Clear As Mud

20 Apr

Illustration featuring L Ron Hubbard [borrowed from the NYT]

Illustration featuring L Ron Hubbard [borrowed from the NYT]

Scientology has been in recent times, a maelstrom of controversy. Ace reporter Lawrence Wright fuels the fire with his expose GOING CLEAR Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Here’s the NY Times:

That crunching sound you hear is Lawrence Wright bending over backward to be fair to Scientology. Every deceptive comparison with Mormonism and other religions is given a respectful hearing. Every ludicrous bit of church dogma is served up deadpan. This makes the book’s indictment that much more powerful. Open almost any page at random. That tape of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, that Wright quotes from? “It was a part of a lecture Hubbard gave in 1963, in which he talked about the between-lives period, when thetans are transported to Venus to have their memories erased.”

The ever clear-eyed David Thomson offers this

…In the popular estimate today, I think that Scientology is considered less as a way to better mental health than as a means of thought control, punishment and vindictive pursuit, founded and managed in fear, not hope. Wright points out that there are countries (Germany for one) where Scientology has come close to being outlawed.

So it’s a very American dream, and there is a natural affinity with Hollywood in that it preys on an idea of fantastic escape. But if you look again, it’s alarming to realise how thoroughly the legend of escape becomes a new kind of prison. Being Clear is an inducement to darkness and disarray. You may laugh at it at first, but get ready to weep.

Now comes Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary, Going Clear, based in part on Wright’s research. If you thought you knew about Scientology, I would venture you were not prepared for such a frightening depiction of intimidation, mind control, and arcane theories, propagated first by an apparently loopy figure,L Ron Hubbard and continued by current Scientology leader David Miscavige (who is alleged to beat and demoralize his staff and additionally that physical violence by superiors towards staff is a commonplace occurrence).

I found the telling piece of evidence on Scientology in its skirmish with the all powerful Internal Revenue Service. While Scientology was raking in millions in book sales (Dianetics)and membership contributions, Hubbard apparently paid no taxes, claiming a religious exemption. When Hubbard died the IRS presented Scientology with a billion dollar plus tax bill. Now clearly the criteria for being a religion are not clear-cut but the IRS’s rule of thumb was to assess how a group used its monies to help its members. Scientology’s response was to file nearly 2000 law suits naming the IRS as defendant. And not surprisingly the IRS yielded, forgiving the tax bill and recognizing Scientology as a religion.

If you need further evidence of,uh,Scientology’s peculiarities have a look its most famous practitioner’s response

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