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Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

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A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the now-classic study of al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack, the Looming Tower. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with both current and former Scientologists--both famous and less well known--and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative skills to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology: its origins in the imagination of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate (and legally acknowledged) religion; its vast, secret campaign to infiltrate the U.S. government; and its dramatic efforts to grow and prevail after the death of Hubbard.

At the book's center, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: The darkly brilliant L. Ron Hubbard--whose restless, expansive mind invented a new religion tailor-made to prosper in the spiritually troubled post-World War II era. And his successor, David Miscavige--tough and driven, with the unenviable task of preserving the church in the face of ongoing scandals and continual legal assaults.

We learn about Scientology's esoteric cosmology; about the auditing process that determines an inductee's state of being; about the Bridge to Total Freedom, through which members gain eternal life. We see the ways in which the church pursues celebrities, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and how young idealists who joined the Sea Org, the church's clergy, whose members often enter as children, signing up with a billion-year contract and working with little pay in poor conditions. We meet men and women "disconnected" from friends and family by the church's policy of shunning critical voices. And we discover, through many firsthand stories, the violence that has long permeated the inner sanctum of the church.

In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of the constitutional protections achieved in its victory over the IRS. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observations, understanding, and synthesis, and his ability to shape a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that goes far beyond an immediate exposé and uncovers the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is.

430 pages, Hardcover

First published January 17, 2013

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About the author

Lawrence Wright

48 books2,088 followers
There is more than one author with this name

Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, screenwriter, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and fellow at the Center for Law and Security at the New York University School of Law. He is a graduate of Tulane University, and for two years taught at the American University in Cairo in Egypt.

Wright graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School (Dallas, Texas) in 1965 and, in 2009, was inducted into Woodrow's Hall of Fame.

Wright is the author of six books, but is best known for his 2006 book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. A quick bestseller, The Looming Tower was awarded the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, and is frequently referenced by media pundits as an excellent source of background information on Al Qaeda and the September 11 attacks. The book's title is a phrase from the Quran: "Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower," which Osama bin Laden quoted three times in a videotaped speech seen as directed to the 9/11 hijackers.

Among Wright's other books is Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory (1994), about the Paul Ingram false memory case. On June 7, 1996, Wright testified at Ingram's pardon hearing.

Wright also co-wrote the screenplay for the film The Siege (1998), which told the story of a terrorist attack in New York City that led to curtailed civil liberties and rounding up of Arab-Americans.

A script that Wright originally wrote for Oliver Stone was turned instead into a well-regarded Showtime movie, Noriega: God's Favorite (2000).

A documentary featuring Wright, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, premiered on HBO in September 2010. Based on his journeys and experience in the Middle East during his research for The Looming Tower, My Trip to Al-Qaeda covers topics ranging from the current state of the regime in Saudi Arabia to the historic underpinnings of 9/11.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,671 reviews
Profile Image for Eric.
670 reviews110 followers
March 21, 2013
What a terrible and scurrilous attack on a noble and helpful religion! What a libel against its honest and self-effacing founder and prophet, L. Ron Hubbard! And upon its current and not at all insane leader, David Miscavige, who is by no means a sadistic tyrant! And upon Tom Cruise, who is not at all a megalomaniacal weirdo!

Psst...is everyone gone? Is it safe? Okay, I really liked this book. It's a hard hitting exposé of Scientology that has to be read to be believed. That first paragraph above was just a feeble attempt on my part to ward off retribution and harassment by the Church of Scientology for expressing a negative opinion.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
January 24, 2021
Not an untypical story of a modern cult: a paranoid narcissist with a few interesting ideas starts a religion, abuses his followers, and nearly implodes a couple of times before a sadomasochistic sociopath takes the reins, summoning dark order out of chaos. Narcissist recedes into background, sociopath assumes complete control, narcissist dies, and everything runs more smoothly and more evilly than before. Until all of a sudden it doesn't.

This is a dreary book, for both these two--the narcissist Hubbard and the sociopath Miscavidge--are sad, vicious, and vile. Sure, they are different--Hubbard is more sad and vile, Miscavidge more vicious and vile--but the reader inevitably wearies of this interminable chronicle of domestic abuse, serial adultery, forced abortion, pathological lying, delusions of grandeur (mostly Hubbard), irrational demands, punching and kicking,merciless retribution for renegades and journalists (mostly Miscavidge) and erratic behavior and abitrary punishments, including the imposition of penitential servitude (both of them, all the time).

Not even the Hollywood types seem interesting. Paul Haggis--one of the book's principal sources and director of "Crash," perhaps the worst of all Oscar-winning "Best Pictures"--is drab and self-serving, Travolta comes off as sweet but scared, and Tom Cruise as arrogant and shallow.

That's about it. I have to admit, though, that if this book were half its length, if it were organized according to theme, I might have given it three stars. But maybe not.
Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews3,119 followers
April 8, 2015
This is a vile viscous book which is a pack of lies!!!! And lawrence writght hates the first amendmant and free speech and religous freedom and -- heh heh heh. not really. lawrence wright is the living badass who's written all about religion & the 'prison of belief', most notable for his truly great pulitzer prize winning study of radical islam, the looming tower.

i've written elsewhere in these hallowed halls of goodreads about the will to believe -- about how, atheist grouch and PTS/SP* that i am, on some level i'm deeply envious of tom cruise (OT VIII**) and some of those seriously fucked-to-the-core radical islamists. while this video of tom cruise was nearly universally mocked (and it is very funny), i found something very compelling about it. lemme take it a bit further: pure evil, yes, but the conviction it must've taken to pilot an airplane straight into a goddamn building requires something i just don't have. insanity? sure. but, also a level of faith and belief which, if i'm honest with myself, is something i find somewhat attractive. do i have that kind of conviction about anything? i'd like to think so. in the deepest recesses of my rusted out ol' heart, at the core of what i'm made of, i'd like to believe that there are a few things i'd die for. but the certainty & conviction about those questions which have plagued mankind since day one, those questions unsuccessfully tackled by poets & philosophers…? (who am i? do i have a soul? is death the end? is there a god?)

the one truism i've arrived at is the obvious one: the smartest, the most religious, the most inquisitive can only come to the same conclusions arrived at by an inanimate object: zilch. zero. nada.

faith, indifference, or stupidity. in my opinion, these are the three options in coming to terms with this stuff. in other words, 1) you believe in something for no reason other than that some holy dude or text tells you so, 2) you just don't care, or 3) you're an idiot. the option for the rest of us can be reduced to that phrase much beloved by the left: if you're not scared, you're not paying attention.

enough of all that grim stuff. read the book. it's great. and seriously demented. and wildly entertaining. and LRH is a very interesting guy. surely some kind of genius, but also a crank and liar of gargantuan proportions, an adventurer, a writer, a filmmaker, fake war hero, father, husband, wife-beater, savior to many, devil to many others, etc.

wright describes LRH writing some 500 pulp novels (!!!) under these conditions: he'd buy rolls of the paper that butchers use to wrap meats, lock himself in a tiny room, black out the windows, plug in a single light with a blue lightbulb (!!) and sip from a bottle of rum while banging out yardage of pulp on the meat-paper scroll. when he finished a novel (in a matter of days), he'd tear it off and keep plowing ahead onto another one. i love this. and so ordered a few of his pulpy '40s novels -- the covers are so great:

* Potential Trouble Source/Suppressed Person
* Operating Thetan level 8
Profile Image for Moira.
512 reviews25 followers
February 21, 2013
I have really mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I don't want to give it a bad rating, because I don't think it's a bad book, and I really appreciate all the time and effort Wright and hundreds of other people (seriously: read the acknowledgements) put into investigating Scientology. He is almost painfully even-handed, even if the rain-on-the-roof effect of the constant footnotes cementing the Wall of Denial "the church" is trying to put up around his findings ("Tom Cruise has never met that person, the church would never pimp for Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise has never had a motorcycle, Tom Cruise may in fact be a holographic projection") is annoying.

But....his main informant is Paul Haggis, who was a top celebrity member for nearly four decades, and who practiced an amazing level of denial and compartmentalization, until his love for his daughters punched through it. To be fair, everyone at the higher levels of Scientology practiced this kind of extreme dissociation. "But this is insane, and I'm not seeing anything like healing the sick, and people are actually being beaten and imprisoned....but my whole family and society is here, and I'm clearly the only one who feels this way, so I'll just keep quiet and pretend and buy the audit courses bundled so I don't have to deal with it...." It is an amazing if probably unintended portrait of the powerful role denial has in keeping people places they realize they shouldn't be in but desperately want (or need) to be in.

I find Paul Haggis personally annoying because he honestly seems like just the kind of guy who would never think about racism until his Porsche got carjacked on Wiltshire (there is a loving, four-pages-long, detailed description of Crash, surely one of the most self-indulgent movies ever made). If you've read Wright's New Yorker profile of Haggis (or the Maureen Orth piece about the Courtship of Katie Holmes), that's the basic structure for this book. There is much, much more about Tom Cruise's high-flying lifestyle than I ever wanted to know. Tom Cruise wanted a nickel-plated motorcycle! Tom Cruise got a Montblanc fountain pen carved out of a eucalyptus burl! Tom Cruise closed down Rockefeller Center so he could arrange a skating date! I DON'T CARE.

I'm not sorry I bought this book, because I want to support critiques of Scientology, but it's just not very informative or enlightening. In a way it's a blessing some of the atrocities are so sketchily reported -- the breakup of families, forced abortions, spouses informing on each other, slave labour that would rival Communist prison camps -- because just realizing how terrible Scientology is for everyone but a few hundred people on top is upsetting. I wanted less dwelling on the psyche of the rich white privileged man who felt really bad about being in denial for nearly four decades, and more of the actual stories about people like Paulette Cooper and Lisa McPherson, or even just more from Haggis' own daughters. (You can read about what it was like to be brought up inside Scientology here: http://exscientologykids.com/)

Not quite recommended, but I didn't dislike it, exactly.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
782 reviews12.4k followers
April 23, 2015
“This is not a church or a religious organization,” the labor minister, Norbert Blum, told Maclean’s magazine. “Scientology is a machine for manipulating human beings.”
Yes, I already saw the HBO documentary 'Going Clear' based on this hefty tome by Lawrence Wright, and so it was obvious that I'd just have to read the book that made it possible. After all, for any dedicated reader the idea that 'a picture is worth a thousand words' simply means that there are thousands of words that should be read instead.

When I was just a kid, I had a huge crush on Tom Cruise. It was in one of the countless magazine snippets on him that I first heard about Scientology. It seemed strange and I forgot all about it. Then there was that South Park episode that made me laugh. Since then I've spent a few minutes here and there on horrifically fascinated online searches about this strange blend of business and religion, but this documentary was what made me really want to look into more. After all, not every day you come across such an inconceivably bizarre phenomenon that managed to survive several decades and amass quite a monetary value in the process.
"In the United States, constitutional guarantees of religious liberty protect the church from actions that might otherwise be considered abusive or in violation of laws in human trafficking or labor standards.”
Wright does not spend as much time on Scientology as a religion - after all, bizarre and religions tend to frequently go hand in hand. He focuses on the celebrity worship, money making schemes and the culture of intimidation and espionage which he lays out through the examination of the lives of a few key players and a few more peripheral players/victims throughout the years Scientology has been around. We get the stories of those who tried to expose the misdeeds of the organization only to suffer the consequences of intimidation and smear campaign, with clear criminality in all those actions - Paulette Cooper being one of the victims. We get a thorough exploration of L. Ron Hubbard's life as well as a look at where the current leader David Miscavige comes from. There are the stories of the former enforcer and now a loud anti-Miscavige voice Marty Rathbun. Many of the pages are spent on Paul Haggis, an Oscar-winning director and screenwriter, once a devout Scientologist who finally left the church once the bigotry he felt affected his his daughters made him go to internet for some research on the church - the activity that is very much discouraged. John Travolta gets a bit of attention - but nothing even close to the amount of pages dedicated to the current loud pro-Scientology mouthpiece Tom Cruise.

The focus of the organization on the cult of celebrity and feeding on the Hollywood culture is interesting given how much all the events that Wright lays out read like they were taken from any number of Hollywood productions. We have large spying schemes and quiet takeovers of the government and companies power structures, the men in black showing up on the doorstep to intimidate and coerce, the threats and kidnappings, the physical violence and the bordering on absurdity cult of personality, and the daring escapes within the inch of the survivors' lives.

I personally found the experience of reading the footnotes after each chapter quite humorous. Every allegation that Wright poses is followed by a footnote, the majority of which come to any variation of, 'The church denies the allegation. Nope, never happened. The church leaders had nothing to do with any of it and claim ignorance.' Of course they do. They know nothing, Jon Snow.

It's a very thorough investigation into the phenomenon that is Scientology told through the experiences of the most prominent figures and the loudest voices in the organization. There is something even more sinister in the way the scariest, most unbelievable parts are so casually reported - the beatings, the humiliations, the breakup of families and friendships, the forced abortions, the slave labor. I think Wright succeeds at conveying how commonplace all this is within the tenets of the organization and I commend him for that.

Now I just wish I could back in time and have a 10-year-me pick a different celebrity crush, the one not too blinded by the gilded walls of a very well-thought-out cage. Sorry, Mr. Cruise, but blergh.
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,078 followers
November 19, 2016
What a hoot! A religion started by a bad science-fiction writer. OMG, the greed, the debauchery, the paranoia, the totalitarian re-education camps, the power trips, the murders, the mayhem, the countless lives ruined, the advent of the petty sociopath David Miscavige. And I thought the history of the Roman Catholic church was scandalous. It is, but the Church of Scientology is giving that hoary institution a run for its money —and it's all about the money of course. The Roman Catholic Church has had two millennia in which to refine its all too pleasant modus operandi. The Church of Scientology has achieved its notoriety in about 1/40th of the time. I think most will agree that that's quite a start. Revelatory stuff. You'll be astonished and appalled. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Delee.
243 reviews1,133 followers
September 27, 2017
I can't lie- I fell in love with Jesus at a young age....

I was about 6 years old and my parents took me to see Jesus Christ Superstar. That was about the extent of my religious education.

I was conflicted to who was more dreamy...Jesus...or Judas????

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In the end Jesus won out- not because of his morals... as a 6 year old I was attracted to both- but I am afraid I was just more attracted to Jesus...I mean seriously do you want to align yourself with the troubled man who hung himself from a tree- or the guy that at the end was resurrected and had a cute flock of sheep following him about?

I picked the sheep guy...with the dreamy eyes and the one that sung Hosanna Hey Sanna Sanna Hosanna. It was uplifting...even though really- if I was to look at it now- Judas had a far superior voice and presence.

Because today...as an adult...I look at things logically- rather than emotionally. I look at fact vs. fiction...And factually Judas kicked Jesus's ass in that movie as far as talent.

Today as an adult- I am also an agnostic. A stance that most people see to be rather wishy washy. I am not so far reaching to say I am an atheist...I will never be one to call myself a GOD believer. I am on the fence. I like to call myself open-minded- and as an open minded person I must admit that I think of myself as far superior than those who think of themselves as superior for picking a side.

I surround myself with believers and non-believers- but the one thing all of them have in common- is they question...and they treat people with kindness...for the most part. I really don't care what you believe as long as your core belief is that you respect our lands...and try to follow some kind of belief system that isn't harmful of others or future generations.

Yup- I am a dirty non-believing, non-God fearing environmentalist.

My beliefs are that most religions are stemmed from crazy people- and if you are a radical believer who takes logic out of the equation- then I don't really have any respect for you...as I am sure you have no respect for me.

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Scientology is at the tippity top of my list. Those who have gone off in their own direction and practice their own form of Scientology need not fear my hatred. I have so much respect for those that can't abide by the fundamental aspects of their religions that made them horrid in the first place.

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...but I have no respect for those who cling to their belief system when it is harmful, and clueless, and dangerous...when it splits apart families, when it ignores logic and when when bullies or men are only in the top tier.

In fact..for the most part I don't really acknowledge Scientology as a real religion. I think that they pushed their way into the mainstream by blackmail tactics and have no place in modern society. The fact that they get tax breaks I think of as a joke. I think of them as a cult. Branches that have cut off ties with mainstream Scientology- I have respect for...the ones that stick to a core base that believes in what is good and pure- regardless of the fact that its founder was a crazy person. The Ron Miscaviges of the bunch that benefit financially and carry it beyond reason...not so much.

There is good and bad for every religion...There are judgmental hypocrites that say they believe in good...but live their lives anything but...

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...and there are the ones that regardless of what they believe- live their lives with dignity and goodness that you can stand behind and respect even if you don't actually believe in the same things....

