Scientology: Scary or Sacred

"I'd like to start a religion. That's where the money is." -- L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology founder.

"I have to remain celibate to keep my instrument pure." -- Tom Cruise to his then-wife, Nicole Kidman.

These are just two of the oh-so-juicy morsels that New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright includes in his expansive and ultra-detailed audio and print book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.

This is certainly not the first exposé of Scientology -- although it might qualify as the most abundant. Time magazine, CBS-TV, and NBC-TV are among the many who've taken on this most controversial of religions since its beginnings in the mid-1950s. The head of The Cult Awareness Network in Chicago, says, "Scientology is quite likely the most ruthless, the most classically terroristic, the most litigious and the most lucrative cult the country has ever seen."

Be assured Wright reports all of the bizarre and the requisite showbiz celebrities involved in Scientology: Cruise, Travolta, Will Smith, Kirstie Alley and screen writer Paul Haggis, et al. (To see other Scientologist celebrities:'t-know-were-scientologists/)

Many call this religion a scary cult. To his credit, the writer includes the group's frequent responses and denials over the years to its many critics. But, make no mistake, Going Clear is a serious take-down of what emerges on these pages as a most peculiar outfit.
The barrages here include intimidation, bribery, blackmail, cruelty, brutality and, yes, M-U-R-D-E-R!

The late L. Ron Hubbard, who called himself The Commodore and dressed accordingly, comes under intense scrutiny as a fellow with "malignant narcissism and grandiosity." He's described as personally brutal -- often punching his subordinates in the face. His son, Quentin killed himself, he disowned one of his daughters and his wife went to jail.

Morton Sellers' narration is a good reason to go with the Random House audiobook edition of Going Clear. Because of the amped-up content, it would be easy to convey a partisan interpretation. Instead, Sellers delivers a clean, objective tone.

Wright piles on so many first and second-hand accounts, plus every different angle and conspiracy theory, that it sometimes puts this expansive report in Oliver Stone/JFK territory -- meaning the excess of possibilities diminishes its impact.

Cynics might come away from this parade of Scientology's singular disclosures agreeing with a line from a Preston & Child's audiobook, The Cabinet of Curiosities: "Humiliation and blackmail when used judiciously, can be marvelously effective."

Scientologists' repeated position is that their religion suffers the same skepticism and attacks all religions have faced. If you join Scientology, you sign a BILLION year contract -- which does underscore their message that you, or some form of you, will be around that long. Is that sort of like other religions' notion of an eternal soul?

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