Saturday, 21 March 2015

Alex Gibney's 'Scientology' documentary, 'Going Clear,' gets five star BBC rating.

The BBC recommends a new documentary film on the 'Scientology' racket. 
Alex Gibney
Oscar winning director, Alex Gibney.
 For all the brave and insightful exposes that have been written about the Church of Scientology, an aura of impenetrable mystery remains. Is it a religion? A cult? A useful form of therapy? A dangerous form of mind control? A powerful global corporation? A borderline illegal mob? Maybe all of the above. In recent years, Scientology members have been leaving the Church with greater frequency, and many of its secrets have been spilled. Yet the revelations have only given rise to further questions. How, for instance, could someone as seemingly shrewd, worldly and compassionate as the Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis have become enmeshed in its web? How did Scientology get so cult-like in the first place? And what about Tom Cruise and John Travolta? Are they die-hard converts or, in fact, celebrity hostages? 
The extraordinary thing about Alex Gibney’s new documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, is that it does more than address these questions; it offers substantive answers. Based on the 2013 book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright, the movie goes deep into the mystery, fascination, and – yes – the horror of Scientology, and since the human stakes are so high, the documentary has the scary intensity of a thriller. You might have to go back to Darth Vader’s first appearance in Star Wars to see an entrance as mesmerisingly ominous as the one made by David Miscavige, the group’s current leader, in an overwhelmingly dramatic piece of footage shot at a world Scientology conference. On the surface, Miscavige appears totally innocuous, which of course only makes him appear more like the ultimate sinister white-collar villain. There is something about the subject of power that unleashes Gibney as a filmmaker, as his films on Enron and Wikileaks have revealed. Going Clear unpeels Scientology layer by layer via testimony from former high-level Church officials who have never spoken up before. The result is the most exciting – and disturbing – work of cinematic non-fiction in a long time.
Behind the curtain
Working with rare footage, Gibney burrows into the enigma of Scientology’s founder, L Ron Hubbard, capturing glints of delusion and megalomania. Hubbard‘s rise began in the 1930s, and he quickly became an astoundingly prolific science-fiction writer. But then in 1950 he published Dianetics, the perpetual bestseller in which he helped invent the principles of the therapeutic ‘self-help’ books that grew hugely popular by the 1970s. In Scientology, he wrapped these ideas around a theological core of interplanetary gibberish that could have come straight out of one his pulp novels. Going Clear captures how Hubbard fused reality, fantasy and the pursuit of enlightenment in a way that, according to the film’s witnesses, expressed his own highly unstable and even violent nature – at one point Gibney shows how Hubbard even told his wife that one of their children had died, just to manipulate her. Hubbard wound up a sea-faring outlaw on the run from US tax officials, and in Going Clear he emerges as a broken dictator who founded a religion based on control because he was so desperate to control his own demons.
Hubbard constructed Scientology around a ritual known as the “audit”, which is like a conventional therapy session fused with a Catholic confession and a visit to Room 101 in Orwell’s 1984. A member sits down and digs into their secrets and private traumas, as the auditor asks questions and takes notes, recording the subject’s responses on an ‘E-meter’, a gadget invented by Hubbard. Haggis, a Scientologist for 35 years before his highly publicised break with the Church in 2009, tells us how incredibly good an audit session could make him feel, as if he’d purged himself of all his toxins. Gibney suggests Hubbard’s method of healing was really just a superficial take on Freudian therapy, a comparison that Hubbard scorned – though only after his techniques had been rejected as rubbish by legitimate psychiatrists. Going Clear, however, suggests a dramatic difference between auditing and traditional therapy: it claims that the Church of Scientology holds on to the notes from the sessions and uses them to blackmail its members into staying. According to the film, this is a major reason why Travolta has remained a Scientologist. As for Cruise, he’s portrayed – especially in one astounding clip Gibney has uncovered of the actor’s birthday celebration aboard a Scientology ship – as a clueless ‘true believer’, blind to much of what goes on within the Church, his loyalty to Scientology stoked and manipulated by his friendship with Miscavige.   
The perils of power
As well as friends there are enemies, and Scientology’s foes are sometimes vast, like the US Internal Revenue Service. In one of the film’s most chilling episodes, the IRS appears ready to rule that Scientology isn’t a religion (and would therefore have to pay tax), and Miscavige has thousands of the Church’s members sue individual officials of the agency. It is an outrageous manoeuvre, but it works: the IRS caves in and grants Scientology tax-exempt status. In presenting a case study like this one, Gibney proves a master of documentary narrative – he conjures fast-paced drama out of thorough reporting. His movie captures an ongoing cycle of seduction and bullying, fearmongering and profiteering, that appears to have turned Scientology into a hamster-wheel of greed.
Gibney interviews a handful of high-level Scientology officers who left the Church and are now willing to denounce it. Marty Rathbun, who spent years as Miscavige’s right-hand man, was at the very centre of the citadel, and his testimony has an unsettling authority. He alleges that Miscavige, in actions worthy of the Khmer Rouge, subjected his loyal officials to rituals of abuse, making them ‘confess’ to imagined crimes and assaulting them if they didn’t comply. The astounding thing is that when the victims were given the chance to exit this torture program, none of them did. They thought they deserved to be punished.
Going Clear makes you empathise with Scientology’s rank and file, who come off as victims of Church leaders’ eager advertising. Yet what’s most resonant about the film is that, like Scientology itself, it speaks to the tendencies of our age. The impulse to purge yourself of doubt and neurosis, the desire to seek out a leader who can save us – these are things that just about anyone can relate to. The twisted genius of L Ron Hubbard is that he figured out a way to define and exploit contemporary soul sickness. He was right about the disease. But Going Clear makes a powerful case that he came up with a cure that only made it worse.
Owen Gleiberman  (BBC copyright 2015)


  1. David,

    I read this post a few days ago when you published it. I've been giving the topic of Scientology some thought. I've discovered that most of the people that I know or meet know very little or nothing about Scientology. Hopefully this new documentary might shine some light into the minds of the ignorant. Most people don't waste much time thinking about Scientology. Of course, I could say the same thing about the Mormons.

    Scientologists distribute personality tests just down the street from where I live, The place never seems very busy. They have a lounge where they show Hubbard videos. Their operation reminds me of a modern day tarot card reader. What can it hurt to take a personality test and watch a video? It seems so innocent. Most people aren't sufficiently forewarned.

    John Travolta has been in town. They are shooting a new movie "I Am Wrath" here. I have a very low opinion of actors who profess being Scientologists. I try to enjoy movies with Tom Cruise, but he ruins it for me. What a scumbag!

    1. quixtariscult - Most people are convinced that cults have absolutely nothing to do with them, and that no one in their own family would join one. That said, here in France, cults are often the subject of network television documentaries and virtually everyone knows that 'Scientology' is a very dangerous cult using celebrities (like Tom Cruise and John Travolta) to give it a veneer of respectabilty.

      I personally wouldn't be that hard on Tom Cruise. He has been the subject of an extended post on my Blog. Tom was targeted by 'Scientology' following a recruitment directive (given by L. Ron Hubbard back in the 1960s) to go after celebrities on their way up, or on their way down. The cult got him at the time he was first becoming a major hollywood star. It's an absolute certainty that 'Scientology' holds personal information about Tom Cruise which he would never want made public.

      Tom Cruise was a young fellow who suffered from dyslexia and who had never been able to pass exams. The only thing he was ever successful at, was pretending to be other people. Tom was brought into 'Scientology' by a glamorous older woman who became his first wife.

      'Scientology' peddled Tom cruise the illusion that his dyslexia, and indeed all his many personal problems, were the fault of negative evil extra-terrestrials infesting his mind and body.

  2. David,

    Obviously, when a person tells their deepest, darkest secrets to this cult, they are most certainly potential targets for extortion. There has been a lot of speculation around Scientology (mostly by the heretics) that Travolta may have compromised himself by revealing homosexuality during auditing. I don't want to say too much on this speculative topic.

    Most likely Tom Cruise has been compromised in some fashion. I haven't heard much about him and Scientology as of late. He had removed himself for a while. I think many of the more well known Scientologists have chosen to back away and remain quiet. Nearly all of them have been confronted with embarrassing questions about Xenu and exposed to ridicule.

    Travolta has appeared on the local news broadcasts since he is involved in the making of a movie here. I have not heard a single mention of his affiliation with Scientology. The media anchors seen on camera with his arms over their shoulders describe him as a wonderful man. It's too bad that he reeks with the stink of Scientology. This doesn't seem to diminish his popularity at the box office. The same thing goes for Tom Cruise. I find it hard to believe that Cruise actually believes all the Scientology dogma, especially the extra-terrestrial 'thetans.'

    Scientology is about as insane as it gets. Indeed, nearly all cults are just as insane. Amway is insane, Herbalife is insane; and it seems like much of the world has gone 'MLM' insane and willing to get sucked down the drain. If you let a cuckoo bird into your nest, then you are screwed.

  3. quixtarisacult - Some would say that all non-rational belief systems are equally insane, but 'Scientology' does seem to the one cult that virtually all cosmopolitan people have heard of and know to be both absurd and dangerous.

    Messrs. Travolta and Cruise would seem to be classic examples of 'Scientology' adherents whose self-esteem, and related psychological function, remain dependent on Hubbard's comic-book fiction. I fear that they would have to undergo a form of mental breakdown in order to re-enter reality and confront the ego-destroying fact that that are super saps rather than super men.

    That said, I don't actually think that Travolta or Cruise has the intellectual capacity, or strength of character, to understand fully what they were subjected to.

    I believe Travolta fell for 'Scientology' after he ditched a lady friend who then committed suicide.

    1. Just a short reply. For a while, many people thought that Cruise had actually gone insane. His remarks about getting 'ethics in' and pouncing on Oprah's couch like some kind a maniac were just two examples.

      You actually bring up the true danger that faces these cult adherents: Insanity, and in some cases death. One of Hubbard's own sons committed suicide. As an aside, it has been voiced about that some adherents were secretly given mind altering drugs on the order of LSD and audited into exhaustion. Scientology has killed and can kill. People would be well advised not to involve themselves in this most evil of cults. Those readers who doubt should take the time to do some research on the topic.

    2. quixtarisacult - Recently, I watched an interview with the veteran French film director, Jean Pierre Mocky - a larger than life personality who has never been scared to speak his mind - particularly, on the subject of actors. For some reason, the conversation turned to Tom Cruise, and Mocky said that he'd once spent the evening in the company of Hollywood's most famous 'Scientologist.' He described Tom Cruise as a dimwit, and I think that this is probably close to the truth.

      Tom Cruise was once an impressionable, dyslexic, pretty-boy actor without a strong personality or sense of identity. He rose to fame prior to his entry into 'Scientology,' by play-acting the scripted-roles of persons with strong personalities, but when he was interviewed without a script (by the press), he was lost .

      Tom Cruise fell into the hands of a gang of deluded crooks (pretending moral and intellectual authority), who convinced him that he too could transform into a super human.

      Officially, Hubbard's son, Quentin, committed suicide. According to people who knew him, Quentin was gay, but his father taught that homosexual behaviour was caused by evil extraterrestrials infesting a person's mind and body.

      Various similar chapters of the 'Scientology' scenario have driven countless vulnerable persons into a psychotic state and some of them have wound up destitute, and/or, dead.

      In an interview in Time Magazine, Dr. Edward Lottick, whose 23 year old son, Noah, committed suicide under the malign influence of 'Scientology,' famously described the organization as a 'school for psychopaths.'

    3. David,

      I wish to express my sorrow for Dr. Lottick and his son. Of course it is too easy to blame the victims of cultic phenomena, and at times I have fallen into that trap. You correctly conclude then that all victims are significantly predisposed psychologically to fall prey to cults. A scientist might theorize that there is a 'cult' gene, much like the 'God' gene which geneticist Dean Hamer claims to have discovered, and could lend itself to a person’s capacity to believe in a cult, and this belief might be linked to DNA and brain chemicals. Could this explain how a rational person could be conditioned to believe what others recognize as the unbelievable?

      Amway apologist have long stated that their 'business' is 'right' for some people, but not for everyone. Thank goodness that not everyone is so predisposed to believe in the dogma and can't understand how or why any rational person might believe.

      Cults, therefore, seek out those who have the 'problem' that their cult can significantly 'handle.' They seek those people out who have some form of 'rot' going on in their lives and offer to transform them from (as you say) humans into super-humans.Hubbard was a snake oil salesman of the mind. This is far from original of course. MLM cult initiators are following the tenents of say P. T. Barnum, Billy Graham, John Smith or Karl Marx. MLM and Scientology are subsets of the same cultic phenomena (as you have long pointed out to your readers). You are correct in saying that MLM can not be fully understood in isolation. You in a sense have done much of the 'heavy lifting' towards helping your readers, myself included, towards an understanding of cults and their incredible proliferation in traditional society.

      What then are your thoughts on those worst of apologists beyond a tendency toward narcissism. Are apologists for cults victimizers or the victimized? In so many ways they and other cult adherents seem to be one and the same. Aren't the victims taught to take on the narcissistic attributes of the cultic leaders and explain why these leaders so easily pass the blame onto the victims? Where do the victims cross over the line, from victim to victimizer? Doesn't a virus always seek to replicate itself in its host?

      Please pardon me. I don't want to distract you from your important work. If I had questions involving physics, I'd want to seek out someone like Stephen Hawking or Lawrence Krauss. Your thoughts illuminate all your readers.

    4. This is one of the key questions of history :

      At what point does a victim of a criminogenic cult become a criminal?

      Put another way:

      Is a person who (at a time of vulnerabilty) mistakes a non-rational cultic fiction for fact, ultimately responsible for his/her actions, or is the author of the fiction ultimately responsible?

      I have to say that there is no clear answer to this question, because each case should really be treated separately.

      e.g. Look at the case of Larry Layton who spent 20 years in prison for believing the paranoid lies of Jim Jones to be reality.

      Larry Layton was convicted of committing murder, but he could equally have been one of the unquestioning adherents whom Jones persuaded to kill children, before drinking poison.

      Sadly, cults are organizations which turn traditional morality on it head.

      The comic-book 'Naz'i fiction taught its core-adherents that they were noble human heroes engaged in a never-ending struggle against the sub-human forces of evil.

      That said, no one in their right mind would argue that it wasn't entirely correct for the most fanatical adherents of the 'Nazi' scenario to be held to account for the crimes they committed under its influence.

      In truth, the German nation fell into the hands of a gang of criminal psychopaths at a time of mass-alienation following defeat in WWI, and the during the worst economic depression of the last century, but no one blames the German Nation.

      I personally think that there is never any valid excuse for our current leaders failure to recognize the latest versions of the cult phenomenon.

    5. David,

      Might I hypothesis that the proliferation of 'delusional' factions (cults) actually serve our current government's objectives? Possibly it isn't that they fail to recognize that latest version of cult phenomenon, but significantly benefit by it?

      The majority of Americans profess belief in a celestial 'dictator' who supposedly has the power to reward the faithful, punish thought crime, and destroy enemies for eternity. This can be called traditional Jewish/Christian religion. Isn't this dogma as nearly insane as that set forth by Sceintology? Children reared in Hubbard technology are just as much likely to believe the dogma of Scientology as those children (like myself) who were raised in a Christian home. This could be said for any number of other established religions to include Islam, Buddhism, Janism, Mormon, Hinduism and many others. Belief is the common denominator of all cults.

      I could just as easily listed Herbalife, Amway, Forever Living Products, and Mary Kay with all those religions above. It isn't a far stretch to list political factions like the U.S. Tea Party as well?

      The broad phenomena of cults seems to envelope and overlap the complex interrelations of traditional 'culture.' Religion, Politics, Business,essentially are belief systems. Even the lack of belief in some cases, such as atheism are a negative 'belief' system. The science of Sociology attempts to propose a 'theory of everything.' much like Stephen Hawking does with astronomical physics.

      I propose that our leaders may feign ignorance of cult phenomenon simply because it serves their purpose. They really have to do very little in the way of dividing and conquering to maintain their superior position. Cultic faith is a great 'handle' for politicians to grasp. Many (if not all U.S. politicians) feign faith in Christianity, whether they believe or not. To do otherwise would be to alienate a large segment of the electorate.

      MLM represents just another cash cow. Amway's 'dominionist' Christian co-founder, Rich DeVos perfectly represents how this all works and helps explain why our political leaders turn a blind eye towards MLM and supposedly fail to recognize cultic phenomenon. Some cults are simply harm their adherents more than others. Our leaders are complicit in MLM fraud, not necessarily ignorant of it. Herein lies the problem. We all live in an 'Animal Farm.'

    6. quixtarisacult - Although I accept that the full-explanation of cultism is unthinkable to most people, I feel that you might be over-estimating the intellects of US political leaders. They are not feigning ignorance of cultism, they really are ignorant of it. However, this is not entirely their fault; for if you examine the US Constitution, you will find the word 'religion,' but you will not find an accurate explanation of what the authors this document actually meant.

      The authors of the US Constitution were all white males. The majority of them considered themselves to be advanced-thinkers, men of reason as 'Deists' and 'Freemasons,' but even they shied away from the key-question of what constitutes a religion, and US legislators continue to shy away from it.

      I would say that a 'religion', as opposed to a cult, is a non-rational ritual belief system which has not been instigated, or perverted, for the clandestine purpose of human exploitation.

      When you examine the evidence, then (despite their external camouflage) groups like 'Scientology', 'Amway', 'Herbalife,' etc., are all revealed as glaring examples of non-rational ritual belief systems which have been instigated for the clandestine purpose of human exploitation.

      This common-sense analysis is beyond the understanding of not just US legislators, but also of legislators around the globe..

