakened in the souls of human beings.  Apparently, it takes nearly a decade to break the spell of Xenu and gain control over your life and become an Operating Thetan.   By this point Haggis had made such a financial and emotional commitment to Scientology that he found it impossible to leave.

For others it is the quest to achieve OTVIII, like you would degrees of a black belt in karate.  It might come in handy to have a martial arts background, as Gibney's other interviewees described the torture they faced when the charismatic leader, David Miscavige, tried to purge them from the upper level of the church so that he could take complete control of operations in 2012.  They were physically tormented and beaten for days on end before their resistance was worn down to nothing.  They left the "church" one by one in the succeeding years, only to find themselves continually hounded by Miscavige's thugs, or "squirrel busters" as they call themselves, who also use the whistleblowers' "audits" to discredit them on the Internet.

According to one of the interviewees, John Travolta thought of leaving Scientology until reminded of what all he divulged in these "audits," or therapy sessions which were recorded.  Travolta has remained in the church but keeps relatively quiet about his association, unlike Tom Cruise, who has become the church's "ambassador," operating on a Thetan level, one can assume OTVIII, with only Miscavige outranking him, to whom Cruise pays total deference.

It is like one of Hubbard's early science fiction books, which he turned out at an astonishing rate in the 30s and 40s before stumbling on the concept of Dianetics, which he turned into a bestseller in 1950.  John Travolta even starred in one of the films based on these early pulp novels, Battlefield Earth, which was universally panned.   It seemed Hubbard came to believe the fantasy world he created for himself, sucking others into his orbit, and eventually creating a following, which was the subject of Paul Thomas Anderson's 2012 film, The Master.

The documentary gives you a brief insight into the origins of the Scientology movement, but focuses more on the current state of the quasi-religion that has amassed an enormous wealth despite a relatively small following, approximately 50,000 deluded souls, not counting all the others that left the church but may retain part of its teachings.

Gibney thinks Miscavige is a true believer, having come into the church at age 11 through his parents, and learned the faith directly from LRH himself.  As such, Miscavige has really never known anything else, but the way he has gained control of the church and uses it essentially as a tax haven for its ever-growing wealth, suggests it is the operating structure of Scientology that he learned from Hubbard and that its belief system is nothing more than a means toward a very lucrative financial end.  Miscavige won his battle with the IRS in 1993, having Scientology declared a tax-exempt religion, thereby not having to pay nearly a billion dollars in back taxes.

More and more ex-Scientologists are now speaking out, including Mike Rinder, who was forced to give up his family when he chose to leave the church.  Unlike other religions, when you choose to go you loose everything, including family members who stay with the church.  Katie Holmes is still going through a custody battle with Tom Cruise over their daughter Suri. In light of Rinder, Haggis and other former Scientologists' devastating revelations, it is doubtful Holmes will lose custody.  This is especially true when you hear "Spanky" Taylor's painful description of the ordeal she went through with her infant daughter.

Cruise has gone through three marriages now, as well as several girlfriends, unable to find his Scientology soulmate.  There were even rumors that Miscavige was personally arranging his next wife so that the church wouldn't be subjected to these tabloid scandals.  This apparently isn't the first time, as the church tried to set up Cruise with Nazanin Boniadi after Cruise went through a painful divorce with Nicole Kidman.  The arranged relationship failed to take hold, proving to be a very traumatic experience for Boniadi.  Eventually, Cruise made his own selection in the unsuspecting Katie Holmes, who like Boniadi was quite young at the time.

The cult-like nature of the church has long been questioned and for years was under investigation by the FBI, but once it received its tax-exempt religious status, its strange operations were viewed as part of its faith and no longer subject to prosecution.  To hear Haggis, Rinder, Taylor and the others interviewed in the documentary, you are entering into a pact not much unlike that with the devil, where you essentially sell your soul to the church in return for a support network that will further your career either inside or outside the church.  This was the case with Travolta, whose star really didn't begin to shine until after he joined Scientology in the mid 70s.

This close-knit fraternity has many friends in Hollywood, and as such can help start, extend or end careers as it so chooses, using "audits" as a form of blackmail if a person tries to leave the church.  If that fails, they get former members to sign non-disclosure agreements, as was the case with Nicole Kidman, who has refused to divulge very much about her experience out of fear of legal reprisals.

It really makes you wonder what the church is trying to hide.  Wright and Gibney have chipped away at its veneer, thanks to the testimonials of some of the church's former members, but it will probably take much longer to pry into the secret world of Scientology that David Miscavige is so zealously protecting.

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