Feature

Book of the week: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Federal authorities should consider the revelations contained in Lawrence Wright’s courageous exposé “a warrant to act.”

(Knopf, $29)

Federal authorities should consider this book “a warrant to act,” said James Kirchick in TheDailyBeast.com. At the very least, the Church of Scientology ought to be stripped of its tax-exempt status in the wake of the revelations contained in Lawrence Wright’s courageous but measured exposé. Wright, who chronicled the rise of al Qaida in his Pulitzer Prize–winning The Looming Tower, presents strong evidence that church followers and their offspring have been subjected to child abuse, forced abortions, and even conscription into a secret church-run gulag in Southern California. The disturbing revelations pile up as Wright details founder L. Ron Hubbard’s development of the movement’s science-fiction-flavored theology and the church’s cunning recruitment of Hollywood celebrities. Wright “bends over backward to be charitable to Scientology and its adherents,” but the church’s leadership seems indefensible.

Wright’s avowed purpose is to explore how Scientology maintains its appeal despite its reputation, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Turns out that appeal is far more limited than the church’s leaders claim: Wright reports that the church has 30,000 followers worldwide, not the 8 million it claims. But locating the attraction of Scientology proves beyond the author’s skills. Back in the 1970s, when future screenwriter and director Paul Haggis signed on, Scientology’s mysteriousness held intrigue. But Haggis broke from the church more than three years ago, and the “genuinely shocking” profile that Wright wrote for The New Yorker helped expose the absurdity of Scientology’s tenets. Most readers of Going Clear won’t be surprised at this late date by the acquisitiveness and excesses of Hubbard or his successor, David Miscavige. Even so, the wild stories here make for “a hotly compelling read.”

Wright’s most provocative argument, said Troy Jollimore in ChicagoTribune.com, is that Scientology has similarities to other, more established religions. Every religion, he says, constructs “a prison of belief’’ for its followers, and aggressively attacks any contrary evidence, fallen members, and challenges to its authority. If doing so were grounds for denying a church its tax-exempt status, every denomination would be on the IRS’s watch list. People are right to find Scientology alarming, Wright argues, “but they are mistaken if they refuse to extend their criticisms and concerns to other faiths as well.” 

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