To true-believer Scientologists, Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear will be an extreme test of faith. To independent-minded Scientologists the book will be a test of how well they understand Scientology and correspondingly how well they differentiate the technology of Scientology from personage of its original author.
This is so because the majority of the book is little more than a compendium of greatest shots by L. Ron Hubbard’s many erstwhile enemies. There is no balance, but for the occasional gratuitous, condescending nods to L. Ron Hubbard’s power of imagination.
Having read a number of Wright’s previous works, I anticipated much more from the Pulitzer prize winning author. I never wrote a review of Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology because I considered it a rather dry, overly academic history of Scientology. While it was more comprehensive and balanced than any previous outsider look at the subject, I found it to be rather turgid, impersonal and careful. It, like all books by outsiders who haven’t experienced that which they write about, lacked the vital subjective component that truth requires. Note, some level of subjective experience is essence in covering a subject (religion/philosophy/spirituality) that is by academic and scientific standards wholly subjective. Having seen how Wright made the entire Middle East vs. Western culture divide personal, and understandable in his The Looming Tower – from both the Middle Eastern and Western perspective – I believed he might do the same for the sorely misunderstood subjects of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.
Instead Wright spent 2/3rd of his book regurgitating what several before him had already done: indicted, convicted and sentenced L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology to death. It was sad to see a gifted author with an advance allowing him two years to investigate squander it by essentially cutting and pasting from a twenty-seven year old biography penned by British Author Russell Miller (Bare-Faced Messiah). About the only thing Wright added was to make it more salacious and one-sided by sprinkling it with the death bed accusations of a former Hubbard wife (which incidentally conflicted with her earlier shrill, divorce-court accounts given to Miller) and giving it a far less charitable and objective slant than even Miller – who did little to mask his hatred for Scientology – did in 1986.
The rest of the book is a disjointed account of the post-Hubbard years in Scientology, the bulk of which had been reported long ago on this blog and extensively by other media outlets.
Despite having a formidable team of researchers and fact checkers, next to no critical examination of credibility of sources was done. If someone had something lurid to say about L. Ron Hubbard, regardless of how improbable, it was stated as authoritative fact. By way of example, had the Wright team took me up on my pre-publication offer to review their facts ahead of time, they would not have published these inventions that I personally know to be manufactured or grossly inaccurate:
– Tom Cruise was being audited by Marty Rathbun at the Gold base in 2002.
– Marty Rathbun (or anyone for that matter) was serving as Nicole Kidman’s ethics officer in 2002.
– Marty Rathbun was auditing Penelope Cruz.
– There was no ‘convincing evidence proving the facts were wrong or the reporter was biased’ presented in the Scientology vs. Time magazine case.
– Church funds were used to purchase assault rifles and explosive devices for the perimeter of international headquarters.
– A campaign was run to blackmail attorney Charles O’Reilly.
– O’Reilly’s house was bugged and his office was infiltrated.
– Most Sea Org members at the Int Base did not know their own geographical location.
– Miscavige attempted to get damning taped admissions from Mary Sue Hubbard so her husband could turn her in to the justice department.
– L. Ron Hubbard demanded a divorce from Mary Sue Hubbard and she refused.
This is a partial list containing only items that Wright was either informed were false or reasonably should have known were false. Granted, the verifiable allegations condemning Hubbard and Scientology in the book are legion. And I recognize that the list of inaccuracies doesn’t put a dent on Wright’s conviction of both the founder and Scientology. But, they highlight the velocity of the rush to judgment Wright was apparently engaged in.
Ultimately, Wright is guilty of what journalists and critics have accused Hubbard and the church of Scientology of, not without justification, for decades. To wit, rather than tackling the issues taken with the subject, Scientology policy calls for attacking the credibility of the one raising the issue. Thus, we see over 400 pages of a book promising to answer the question ‘what makes Scientology so appealing to so many?’, never even attempting to explain what Scientology is and does. Instead, Wright takes one esoteric teaching that Scientology asserts could not possibly be understood by someone not well-steeped in Scientology practice, and pretends that is all there is to a subject consisting of some 50 million other words. With that straw dog firmly in place, Wright proceeds to burn hundreds of pages reciting the accusations of avowed enemies of L. Ron Hubbard.
By way of comparison, by the time one reads The Looming Tower (The book that Wright won the Pulitzer prize for) and Going Clear, there is little chance the reader will fear Osama Bin Laden more than he will fear L. Ron Hubbard. While the former is journalism at its highest attainment, giving the reader an understanding of a figure made nearly impossible to understand by popular media culture, the latter can be characterized, at best in my opinion, as piling on.
While the church of Scientology can be partially credited with the result by its easily discreditable insistence on portraying L. Ron Hubbard as God, Wright had access to dozens of Scientologists unaffiliated with the church who gave far more measured, rational and credible accounts of what Scientology is capable of achieving in de-radicalized hands.
Wright chose to simply ignore the latter and shoot the sluggish, fat fish the former placed in a barrel before him. Good work if you can get it. But, do not delude yourself that Going Clear is any insightful, definitive, and least of all, balanced look at either L. Ron Hubbard or Scientology.
Now that the big guns have issued, I can settle down to attempting to deliver something more along that line.
I have a feeling that Rock Center’s segment tonight on Scientology from the viewpoints of Paul Haggis and Lawrence Wright is going to be rather interesting. You may not agree with all you see and hear, but I suggest you ought to see and hear it.
And, A preview from NBC Today show.