This is a study of Scientology, a religion that is sometimes written off as a cult and a fraud. The church itself may be viewed by some as overly litigious, offering self-help claptrap at stiff prices. These same people also see its founder, L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), as a loon who wrote a lot of science fiction. Whatever merit there may be in these views ignores the horror that can arise out of blind belief. Indeed, the process of belief is one of the themes that author Lawrence Wright (b. 1946) wishes to explore in writing the book.
According to the author’s blurb, Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker. He’s also a novelist, screenwriter and playwright. His book, The Looming Tower, on the development of Al-Qaeda, won several awards, including a Pulitzer Prize.
The book is divided into three main parts: 1) “Scientology,” 2) “Hollywood” and 3) “The Prison of Belief.” It begins with the story of the conversion of then 21-year-old Paul Haggis, a sometime student with a love of film looking for direction in life. Scientology and the people he met through Scientology seemed to work well for him. Haggis would go on to become a successful screenwriter for television and movies. His life story is woven into the book as part of the question: “What make the Scientology so alluring?”
The writing is journalistic in style, striking the reader as thoroughly researched both in documentary evidence and in interviews with former members. In his introduction, Wright states that the church disputes the testimony of many of the people he spoke with. In addition, frequent footnotes state that either the church or its legal representatives deny what others have told Wright or remarked elsewhere.
What emerges from the interviews and the documents is a story of seemingly willing servitude and poverty in exchange for a promise of benefiting spiritually while improving the lot of mankind as a whole.
This is not a fun book, but for anyone interested in the topic, or in the idea of belief itself, this should be an interesting and heartbreaking read.