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After reading GOING CLEAR- you will see how the Church of Scientology is full of hypocrites and corruption and evil doers just like allllllllllllllll "religions" are... it is no different...but the dangers of believing in something so much that you lose the ability to think for yourself and form logical conclusions of the world as a whole are exactly the same.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,719 followers
October 15, 2015
This book is horrifying. I knew a bit about Scientology before I started reading, but was unprepared for how much craziness and violence there was in this cult religion.

I listened to this on audio, and there were many times I actually gasped when some shocking detail was revealed. Such as when members were locked in a room for days with little to eat or drink, and they were forced to fight each other during a game of musical chairs. They were told that those who didn't get a chair would be kicked out of the church, and a near brawl ensued.

Or the time a young mother wanted to see her newborn baby, but the church refused and basically imprisoned her. She managed to secretly phone a friend to drive over and meet her, and convinced the guard that her baby was ill and she had to go to the doctor. The mom managed to jump in the car and escaped with her baby, with scientologists chasing after her.

And there were stories about how the current leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, has beaten, attacked and humiliated his employees. And there are stories of how church leaders harassed and threatened IRS workers until they were officially declared a "religion," and thus could avoid paying taxes.

But before the stories of beatings and harassment and forced separations, there is the history of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Wow, that guy could spin a tale. He wrote dozens of science fiction and fantasy stories, but he also loved to exaggerate his personal history. He would invent wartime heroics and amazing feats of mental powers, none of which have been proven.

Lawrence Wright is an impressive writer. "Going Clear" is well-reported and detailed, and contains so many interesting stories that I was engrossed in the narrative. He opens his book about this unusual religion by focusing on a Hollywood screenwriter, Paul Haggis, who loudly and publicly left the church back in 2009. We see how Paul stumbled into the church in the 1970s, and why he believed it could help him. A lot of people have visited Scientology centers over the decades, forking over thousands of dollars for "courses," hoping to be cured of their problems.

In Paul's case, he rose quickly in the church, and was often told to "fake it until you make it." Meaning, he wasn't really seeing the mental or emotional improvements others have claimed, and the higher he rose, the more bizarre the teachings became. Paul finally left after learning the church was against same-sex marriage, and hearing stories of the cruel treatment of gays.

I found this book to be fascinating, both in its stories of specific church members, including Hollywood celebrities, and in its history of the founder, Hubbard, and its current leader, Miscavige. If you like documentaries, the HBO film "Going Clear" is also excellent. I actually saw that first, and was so intrigued that I decided to read this book. I highly recommend both the film and the book.

Favorite Quotes
[from the Introduction] "I have spent much of my career examining the effects of religious beliefs on people's lives — historically, a far more profound influence on society and individuals than politics, which is the substance of so much journalism. I was drawn to this book by the questions that many people have about Scientology: What is it that makes the religion alluring? What do its adherents get out of it? How can seemingly rational people subscribe to beliefs that others find incomprehensible? Why do popular personalities associate themselves with a faith that is likely to create a kind of public relations martyrdom? These questions are not unique to Scientology, but they certainly underscore the conversation. In attempting to answer them in this book, I hope we can learn something about what might be called the process of belief. Few Scientologists have had a conversion experience — a sudden, radical reorientation of one's life; more common is a gradual, wholehearted acceptance of propositions that might have been regarded as unacceptable or absurd at the outset, as well as the incremental surrender of will on the part of people who have promised enhanced power and authority. One can see by this example the motor that propels all great social movements, for good or ill."

"[Hubbard] had an incorrigible ability to float above the evidence and to extract from his experiences lessons that others would say were irrational and even bizarre. Habitually, and perhaps unconsciously, Hubbad would fill this gap -- between reality and his interpretation of it -- with mythology. This was the source of what some call his genius, and others call his insanity."

"Every new religion faces an existential crisis following the death of its charismatic founder. Through his missionary work, Paul the Apostle kept Christianity alive after the crucifixion of Jesus. Brigham Young rescued the Church of Latter Day Saints following the murder of Joseph Smith by leading the Mormon exodus across the Great Plains into Utah. Religious geniuses arise all the time, but the historical test falls upon the successor, whose fate is to be forever overshadowed by the founder."

[from the Epilogue] "Of course, no religion can prove that it is 'true.' There are myths and miracles at the core of every great belief system that, if held up to the harsh light of a scholar or an investigative reporter, could easily be passed off as lies. Did Mohammed really ride into Heaven on the back of his legendary transport, the steed Buraq? Did Jesus' disciples actually encounter their crucified leader after his burial? Were these miracles or visions or lies? Would the religions survive without them?"

"There is no question that a belief system can have positive, transformative effects on people's lives. Many current and former Scientologists have attested to the value of their training and the insight they derived from their study of the religion. They have the right to believe whatever they choose. But it is a different matter to use the protections afforded a religion by the First Amendment to falsify history, to propagate forgeries, and to cover up human-rights abuses."
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,233 followers
June 11, 2015
Every organized religion has it's bat-shit-crazy parts. I don't belong to any religion myself because of this reason, but if a person gets something meaningful out of being a part of such an organization, I'm not one to judge them.

But Scientology is not a religion. It's just not. It was formed by bat-shit-crazy L. Ron Hubbard to avoid paying taxes. That's it.

This book is fascinating and terrifying. This 'church' has held people against their will for years and has somehow avoided being shut down. One girl was put on the Scientology boat when she was just 18 and was held there for twelve years....TWELVE! A woman was (allegedly.....ah hem) killed because of abuse suffered in one of the compounds. She was being punished for some stupid thing and became dehydrated. When they finally decided to get her help they took her to a hospital 45 minutes away, bypassing 3 other hospitals along the way because the Scientologist Doctor was at the fourth one.

And there she died of a pulmonary embolism. Tsk tsk.

This is only a small part of the crazy.

I recommend this book to everyone, especially a person who is thinking "You know, maybe Scientology is for me?" No it's not. Don't.

If you do read this book and join Scientology anyway, then you too are bat-shit-crazy.
Profile Image for Kelli.
851 reviews404 followers
January 27, 2018
Holy shit!

Footnote: This book would be a fraction of the size without all of the legal disclaimers and denials from Tom Cruise’s lawyers and from the Church of Scientology. Maybe just a blanket statement at the beginning would’ve sufficed?!
Profile Image for Dmitri.
202 reviews157 followers
July 21, 2022
"If it's not true for you, it isn't true." - L. Ron Hubbard


Lawrence Wright became a Pulitzer Prize winning author for his 2006 'Looming Tower' about Al-Qaeda, before this 2013 book was begun. Many interviews were done and much was researched here as well. Previously he wrote about the Amish and studied the Jonestown Massacre. He was a journalist for Rolling Stone and later the New Yorker for forty years. My interests in Scientology are comparitive religion, history and politics. The Taiping, FDLS, ISIS and millenarian groups hold a similar fascination. Founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard created a disturbing synthesis of science fiction, religion and psychiatry. Perhaps psychosis and paranoia were integral to his flights of fantasy.

Born in 1911, Hubbard had a successful science fiction career in 1930's pulp magazines. He was a good friend of Robert A. Heinlein, and an associate of Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. In WWII he had a brief but checkered Navy stint. By his account he sunk several enemy ships, was wounded but lived to tell the tale. Navy records don't support his claims, and he was repeatedly relieved of command. In 1946 he connected with a magic cult based on Aleister Crowley's beliefs. He wrote 'Dianetics' in 1950 and is rated as a most published author ever. During 1967-75 he lived on a fleet of ships sailing the oceans. He died in 1986 in seclusion on the run from the government.

'Dianetics: Modern Science of Mental Health' first appeared in 'Astounding Science Fiction'. It was an early self-help book devised as an alternative to psychiatry's use of drugs, electric shocks and lobotomies. Hubbard drew from his prior knowledge of hypnosis. People traumatized by early crises could be relieved by 'auditing' past problems, later with the use of an 'E-meter' similar to a lie detector. Sublimated memories uncovered during sessions evolved into prenatal and reincarnation revelations. Once 'clear' an initiate could aspire to ascending spiritual levels and even paranormal powers. Hubbard went on to define gradiations in seekers progress to attainment of knowledge.

The pseudo-science of 'Dianetics' led to a neo-religion. His copyright lost in bankruptcy Hubbard founded Scientology in 1954. In his belief system a 'thetan' is an immortal alien being who inhabits people's bodies at birth. Between lives thetans go to Mars and receive 'forgetter implants'. 75 million years ago an evil overlord conspired with IRS agents and psychiatrists to freeze thetans and fly them to earth on DC-8 jets. They were implanted with images of God, Heaven, the Devil and Hell in 3D movie theaters. Earth had been civilized many times, but always blew itself up under the influence of alien souls. Scientology could save humanity from them and achieve spiritual progress.

In the 1960's IRS audits, FDA seizure of E-meters, and charges of fraud drew Hubbard abroad. Hounded by global governments he took to the sea. Founding a paramilitary navy he was shunned at ports as undesirable. Allegations of mistreatment arose and a persecution complex took hold. The 1973 Operation Snow White was an espionage effort where thousands of Scientologists infilitrated government agencies to expunge files and subvert investigations. A new base in Florida was established in 1975 and Hubbard came ashore. Chased by the IRS and FBI he went into hiding and directed the Church from afar. Buying a ranch in California he lived his last years in a converted school bus.

David Miscavige is depicted as a violent sociopath raised in the fold who seized power after Hubbard's death In 1986. He groomed celebrity advocates who had been long sought after, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and others. Miscavige carried the Church message with missionary zeal. Punishment for minor infractions was routine and severe since the Sea Org days and became worse. FBI raids found people locked up, denied food and forced to work for free. Attempts to leave were met with coercion and harassment. Many members were born in the Church or had joined at an early age. With few skills and outside contacts they were docile and compliant. Human trafficking cases were begun but abandoned.

In 1967 the Church lost tax exemption when the IRS claimed Scientology was a commercial enterprise offering fixed fee services. In litigation theological experts argued the church was similar to other creeds. Articles of faith such as virgin conception, magical flight, resurrection and exorcism were features of all doctrines. New religions were always faced with discrimination. Adherents were often subjected to poverty and asceticism. In 1993 the IRS, under a barrage of lawsuits for 26 years, ruled Scientology should be not be required to pay taxes under 1st Amendment protections. In 2009 the incoming Obama administration made revocation of the tax exemption a top policy goal, based on an open internet poll. So far the thetans are still among us.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
January 5, 2016
"Earth is an insane asylum, to which the other planets deport their lunatics."
- Voltaire, in Memnon the Philosopher


I remember when I was first exposed to Scientology. A good friend of mine in HS suggested I read L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth*. I politely declined. Space opera just wasn't my thing. But I never forgot L. Ron Hubbard. Occasionally in used bookstores I'd see one of his other books: Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, The Way To Happiness, etc. Again, I would politely walk by. But I've always been intrigued by this funky religion. Perhaps, it has something to do with being a Mormon (we've got our own funky origin, hypergraphiac founder, cosmology, etc).

Anyway, I found Wright's take on Scientology fascinating. Not just as a look into a visible and sometimes very troubled 20th Century religious movement (and the people in it), but also because it funhouse mirrors ALL religions. Like Neil deGrasse "Awesome" Tyson said in a Daily Beast interview in March of 2015, "So, you have people who are certain that a man in a robe transforms a cracker into the literal body of Jesus saying that what goes on in Scientology is crazy? Let’s realize this: What matters is not who says who’s crazy, what matters is we live in a free country. You can believe whatever you want, otherwise it’s not a free country—it’s something else."

Going Clear is scary because it makes you think that we ALL are just a bit crazy.

* Mitt Romney's favorite book.
Profile Image for Mariah Roze.
1,029 reviews934 followers
June 26, 2017
Right now I am reading every book I can about Scientology and about people escaping the religion. I find it super fascinating and have been learning so much! When I saw this book on Overdrive I had to listen to it. However, compared to most book about Scientology, I found this book to be kind of boring. I thought it had interesting material but the author dragged it out too long.

The book talked about the inner workings of the Church of Scientology. He starts all the way with its origins by the science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. He talked about its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate religion and its efforts to grow and expand after the death of Hubbard.

Like I said earlier, this book had good material but it was too dragged out to be enjoyed throughly.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,215 reviews64 followers
January 27, 2013
I honestly don't understand how anyone could have listened to L. Ron Hubbard and thought, "Yeah, that guy knows what he's talking about."
I'm almost done with this book but I think my favorite part just happened. A scientologist was offended by the notion of the leader, David Miscavige, being compared to Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that someone would consider that to be an unfavorable association actually made me laugh out loud.

Fascinating. Just fascinating.
Profile Image for Mara.
401 reviews282 followers
December 10, 2019
Quick and Dirty Analysis (I know I can get long-winded)
Good book, well-researched, that will tell you all you want to know (and possibly more) about the inner workings of Scientology.

"Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing." - Ken Kesey
I think a good litmus test for people, movements, groups etc., is their ability to laugh at themselves. Yes, some things in life are very serious, but almost anything, when taken to an extreme, becomes humorously absurd. Consequently, one of the reasons I love South Park , is its "nothing's sacred" approach to satire. Some of my favorite episodes lampoon aspects of myself (e.g. the thrill of Obama's victory, see About Last Night; driving a hybrid, Smug Alert ...you get the idea).

So, while I'm sure there was some religious outcry about the likes of The Passion of the Jew, Red Hot Catholic Love, and All About Mormons, the level of outrage around the "Scientology episode," Trapped in the Closet, (including the decision by longtime cast member and Scientologist, Isaac Hayes to leave the show) was, to me, a symptom of a dire case of an organization/group taking itself too f*cking seriously. (It's also what makes the ad taken out by Comedy Central congratulating South Park on its Emmy-nod for the episode so brilliant!)

South Park Scientology Emmy ad

What's the deal with Scientology?
Well, frankly, to answer that question property, you'd need to write a book (which, conveniently enough, Lawrence Wright did). It was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, shown below during his brief stint in the Navy, as a sort of self-help (well, guided self-help) treatment.

L Ron Hubbard

Without getting into it too much, the "treatment" (called auditing ) involves going through past experiences while holding on to the tin can-like handles of an apparatus called an E-Meter .

L Ron Hubbard with his Children in the 1950s

So far, I'm fine with that. Therapy can come in many forms, and if people find that this helps them, then go for it. However, you start off with the auditing and then you're on a journey on The Bridge which, in addition to being kind of endless, is a pricey endeavor.

Scientology Chart

So, it's a lifetime commitment to solving your problems?
Well, yes and emphatically no. The Church of Scientology (and, should you read this, you'll get the ins and outs of their battle with the IRS) has a subgroup called the Sea Org which you can join at the ripe old age of eight (for the child's experience check out Beyond Belief ) by signing a billion year contract . However (in addition to the abusive conditions that would have OSHA in a fit), should you want to bounce early, you'll have to pay them back for all that free auditing, which typically amounts to somewhere north of $500,000.

So is it, or is it not a cult?
Well, there are certainly some signs that would suggest so. For one, you've got your centralized leadership whose word is The Word. After L. Ron Hubbard's death decision to vacate his earthly body for a little while, the power (already tilted in this direction) was left in the hands of David Miscavige (referred to as C-O-B, chairman of the board), who (though not a prophet like L. Ron) was/is free to make unilateral decisions with harsh consequences.

David Miscavige

There's basically a checklist of techniques that social psychologists have drawn up that, historically, groups (many of which have been called cults) have employed to elicit obedience and sacrifice from their members.* While a single technique is not itself all that powerful, the combination can be a perfect storm of destructive, blind obedience (e.g. Jonestown). Examples?

- Isolation of recruits from non-cult influencers, Scientology has this one down pat, anyone declared a suppressive person is to be avoided at all costs, and just by being in touch with an SP (so much lingo), someone can be labeled a potential trouble source (PTS).
- Sleep deprivation, yep.
- Love bombing, certainly, and also, threat of love withholding which can be equally, if not more powerful.
- Repetition, I'd say so, especially in the event of someone trying to leave.
- Denial of privacy, assuming having someone listening in on your calls, or straight up watching you all the time (oh, and all those deep dark secrets you share during auditing), I'd say we can check this one off.
- Fear mongering, yes on so many levels (seriously, just read a book).

Tinsel-Town True Believers
Hollywood, the place where dreams are made (and also crushed, and probably resold on the streets as a hip new drug). You can google Scientology celebrities and, yes, the list is of decent length. In Eric Hoffer’s 1951 book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements , he reports a somewhat curious finding that it is often those with unlimited opportunities who become swept up in mass movements. However, Scientology has a history of courting celebrities as a way of bringing people in...hey, if I join I'll be BFFs with Tom Cruise! Right? The answer there is an emphatic no. But, by god (or Xenu or L. Ron or whatever) will they make him feel special while he's around.

