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. Science

    Update :

    See for yourself below.................The fairy in the sky did NOT create us !!!

    From Soup to Cells—the Origin of Life


    Monkey Math: Baboons Show Brain's Ability to Understand Numbers ..........E = mc2..............(U-Pb) numbers do not lie !

    May 3, 2013 — Opposing thumbs, expressive faces, complex social systems: it's hard to miss the similarities between apes and humans. Now a new study with a troop of zoo baboons and lots of peanuts shows that a less obvious trait – the ability to understand numbers – also is shared by humans and their primate cousins.


    OR.........take a ride on a DINO.

    Fossil records are better to read than the nasty bible..................no god(s) required !

    Oldest? New 'Bone-Head' Dinosaur Hints at Higher Diversity of Small Dinosaurs

    May 7, 2013 — Scientists have named a new species of bone-headed dinosaur (pachycephalosaur) from Alberta, Canada. Acrotholus audeti (Ack-RHO-tho-LUS) was identified from both recently discovered and historically collected fossils. Approximately six feet long and weighing about 40 kilograms in life, the newly identified plant-eating dinosaur represents the oldest bone-headed dinosaur in North America, and possibly the world.


    The Science Guy takes on creationism

    CNN|Added on November 24, 2012




    May 8, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  2. zjtvotxgv

    Lin Bob Lawrence meets with cool wedding celebration: Task connected with every day selected dominating location deceives one self as well as others
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    April 27, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  3. Irrational Exuberance

    I love the use of allegedly in news stories.
    It is a fact Lisa McPherson is dead.
    It is a fact she was driven past closer hospitals and taken to a scientologist. It is a fact this same doctor twice prescribed Valium for her without even seeing her.
    It is a fact she had been in the "care" of scientologists at the Clearwater hotel for weeks before her death.
    It is a fact they were advised to get her to a hospital and they didn't. They decided their religion was more important than her life since she was in no way capable of caring for herself.

    At what point does the disgust of calling them allegedly abusive get to be too much and reporters wake up in the middle of the night puking? Or is that only for those who directly confront the cult, as Paulette Cooper can attest, and become targets of their fair game policy, even if they no longer will use the term.

    April 15, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  4. TiredOfPaying

    I learned everything I needed to know about Scientology in 5 min back in 1979. A Scientologist was stopping people walking the streets of Ann Arbor and preaching about this wonderful new religion. He had a copy of 'Dianetics' in his hand and gave it to me. I thanked him and said I would read it.

    Then as I walked away, he said 'Wait.... its $7.95 for that book.'

    THAT was all I ever needed to know about this pseudo-religion.

    April 5, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  5. free dating

    Thanks for the new things you have disclosed in your short article. One thing I'd really like to reply to is that FSBO relationships are built after a while. By introducing yourself to the owners the first end of the week their FSBO is definitely announced, ahead of masses start calling on Monday, you develop a good interconnection. By giving them resources, educational components, free accounts, and forms, you become a great ally. By taking a personal desire for them in addition to their scenario, you make a solid connection that, most of the time, pays off in the event the owners opt with a real estate agent they know in addition to trust - preferably you actually.

    March 15, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  6. Keith

    The video poster person is crazy, help him our and take his stuff down

    March 1, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
    • End Religion


      March 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  7. RichardSRussell

    Of COURSE Scientology is a scam and a con job.
    ALL religions are scams and con jobs.
    Some of them have just been around long enuf to be deemed respectable by the gullible.

    February 23, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • frankb2910

      Scientology proves that you can have the most outrageous scam and con job organization going and continue to get away with it. L Ron Hubbard was nothing more then a paranoid schizophrenic con man.

      February 23, 2013 at 7:36 am |
  8. CGAW

    Scientology is a cult not a religion – treat it as such.

    February 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      This may well be a distinction without a difference.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • Luc

      The only difference between cult and religion is time.

      May 7, 2013 at 7:23 am |
  9. I AM

    Even if there was ' the truth', no one would believe.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  10. Open Mind..

    Islamic scripture (Quran says)

    “They say , "We live only this life; we will not be resurrected. If you could only see them when they stand before their Lord! He would say, "Is this not the truth?" They would say, "Yes, by our Lord." He would say, "You have incurred the retribution by your disbelief." [6:30]

    “Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting God, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load! [6:31]

    “The life of this world is no more than illusion and vanity, while the abode of the Hereafter is far better for the righteous. Do you not understand?! [6:32]

    “Recall that your Lord said to the angels, "I am placing a representative on Earth." They said, "Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?" He said, "I know what you do not know." [2:30]

    “They do not value God as He should be valued. God is the Most Powerful, the Almighty.”[22:74]

    “If you obey the majority of people on earth, they will divert you from the path of God. They follow only conjecture; they only guess.” [Quran 6:116]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    February 15, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • paul46

      Thanks for the post. My copy of the Koran sits right next to my Bible on the bookshelf. Most of my friends (I'm American) do not like the book because they've never studied it. Christians don't like it because Muhammad states that Jesus is not God (as in the Creator of the universe). Yet, Jesus denied being God. // I was introduced to Islam when I lived in Indonesia 30 years ago. A Muslim told me I MUST believe in Jesus. This shook me, as I was an atheist at the time. I now regard both the Bible and the Koran as Holy Books. We Westerners would do well to study the contributions of Islam for 1,000 years in so many fields: science, art, literature, philosophy etc. while Europe was dying during the Middle Ages. I sincerely hope that one day Christians & Muslims might live in peace. Thanks again for the post.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
      • cpnugent

        That, and some people also don't like the Koran so much because it orders its accolytes to kill lots of people.

        July 20, 2013 at 12:35 am |
    • TiredOfPaying

      ... and I sincerely hope that the FIRST place someone goes when the Time Machine is invented is to 732AD middle east with an assault rifle and pleny of ammunition. Untold billions of lives would be saved if ol' mo never lived.

      June 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  11. danielwalldammit

    Scientology is a criminal organization. It should have been taken down years ago.

    February 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  12. jonat

    If Obama wants more tax revenue, then tax Scientology as they are not a religion

    February 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Dave

      Or better still – tax all religions.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Just curious

      Dave, why do you want the government to have more money? Do you think they are going to share it with you? Coz they're not.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      Rico statutes and seizure of property...

      February 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Romnesia

      Just curious, That depends on if you work on Wall Street

      February 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Luc

      Yes tax all religion.

      May 7, 2013 at 7:26 am |
  13. religious independent

    I have my own belief system. There is no one else with my belief system. But thanks to the atheists I can sleep well knowing my belief system doesn't sound any crazier than anyone elses.

    February 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • Fladabosco

      Please tell me what's so crazy about not claiming to know what god wants, or how the world was created or what happens after we die. Whatever did create us doesn't seem to want us to know or it would be obvious. It's only obvious to those whose eyes are closed and will claim they know more about god than other people, that their holy book is the only right one, that their prayers have more power than anyone else's.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  14. Shakingmyhead

    Wow, must feel so empowering to believe that you are so unique that you couldnt have been created...or is it such low esteem of the human race that no creator would have lowered a standard to create us....how sad. As long as your are your own God, then try to make a tree with your own dirt.

    February 6, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • laststonecarver

      You realize that your words describe you.
      Are you okay? Why is your head moving like that?
      The creator that you spoke of, is that your body's creator? And wouldn't that be uhh, procreation?
      And your mind's creator, wouldn't that be thinking?
      And if you believe in souls, aren't they everlasting, i.e. no beginning or end?
      Unclear on how to respond to – As long as your are your own God, then try to make a tree with your own dirt. –
      What does that even mean?? And BTW, who is the question directed towards?

      February 6, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • laststonecarver

      Nevermind, i guess this answers your questions:
      religious independent
      I have my own belief system. There is no one else with my belief system. But thanks to the atheists I can sleep well knowing my belief system doesn't sound any crazier than anyone elses.

      February 7, 2013 at 5:29 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      Piles of straw everywhere! What happened here?

      February 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Paul J

      I've done it before. Just a little dirt, seeds, water and sun. Oh wait, that must be god. Anything YOU can't explain must be god. Hardly proof of the existence of a god.

      February 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Shootmyownfood

      Hmmm – to the best of my knowledge, I was created by the comingling of genetic components donated by my parents.

      March 29, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  15. Blending religions

    Well there's a general theme of one big invisible guy, gets mad at a bunch of little invisible guys...and boots them all out. They wind up on earth and pretty soon they possess the bodies of real live humans causing chaos and misfortune.

    Not just scientology either that "theme' is in most of them.

    February 5, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • laststonecarver

      Instead of thinking of the religion, just per its story, try to imagine it as a description of a mind, and how that mind works.
      For instance, who is in charge, in your head. Hopefully, that would be you. And you is your self. And your self is your Ego.
      Ah the great and wonderful wizard of OZ, that is your ego. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
      But your ego grew lonely, in that great darkness, that is Just You, and so it decided to acknowledge other living creatures, other selves. Your ego grew powerful, by all those who enabled it. And some of that power corrupted with Pride, that you were better than those who had enabled you. And so you left them behind, and with them, your truths.
      Of course you brought a map with you, in that brave new world, didn't you?
      And who can you believe, and what can you believe?
      And your conscience just will not give you peace of mind. And most importantly, Who will feed your Ego?
      Or did you not fall prey to the corruption, and your decision making process was built to endure.
      The stories that you read in your Special Book, they are creating a decision making process that is good to go, right?
      Cause it is about your decisions, not your group, not a book, not a building, not a plenary indulgence.
      It is about you and how you think. That is what religion is, Thinking. Even if you don't have a religion, it is about you and how you think, and because of how you think, what you then do.
      Take a good look around you, at your environment, how can you make it better, both for your self, and other selves.
      That is what thinking can produce.
      Can you only do that thinking, because of your Religion, and does that religion ego make you better than another self.
      Believers and Non-believers, you reason as best you can.
      Take some time and step out of your self, there are some awesome, awesome minds to behold.

      February 6, 2013 at 6:37 am |
    • The breakfast club

      I've often thought of religions as a depiction of an internal world not an external world.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:25 am |
  16. Gadflie

    From the outside, all religions seem pretty laughable. But, honestly, Scientology much more than most.

    January 31, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Billy

      I always wondered if you could play the home game. I think you have to have some spare magnets or something like that.

      January 31, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • Agnostic theist

      I think people run into problems when they require proof or claim to know anything about the unknowable. Love it or hate it. Theist or atheist...there isn't any proof so get over it, live your life and if you want a diety anyway..keep one.

      February 1, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • Kim

      Compared to all that Rapture bull, alien overlords seems pretty sane.

      February 3, 2013 at 12:33 am |
  17. Zaxximus

    Scientology- The great decievers work for people who think that they are above God and starter than he. "unless you assume a God, the question to life's pupose is meaningless." Bertrand Russel, atheist. just by putting a capital G on God, shows that His life purpose was meaningless. he spent his whole life trying to prove that God didnt exist. Fail!

    January 31, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • End Religion

      Not sure I am following you... There is no God of Israel. Where's the failure?

      January 31, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • Kim

      Yup, you sure proved that you're "starter" than we atheists, all right?

      January 31, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
    • cleareye1

      There is no actual evidence that a god or supreme being of some sort exists or doesn't exist. Why worry/ You'll never prove it either.

      February 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  18. 1word

    Scientology? LOL, is this a joke? The people who claimed there was no creation, made up a religion so they wouldn't have to be obedient to the God of Israel? Everything that is created requires a Creator!

    January 31, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Everything that is created requires a creator?...False statement.

      January 31, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Really? Then who created your creator?

      Or are you one of those hypocrites who makes up rules, but then exempts your own beliefs from the rules you try to use to disprove other beliefs?

      January 31, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      You are stupid.

      January 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • the AnViL

      everything that is "created" does require a creator. the creator isn't ever an imaginary man in the sky, though.

      all there is – is the natural... there is no supernatural.

      good luck with your delusion.

      cha cha cha

      January 31, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • What a fool believes

      is not always better than nothing

      January 31, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Simon says

      Simon says Amen! All non believers in God are idiots!!

      January 31, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Kim

      Who says that the universe was "created"?

      January 31, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • justmyopinion

      The cure to "religion" disease is a pill of wisdom

      January 31, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Wrong. Point is too simple to explain.

      February 1, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  19. laststonecarver

    Xemu – ya gotta love him.
    He brings hundreds of billions of people, from waaaay over yonder, to Urth, populates them around volcanoes, and then goes mega-death on them, so that their souls will roam around the planet.
    Sounds like Ming the Merciless – "This Urth, hahahahaha.... I like to play with things for a while"....hahahahahaha....fade away.
    Luckily Flash saved every one of us –

    January 31, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • laststonecarver

      an thanx Queen for the great soundtrack.....

      January 31, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • meifumado

      "Pathetic human's, Hurling your bodies into the void without the slightest inkling of whats out there"

      Ming The Merciless

      January 31, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • the AnViL

      "populates them around volcanoes..." volcanoes that didn't even exist at the time elron said they did.

      funny stuff

      January 31, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • TiredOfPaying

      'So did you have to torture Ming's daughter?'

      'Yes. Strange Girl.... I think she liked it!'

      June 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  20. luannyeo

    Sure, changing the topic away from Scientology to Catholicism might allow Scientology to continue to operate business as usual, but why not forget about Scientology and research all the problems Zoroastrians are causing.

    January 31, 2013 at 5:58 am |
    • Kim

      Come on, everyone knows that it's the Amish who are secretly plotting to take over the country. Our superior technology is no match for their puny weapons! 🙂

      January 31, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Careful! He's got a beard with a nail in it!

      January 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Kim

      Shouldn't that be a board with a nail in it? A beard with a nail in it just isn't very romantic.

      January 31, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I believe the Amish have those beards so they can conceal weapons in them.
      I deny making any typing errors.
      My keyboard accuracy is prefetc.

      February 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Kim

      Naa... The weapons they keep under their straw hats and bonnets.

      February 3, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • TiredOfPaying

      Never underestimate the power of going Mideval on your hiney!

      June 11, 2013 at 12:53 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.