January 30th, 2013
01:18 PM ET

Author of Scientology book: ‘There have been a lot of tears in this story’

By Todd Leopold, CNN

(CNN) - To Scientologists and their supporters, L. Ron Hubbard is a voice of wisdom and the church is the way to enlightenment. To antagonists and skeptics, Hubbard is a con artist and fraud, and the church is a mishmash of Freudian psychology and science fiction, a celebrity-laden scam.

Lawrence Wright doesn’t buy either generalization.

In his new book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Looming Tower” delves into the life of Hubbard, the writer-turned-prophet, and the church he created – one which, he says, arose out of an atmosphere of spiritual ferment in post-World War II Los Angeles. Hubbard, he says, was “a very interesting man and a man who had certain disturbing influences in his personality” – but not a con man: “If he really was just in it for money, somewhere along the line he would have taken his money and gone to Monte Carlo. He never did that.”

And the church? A religion with a rich sense of community, but also one that has allegedly engaged in questionable behavior with some adherents. Wright alleges that managers were forced to live in “the Hole,” part of a desert compound the church maintains, in which they slept on an ant-infested floor; that there were child labor abuses; and that the church’s leader, David Miscavige, browbeat and assaulted members.

Award-winning author Lawrence Wright delves into Scientology in his latest book, earning buzz - and church blowback.

The church has disputed Wright’s findings. “The stories of alleged physical abuse are lies concocted by a small group of self-corroborating confessed liars. The hard evidence clearly shows that no such conduct ever occurred and that in fact there is evidence that shows it did NOT occur,” the group’s spokesperson, Karin Pouw, told CNN’s Miguel Marquez.

“Regarding the claim that the Church made children work long hours, the Church diligently followed, and continues to follow, all child labor laws in every state or country in which it operates,” Anthony Glassman, an attorney for the Church of Scientology, told CNN.

All Scientology responses to Wright’s book can be found on CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/22/us/scientology-response/index.html) and at a dedicated website (http://www.lawrencewrightgoingclear.com/). The church is also considering legal action.

For Wright, however, the Scientology story fits into his fascination with faith in general, particularly the tensions between faith and modern society. He spoke to the Belief Blog about his interests, the conflicts between fundamentalism and modernity, and the future of Scientology. The following is an edited transcript.

CNN: Why pursue this book?

Lawrence Wright: I’m irresistibly drawn to a great story, and that’s what this is. It may be the fact it has such an electrical charge around it, (that) it was formidable and intimidating and kept some other reporters away, (that) left it more intact for me.

CNN: I was particularly struck with the biography of Hubbard – there are a lot of contradictions in the man.

Wright: I think his image is so complicated by these competing narratives about who he was and what kind of life he actually lived. If you’re in the church, he’s the most valuable man who ever lived, and if you’re outside the church, he seems like a crank and a fraud. But I reject the idea that he was a fraud. He spent his whole life articulating this religious philosophy and eccentric bureaucracy he created to support it.

CNN: I didn’t realize he was such close friends with (science fiction writer) Robert Heinlein, whose own writings have a devout following based on Heinlein’s perceived libertarian beliefs.

Wright: It’s fascinating to think about how that little circle of science fiction writers had such influence. Isaac Asimov was also in that circle, and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese terrorist cult, grew out of a yoga teaching of a single individual. Asimov’s books – the Foundation trilogy – were very much at the basis of that group. It’s intriguing to think that these men who may have been writing to follow their own imaginations and write popular novels had this echo in the spiritual world for many people.

CNN: What do you think is behind that? What is it in the human soul that can take harmless ideas to extremes?

Wright: I think that piety is a very dangerous emotion. I think it’s fine to have religious ideas. But there’s a competitive aspect to belief, and that’s where piety comes in – being more of a believer than your neighbor. And that becomes a matter of enforcing the dogma and creating a holier-than-thou environment. That’s where religions begin to get rigid, inflexible and dangerous.

When I was writing about al Qaeda (in “The Looming Tower”), you could see people in that organization have powerful religious motivations. But a lot of them are rather poorly informed about what the Quran actually says. In Islam there’s a body of work called the Hadith, which are the sayings of the Prophet, and there are levels of how authentic they are. And many of these disputed Hadith are at the root of al Qaeda’s teachings, but not actually in the Quran. I find the same thing true in fundamentalist Christianity. For instance, if you read the book of Leviticus … well, even fundamentalist Christians don’t adopt (all its laws). I think most religions have to make room for modernity, and that means discarding some of their outmoded theology. That’s something Scientology has a very difficult time doing. …

My feeling is that there’s only one opinion that matters in the question whether Scientology is a religion – and that is that of the IRS. Now, the IRS is an agency very ill-equipped to make theological distinctions. (But) in the face of (an) avalanche of lawsuits, the IRS crumbled – gave Scientology the imprimatur of being a religion and protected under the vast guarantees of the First Amendment. After that, everything else is just commentary.

