Overarching secrecy can make a prison of belief
With both horror and fascination, I just finished reading Lawrence Wright’s expose, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.
This exquisitely researched book takes us into the bowels of Scientology, a religious group that has apparently systematically lied, cheated, abused its followers, sought to destroy its detractors, devastated families, amassed giant amounts of money that impoverished many and landed in the pockets of very few, and pandered to celebrities whose egos got stroked by the maniacs who run the show.
Scientology doctrines do not actually address the major religious concept of a holy God or the idea that there might be a moral and good center to the world. It is based on the idea that people, by following its scientific principles, can become essentially superhuman and immortal.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t show much respect to science. The whole thing was built on the science-fiction imagination and highly prolific pen of one L. Ron Hubbard, whose writings have been elevated to the state of Holy Scripture, forever and unquestionably true.
A lot of people have been sucked into it and had the life sucked out of them. Wright’s work particularly chronicles the life of Paul Haggis — a highly successful screenwriter whose TV shows and movies include Crash and Million Dollar Baby —and the years he spent in Scientology and his eventual journey out.
Haggis was told never to read anything about Scientology that someone outside the fold wrote.
Should he disagree with anything that Hubbard wrote, no matter how crazy it sounded, the entire problem was within him and he must change his own thinking. The rule: Never question what he was being told or taught.
Secret upon secret, lie upon lie, he and his family were pulled through the upper ranks of this organization.
Haggis finally could no longer tolerate the organization’s abuse of his daughter. He began to ask questions and read materials from outside the fold.
He had indeed been in a prison of belief, along with others who may have been unable to escape. The structure and insularity of Scientology consumes their entire lives. Wright documents physical, mental, spiritual and emotional abuse heaped on many loyal Scientologists, most of whom entered the organization as sincere seekers of greater spiritual truth and emotional freedom.
How could this be?
I think all of us long to be surrounded by a group of like-minded people whom we believe understand us and are in general agreement over major life issues. And most of us like being near the seat of power. This desire appears early: Not only do the so-called “popular” boys and girls the shots, but other children vie to get near them, to have some of the aura of popularity rub off on them.
Dangerous religious groups draw people in by keeping the real secrets of the faith tenets hidden until a strong personal connection is already made. They also create enticing incentives to move to the inner circle, which will then have them deeply enmeshed in the culture of secrecy they have created. Because this touches a basic human need, the movements may grow rapidly.
I contend that when an aura of secrecy dominates any religious group and when those in the inner circles are there to be served rather than to serve, there is something terribly, terribly wrong. Belief has indeed become a prison.
Wright has done us all a favor by writing this book. He has probably also put himself at risk. Scientologists have a long history of stalking, threatening and piling lawsuit upon lawsuit on those who have dared to question or expose their secrets. This is a courageous piece of scholarship and deserves a careful reading.
Let’s think, people. If we can’t read critiques of our belief structures and their histories without attacking, there is something very, very wrong.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .