So I read Janet Reitman’s “Inside Scientology” recently

And have been slow to put up anything up about it – mostly because I’m, you know, a mother to an infant, a full-time working journalist, and kind of a proper playwright nowadays as well.

The book has stayed with me, though, and I feel compelled to say at least something, if not write a proper review.

I think we all ought to be grateful to Reitman for attempting to write a dispassionate book on the Church of Scientology. I understand that a lot of the teachings of Scientology are supposed to be this Terribly Important Secret, but as both a member and a fan of the Russian Orthodox Church in all of its wacky glory, it seems to me that Scientology is really no more insane than the rest of humanity’s major cults. I still think L. Ron Hubbard was mostly a con artist (based on the compelling evidence put together by the writers at one of my favourite websites), but certainly some of the stuff he wrote ended up helping a lot of people and whatever, more power to them. And for all of the people who are bitching and moaning about how Scientology made Tom Cruise into a weirdo – no. Just no. Dude was always a weirdo. You can see it in his smile from way back when. Scientology just helped him get in touch with the inner freak inside.

Still, Reitman is right to point out that the way Scientology is currently run makes it ripe for criticism – both from random outsiders who are staring at it in that whole “check out this fascinating slo-mo trainwreck” type of way, and from ex-members. So I’m betting that there will be proper Protestant Scientologists and Puritan Scientologists and, you know, Calvinist Scientologists soon enough, i.e. the church is splitting.

People looking for Shocking! Horrifying! Facts! are probably going to be disappointed with Reitman. She doesn’t trade a whole lot on rumour and her tone is dry. Perhaps the biggest revelation here is that for a non-believer, Scientology is really not that fascinating – in a sense that non-believers who are looking to be fascinated are going to gravitate towards reading about fringe cults who sacrifice their elderly to Jeff, the God of Biscuits, instead.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Scientology is how, by virtue of a whole lot of secrecy, church leadership has managed to cover up the fact that it’s fairly bland. Even if you account for all of that Xenu and exploding volcanoes stuff. In a world that already has Kali and Hades and stoning evil apostates – is Scientology really that impressive? I guess the price-tags for some of the spiritual packages it offers surely are. In this economy, anyway.

8 thoughts on “So I read Janet Reitman’s “Inside Scientology” recently

  1. Yeah, the price tags are pretty amazing. There was a piece on Scientology in the New Yorker within the past year, and the expectation–not just blunt hinting, but This Is Obligatory–of massive financial injections from members horrified me. As a member and a fan of the Lutheran church and mainstream Protestantism generally, I’m certainly no stranger to stewardship pitches, subtle asks, and unsubtle asks. However, I do not know of a single mainstream Protestant church that would kick members out or refuse them sacraments simply because they didn’t pony up the wished-for amount.

  2. Isn’t writing a book about Scientology without a few dozen chapters on the insanity of sending new recruits to Haiti after the earthquake so they can heal the injured by staring at broken children intently for hours, a lot like writing a book about the Catholic Church without at least a few chapters on child abuse?

  3. Reitman does talk about Haiti, but just as with Tom Cruise, she treats the subject pretty dispassionately.

    Re: the kicking out – yeah, I also am squicked by that. Reitman speaks to several people who went bankrupt after giving their all to Scientology over the years. They’re not church members anymore – they’ve got nothing left to give.

  4. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while. I’m curious – does it mention Clearwater, FL at all? Generally, I agree, outlandish beliefs are outlandish beliefs, it’s the bizarre, intimidating financial, legal, and psychological tactics that worry me. Watching what was once a lazy, retiree, sleepy little beach town become this stark, sterile epicenter populated by drones who all dress the same (it was the mint-green slacks that originally aroused my suspicion – who does that?) and refuse to make eye contact has been interesting, and frankly, troublesome, in many ways. It’s pretty sci-fi. They have their own private bus service in the city and refuse to use public transportation, and will steadily refuse to make eye contact, even if you try to like, experiment, and ask them for fake directions. Not that I’ve ever done that, you know.

    The St. Petersburg Times (FL, not Russia, hah, if only) did a really good, lengthy, investigative feature piece a few years ago that was kind of the turning point for many in the community go “okay, seriously guys, WTF?” and I think sort of kicked off other publications to look into it nationally, etc. I’ll try to find it. My understanding is the author faced some pretty weird intimidation tactics in finishing and publishing it.

  5. “Inside Scientology” is a brilliant work of investigative journalism. The book is really strong on the intellectual foundations of Scientology and the history of the church.

    The theology is pretty banal.

    It’s the massive, vengeful bureaucracy with a far-reaching intelligence apparatus and a willingness to break the law to utterly destroy its critics that scares me. Reitman discusses many of the egregious tactics Scientology has use to silence its critics, including forging bomb threats to frame a reporter.

  6. What strikes me as funny is that Dude! Scientology’s secrets are Not That Impressive. The paranoia of church leadership – which essentially drives this need to destroy Scientology critics – is unjustified when put into context.

    I understand them mostly being worried about losing their tax-free status if the Church’s financial dealings are exposed to the outmost degree – but once again, in context, how likely is that today. The Catholic Church won’t lose tax-free status no matter how many little boys are molested by priests, to make one obvious comparison, and molestation *ought* to be considered way worse than definitive or possible tax fraud…

  7. Ah, this is really interesting to me because I read the book within a couple of days, couldn’t put it down, and found it absolutely spellbinding. So, I found the history of Hubbard’s life, for example, really fascinating.

    But I have a weird side obsession with repressive religions of all kinds, so I was going to be fascinated by it whether or not it was dry.

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