I didn’t watch this when it actually premiered, I watched a couple of days later on HBO Go, so I had seen a lot of reaction to this documentary before hand. Most of the chatter was terribly negative toward Scientology, some going so far as to say the documentary gave them nightmares, and many people were downright appalled at what was going on in Scientology circles. My reaction to that is, they must not have been paying attention because Scientology has been getting lots of negative press for years and years and years. This documentary was directed by Alex Gibney and written by Gibney and Lawrence Wright. It was a well done documentary and sustained my interest throughout. It was like watching a sordid soap opera, one I just couldn’t quit watching, but there was really nothing new under the sun. And therein lies my problem with everyone’s horror over Scientology, which I will try and explain.
This documentary made clear the absurdity of the “beliefs” of Scientologists and the clear mental health issues of its founder L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was a prolific writer and did very well in the science fiction genre. Much of the bones of his Scientology religion was taken directly from some of his early science fiction writing. He was an abusive husband who kidnapped his daughter when his wife tried to leave, took her out of the country and told his wife he had killed her. She ultimately got her daughter back and was able to divorce him, but it is clear he was a dangerously troubled man. He threatened suicide regularly as well. Hubbard began agitating early on to have Scientology classified as a religion in order for it to be tax exempt as he knew that was the best way to make gobs of money, however it was not until after his death that Scientology, under the leadership of David Miscavige, managed to bully the IRS, through thousands of lawsuits by its members and by brilliantly making public the folly’s in the agency’s own actions, into classifying Scientology as a religion. Even Hubbard’s writings were classified as religious texts and cannot be taxed.
One of the main points of the doc was that Scientology is more of a cult than a religion, citing the fact that it is ruled over by one enormously powerful man, David Miscavige who assumed leadership at Hubbard’s death, who brooks no argument or dissidence from his flock, and who uses intimidation and outright abuse to keep them under his sway. The people in the inner circle who do all of the hard work to keep it running are paid something like $50 dollars a week. Scientology also takes enormous sums of money from it’s adherents and makes it extremely difficult for members to quit if they wish. Some of the ways they make life terrible for those wanting to leave is to threaten to, or actually follow through with making public very private admissions made during “auditing” sessions. There were accusations of people being held against their will, their children being taken from them and worse. They also harass and stalk people who manage to get out, especially if they speak out against Scientology.
So basically, Scientology is a set of gobbledygook “beliefs” made up by a mentally ill man, that uses intimidation and quite possibly illegal treatment of it’s members to keep its secrets and is making a privileged few very, very, very rich. And that very wealth is what keeps the average person from being able to afford to fight back.
I believe that Scientology is a scam. I believe that it has suckered intelligent and basically decent people into following tenants that serve mainly to keep them in line and oppressed. I believe that its members are not what is important, it’s the money that’s important. The thing is, I believe those things about religion in general. And I am not an atheist. Just completely not down with organized religion. And that is why I have a problem with everyone’s horror over Scientology.
Firstly, we live in the United States of America. We are a free country. We are free to believe whatever we want to believe. We have freedom of religion. And boy do people believe lots of different things here. And while I may upset some people by saying this, I’m going to anyway, ALL religions have some weird ass shit they want you to believe, do, think about, follow through with and convert others into believing. ALL of them. And most of them have precious little leeway in condemning the practices of other religions when most of them have huge, clanking skeletons in their own closets. As to the uproar over Scientology being tax exempt by being classified as a religion, I think that is outrageous and should be changed immediately. The problem is I believe all religions should have their tax exempt status revoked. They all blatantly break the law by using their platforms for political gain and while I know there are small poor churches that struggle to get by, there are far too many “mega-churches” rolling in the dough while people starve. And don’t get me started on the wealth of the Catholic church. Such wealth would not be a problem if there weren’t people starving, or going without medicine or any number of other things, but there are and that is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Every ex-member who spoke in this documentary about Scientology, spoke of their shame in having been a part of the religion, many of them for decades. Once they were out of the bubble of Scientology influence, they couldn’t believe what they believed for so long and what they did in order to protect it. That to me is the main takeaway of this documentary. People must think for themselves, never allow others to dictate how they should behave and should run for the hills the second anyone tries to make them believe hurting another person is “right” because it is for their own good. It’s all common sense to me, but I know how being a part of something greater than yourself can be so alluring. And when you have charismatic, manipulative “leaders” who are able to make people think they know better it can be hard to discern what is off. But again, every one of those people who have left spoke of a little voice they ignored telling them something wasn’t right. Learn to trust your instincts. Learn to think for yourself. Learn to be discerning. Step outside whatever bubble you’ve allowed yourself to be enclosed in and see how other people live. No matter what you call that bubble. The prison of belief is one of our own making.
Excellent review, MA. I didn’t have much interest in seeing this but I will now. Although I never have gotten the point of Scientology other than it’s supposed to somehow be a positive thinking kind of thing. Or something like that. Apparently it’s just another get rich quick for the leaders of it. Good writing!
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