Tom Cruise and David Miscavige salute

* I learned about these in social psychology, but I'm pretty sure they're straight out of the textbook we used, which I believe was Social Psychology Alive
Profile Image for Max.
347 reviews335 followers
April 29, 2016
Wright’s portrait of L. Ron Hubbard shows a man best described as “malignantly narcissistic”. His creations, Dianetics and Scientology, were designed to make him rich and famous. He used his tremendous charisma for his own personal glory with no concern for who was hurt. In his frequent tantrums and paranoia, he would do everything and anything to destroy his perceived enemies. His policy was never to admit fault and always attack the attacker. This modus operandi would persist in Scientology long after its founder was gone. Hubbard was probably more delusional than a purposeful fraud. His denatured psyche was exacerbated by heavy alcohol and drug use.

A prolific science fiction writer Hubbard latched onto the psychology of the unconscious which was popular in the 1940’s and 50’s. In vogue was the idea of repressed memories. This formed the basis for Dianetics, which put forward techniques for recovering those memories to cure physical illness and mental trauma. Although inspired by themes popular in psychiatry at the time, Hubbard considered psychiatry the antithesis of his approach. The rejection of psychiatry and drug therapies for mental illness became a fundamental tenet of Scientology. Hubbard’s book, Dianetics, hit the New York Times best seller list in 1950 but after a year or so faded from prominence. Hubbard had trained “auditors” with specific interrogational methods based on the book. But after being trained the auditors usually struck out on their own and Hubbard’s income from the book and training fees declined.

Hubbard then hit on the idea of past lives. If memories could be recovered from childhood, even the womb, then why not before? This time he would build in recurring income by declaring his “science” a religion, Scientology. As time went on he would add more and more layers including fantastical descriptions of four quadrillion year old planets and expelled souls known as body thetans that were banished to earth where they would come to inhabit the bodies of humans. Scientology considers people to be thetans that inhabit a human body. However the expelled disincarnate body thetans may also try to inhabit the same body causing mental trauma. Of course, Scientology has practices to expel these hangers on.

Through his ability to identify and recruit people he could personally control to do his bidding, Hubbard built his church and amassed great wealth despite numerous episodes of bizarre behavior. He created an elaborate organization with missionaries, enforcers (the Guardians) and a loyal staff (the Sea Org). The Sea Org was so named because of the many years Hubbard and his entourage spent at sea on his fleet of three ships that went from port to port as necessary to escape legal trouble from country after country. Hubbard married three times and was married to two women at the same time. Mary Sue, his third wife, an excellent administrator was put in charge of the Guardian’s Office with the mission to protect the organization through intelligence gathering and covert action. The Guardian’s Office would be a mainstay of Scientology operations that would be used to uncover opponents’ weaknesses and discredit or destroy them. Hubbard died at 74 after years of heavy smoking, drug and alcohol abuse in 1986. A young intense David Miscavige was able to wrest control from other contenders and take control of the church.

Miscavige built on Hubbard’s autocratic legacy employing the same bullying tactics to intimidate members into strict compliance with church doctrine as he defined it. Through “auditing”, which in Scientology requires confession of church defined wrongdoing that incudes things like adultery and homosexuality, personal information on members was compiled that could and would be used for blackmail as needed. Members who took stands against the church often had to abandon friends and family if they were deemed “SP’s”, Suppressive Persons, or a “PTS”, Personal Trouble Source. Those in the Sea Org signed a billion-year contract of service and were tightly controlled facing severe punishments for any perceived disloyalty or infraction of the rules. Disobedience or poor performance could mean assignment to the “RPF”, Rehabilitation Project Force, where they often were housed and fed in subhuman conditions and forced to do dangerous work for hours or simply to perform senseless humiliating tasks. Escape was difficult and many were trapped simply by their own strong belief in Scientology. Those who did leave the church were handed huge bills for services the church had provided and ostracized by their Scientology friends. As a cult, this was a tight-knit community and most members’ close relationships were with other members as were many of their work relationships. Thus exclusion had economic as well as social consequences.

Hubbard and Miscavige recognized the value of celebrities. Thus they were targeted for membership and commensurate with their prominence held to looser standards and catered to. Most notable were Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but there were many others forming an influential Hollywood entertainment community that could be used to attract members and make leaving difficult for those having second thoughts. Members formed close connections and the Hollywood community was no exception influencing casting and other decisions important to aspiring actors. One who did leave and called out Scientology as a cult was screenwriter and producer Paul Haggis. Even more outspoken in his criticism was actor Jason Beghe. Their revelations about the inner workings of Scientology put Scientology’s controlling and intimidating practices into the spotlight.

I read Going Clear while on a trip in the Los Angeles area and drove by the Scientology Information Center on Hollywood Boulevard with its huge sign attracting newcomers. Later that day I passed by another sign proclaiming, “I believe then I see.” This struck me as the perfect description for the way Scientologists process information from the world outside the church. Once they have bought in it is very difficult for them to change their mind. Not just because of intimidation but also because their commitment is so strong. Their minds automatically filter out everything not compatible with their beliefs. Scientology reinforces this by providing its own information sources to members and strongly discouraging outside sources. The success of cults like Scientology is very disturbing. That so many people can be controlled this way says something about the human psyche that is scary. Wright’s book documents how this works and in this way the book is important beyond its expose of Scientology. We learn just how effective cult leaders like Hubbard and Miscavige can be and how vulnerable so many among us are to these predators. Very highly recommended.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,938 reviews748 followers
May 13, 2013
Once in a while you pick up a book that just literally blows you away, and for me, Going Clear is one of these. From the first words through the last, I have to say I was completely mesmerized and well entrenched in this page turner of a book -- even missing a day on a Maui beach to finish it -- some of the stuff in here is so unbelievable that you just know it has to be real. If you're an ardent Scientologist, you probably won't want to read this book, but for anyone who's interested in looking at this group's origins, the life of its founder, its beliefs and the goings on within, it's a definite must read. Now added to my favorites list for 2013, Going Clear is an outstanding work of investigative journalism, made even more believable by the author's focus on maintaining a balanced presentation, including comments from the Church of Scientology's leaders, attorneys, and meticulous fact finding and fact checking. I'll skip to my usual ending and recommend it highly right up front.

The author was, in his own words, "drawn to write this book" based on a number of questions many people have regarding Scientology: what makes it so "alluring;" what its adherents gain from it; how "seemingly rational people" can subscribe to beliefs that most people would see as "incomprehensible;" why celebrities and other "popular personalities" get themselves involved when the end result is a "public relations martyrdom;" etc. The book starts out with a look at the life of L.Ron Hubbard, a science-fiction writer who ultimately became the founder of this religion/cult/organization whatever you want to call it, the beliefs it is founded on and espouses, and its growing popularity. Then Wright spends some time on just how Scientology came to acquire religion status with the IRS -- an ugly story that will cause you to shake your head in total disbelief, -- and how even the FBI couldn't shake down this organization despite its illegal maneuverings and activities because no one would speak up. He also examines the Hollywood celebrities and other well-known people who embraced Scientology and how the head of the organization came to woo them for monetary gain and as a lure for new members, and finally, he examines why people are reluctant to leave the organization and the experiences of those who managed to "blow." Throughout the book he also examines "the process of belief," not just in terms of Scientology, but in other religions as well. He's done an amazing amount of meticulous research, and his narrative is based partially on people who got out of Scientology and had plenty to tell, although as I noted above, he gives equal time to Scientology's array of attorneys, some of the organization's own documentation, and to the people high up in the movement.

There is no adequate way to summarize what's in this book ...it's definitely one you must read for yourself. All I can say is that you will likely be blown away by its contents and by Wright's magnificent reportage. Granted there are a few tedious spots centering around Tom Cruise which probably could have been left out because frankly, he's just not that interesting of a person, but overall, it's one that should not be missed whatsoever. Definitely prizeworthy, it will keep you absolutely astounded throughout the entire book. I'm still shaking my head when I think about it!

Profile Image for Adam.
Author 16 books35 followers
January 22, 2013
"It is like history writ with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true."
- Woodrow Wilson, on first viewing "The Birth of a Nation"

In "Going Clear" Lawrence Wright does something that surprised me: he managed to make Scientology (or, at least, the people who run the Church) more repellant to me than they were going in, but he also manages to satisfactorily explain how such an organization could come to be and why people would follow it. This is a masterful feat.