      Recently, the bosses of 'Scientology' managed to get a fairy story case before the UK Supreme Court (in a back door attempt to have 'Scientology' classified as a tax-free 'religion in Britain). One of the innocent looking young persons who filed this Trojan Horse lawsuit against a UK government official, was none other than the daughter of a leading 'Scientology' attorney.

      In this case, the Judges (who apparently hadn't the slightest idea what identifies cults) came up with with a ruling which was so ambiguous that it was effectively-meaningless nonsense.

      They offered a vague 'description' of 'religion' which they clearly stated was not, and could never be, a legal definition, but then they used this non-definitive 'description' to make a definitive ruling that two UK citizens who profess to be 'Scientologists' had to the right to marry in a 'Scientology Chapel.'

      Unbvelievably, the judges based their demonstrably-dangerous decision as to whether 'Scientology' fitted their non-definitive 'description' of a 'religion,' only on 'Scientology's' own 'religious' description of itself.

      Clearly this ruling was the equivalent of casual observers deciding (without looking inside) that a Trojan Horse must be a horse, because it apparently has all the same attributes which identify horses.

      Previously, a UK government Dept., had refused the registration of 'Scientology' buildings for marriages, on the grounds that 'Scientology' had been found not to be a religion in a UK High Court ruling.

      In France, a bunch of 'Scientologists' were recently found guilty of 'fraud in an organized gang.' 'Scientology' is not recognizeda as a 'religion' in France, but the legally-registered corporate structures which these so-called 'Scientologists' used to commit fraud in France, were labelled with the word 'Church.'

      When you know what are the universal identifying characteristics of a cult, and examine the tragicomic history of 'Scientology,' all these court cases are revealed as forming part of a overall pattern of ongoing major racketeering activity.

    7. Religion is a loop hole in which Scientology has, to some degree, driven their racket through. They are indeed a pernicious cult whose leaders are now in charge of millions of dollars and property that was more or less stolen from the 'faithful.' The money remains in their hands, even though membership in the 'church' (heavy irony) has fallen way off. The government of the United States has been complicit in allowing this cult to operate, all while knowing that Scientologists had entered and bugged their offices. (This isn't something a normal benign religion does.) The Internal Revenue Service in the U.S. capitulated to extortionate ploys, and made a deal with the devil in granting Scientology tax free status. What a shame!

      I certainly agree with you that Scientology is a racketeering operation who also happens to practice mental health medicine without a license. One might easily add treason to their list of crimes as well.

      Hopefully authorities in Great Britain will not be taken in by Sceintology's claims of being a legitimate organized religion and all the advantages that would grant.

      I am not so sure that many TV preachers and mega-churches (like the one run by Ted Haggard) doesn't cross over the line of 'human exploitation' which defines the difference between a benign cult and a pernicious one. Frauds like Haggard would take the last 100 dollars from a elderly widower just as quickly as a Scientologist would. That being said, I tend to agree with your definition of a cult based on the tenets of whether or not it has been instigated for clandestine purposes. I think you agree that Jim and Tammy Bakker had such clandestine intentions, although the gospel they preached was pretty standard dogma. Modern day prosperity preachers are more predator than preacher. Hubbard saw that he could prosper more from religion than being a self help guru.

      Alex Gibney's "Going Clear" premieres on HBO tonight in the U.S.. Possibly it will begin a 'conversation' which might bring this cult down in flames. Maybe that is too much to ask for?

    8. When you look at old video footage of Jim Bakker and his wife, it beggars belief that adults fell for these two kitsch clowns, but you could say the same about Mark Hughes, L. Ron Hubbard and the DeVos and Van Andel clans.

      The Bakkers acquired control over millions of dollars quite legally simply by pretending moral and intellectual authority and asking people to give them their money via their own television showl. Jim Bakker was finally convicted of fraud in a federal court, only because he had been the head of a corporate structure which took money from individuals in return for legally-binding contracts in which he promised to supply contractees with a number of nights hotel accomodation for the rest of their lives, but Bakker's hotel accomodation largely did not exist. Much of the documentaion which led to Bakker's conviction was made available to prosecutors, after Bakker had been deposed by a rival tele-evangelist.

      I believe your chances of getting a room at Bakker's Inn were about 30 000/1, which is significantly better than your chances of generating an overall net profit in an 'MLM' cult.

      Prior to Bakker taking to a life of crime, he had been befriended by 'Amway's' Dexter Yager, and quite a number of people suspect that Yager had more than just a hand Bakker's hotel racket.

    9. Here is a eerie video that shows the ruins of the Bakker's heaven on earth:

      Possibly the authorities might bring Scientology's 'Disney Land' into a similar state.