Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

L Ron Hubbard was an interesting case. He was a prolific writer, (earning a Guinness world record for his excessive output) a navy man in WW2 and a great orator. He was also a drunk, drug addict and womaniser. in 1974 he died of poor health, he was astronomically wealthy. Perhaps this would of given him an interesting obituary in a science fiction magazine, or a modern collection of his shorts maybe with a bad cover and a non committal preface by Alan Moore or Brian Aldiss:

L Ron Hubbard, lived then, sadly forgotten now. No other writer before or since has dared try to bring us into their mind as he. It would have to be a brave soul to enter, but once in, what you’ll find is fascinating.

Or something as vague and forgettable. Of course his obituary doesn’t read like that because he tried (and to surprise of surely even himself) succeeded in becoming a prophet for a new religious movement. As the textual embodiment of Schroeder’s Cat, what it reads depending on where you stand. Almost everywhere it would read probably much like my first paragraph above, with the words “Creator of Scientology” right next to his name. If you where to read it in a Scientology stronghold it would read slightly different:

There are only two tests of a life well lived, L. Ron Hubbard once remarked: Did one do as one intended? And were people glad one lived? In testament to the first stands the full body of his life’s work, including the more than ten thousand authored works and three thousand tape-recorded lectures of Dianetics and Scientology. In evidence of the second are the hundreds of millions whose lives have been demonstrably bettered because he lived. They are the generations of students now reading superlatively, owing to L. Ron Hubbard’s educational discoveries; they are the millions more freed from the lure of substance abuse through L. Ron Hubbard’s breakthroughs in drug rehabilitation; still more touched by his common sense moral code; and many millions more again who hold his work as the spiritual cornerstone of their lives.” (taken from the official L Ron Hubbard site)

As an arm chair investigative journalist one could query hundreds of millions, his books I have never seen in a bookstore and are ranked very low on amazon. Ask anyone what Scientology is and they shall give you different answers revolving around a totem pole of Tom Cruise craziness. Scientology then is almost a mirage, everyone sees something while really seeing nothing. As an armchair reader reading this book by an actual investigate journalist you can see that Hubbard’s educational services area  sham- laughable if not for the damage it does to children- and his drug rehabilitation service non existent (he died a drug user). His moral code included women beating, philandering and one attempt of actual terrorism- which he blamed on his wife.

So Why do people follow something that is clearly so… phantasmagorical? This has always been an interest to me, and thus I asked my Dad to pick up this book when he was in America. It’s a chilling read, in fact I would put money on it being the scariest book I read this year. When reading I felt like Joseph K from The Trial, I saw myself as a monochrome Anthony Perkins (expertly cast in the excellent adaption by Orson Welles) seeing figures in every shadow. In fact the Kafka reference is acute as non of his characters where paranoids; you can break free of scientology or you can stay, either way you life is being watched.

If I sound to melodramatic (and I am sure I do), then think of a catholic confession without the promise of confidentiality and a tape recorder where you are asked questions such as “have you ever had a bad thought about L Ron Hubbard?” “Are you left Wing?” “Are you a homosexual?” Reading this you realise that this is McCarthyism on steroids. Almost everything is beefed up- their lawyers represent something that would come out of Mr Burns’s office, the wage Hubbard was on up to his death and now the current replacement is $millions weekly, even the abuse to the staff and the “blacklisters” are barmy. Everything is so extreme, so ridiculous, that it makes you doubt the credibility of the book itself. There where plenty of times I flicked through the copious amount of references, footnotes and bibliography to check something out just to find it had been reported or stated by several different eye witnesses.

The amount of money that comes in is staggering (from a mixture of blackmail, taxing passed members and bullying the US government in giving them tax-free status as a religion) and the amount waisted is more so. For anyone wondering why Tom Cruise ever wanted to be a Scientologist just has to read how they created a green park and lagoon for him…in the desert. It is a religion obsessed with celebrity, a humorous passage talks about a mission to convert Steven Spielberg while making War of The Worlds, another talks about the amount of celebrities they harass then idealise- or in the case of Penelope Cruise and Nicole Kidman, abandon. It is the philosophy of Max Webber mixed with that of Andy Warhol with a bit of bad sci-fi and 1950s homophobia and child abuse mixed in.

So why do people join who are not superstars? more so why do they stay. The book gives several reasons. One is they are born into it, another is they are blackmailed to stay, but there are more sympathetic reasons. It’s simple enough that those poor souls simply not wanting to see a consumerist and reductionist world find something in Scientology, they don’t pay much and are left alone. Some truly believe that L Ron Hubbard never died but simply reached “Level 10” where his mind left the body, while others see that as silly but the general message of “don’t take drugs, be nice and don’t ask too many questions” fits into their mindset. If you would want to still be a member if you had the chance of reading this book is another thing altogether. But you can’t, as it is blacklisted: websites, press, even television and non-scientoligists are no-nos. In fact a good Scientoligist should pledge a million years of service and jump on the first ship going to no mans land to work as a labourer.

For the rest of us I would say read the book but prepared to be very very scared…