It's clear enough, from an objective point of view, that L. Ron Hubbard - and his successor as head of the Church, David Miscavige - have spent much of their lives verging upon the edge of madness. Yet, somehow, despite that they have managed to create for themselves - right in the heart of America - a sort of lunatic court whose workings and foibles would be recognizable even to the Egyptian Pharaohs of old. More to the point - a point that Wright himself eventually makes but which struck me early - is how much the story of Hubbard and Miscavige parallel those of the founders of other major religions (mostly Islam and Mormonism) whose births were recent enough to leave us with fairly clear records of the early days of their faiths.

On one hand, it's more or less impossible not to abhor the cruelty with which the leaders of the Church have consistently behaved. On the other, it's difficult not to find some level of admiration for their brazen behaviour.

I can't recommend this book too strongly.
Profile Image for Heidi Denver.
14 reviews
February 5, 2013
This book was well researched,and very scary. I only knew bits and pieces about Scientology, mostly that they believe in aliens. Other than that I had no idea. Hubbard seemed to be suffering from some kind of psychotic illness. The biography part of just Ron Hubbard is unstable and strange. It's like reading how to be a psychotic con man 101. I always question how people suspend rational thought long enough to believe in any religion. I really liked Lawrence explaining that people who join these organizations are just wanting to be better people, do more for their fellow man and want to improve themselves. What a sad way to take advantage of people that actually have noble motives. I can't imagine why anyone would be involved in this cult unless they were Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise seems to have every advantage of ordered servants of the cult without having to see or acknowledge the abuse the "normal" people in this organization have to go through.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,413 followers
June 18, 2021
Recently I reviewed Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion and complained that the book had way too much detail, making it feel like homework. After reading Going Clear, I feel a bit like taking that back. This book, in my opinion, was a little short on detail, particularly about some of scientology's illicit behaviors around the FBI and IRS. I ended up really glad I'd already gotten that information from Reitman's book.

What this book did have, obviously, was a lot more celebrity gossip, and I was definitely here for that. I can't get enough of Tom Cruise's bizarre shenanigans. This book was also more compellingly written than the Reitman book, so I'd be more inclined to recommend it (and its accompanying documentary) to someone looking to get up to speed on the human rights–violating cult of scientology.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,749 reviews1,266 followers
April 18, 2014

I suspect I'm like a lot of people - I thought of Scientology as some goofy, ridiculous, idiotic self-help system that sucked thousands of dollars out of people's pockets - albeit one with unjustifiable tax-exempt status. It's so much worse. The stories of abuse are pretty horrendous - back in the L. Ron Hubbard days, Sea Org members who needed to be punished for something would be "overboarded" from the large ship they lived on - the first person was dropped from a height of four stories but this was deemed too dangerous so then they were heaved from about one story. One sixty-year-old woman was bound and blindfolded before being overboarded and "screamed all the way down." Then they were pulled back aboard. Misbehaving children could be locked in the chain locker (where the ship's anchor was kept) for hours, days, or weeks. They were fed but not allowed to use a bathroom or given blankets. Scientology staffers and executives who have done something wrong go in the "hole," a building where they are subjected to verbal and physical humiliations and often beatings.

The two primary leaders of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard (he died, or "dropped his body" in church lingo, in 1986) and David Miscavige (who has led the church since 1988) are sick sadistic fucks on the order of David Koresh (the Branch Davidian cult) or Jim Jones (the People's Temple). No, neither man has killed all his followers or ordered a mass suicide, but frankly they fit the profile for it and if Scientology didn't have such a massive worldwide profile, if it were more of a "boutique" cult, it's easy to imagine Hubbard or Miscavige going down the same road. Miscavige has an obvious rage problem - dozens of people claim to have been physically beaten by him, although the church denies all of these reports. This is the man who is one of Tom Cruise's best friends and served as his best man for his weddings to both Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes.

Wright does an able job of exposing the class structure of Scientology, the way the celebrities at the top are caressed and catered to and anyone below them is available to be abused for any small infraction. Why do John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Anne Archer, Greta van Susteren, Jenna Elfman, Beck, and any number of other celebrity Scientologists stay with a "religion" that is an abusive cult? The answer might be as simple as they never witness the abuse. They're totally protected and shielded from it. They're taught to view those who leave the church as lying, vengeful apostates, and they do seem to. They're wearing such huge blinders that they only see the good in Scientology. It's sad and pathetic.

Wright finishes with a thoughtful and incisive epilogue about Scientology in the context of religions, and specifically Scientology as a new religion. After all, most religions have their ugly episodes. Why should Scientology be singled out for derision? Or conversely, why should religions like Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, be given a pass? These are important questions.
Profile Image for Antigone.
516 reviews750 followers
July 4, 2020
In this, the most renowned and frequently referenced examination of Scientology, Lawrence Wright dissects the disturbing legacy of L. Ron Hubbard.

The project began as almost all of them do, through the lens of journalistic enterprise. Originally intended as an investigative piece for The New Yorker, Wright's sources began to multiply, their stories growing increasingly fraught; the revelations coming in hot and hard - not from disgruntled lower-level functionaries but leaders of the upper echelon, the creme de la creme of Scientology's elite, all of whom reported experiences of physical abuse, emotional intimidation, imprisonment, extortion, manipulation, and punishments so brutally extreme they found themselves forced to flee the very system they had pledged their lives (and fortunes) to advance. That these, by all appearance, intelligent, ambitious and passionate people could fall victim to such criminal treatment...the how of it, and why...required a far more comprehensive accounting than a magazine had the space to offer, and serves as the spine of this thorough, well-researched and deftly written history.

Several years have passed since the book's publication, years that have seen a mounting exodus of members from Scientology's rank and file. Every exit comes with a tale, each more horrific than the last. Some are being written, some televised; all driven to be shared in an effort to heal the wounds inflicted by decades of misdirection and denial. What once was a highly insular and strictly controlled organization seems, at this moment, to be cracking open like a rotten egg. The resulting transparency serves to date this material - meaning those truths Wright sought to conceptualize in Going Clear have since been radically clarified, the issues further delineated, the analytical perspective sharpened on a variety of fronts. In other words, the tome is starting to gather some dust. It's something to be aware of, yet in no way detracts from the fundamental soundness of this study.

If the plan is to read about Scientology? Wright's work merits a slot at the top of the list.
Profile Image for Laura.
2 reviews
March 22, 2013
Harrowing, well-written and researched.
Yet at two crucial points the narrative jumped to a head-scratching conclusion. First, you have a litany of L. Ron Hubbard's spiraling downward: poor health (physical and mental) and inability to make a living. Suddenly this person has written Dianetics. Same with how David Miscavige suddenly elbows aside LRH's chosen successors. Not enough info about how he did it and where he came from.

The book's conclusion was unsatisfying. It trails off in Paul Haggis's renunciation of Scientology. I wanted to know more about Miscavige's status now. Is anyone suing him? Is he the subject of current lawsuits? He's a dangerous person. After disappearing his wife and top lieutenants how does he keep the organization going? And what about the divorce of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise? Not included.

The author gives us relevant and contextual information about other new American religions such as Later Day Saints and Christian Science while examining the question of what-is-a-religion, but missing is a satisfying summing up of the state of Scientology today and prospects for the future.

For all the in-depth research and excellent writing, there is a disjointed quality to the book's structure that is probably the result of the time constraints involved in expanding an article that appeared less than two years before publication date.
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,410 followers
May 8, 2015
Going Clear is a hard book to rate. It is undoubtedly meticulously researched - the author undertook a massive investigation into its subject matter and spoke to over two hundred Scientologists, and received countless letters threatening legal action from lawyers representing the Church and its members - and contains much valuable facts and historical data regarding what is arguably the world's richest and most reclusive religion, but at the same time shies away from being a definite book on the subject by narrowing down its focus to what can be best described as celebrity gossip.

The book opens with a biography of L. Ron Hubbard, a prolific pulp author and creator of Dianetics - a series of weird, metaphysical self-help practices - which he eventually developed into Scientology, now officially recognized as a religion (with tax exemption) in 8 countries. Besides many pulp mysteries, westerns and adventure stories Hubbard was a prolific writer of science fiction. His most famous work of fiction is the thousand page long Battlefield Earth, concisely described by my GR friend Bill as a big, rollicking saga set in the the year 3000 where the Earth has been taken over by nine foot tall hairy aliens who have enslaved the surviving population.
Hubbard also wrote about Xenu - an alien dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, who 75 million years ago brought billions of people to Earth (then known as "Teegeeack"), deposited them around volcanoes and for whatever reason killed them all with hydrogen bombs. The spirits of these poor aliens somehow survived nuclear explosion and have subsequently attached themselves to unsuspecting humans, continuing to cause spiritual harm to this day. The only difference between the two is that Battlefield Earth - the long story of Jonnie Goodboy Tyler fighting the evil Psychlos - is fiction, and the story of Xenu and his nuclear holocaust is not - at least according to Hubbard (who also tried turning it into a film, but failed to secure enough funding).

Much of Going Clear is a character study of various individuals who were at one point or still are associated with Scientology, with most focus put on three people - the director and screenwriter Paul Haggis, actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and the current leader of the Church, David Miscavige. Wright also presents horrifying, true stories of abuse done by Scientologists at the command of Hubbard and Miscavige - people being separated from the outside world, living in communal housing and working 100 hour weeks in poor conditions for symbolic allowance; young children would often be employed for forced labor in inhumane conditions at Sea Org, the Church's paramilitary wing comprising its most devoted members. In his heyday, Hubbard would command a small fleet and among other things order his crew to throw overboard anyone who displeased him - from the height of one story after four was deemed to dangerous (to his credit he did order them to be pulled back later).

The book meanders in the sections regarding Travolta and Cruise, two famous actors and possibly two most famous Scientologists. Tom Cruise is well known for this 10 minute long video, in which he speaks at lenght but without much sense about Scientology to the theme music of Mission Impossible. John Travolta's best known Scientologic endeavor is trying to make a film adaptation of Battlefield Earth, which was critical and commercial failure of - if you'll pardon the pun - cosmic proportions. Of the two, Travolta comes off as much more sympathetic - an actor who was introduced to Scientology as a mean to boost his career, and who now seems trapped in it and might not be able to leave even if he wanted to, because of fear of having his personal information revealed in a libelous way. While Wright has done considerable research regarding both Cruise and Travolta's personal lives and acquaintances (and even tried to profile David Miscavige, who by all accounts comes off as a maniacal, self-obsessed despot) he can only have as much perspective as an outsider does, and the book does not contain a complete account of the lives of these men and is not their biography. It also doesn't completely answer the question - why do they believe in Scientology?

Why did L. Ron Hubbard succeed in creating a religion? Wright answers by comparing him to another American prophet, Joseph Smith, who claimed to have been visited by an angel and transcribed ancient gospels, preaching them in western New York a century before. Like Smith, Hubbard seems to have appeared at the right place at the right time - in Southern California, where disenfranchised people were looking for spiritual fulfillment and he was able to give it to them. I wish Wright would spend more attention on Hubbard's work - especially regarding his writing and its eventual impact on the religion. How did a man who had a driver's license, served in the army and wrote science fiction novels by the dozens managed to convince a legion of wealthy people that one of his outlandish stories was true, and amass influence, power and wealth of incredible proportions? I would much prefer to read this kind of analysis, instead of minutiae from the lives of Hollywood celebrities involved in Scientology - but this would call for another book. For what it sets out to do - introduce the inner workings of the church, and present stories of individuals associated with it - it does its job well enough.

For those interested: Mike has kindly shared a link to a hour-long interview with the author who talks about the book and Scientology - check it out here.

Profile Image for Mike.
306 reviews149 followers
October 7, 2019

Fuck L. Ron Hubbard, and fuck all his clones...

- Tool, "Aenema"

Well...what can I say? Like the Russian revolution, except less bloody and more farcical? L. Ron Hubbard at least, as the founder of Scientology, can certainly fill the role of Lenin. Hubbard inspires both pity and disgust- so clearly trying to heal the serious mental problems he (on some level) must have known he had, yet also malevolent and dangerous. As a friend of mine has said of Donald Trump, he makes you feel, over the course of time, every possible human emotion. But getting back to the Lenin comparison, LRH even goes so far as to die without leaving clear instructions about who should succeed him, opening the door for the Stalin of our story, budding young sociopath David Miscavige.

Miscavige purges the top-ranking members of the church, sending many of them to re-education camps where they're fed leftovers, given no privacy, and put to manual labor when not forced to play sadistic games of musical chairs to Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (this is how I think I'd truly know that I was in hell, personally). The more I read about the church's use of family and friends against apostates, the theatrical confessions of transgressions against LRH or Miscavige (even a dissenting thought counts), the designation of people as Suppressive Persons (SPs), and the culture of everyone ratting and reporting on everyone else, the more I felt that Miscavige was really overdoing his whole Stalin imitation (even if he inherited most of these policies from Hubbard, just as Stalin inherited a police state from Lenin). You didn't also have to be short, Dave- you're Stalin, we get it. Even his late-night film sessions are in character (Stalin liked American westerns, while Miscavige's favorite films are apparently The Godfather and Scarface- maybe not so different in spirit).

But aside from the portraits of these two sociopaths, grotesquely entertaining as they sometimes are, one of the valuable things about this book is that it demonstrates why people join, and why they stay. In They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-1945, Milton Mayer talks about how the shocking moment when fascism announced itself, for most Germans, never came. Instead, there were incremental steps. B was not much worse than A, C was not much worse than B, and so on. Scientology works in the same way. Or if a moment does come, your personal life and Scientology are already nearly inextricable. Take a celebrity like Paul Haggis (he wrote and directed Crash- not the JG Ballard adaptation about people who get off on car crashes, but the moralistic tale that dubiously won Best Picture in '05), insulated from the worst of Scientology by his fame; by the time he got to level OT III- that's the one where you learn about Xenu and the Galactic Confederacy- he'd already been a Scientologist for decades. Most of his friends and family were Scientologists, he used the techniques in his everyday life, and he credited the church (perhaps rightly) with teaching him skills that got him started in his career.

It's easy for us to mock Scientology, and even Scientologists, but what is it exactly that insulates the rest of us from this cult? Is it because we're all smarter than the people who are part of it? Doubtful. Two factors that seem apparent to me are the habit of conformity and access to information. Scientology is ridiculed in mainstream American culture and widely considered a cult, and therefore the notion that it's ridiculous is essentially formed for us. Grow up in a different environment, however, as the majority of Scientologists do, an environment in which all of your friends and family are Scientologists (except for maybe a 'disconnected' eccentric aunt or uncle no one ever mentions), and you might think very differently. And while it's true that no one would sign on at the local Scientology center after reading Lawrence Wright's book, a Scientologist simply isn't going to read it. It's not that Scientology physically stops people from walking into bookstores, but an indoctrinated Scientologist wouldn't want to read a book that's been designated as entheta- fake news, for Scientologists. The distinction between true and false is replaced by the distinction between "favorable to my group" and "against my group." This is what Wright means by the prison of belief.

The real sadness of the book, for me, is in the wasted time, the wasted human endeavor. Hubbard's followers, it seems, by and large wanted to have meaningful and interesting lives, and to do good for other people. In the compelling interview that ex-Scientologist Leah Remini did with Joe Rogan (link below), you can hear her wrestling with this- she knows that the first 40 years or so of her life were stolen from her. I admit that I was occasionally entertained by the sheer weirdness of Hubbard's schemes (who the hell tries to take over Morocco? Who does that?), but more often I found it sad that these people had fallen under his spell and were so far removed from, well...from real life, from anything that mattered. The people who find it within themselves to leave, in many cases having to physically escape, are truly courageous.

David Wallace-Wells suggests in The Uninhabitable Earth that as climate change gets worse, there will be ever more hunger for certainty and totalizing ideologies. Last weekend, a friend of mine, let's call him K, introduced me to a co-worker of his. This co-worker keeps a Word Document in which he's planned his life out until 2043- the year he and his wife will retire to Hawaii (K slyly urged his co-worker to tell me about the document, because he knew it would horrify me). He even knows what year he's getting his roof replaced. But why settle for 2043 when you can sign a billion-year contract with the Sea Org?

Scientology comes up on true crime podcasts and message boards from time to time, mostly because of the disappearance of Shelly Miscavige, David's wife, who was last seen in '07. Based on what I've read in this book, would I put it past them to have murdered her? Not at all. But the consensus opinion seems to be that she is being held at one of Scientology's bases, either physically and/or by the prison of belief (she's the leader's wife, after all, and joined the Sea Org at the age of 12), transcribing L. Ron Hubbard's writing for all eternity. What a waste of a life. Would someone please take these evil bastards down?

Leah Remini interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJ0-V...
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,065 reviews239 followers
October 1, 2020
One of my friends escaped from a Scientology “cult” (her term) when she was a teen. She has told me about her experiences, and I wanted to find out more about the organization.

This book is a combination history, biography, and exposé. It is an in-depth examination of the beliefs, terminology, structure, wealth, celebrity liaisons, allegations, and controversies. Based on interviews, the author relates experiences of people who have left the organization, which, of course, Scientology’s leadership disavows. It tries to make sense of whether or not this is truly a religion. It is currently classified as such in the US, and qualifies for a tax exemption, and the legal path to this status is part of the narrative.

The book goes into the many personalities involved in Scientology, especially the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and current leader, David Miscavige. It covers the involvement of high-profile celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. It examines the abuses (such as human trafficking, bullying, involuntary confinement, and harassment) claimed by former members.

I listened to the audio book, read by Morton Sellers. He reads in a “documentary” style with clear, staccato enunciation. His reading reminds me of the voiceover to a detective, police, or legal television show.

The book is well-written and extremely detailed. I am glad to see an investigative report that provides people more information about the organization, so they can better judge if they want to get involved. My advice – stay well clear of it. Some of my friend’s stories made me shudder and are in line with the alleged abuses described in this book.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
March 30, 2014
This 2013 National Book shortlist nominee for the Nonfiction Award is in many ways a classic of investigative journalism. There is practically nothing Wright left out about the ways and means the Church of Scientology was established and how it continues. Considering the Church is shrouded in secrecy and its documents confidential, this was a strenuous bit of digging. His thoughts at the end of the book are enlightening, especially the bit about art—how this church seems deficient in artworks, though one could reasonably argue that it is based on the most convincing fiction ever written. And what is good fiction if not art?

I am not going to deny that listening on audio to this book was almost unbearable. It wasn’t the delivery nor the writing that overwhelmed me, but the subject matter. Wright begins this massive investigation with an introduction that concludes with the following paragraph:
”I have spent much of my career examining the effects of religious belief on people’s lives—historically, a far more profound influence on society and individuals than politics, which is the subject of so much journalism. I was drawn to write this book by the questions that so many people have about Scientology? What is it that makes the religion alluring? What do adherents get out of it? How can seemingly rational people subscribe to beliefs that others find incomprehensible? Why do popular personalities associate themselves with a faith that is likely to create a kind of public relations martyrdom? These questions are not unique to Scientology, but they certainly underscore the conversation. In attempting to answer them in this book, I hope we can learn something about what might be called the process of belief. Few Scientologists have had a conversion experience—a sudden, radical reorientation of one’s life; more common is a gradual, wholehearted acceptance of propositions that might have been regarded as unacceptable or absurd at the outset, as well as the incremental surrender of will on the part of people who have been promised enhanced power and authority. One can see by this example the motor that propels all great social movements, for good or ill.”

What we find, after reading or listening to Wright’s testimony, is that many people find a group, a type of acceptance, and a structure of belief that gives them guidance on how to act. Most are normal, everyday people who want to be good, and perhaps want even more—celebrity, for instance, since the Church places celebrities in an enhanced position of authority in their hierarchy. They want to be better people, to be leaders, to be listened to. Just as people flocked to read Dale Carnegie in “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” people flocked to hear Hubbard, who used many of Carnegie’s tenets in his own writings, among other things. He also used his own research to create an elaborate step program for believers, promising more power and authority the higher one rose in the levels.

Hubbard comes across as delusional, or a clever illusionist who struggled all his life to find a way to achieve the glory and attention he thought he deserved. According to documents uncovered by Wright, Hubbard lied about his military record and the illnesses he suffered. He was a science fiction writer of some repute before his stint in the military, and could research and write easily and with some coherence. He sought stability in his financial income and managed to put his skills to work creating an elaborate “religion” that required both paying for the “step” materials as well as unquestioning fealty and obedience on pain of punishment—not in the afterlife as the Christians do, but in the here and now—by imprisonment and slave labor.

It didn’t take me long to understand that Hubbard was not someone I would believe to get me across the street safely, let alone allow him to tell me how to think. But Wright goes on and on, piling fact upon data until finally he concludes that religions are seldom built on strict truth anyway but beliefs, and that most religions, when examined for their grounding in historical fact come up short. (Disclaimer: I was a Catholic once. I came to think the Catholic Church was a large, empty mitre, but that was back after I’d stopped being indoctrinated daily in my near-teens.)

No matter what Scientologists believe, Wright’s book is a damning assessment of the Church of Scientology, pointing out instances of criminal behavior and flagrant abuse still going on. These activities are so egregious that I barely had the stomach to listen to it. When we get to the part about Tom Cruise and his Church activities and behaviors, it read like a gossip column but with the libelous parts still in. Cruise denies all of it, but we get a picture of what his life must be like as a superstar. If you needed reminding never to envy someone else his/her life, you’ve got it here.

The Church probably should be stripped of its designation as a religion which, because of its tax status, keeps the church alive. The wealth mostly goes to keeping the top ranking officers in handmade shoes and designer clothes. But I just can’t bear to spend another minute thinking about Hubbard and his team—it feels like a sin.
Profile Image for Jenna .
139 reviews183 followers
March 3, 2015
This was a well researched book and I found it very fascinating and scary. I really don't understand the lure of Scientology but then again I am not in a position to. Am I nervous to leave a detailed review...slightly. But my review is short mostly because I am pressed for time, or so I tell myself.
7 reviews6 followers
February 8, 2013
This is such a great book, I want to punch someone in the face.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief is written in three parts as the name suggests, all equally gripping. I couldn’t put it down. Hard to dispute the content given the thorough research and great journalism by Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright. Everyone’s buzzing about it. Just today I heard a report that Tom Cruise’s lawyer declared the book, “boring”. That's all you got? Well, it's not so. It’s anything but.

I wasn’t particularly interested in Scientology, but admittedly curious to learn why it has such global appeal when we’re always hearing about it being a “cult” — which until reading this book I didn’t believe. I get it now.

The origins of Scientology come from a book by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard called Dianetics, which he cranked out in an inspired fit of mania or more likely, paranoid schizophrenia, all in a month's time. I read (most of) it out of curiosity 10 years ago after being audited in the NY subway with two soup cans tied to a E-meter that registered me off the charts. Dianetics contains insights into the inner workings and limitations of the human mind that I found fascinating and real, but also grandiose and naively conclusive. The absolute black and whiteness and unsubstantiated ramblings in Dianetics had me throw it at the closet door halfway through, never to pick it up again.

How so many people subscribe to it as the basis of a religion has always been a mystery to me. In Going Clear we learn that since LRH’s death, David Miscaviage has gained absolute power over the organization and its senior members, who fear him like a god. True devotees are frequently, harshly punished and can be incarcerated for years for the smallest indiscretion. They are not held against their will, but rather, held by their will to become better people.

The behaviors that hold this community together are fascinating, and none of my business at the end of the day since I'm not a member. What makes it my—our—business is that children are regularly born into the religion, walled into a world where they experience nothing else. How can they ever leave? Escape to what? For that, we — an America built on the values of free will and freedom—are morally obligated to check in on the children (slaves?) behind the curtain of what seems to be a cult masquerading as religion. Not to pick on Scientology, but as a religion, it's a steely cold place. There's no art or love or feminine in the concept, so maternally, I'm inclined to want to keep it away from our kids.

Further, I get the sense that the material in this book will give perspective and voice to the many defectors who for decades have been afraid to talk about their experiences with the Church of Scientology either out of fear of retribution or their own slow and foggy sobering as to why they signed a billion year contract in the first place.

One more thing. As a person in the field of advertising, I want to add that I learned a lot about the scum-baggery of our business. Miscaviage blaming Martin Sorrell for the attacks on Scientology vis-a-vis Eli Lilly and Prozac? (See interview with Ted Koppel on YouTube 1992). It's probable. Hiring Hill & Knowlton (pg 218) in the early 1990s to put out phony news stories and VNRs made to look like actual reports rather than advertisements? It happened. Oh wait, it happened again last week in The Atlantic! It's a modern-day case study for digital advertising.

The e-mag's post, "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year" may have passed for an article, except for the "Sponsor Content" box at the top. Readers went berserk. The Atlantic took it down in the controversy and explained, "We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads."

As part of this latest campaign, Scientology.org conducted a clever media buy during the Superbowl by purchasing local ad time in key markets (Scientology’s major centers), to get some of the exposure of national Super Bowl ads at a much lower cost. Why advertise during the superbowl? Ex-insider Jefferson Hawkins says it's not to get new members, but rather a self-celebration and anthem to its biggest donors. "Look how big and popular we are! We're in the Superbowl!"

So much drama, hard to believe it's non-fiction.
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