The new documentary from Alex Gibney called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief has now aired on HBO and the public reaction to this has been outstanding.
The night it aired, #GoingClear was a nationally trending topic on Twitter as people live-tweeted their responses. Other than the few Tweets that Scientology purchased to forward their own messages of hate against the people speaking out in the film, almost every tweet expressed horror and outrage that the Church of Scientology would do the kinds of things depicted in the documentary, and even worse, that it has the luxury of spending tax-exempt monies to do them.
I wrote a review of the film when I first saw it at an advanced screening in Austin, Texas. Now that it has premiered on HBO and I’ve had a chance to see it again, I wanted to give some of my thoughts as to the importance of this film and its multi-layered messages about not only Scientology but also the nature of belief.
First, let me say what this film accomplishes as a whole. Scientology is a complex subject which can take months or even years to fully understand. Yet this film, in the space of two hours, manages to perfectly capture the culture, spirit and attitude of Scientology in a way I’ve never seen anything else do in such a short period of time. Sure, the abuses and the lies are all documented and they are told in such detail that you cannot help but believe them. Yet at the same time you also are given a glimpse into the positive aspects of it so that you can see why anyone could fall into believing the deceptions or suffer the abuses.
People have asked me why it is that anyone would ever get involved in such a crazy cult as Scientology and I want to take a minute to talk about this.
Some people have even left fairly inflammatory comments about how stupid or ignorant or insane anyone would have to be to go anywhere near Scientology. The point they almost universally miss is that no one ever just shows up and knowingly joins a cult. Let’s be a little bit more reasonable and look at the real reasons that anyone would get into this.
People have mental and emotional needs that are not always met by family or friends or even trained professionals. No one has a perfect life and when you are looking for answers and can’t find them, you may turn to some pretty unusual places to get them.
You walk into a Scientology organizaton and you are surrounded by bright, shiny people who tell you with certainty that they completely understand your situation and they know exactly what you need to do to resolve whatever issue it is that you want to handle. sometimes you don’t even know when you walk in there what it is that you are troubled about, you just know that something in your life is not the way you want it to be. I cannot imagine that anyone watching this doesn’t understand what I’m talking about.
The initial conversations with Scientologists are usually calm, very friendly and very understanding. When someone needs help, they have to trust someone. And when they trust Scientologists, they are told that the answers to their problems were totally solved by L. Ron Hubbard through scientific means and that his solutions have universal workability. Even though none of what they are saying is true, it all sounds great.
Whether the problem is interpersonal communications, problems with a marriage, job performance, anxiety, a chronic unexplainable medical condition or just a general depression – there is some solution that Scientology can offer which promises to change everything for the better.
That is the hook that reels people in who maybe should have known better. I’ve talked about hindsight bias before on my blog. It’s easy to see your mistakes when you look into the past and see all the consequences of your actions. It’s not so easy when those consequences are in the future and you haven’t lived them yet.
Similarly, once someone has been involved for a while and some of the trickery and abuses start becoming more noticeable, why do people stay? Well, this is the core issue of the documentary – the prison of belief and it’s what Lawrence Wright and Alex Gibney spend two hours explaining.
The way they do this is quite genius: they get many different people to express the similarities and the differences of their own experiences. There’s no place for judgement here and the film should finally set the record straight that almost anyone can fall for this. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.
I suppose there are some people who will see this and walk out thinking that it could never happen to them, not realizing that to some degree it already has with their own religion, political party or other affiliation. This film is about a lot more than Scientology and to anyone who cares to look, they will see that the lessons to be learned from it apply to many more things than just the belief system of Scientology. Almost all of us are walking around in a prison of belief of some kind or another.
Now beyond that, I’d like to say that emotionally, this film hit me in the gut again and again. One of the most excellent points about the film, in fact, is the way that it is put together with just the right balance of emotional impact and factual evidence. You get the facts that you need to make a rational and informed decision about the value of Scientology, but you also get an emotional roller-coaster ride of hilarity, grief, amazement and shock. It’s a powerful mix.
Much has been said about Tom Cruise and John Travolta and much more should continue to be said about their complicity. There is a line beyond which one goes from being a victim to becoming the abuser. I think it’s clearly shown in the film how both of them have crossed that line, Tom Cruise much more readily and much more visibly. This film holds back nothing at showing how Cruise has taken advantage of Sea Org members and personally profited from their suffering. There’s really no other word for it. He and Travolta have stayed quiet so far but I don’t know how they will be able to maintain that silence now. There is no hiding from the blatant call to action this film sends to both of them.
In terms of what kind of impact this is going to have on Scientologists, it’s hard to predict but I do know one thing for sure. Many Scientologists may resist the urge to see this film, but I’ll tell you who won’t: their non-Scientology friends and family.
They are then going to know things about thier Scientologist friends that are going to disturb them greatly and they are going to want to talk about it. If Scientologists try to feed them the usual lines about how everyone in the film is lying and they don’t know what they are talking about, those Scientologists are going to be in for a sorry surprise.
The stories that are told and the people telling them are utterly believable. The abuses did happen. Disconnection is real. There is no wiggling out of that cold hard fact. I think this is going to create a chilling effect with Scientologists’ family and friends which is going to force Scientologists to re-evaluate the validity of their positions. In some cases, friends or family may even care enough to really bring the issues to the forefront – to demand to know whether those Scientologists actually support the kind of depravity and human rights violations depicted so accurately in the film. If you are watching this and you know any Scientologists, I highly suggest that you do exactly that. Confront them about the issues raised in this film. Let them know that you care, that you are not attacking them or trying to insult their intelligence. Get them to take a harder look at what they are involved in. From there, it is not hard to find the whole truth and in doing that, you are quite literally saving a person’s emotional and mental stability and sanity.
I have no doubt that those Scientologists who may currently be on the fence or “under the radar” as we call it, are going to be bolstered enough by the raw truth of this film to push them over the edge and step fully out. If any of them are watching this, I want to tell you that such a decision is the best you could possibly make for your future. Getting Scientology out of my life was the best decision I ever made.
I cannot give enough kudos to Alex Gibney for what he has accomplished. If there was one thing which I would want the world at large to see about Scientology, it is this film. Of course, it would not exist without the brilliant written work of Lawrence Wright, who not only is in the film but also served as an executive producer. They have created a truly incredible work which I hope will not only outlive Scientology but will serve as a cautionary tale to proof up future generations against any kind of similar cult influences in our society’s future.
As my final point, I have a call to action for you, the viewer.
One thing that is highlighted very significantly in this film is Scientology’s unjust tax exempt status. Given that this is the Church of Scientology’s Achilles heel, it is very important that this issue get a great deal of attention. I personally believe that this, above all else, is the one thing that Scientology cannot live without. Take away their e-meters, even take away all their auditing services, and Scientology could continue to profit and survive. Take away their tax exemption and Scientology would very rapidly become a short-lived blip in the history of modern quack cults.
On that note, I have put links in the notes section below to two very important sites which you should go to in order to do something about Scientology.
The first is a petition which is circulating right now on whitehouse.gov to revoke the tax exemption of the Church of Scientology. (link here)
The second is to an IRS form which can be used to report non-profit, tax exempt organizations for violating the rules and guidelines which allow them to be tax exempt. If you have personal knowledge of anything the Church of Scientology is doing or has done which would violate the 501(c)3 tax codes, fill out this form immediately and send it in. (link here)
Even if you don’t have such knowledge, you should still write a letter to your congressman or local state representative, telling them that you want Scientology’s tax exemption revoked. It can only help to bring attention to this matter to every government official or organization that is willing to listen.
Thank you for watching.