CNN: Reading the book, I just felt so sad for so many of these people who signed billion-year contracts and gave up their lives and underwent such pain.

Wright: There have been a lot of tears in this story, more than any I’ve ever worked on. The sense of loss and shame and outrage is so pronounced among the ex-members, and the church discredits them for that because they consider them apostates. Many of the people were at the highest levels of the church and had attained the very peak of the Scientology spiritual ladder. So they’re the products of Scientology. They know better than anyone else what’s going on inside that circle.

CNN: Do you have sympathy for Scientology the religion or Scientologists as people?

Wright: I have sympathy for the people in it. A lot of the popular understanding of Scientology (is that) it’s full of cranks and superficial celebrities. But my experience is that there were smart, intelligent, skeptical, interesting personalities involved in the church. Personally, whatever people want to believe is fine with me. Why people gravitate to different expressions of faith is quite intriguing to me, and I don’t condemn them for what they choose to believe.

But the behavior of the church towards its critics, towards reporters, towards defectors, and especially towards members who are inside the clergy – in particular children who are recruited at appallingly young ages to sign these billion-year contracts and surrender their alternative lives to a life of poverty and isolation – those practices worry me considerably. And I think there’s an accounting the church of Scientology is going to have to face, if it wants to survive.

CNN: Do you see a Martin Luther kind of figure arising at this point?

Wright: There’s a large, independent Scientology movement. These are people who have left the church but still regard themselves as Scientologists. There are others who’ve left the church and feel conned or deluded and they want nothing to do with the teachings of Scientology.

But a considerable portion of the people who’ve defected really still think of themselves as Scientologists. They believe the official church of Scientology has been hijacked from the original teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, and they want that back. So there is kind of a church in waiting, and I think if there was a change at the top of the church, then those people would stream back in.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Books • Scientology

soundoff (232 Responses)
  1. lionlylamb


    January 31, 2013 at 2:13 am |
    • Observer

      Religions always "mean" whatever the person reading them "thinks" they mean. They are all deliberately ambiguous. "Sun", "sun", "fact", "fiction", it's ALL just somebody's interpretation of it.

      January 31, 2013 at 4:21 am |
    • lionlylamb


      January 31, 2013 at 4:42 am |
  2. lionlylamb


    January 31, 2013 at 2:03 am |
    • Rick Blaine

      LaLa, you are the Great Bandwidth Buffoon.

      January 31, 2013 at 2:18 am |
  3. lionlylamb


    January 31, 2013 at 1:56 am |
  4. lionlylamb



    January 31, 2013 at 1:55 am |
  5. lionlylamb






    January 31, 2013 at 1:54 am |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    It's discouraging. We hope to make headway against the delusions of religions that have been around for thousands of years, but a religion founded only a few decades ago as a fraud, known by people currently living as a fraud, flourishes.

    January 31, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • Shane

      It's incredible. I'm starting to think there's something mentally wrong with people who believe all this religious crap-both the traditional and looney type. It's really the only explanation.

      January 31, 2013 at 1:56 am |
  7. Thomas Stevens

    Why doesn't anyone make the allegation that Hubbard was murdered by its current leader?

    January 31, 2013 at 12:48 am |
    • Sven

      Basically, no one gives a damn.

      January 31, 2013 at 1:21 am |
  8. Nietodarwin

    Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
    Seneca the Younger 4 b.c.- 65 a.d.

    January 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • Mack

      See, even the smart people had it figured out thousands of years ago. Religion...the farce of all farces.

      January 30, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  9. Nietodarwin

    Like all religion, it's about the money and the power. It's about keeping both, and taking weak minded people (or children) and brainwashing them with tales of "god" Just look at all the murder that surrounds religion, (always killing in the name of some "god" that does not exist, because somebody doesn't believe in the correct "god", or often killing people of reason throughout history have said that "god" does not exist, and that there is no evidence at all of a "god.") Forcing a child into a
    RELIGION IS CHILD ABUSE pure and simple. "Believers" that are adults are still trapped in the brainwashing abuse they were subjected to as children, and so the cycle continues. We adults who have abandoned religion and broken this cycle are the lucky ones.

    January 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
  10. J P

    As a wise man once said; "Never take any belief system too seriously. Especially not your favorite one."

    January 30, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  11. Eric

    Just because you don't think the earth and the life on it was intelligently designed by God doesn't make you right. You can take the easy and guilt free way out saying there is no God, but in your heart when you look at your hand, a sunset, feel love and joy, you KNOW that didn't come about by chance. Chance doesn't add up, not even close – not possible. There's a reason God has stepped away from mankind, we questioned his right to rule. God is letting us play out the answer to the question "is man better off without God and does God have the right to rule". The answer gets clearer every day. Seek the truth while it may yet be found. There can only be one truth, only one God, only one answer that is corrrect.

    January 30, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • SeilnoigileR

      Religion provides such a small-minded view of the universe. It's like looking at one grain of sand in an endless beach and, because it has a pretty pattern, believing that it couldn't possibly be random – that some 'higher power' had to have made it. Of course, you totally miss the rest of the sand because you're convinced that yours is the only grain that matters. The universe is so much more vast and chaotic that you couldn't possibly shove all of that into the Bible or any other belief system. I believe many atheists and agnostics are put off by the arrogance of those who think they have all the answers, when in reality, they have no answers – just theories and hopes because they can't face their own insignificance in the universe. So instead of marveling at our incredible planet even existing and of us being able to comprehend even the smallest portion of reality, religions make up deities to make themselves feel significant.

      January 30, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • ProudAtheist

      The same can be said of your beliefs as well. Just because you believe that there is intelligent design within our universe does not mean that it's true either.

      Do you think that we're truly designed intelligently? Our eyes are designed upside down and backwards; we possess an appendix that is useless and can kill us if it ruptures in our body; our tonsils are useless and can cause harm to our bodies if not removed; and our body can become a host to over a million different diseases, many of which can kill us. Would an intelligent designer truly give humans dominion over all other species, but then turn around and give bacteria, viruses, and diseases over humans?

      The difference between the god delusion and science is that science has an overwhelming amount of evidence to support the theories and laws which are claimed to exist within our universe; however, there is no evidence to support the existence of a god.

      BTW, which god is the one true god? If you cannot even prove that all other gods besides the one which you belief are false, and you cannot prove that your god is NOT false, then how can you begin to prove that your god is the one true god? The answer: you can't; therefore, you are delusional.

      January 30, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • sam stone

      Just because you think the earth and the life on it was intelligently designed by God doesn't make you right.

      See how easy that was?

      January 30, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • Russells Teapot

      What a load of self serving BS

      January 30, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
  12. dan

    It has always amazed me the things people believe in order to make sense out of their lives.If it works for them fine.I resent it though when some try to force their faith on others (like conservative Christians)

    January 30, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • truthiness

      Agreed. I also am even MORE disturbed that non factual beliefs have greatly infected our government and is changing the way I live and how my money is spent. For instance, the belief that government handouts will raise academic performance and decrease crime... when fiscally incentivizing single parenthood has encouraged more bad parents to have doomed children for the wrong reasons inevitably leads to more failures, more crimes, and more dependance. But that's the world I live in: I have to suffer fools and their collective fantasies no matter how ridiculous or malignant or costly to me personally.

      January 30, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • 123elle

      I am far more sympathetic to religious people than I used to be. People are facing such traumas and fear and tragedies in their lives that they need to believe in something to keep going and keep from going mad and becoming so depressed they cannot continue. If religion serves a purpose to comfort and bring some sense to peoples' lives, then I don't mind it all. Life is very terrifying, just as it was back in 10,000 BC. I don't judge religious people.

      January 30, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • TiredOfPaying

      True enough, religious beliefs can give comfort to those experienceing adversity. Real or not, that has some value. What is the problem is religions (I'm looking at you, islam) that FORCE their beliefs on others at the point of a sword. I am very happy to pay my taxes so that we have a better Sword to point at islam than that cult has to point at us.

      June 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  13. JPX

    Whether it's Scientology or Catholicism it's all make-believe nonsense.

    January 30, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  14. Z

    Believe what you want, just don't shove your belief's on others. If only it was that simple. Religion would not, could not survive without bringing more people(money) into that Religion. Religions are on a constant march to bring in more and more people (money). Religion is nothing but a huge Tax Free business scam that feeds off of needy people that can't seem to be able to make their own decisions. They are followers, either born in(brainwashed from birth) or gatherers that bring in more sheep to make the flocks larger. The mega Religions own property's in the multi millions, billions, the smaller ones don't own much property but still survive by continuous growth of the flock. The bottom line..it's all about making tax free money(GREED) and very little about GOD. You could say Religion's are all Ponsi schemes, because that is exactly what they are. You could say Religion is the biggest lobbyist we have in Washington, proof you say, look at Republican's and their policies, the Party of Greed and Stupidity. Thank goodness sanity still out ways stupidity in this Country.

    January 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  15. deElizabethan

    I am an ex and was in for 13 years. When I got into scientology in the early 70s I never knew or thought it was a religion nor did anyone else believe that. We all knew the organization was making it so, for the tax benefit only. It was an applied philosophy and helpful for whatever you needed. After awhile this "Clear the Planet" goal and "Save Mankind" became prominent until you then learned they wanted to take over cities and the world. About then, you were already hooked into whatever wins you achieved and thought, hey this works and Hubbard must be right. In fact you could not criticize his writings or you'd lose your friends and no more wins. It became addictive. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. You're on your own. It is neither a church nor a religion IMO. They used their CIA like tech, written by Hubbard to infiltrate, and conned members to sue, to achieve the IRS goal.

    January 30, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      The term you're grasping for is "cult".

      January 30, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • Alienate

      I too, am an Ex. I started in 1974 and left in 1984. Scientology saved my life. I am a far better person for having studied it's tenants. When Ron died, the resulting power struggle ruined it and I left. But his teachings still ring true. I dislike all organized religions, but if you read his works, you can benefit.

      January 30, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  16. End Religion


    January 30, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  17. think

    How is Scientology any more ridiculous than Christianity or Islam? If you spent 2000 years of indoctrination into Scientology then you would find Christians insane.

    January 30, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Scientology is a little worse than any other – the factors that no other has:

      – Started by someone who previously declared that creating a fake religion was the way to make money.
      – More directly than any other, all about getting your money from you.
      – Typical cult factors – cuts you off from friends and relatives under the guise of suppressive persons.
      – And one of the worst – blackmail – the use of the e-meter and the notion of thetans to get your secrets from you – which can be used against you if you try to leave, or if you try to let out any secret the church wishes to have kept. It's like the Catholic confessional has a tape recorder, and any time you try to leave the church, they could send your tape to your parents, your spouse, and your boss.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • ted

      Let me count the ways...

      January 30, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • ScottIndependent

      on a macro level they are similar. on a micro level there are differences. what that amounts to depends on one's perspective.

      January 30, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • ProudAtheist

      Islam, your comments are always incoherent, and they always tend to insult Hinduism for some reason. How about learning to speak proper English, or at least put your thoughts into words coherently, before posting, because you don't make the first lick of sense.

      January 30, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  18. Joe Plumber

    Anyone who criticizes Scientology is a liar and part of a vast conspiracy to discredit them = CULT.

    January 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Yeah, classic conspiracy thinking – if you want to believe Scientology, you have to walk around with blinders on, and call anyone who disagrees a liar, any facts that contradict – lies or part of a conspiracy – that's why you're told to avoid those "suppressive people" even and especially if they're your family or friends who aren't scientologists – classic cult tactics.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  19. J P Sartre

    Atheists are just people who believe in one less religion than everyone else.

    January 30, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Joe Plumber

      Incorrect. Atheists believe that there is no God and that all religion is a man-made fairy tale. But you are right in one sense – Atheism is a belief and all beliefs require faith.

      p.s. I am not an Atheist, but rather a die-hard Agnostic who believes that no one really knows anything about God or how the universe was started.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • J P Sartre

      No god is one less than one god

      January 30, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Joe – you're incorrect. Lacking a belief is not the same as a belief, any more than bald is a haircolor.

      Most atheists are agnostic atheists (as an agnostic, I'll presume you know the meaning of the word "agnostic"), not gnostic atheists as you seem to be implying.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Joe Plumber

      You said, "Atheists believe that there is no God and that all religion is a man-made fairy tale."
      Incorrect generalization. There are some atheists that believe there are no gods. Some simply don't believe there are any.

      You said, "Atheism is a belief and all beliefs require faith."
      You ignore those who don't believe. You'll find, if you care to look for it, that most atheists that post here can be classified as such.

      You said, "p.s. I am not an Atheist, but rather a die-hard Agnostic who believes that no one really knows anything about God or how the universe was started."
      Atheism and agnosticism aren't mutually exclusive. Theism and atheism are about belief, or the lack thereof. Gnosticism and agnosticism are about knowledge, or the lack thereof.

      It is pretty common to acknowledge not to have knowledge about the existence of gods, but in light of the complete and utter lack of any evidence in favor of their existence, not believe they exist.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Kim

      What do you mean by being "agnostic"? You're right in that nobody can know for certain whether or not any god exists, but Christians live as though none of the other gods exist even though they can't "prove" it. Does that make them just "agnostic" about the existence of other gods? No, because they have "faith" that their's is the only god. Where we atheists usually concede that we will believe in gods when we see evidence for them, the faithful usually deny the very possibility that any other god might exist, or that their god doesn't. That's hard faith, and I doubt that you'll get may atheists to say that what they believe is written in stone, and that they could never be proven wrong, like believers profess.

      January 30, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • ProudAtheist

      Joe, I need about as much faith NOT to believe in God as I need NOT to believe in Santa Claus. Atheism is not a belief, by the way; it is merely choosing NOT to believe based upon there being no evidence for God's existence.

      Choosing NOT to believe in God is as much of a belief as NOT smoking is a hobby.

      January 30, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • ProudAtheist


      January 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  20. Joe Martin

    Religion divides people, faith unites us. Believe what you want to believe, just don't impose your beliefs on others and condemn and curse them when they do not agree with your beliefs. Those religious zealots that "think" they have all the answers are usually the scarey ones. Live and let live.

    January 30, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Howard

      That's about as succinct and intelligent a statement on the subject as you're likely to find.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • serameteis

      Joe, if everyone believed as you do this world would be a much better place.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • ScottIndependent

      I couldn't agree more, but the issue arises when people believe that their specific point of view is their only salvation and when confronted by other belief systems, their every meaning of existence is thereby threatened. You see, at a certain point during the evolutionary process humans developed various degrees of "self-awareness", which allowed us to contemplate concepts such as "time" and "self" on a greater scale than other earthly life forms. One of the most critical aspects of self-awareness is the ability to contemplate one's own life span and more specifically–our own death. The realization that we as individuals are going to eventually die comes into direct conflict with one or our strongest and most basic human drives – survival. Less intelligent life forms that are not self-aware, such as dogs, do not have this problem because they don't contemplate their own life and death. The awareness of death burdened us with the weight of our own mortality. Through evolution, human intelligence also incorporated fundamental traits such as curiosity and problem-solving, which are of great benefit to humans as individuals and as a species – simply put, a large part of why we dominate is because of brainpower. Furthermore, we have evolved to become social animals and like other primates, our social order and the ability to function in units as a group gave us a power greater than more solitary species and likewise a major evolutionary advantage over other forms of life... and possibly even other lineages of man such as Cro-Magnon Man and Neanderthals, though there are a number of theories with no one as of yet validated.

      It becomes clear why the concept of God (or gods as it can be for some religions) was a positive evolutionary development at a certain point in time, though it may not hold the same relevancy now (which is not to say that for certain groups or individuals it cannot still act as a positive influence). It allows us to explain death, which comforts humans and helps us deal with our own mortality, our fear of death, and what "happens" to us after we expire. Socially, it provides moral and ethical justification for societal law and order that allows us to determine "right" from "wrong" and likewise function in more stable and complex social hierarchies that again provided major advantages to humans as both individuals and as a species. It also provides us the ability to answer questions such as those that are" Why?"-based and set our mind at ease in explaining the unknown, i.e. questions that we do not now and may not ever have the ability to answer, like "Why does the universe exist?". It also allowed people with extremely difficult lives such as slaves, medieval indentured servants, etc. to take solace in the fact that there was a chance at a better existence (or post-existence as the case may be) in an oftentimes glorious afterlife. Unfortunately this also allowed certain individuals and religious organizations to wield power over the less fortunate through dogma. All these explanations aside, if an individual now comes to understand the reasons why God may be merely a convenient answer to these greater questions and not one that is fact-based, one may choose to reject the notion of God altogether. In summation, while believers in God cannot necessarily criticize those who subscribe to Faith since Science cannot provide all the answers, particularly to some greater metaphysical questions, there is simply no observable factual evidence to support the existence of God, and no observable evidence of any afterlife. As such the Faith-based community likewise does not have the right to criticize those who reject the notion of God or who simply acknowledge that we just don't really have answers to certain questions.

      January 30, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.