The last time I recall the New Yorker writing about the Church of Scientology, the focus was on the Celebrity Centre as a draw for people in the entertainment industry. That is not this article by Lawrence Wright, titled “Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology.”
“I had such a lack of curiosity when I was inside,” Haggis said. “It’s stunning to me, because I’m such a curious person.” He said that he had been “somewhere between uninterested in looking and afraid of looking.” His life was comfortable, he liked his circle of friends, and he didn’t want to upset the balance. It was also easy to dismiss people who quit the church. As he put it, “There’s always disgruntled folks who say all sorts of things.” He was now ashamed of this willed myopia, which, he noted, clashed with what he understood to be the ethic of Scientology: “Hubbard says that there is a relationship between knowledge, responsibility, and control, and as soon as you know something you have a responsibility to act. And, if you don’t, shame on you.”
It is a massive piece, and I’m just digging in The article starts with Haggis’ falling out with Scientology after 35 years, and I suspect a lot of money, in the church, reaching O.T. VII. It then gets into Scientology’s celebrity culture:
In 1975, the year that Haggis became a Scientologist, John Travolta, a high-school dropout, was making his first movie, “The Devil’s Rain,” in Durango, Mexico, when an actress on the set gave him a copy of “Dianetics.” “My career immediately took off,” he told a church publication. “Scientology put me into the big time.” The testimonials of such celebrities have attracted many curious seekers. In Variety, Scientology has advertised courses promising to help aspiring actors “make it in the industry.”
One of those actors, Josh Brolin, told me that, in a “moment of real desperation,” he visited the Celebrity Centre and received “auditing”—spiritual counselling. He quickly decided that Scientology wasn’t for him. But he still wonders what the religion does for celebrities like Cruise and Travolta: “Each has a good head on his shoulders, they make great business decisions, they seem to have wonderful families. Is that because they were helped by Scientology?” This is the question that makes celebrities so crucial to the religion. And, clearly, there must be something rewarding if such notable people lend their names to a belief system that is widely scorned.
As I’m writing this, I see a headline on the “Today Show” that says “New Yorker: FBI Investigating Controversial Church.” I guess those details come later.
If you’re interested, start reading now. It’s a fascinating story, but it’s going to take you a while.