Cruise Control

Going Clear
Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Lawrence Wright
Knopf, $28.95, 430 pp.

In early 2011, Lawrence Wright published a piece in the New Yorker describing both the recruitment of James Haggis by the Church of Scientology and his defection from it thirty-five years later. This book is essentially a larger and broader treatment of the church and its practices, as seen not only by Haggis (a highly successful screenwriter) and others, but also by church officials themselves.

Scientology has three tiers, Wright suggests. First, the Public Scientologists, as he calls them—ordinary men and women who join the church, perhaps participate in “auditing” (a kind of therapy), and, if they leave the organization, do so with little or no fanfare. A second tier is made up of celebrities, particularly movie stars, for whom the church runs Celebrity Centers in Hollywood and elsewhere. Much of Scientology’s public image, for good or ill, comes from them, and they are expected both to contribute heavily to the institution and to speak out for it publicly. At the third level is the church’s clergy, or Sea Org, the name derived from the years when L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, directed his followers from a small private fleet of ships.

Yet Going Clear is less...

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About the Author

Nicholas Clifford, a professor emeritus of Middlebury College, is a frequent contributor to Commonweal.