Hollywood denizens know best that Scientology is at once celebrity-laden and secretive. Author Lawrence Wright tries to unfurl both in his controversial new book - so controversial it won't be published in the UK or Canada. This despite the fact Wright's unauthorized history of the church used prominent former church members, including Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis, as primary sources on the record. Wright cites reams of research in detailing the life of Scientology founder, L.Ron Hubbard, as well as 200 interviews with those close to the Church of Scientology who reveal unflattering, even frightening, accounts of the control the church wields over its members.
In response, Scientology officials state, "The book is an error-filled, unsubstantiated, bigoted anti-Scientology book." They refer to Wright's atheism and call him bigoted. Yet Wright isn't alone in this assessment.
On accusations by the church that Wright interviewed few current Scientologists, and that his most frequent sources were disgruntled ex-members of "dubious honesty":
"I talked to more than 250 people for this book -- the majority of them Scientologist or ex-Scientologists. And these people were many of them at the highest levels of the church before they left. They attained the highest point of the Scientology spiritual pyramid they're the experts on this subject. If they're disgruntled it’s because of the way the church has treated them.”
On ex-members of the church saying that the Church of Scientology is bleeding members and losing money:
"Well what the church has is a lot of money and lot of lawyers but it does not have a lot of members. At least as far as I can tell its bleeding membership like crazy, and according to poll data there are only 25,000 people in America that identify as Scientologists that's less than half that call themselves Rastafarians. I know the church claims 8 to 10 mill members worldwide, but the number of people who are in the International Association of Scientologists, which is the best judge for how many scientologists there actually are in the world, is about 30,000 according to former members.”
On if there is a reform movement within Scientology:
"Well there are people that have left the official church and they form a large body of what they call “Independent Scientologists” and it is certainly a growing movement and its demonstrable in the number of people that register their voices in different forums online, this much we know that there are a lof of people going into that. They feel - these people who call themselves “Independent Scientologists” - that the church itself has been wrenched away from the original genius that L. Ron. Hubbard had in mind for it. And then there are other people that have walked away and said “it was all a mistake” and they feel a lot of embarrassment and shame about the years that they spent in the church and the money they spent on it.”
On the Scientology’s attitudes regarding homosexuality:
"Well the church has a problem in that the founder, L. Ron Hubbard wrote at a time when homsexuality was widely seen as a perversion and by the mental association as being kind of a mental health problem. So he shared those prejudices and they’re embedded in the Scientology literature and lore even though they’ve tried to expunge some of that material. But in the culture there’s still a sense that Scientology can cure homosexuality and that is a problem for the church.”
On Wright's research into background of L. Ron Hubbard:
"There are two narratives: One is that he was a great war hero in WWII and was blinded and crippled and left essentially alone and medicine couldn’t help him and he healed himself using these techniques that he developed into dianetics. However his war record shows that he was never injured in the war and his military medical record showed that he had conjunctivitis and ulcers. So this is a legend that he manufactured about himself and that the church perpetuates.”
Wright's thoughts on Anonymous and their efforts against Scientology:
"I talked to some of the founders of Anonymous. And it's quite intriguing how they got aroused - I mean the whole movement really started with the Tom Cruise video and the attempts of the church to remove it from the Internet. It prompted this entire movement that swept across the entire world in reaction to the church's efforts. So I've been watching it with a lot interest and curious to know more about anonymous I'm following up on that.”
“Do you remember when there was a video on the Internet with Tom cruise in a black turtleneck and he was talking about what Scientology meant to him. And he was extremely fervent and he was speaking in terminology that many people just simply didn't understand it was Scientology jargon and he came across as a fanatic to many Americans. The church was embarrassed about it they tried to remove it from the Internet and in the process they stirred up this hornets best that is now called Anonymous.”
What is the basic belief of Scientology?
"Scientology belives that you can celar yourself of your old fears and neurosis which come sfrom previous experiences. And then you can climb this ladder of spiritual attainment. As you get up the ladder you learn that there was a galactic overlord named “Xenu” who had an overpopulated planet and he sent the surplus people -he froze them- took them to this prison planet named “Teegeeack”, which is earth, put them in a volcano, exploded them with nuclear weapons, captured their disembodied spirits, and reprogrammed them. But those disembodied spirits called “Body Thetans” infest us. Our bodies are filled with these spirits from alien beings and part of the goal of Scientology is to cast them out, like casting out demons, using the E-meter to survey your problems and see what kind of “Body Thetan” is behind it.”
Is this a literal belief?
"As in all religions there are gradations of belief. There are people that probably literally believe it and there are people that accept it as a belief in order to remain in the community of faith. I think Scientology is not different from other religions in that fashion. However they sell themselves not as being faith at all but a technology of spiritual enlightenment.”
On the meaning of the crucifix symbol Scientology uses:
"Well that's a cross that was created by the Church of Scientology when it was cloaking itself more as a religion in order to gain a tax exemption in 1993. That and the services in the church and ministers wearing Roman collars all of that was created in the campaign that culminated in the tax exemption”
So why did he pursue this subject? How does his research into Scientology compare to other religions Wright has focused on? What's his reaction to the accusations from Scientology representatives? And why does so much of this story come back to Hollywood?
Lawrence Wright, Author, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief;” Staff Writer, “The New York;” Wright won a Pulitzer Prize for “The Looming Tower”
The Church of Scientology's response to Wright's book: