Friday, April 10, 2015


Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief [Knopf; $28.95] is a powerful and terrifying examination of L. Ron Hubbard and the church he founded. It’s a true story of human monsters operating freely and subjecting church members to horrific abuse even as we speak. It’s the true story of a secretive organization with the desire to destroy any who would challenge it and, far too often, the means to succeed in that destruction. I’ll get back to Wright's book a bit down the road.

I am not a believer in religious institutions. Several years back, when I had gone to a doctor with concerns of heart problems, I was asked my religion. I answered “none” so quickly that it surprised me. But it was the absolute truth.

I’ve seen too many so-called Christians and members of other faiths say the most hate-filled things and excuse the most heinous acts in the name of their faith. I have seen these people pick and choose parts of their holy books to support their bigotry.

Not, mind you, that I believe in the concept of holy books. Those books, every last one of them, were written by men of their times. Men who, far from being inspired by their gods du jour, used these books to enshrine their prejudices and increase their control over their faithful followers.

Using the Bible or the Koran or the Torah or the Book of Mormon as a guide to your life is fine with me up to the point where you get into my face. It’s a guide and you should use that brain rattling  around in your head to let it guide you without turning you into a puppet of your religious leaders. You should also realize your holy book gives you no power over me or anybody else who doesn’t share your particular faith. When you claim it does, that’s when you and me have big problems.

I will gladly stipulate that many religious people have done great and helpful things in the name of their faiths. I’m not without my own belief system, though it’s not something I’ll be writing about today. Just trust I wish you no ill as long as you do not use your faith to inflict injustice or misery on others.

I was of a much kinder demeanor when I first encountered the Church of Scientology. This was 1973 or thereabouts. I was living in New York City and working for Marvel Comics. I was a Roman Catholic or thereabouts, though not a particularly devout one. I did consider myself a Christian, back in those days before goons like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee made such a mockery of Christianity in the name of political expediency. The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” had not been created yet, but that sentiment was close to how I wanted to live my life...except with more women and without a dozen wingmen. Man’s imperfect nature notwithstanding, I tried to be a decent guy.

I was hanging out with another young comics professional. Walking around Manhattan, we were approached by a clean-cut young man in a suit and tie. I can’t remember if we were outside an actual Church of Scientology building or a hotel where the church had rented out a ballroom. In either case, we were invited to come with the young man and have some refreshments while he told us about Scientology. He wanted was to ask us questions and do what I think he said was a preliminary audit. My friend wanted to check it out, so I went along with it.

My bullshit detector went off almost immediately. My friend and I were taken to separate cubicles. The questions I was asked were designed to find entry points where we could be convinced that we was operating far below our potential. I was asked if I had any enemy or enemies at work that might be holding me back. I would remember that question because, a year later, talked into visiting a fortune teller by another gullible friend, I was asked the same question by the mystic. Indeed, these two encounters ended pretty much the same way.

Scientology Boy hooked me up to one of their bogus E-meters so he could gauge how much I was being damaged by Suppressive Persons in the offices of Marvel Comics. He pretended to be impressed by what I did for a living and said that creative people could benefit from Scientology and its teachings. The cost of the training would be more than covered by the greater productivity and attendant greater rewards I would accrue as a result.

Jump forward to the fortune teller, she suspected I had been cursed by one of my Marvel rivals. She did some moaning and mumbling over an “ordinary” egg and then cracked it open to reveal a black liquid within. I had been cursed, but the good news was she could remove the curse for just a hundred dollars.

There’s a chance Scientology Boy was sincere in his beliefs because that organization did and does attract needy and submissive people, desperate to believe they can become super-more than they are. But he didn’t like it when I said I didn’t put much stock in a religion created by a pulp magazine writer looking to score big by creating his own religion. In fact, he got so angry that I thought he would strike me with his little E-meter.

I left and told my friend I was done with our Scientology fun and we’d meet up later. He seemed content to hang around a bit longer, probably because his auditor was a very attractive young woman with delightfully perky breasts. That’s the kind of religious impulse I could understand.

My visit with the fortune teller ended in anger as well. I told her I knew she had doctored the egg in one of the oldest cons known to her profession. She said my disrespect would increase the severity of the curse that had been laid upon me by my enemy. At that point, I may or may not have made a joke she didn’t understand about the Dreaded Deadline Doom. She tried to spit at me as I walked away and her mystic goober landed on my gullible friend. If he wasn’t almost always broke, he probably would have paid her the hundred to remove any second-hand curse cooties.

In retrospect, I feel a tiny bit sorry for Scientology Boy. Whether he was a true believer or not, he more than likely had a quota to meet. Based on what I learned from Wright’s book, I suspect the lad would have been punished for not bringing in his daily requirement of moolah for the Scientology coffers. The punishments could have included reassignment to the lowliest and most back-breaking work, confinement in some dank dark basement, a few table scraps for his one meal a day and actual beatings. Scientology has always been a cruel master.

I feel no such sympathy for the fortune teller. She was a criminal who saw me as an easy mark. I was insulted by her low estimation of me, though I must confess my spider-sense hasn’t always served me as well over the course of my career and life. In any case, I hope she accidentally ate one of her doctored eggs and had the New York runs for a year.

Scientology was easy to dismiss back then and for most of my life. From multiple sources I had heard multiple versions of an arrogant or tipsy or arrogantly tipsy Hubbard at a party, proclaiming to all that great wealth awaited the man who could start a new religion. Scientology was a joke, Hubbard was its jester and those who bought into his silly blend of mysticism, pseudo-science and pulp science fiction were merely paying the going rate for being dumber than a load of really dumb bricks. I had no idea how wrong I was or that I was minimizing the horror of Scientology.

Ironically, it was the equally fictitious world of Hollywood that  first opened my eyes as to the dangerous truth of the Scientology cult. The Church courted celebrities because celebrities inspired their co-workers and fans to join the Church. There was no bigger Scientology celebrity than Tom Cruise.

Seeing Cruise bounce around the set of the Oprah Whitney show in an unnerving portrayal of a lunatic in love was mildly amusing in its own way. It was in keeping with my estimation of Scientology as the biggest-yet-still-hilarious con in the history of modern religion. Cruise was like a living bobble head doll. I suspect bobble heads of Cruise, John Travolta, Greta Van Susteren and, of course, L. Ron himself would be bigger sellers at the Scientology Gift Shop. But now I’m just being snarky.

Not long afterward, Cruise went berserk when he was interviewed by Matt Lauer on The Today Show. He was arrogant and angry and ranted about the evils of psychiatry, calling it a “pseudo-science.” His belief system challenged, Cruise was aggressive and insulting. In mere moments, Cruise revealed his Scientology-fueled dark side and gave viewers a small glimpse of the reality of his religion. Just a small glimpse.

Going Clear revealed the whole picture. I had seen articles on the Church here and there. I didn’t like what I learned about what was obviously a soul-crushing cult. But it was Wright’s hefty tome that  forever destroyed any humor I’d once found in Scientology. The pun is unavoidable. Scientology is a clear and present danger.

Hubbard was not the cocky con man. He was a pathological liar who used people callously and even brutally. He was a sociopath trying to make himself a god on Earth. Abusing his followers was a matter of unwritten church doctrine. They could be beaten. They could be incarcerated. They could sent around the world at a whim. They were slave labor, working for a few dollars a day even as Hubbard took millions from the church.

Scientology was run like an invading army. Celebrity converts were courted. Enemies were to be eliminated, savaged in the media when possible, torn from their families, forced to pay enormous sums of money to the church and worse.

How scary was Scientology? The Internal Revenue Service retreated from a fight with the Church and granted it tax-free status. It is high on the list of the agency’s most shameful moments. Scientology was granted license to continue its evil in relative secrecy.

Except some human beings are made of tougher stuff than government bureaucrats. Former members of the Church have come forward to tell their stories, courageously defying an organization that has done its best to destroy such detractors. In the words and experiences of these former members, the truth of Scientology is revealed for anyone with the stomach to read this book.

Going Clear will not be an easy read. There are sections that will sicken you. You will probably be horrified as you learn of beloved entertainers who remain loyal members of the Church, who used their celebrity to suck others into the Church, who have benefitted from slave labor provided by the Church and who have arguably committed crimes to benefit the Church in return. That list of Scientology entertainers will dismay you.

Learning Greta Van Susteren was a Scientologist didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. Her true character was revealed when she signed up with Fox News. It’s as if she has duel citizenship in Hydra and the Sons of the Serpent.

Learning Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, was a member of the Church was devastating to me. In 2007, as reported in Going Clear, she donated $10 million to the International Association of Scientologists and was named a Patron Laureate. Ten million bucks serving no purpose other than to add to the more than $1 billion the IAS has squirreled away in mostly offshore accounts. Nothing to worry about there.

And this: “In 2009, Nancy Cartwright’s fiancé, Stephen E. Brackett, a contractor, had taken a substantial construction advance to renovate a restaurant. The company that insured the project later sued Cartwright, claiming that she and Brackett had diverted the money to the Church of Scientology. Brackett...had been featured in a church ad...identified as a ‘key contributor.’ He would take his own life by jumping off a bridge on Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur. The case against Cartwright was settled out of court.”

It might be a little tough for me to enjoy The Simpsons from here on in. The same will almost certainly be true for the works of the other entertainers who are current members of the Church and who, presumably, continue to contribute money and their celebrity to the cult. Neither freedom of religion or freedom of speech translate to freedom from consequences of one’s actions and words.

The comics industry has also been touched by Scientology. Though he has left the Church and prefers not to speak of it publicly, Neil Gaiman was raised a Scientologist in East Grinstead, a town known for its diverse assortment of religious institutions.

The United Kingdom (and former world) headquarters of Scientology is located on the southeastern edge of East Grinstead. According to Wikipedia...

“Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard bought the Georgian mansion and its 24 hectares (59 acres) of grounds from the Maharaja of Jaipur in 1959, and lived in the town until 1967.”

Hubbard has passed. The official Scientology story is that he left his body voluntarily to explore new worlds and ideas or some such. That’s bullshit no rational person should be able to accept even as a matter of faith. Yet such is the power of Scientology to impair such rational judgment.

David Miscavige, Hubbard’s successor as leader of Scientology, is even worse than Hubbard. He is relatively young, in good health and determined to hold onto the great power and extravagant lifestyle the position affords him. He is a man to be feared, but not a man to whom one should ever surrender.

When I decided to review Going Clear for today’s bloggy thing, my intention was to write a short review that summarized some of what I learned from the book and some of the more chilling stories from the book. I figured on including my brush with Scientology to add a bit of levity to the proceedings. I never expected I would end up with 2700 words on Scientology.

Going Clear defies easy summation. You could not get the magnitude of the wrongness that is Scientology from such a summation. This is a book you need to approach with enough courage and strength to see you through a tale of evil to rival Stephen King’s most frightening works of fiction.

I can strongly recommend Going Clear. I do strongly recommend this book. This is something you need to know about and Wright does an amazing and heroic job teaching you about it.

Some will scoff as my labeling Scientology as evil. You and I can both point to far greater evils in our world. But this is an evil still small enough - despite its wealth and influence - to be stopped dead in its tracks. Write your elected officials in Washington and demand they demand the IRS and other agencies revisit Scientology and, this time, not back down from those vicious creeps.

Others will point to my distaste for organized religion and try to portray me as a bigot. After so many years, my friends and readers know me better than that. Back under your bridges, back into your mothers’ basements, you mealy-mouthed trolls. You’ve no power over me or anyone else.

I’m not stupid. You’re not stupid. We can look at something and we can see it’s wrong. I can’t imagine someone reading Going Clear, following that reading with further research of their own...and not coming away absolutely convinced that Scientology is a wrong thing.

Buy Going Clear. It’s a fearless and important book.

ISBN 978-0-307-70066-7

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella


  1. I'm not religious either but I'm British and Britain is a secular country where God is rarely mentioned and definitely not by politicians - and no doctor has ever asked me about my religion !!

  2. Thanks for the review, Tony (and welcome back!). I was horrified by what I saw on the HBO documentary and am also working my way through the book.

    What struck me most was the similarities with the "Christian" cult that currently has control over one of our major political parties, including to the cries for "religious freedom" and claims of persecution from the IRS. It seems that shielding yourself with a religion gives you free reign to torment other people, and so long as the mainstream Christian majority in this country is silent, the abuse will continue. The media certainly isn't interested in putting anyone but the extremists on the air.

  3. It's a great book, Tony. And I also recommend Wright's THE LOOMING TOWER, to understand the growth of Al-Qaeda and why 9/11 happened. And you'll also see the horrible and gross "simpatico" of two sociopaths, Hubbard and Bin-Laden.

  4. Fantastic piece of writing Tony!

  5. I'll have to order a copy of this book to read - many years ago I read the excellent Barefaced Messiah by Russell Miller, which covered the life and carrer of Layfayette Ronald Hubbard, and laid bare who he was. I believe a new version has just been released.