Thursday, February 20, 2014

#10 [2014/CBR6] "Going Clear" by Lawrence Wright

After reading Jenna Miscavige Hill's book about her life in Scientology, Beyond Belief, I was still hungry for more information. Hill's memoir was a fascinating but personal story and I was interested in a broader look at Scientology. So, I picked up Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief (2013) by Lawrence Wright, after hearing some good things about it.

Wright covers a lot of ground with this book, starting with L. Ron Hubbard, his life, his writings, and the beginnings of Scientology. Paul Haggis, Tom Cruise, and John Travolta all consume a fair amount of text as well. Finally, David Miscavige and the Sea Org are described in detail. I now know more than enough about Scientology to stay as far away from it as possible and to be very concerned about the children growing up in the Sea Org. Page after page details another shocking and crazy revelation, Hubbard's insane actions and the way he treated his wives, the physical and mental abuse, the billion year contract Sea Org members sign, and the constant harassment and interference into people's personal lives.

This book held my interest for the most part and was very informative, but I still sometimes wished for something more. I could have done with a little less of Hubbard's writings that built the foundation of the church. I got the idea pretty quickly and since none of it made sense, it stopped being enlightening pretty quickly.

Also, Wright appears to try to stay very neutral in his writing, but I could have done with a little more commentary. I don't mind, and would actually prefer, hearing an author's opinion as long as he makes it clear that it's his opinion and gives his reasoning for it. Wright is the one who interviewed subjects, personally read the material and chose what information to put in the book. With so many of the assertions stemming from disputed testimony, I would have liked his impression on what he believed and why instead of just throwing every accusation aimed at the Church of Scientology into the manuscript. For instance: "One Scientologist who was a bank teller says he was told to comply with a robbery in order to pay off his debt to the church: the robbers took four thousand dollars." (281) This sentence was sandwiched into a discussion on how much money members are pressured into giving the church, but I had trouble believing this one. Really? Scientology is capable of a lot of stupid and illegal shit, but are they really involved in bank robbery? For four thousand dollars? If Wright is going to throw accusations like this into his book, he really has to back it up with more information--or even create some kind of distinction between the things that probably occurred and those less likely.

Finally, there were a number of instances where I wish Wright had been more clear or descriptive. I wish he had focused on fewer things and explained them in more detail. For example, this sentence was used to describe and introduce Katie Holmes to the story: "Holmes was an ingenue with almond-shaped brown eyes, who described herself as a twenty-six-year-old virgin." (291) Again, I'm having trouble believing this one. When did she say this? If she did, wasn't she joking? Of all the ways to describe Katie Holmes, this is what Wright came up with? Here's one last example: "The next year, at the age of eighteen, she [Valeska Paris] was sent to the Freewinds. She was told she would be on the ship for two weeks. She was held there against her will for twelve years." (282) Again, this is where I really wanted more information. An allegation of being imprisoned for twelve years is pretty serious and warrants a lot more discussion than one sentence. Was she physically imprisoned or imprisoned more by circumstances and lack of resources? Morally, there's not much difference, but it would be helpful in understanding why no one is going to jail for this. I assume by the fact that we even know she was imprisoned for twelve years that she has broken free from the church.

Anyway, there were positives and negatives. Although this book had a lot of information, and I learned more about the role celebrities play in the church, I think at the end of the day I preferred Jenna Miscavige Hill's more personal story.

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