I've always made a point of getting to know people who think and believe differently than I do, and reading about a variety of people and belief systems. The reading in particular was always mainly the cheaper option to international travel, but now that I'm entering the clergy, I'm taking it more seriously as a part of my call to the ministry, because more and more I find that reading and learning about things I disagree with helps me clarify my own beliefs and understandings.
Which was why I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw Lawrence Wright (the author) interviewed on the Colbert Report a few weeks back. I'd heard a few things about Scientology over the years, but nothing really concrete. I wanted to learn more about it, but what little I did know led me to take the things the "church" said with a large grain of salt.
So, having read it: I think this book was very carefully researched and written- everything is cited, every piece of information the author gives you, he tells you where and from whom he got it. Every item that has been denied by the people or groups involved, he tells you that, too. There are a lot of footnotes (though most of them are very short). I found this book very readable- the chapter that's essentially the biography of L. Ron Hubbard drags a bit in the middle, but the rest is all vivid and suspenseful.
It paints a picture of an incredibly disturbing cult- one that involves child abuse, indentured lifetime service that essentially turns into slavery, forced divorces and abortions, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, and an incredible amount of in-group-out-group pressure. It painted such a disturbing picture, in fact, that afterward I did a little digging on the Internet to do a bit of my own fact checking. Scientology has its own website, which I won't link to, but you can find if you're interested. Those of you who have some experience with psychology, sociology, or just weird group dynamics will probably find it fascinating in a bad way. I also found a website called exscientologykids.com which has a lot of information as well, from another point of view.
And if you're looking for just one fact to check up on- Scientology has had one leader since L. Ron Hubbard died. That leader has been married to the same woman since before LRH died. She has not been seen in public since her father's funeral in 2007. Missing persons reports have been filed to no avail, and her husband won't talk about it. Does that sound healthy to you?
So, certainly a fascinating read and a well-researched piece of journalism. Thanks to reading this book, I'm going to be adding a few things to my list of ideas for future posts- including how to recognize a group or a leader as just bad news. And add a few things to my readings list.
Which reminds me: seminary friends, I remember there was a book on cults and how to recognize them that was very popular in seminary, and I think came out either while we were there or just a few years before. I had a chance to browse it in school, but never actually read it, and always wanted to. But I can't remember enough of the title to find it now. It had five or six primary characteristics that each had a chapter focused on it. Can anybody help me out? Thank you!