Scientology: Making puppets of it’s celebrity members
Tom Cruise must be ruing his stars. Just as his hopes of a return to Hollywood superstardom seemed to be finally coming into shape, the documentary Going Clear has neutered the promise of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. A look inside the Church of Scientology, the documentary is a scathing attack on the foundation, principles and dramatic personae that drive the cult. The title of the film comes from one of the levels on the Scientology hierarchy that, if cleared, confers significant prestige on the adherent. The film then proceeds to show how hollow, how incestuous that prestige is.
The documentary charts the growth of Scientology under its founder L Ron Hubbard, a disgraced World War II naval captain who wrote pulp novels on the side. Hubbard believed that psychotherapy and psychiatry were sham disciplines and that humans had the power to combat neuroses on their own. So far so good. But Hubbard also believed that humans were unhappy because their bodies were infested with Thetans, souls of ancient man, and unless those Thetans were expelled from the system through Scientology’s audit system (in which members were asked to disclose their most intimate secrets) there could be no relief for the sufferer.
The rise of Scientology is a study in disbelief. Hubbard’s book Dianetics,which laid out his vision, remained on the NYT bestseller list for weeks, and prompted thousands of common Americans to apply for Hubbard’s audit process. This was the 1950s and the fee charged was $500 per candidate. Scientology became one of the richest cults in America and Hubbard fought for it to be conferred the status of religion so that it would be tax-exempt.
After Hubbard’s death in 1986, his protégé David Miscavige took on the reins of the cult and fought a brutal battle against the IRS to shield Scientology’s books. Over the course of the next five years he bombarded the IRS with hundreds of lawsuits that were filed by members of the cult from different jurisdictions. Finally, the IRS relented on the religion clause under the condition, which Miscavige was only too happy to oblige, that he take back the lawsuits.
But the real story behind Scientology is neither its bizarre premise nor its lawless accounting practices. Scientology, first under Hubbard and then under Miscavige, became an echo chamber of uncritical thinking that expected absolute dedication from its followers. Followers were expected to devote their lives to the cult and “disconnect” (snap ties) with family members who were unwilling to join. Anyone who questioned the cult was called a “suppressive person” and was fodder for public shaming. Since the cult kept detailed accounts of members’ lives (which it obtained via the audit system) it exercised a diabolical hold on its followers.
The cult keeps personal information on its members, thus keeping them captives.
The documentary shows several former members, including film personalities Paul Haggis and Jason Beghe, reveal how systematic the abuse inside Scientology was, and is. Members who strayed were sent to the “hole”, a euphemism for a punishment chamber in which they were kept like slaves. The testimony of one, Sylvia Taylor, is especially heartrending. Her daughter was taken away from her when she entered the “hole”. This was at a time when she had already begun questioning her dedication to the church. When she later came to check upon her daughter, she found her child’s body burning with high fever and flies hovering above her. It was then she decided to quit.
Most ex-members express regret at having been willing participants to the abuse for so long. Hana Whitfield, who was with the cult for 19 years, says on the documentary that such was the hold of Hubbard on their imagination that many members would have nervous breakdowns which they would rationalise by thinking of them as just desserts for the evil that lived inside them.
The most shocking revelations in the documentary pertain to the relationship between Miscavige and Tom Cruise. Even as Miscavige unleashed a brutal reign of threats and intimidation to prevent members from leaving the cult, he found ready and vocal support in Cruise. Miscavige used Cruise’s celebrity to give Scientology a veneer of respectability and glamour. And he did this by controlling all aspects of Cruise’s life. The documentary discloses it was Miscavige who initiated the split between Cruise and Nicole Kidman whom Miscavige disliked because her father was a renowned psychiatrist in Australia. After Cruises divorce with Nicole, it’s been confrimed that the so-called church held a wife-hunt for Cruise which eventually led to Katie Holmes, and it was Miscavige who then encouraged Cruise to leave Katie Holmes, although she ultimately left him, because she did not want their daughter to be raised as a Scientologist. Cruise was so completely in thrall to Miscavige that he took up public fights on Scientology’s behalf, including with Brooke Shields over her use of pills for postpartum depression.
It is a wonder that Scientology has been allowed to not only exist but flourish the way it has. Today it owns properties around the world and pays not a shred of tax due to its status. None of its leaders have been jailed in spite of repeated testimonies that point to the machinations that went on inside the so-called church. Worse, even the fact that his career and personal life have been held hostage to the whims of Miscavige has not prompted Cruise, Scientology’s global brand ambassador, to break his association with the cult.