Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Reviewed by Joe T.
(After threats of lawsuits from the law firm of Wolfram & Hart, representing their client The Church of Scientology, my lawyers from the offices of Nelson & Murdock have advised me to keep a neutral tone when discussing the breathtakingly great book Going Clear by Lawrence Wright. I have also been warned that mentioning the bats#%t crazy antics of karate kicking the stomach of the current leader of the Church of Scientology might be a libelous act. I have also been instructed to mention that Lawrence Wright has written a “book”. It is a book about “things”. And he will be talking about these “things” at BookPeople on Monday, January 28th at 7:00pm. He “will not” be talking about Operation: Freakout which “was not” about framing critics of Scientology with various crimes including murder. So, after all this advice from one of the greatest pro-bono law offices in the country, I have crafted this statement about the book Going Clear.)
Of all of the strange apocryphal tales that float around L. Ron Hubbard and the creation of Scientology, my favorite doesn’t even get a mention or a debunking in Lawrence Wright’s (he of the Pulitzer Prize for the 9-11 book The Looming Tower) exposé of the religion/cult, Going Clear. In this story, a bar bet was made between two science fictions writers, Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard, that each would write a book to try to create a religion: Hubbard with Dianetics and Heinlein with Stranger In a Strange Land. Obviously L. Ron won the bet. (There are other versions of this fable that have been passed around but this version is my favorite, even with the ten year difference in publishing between the two books.)
That anecdote sums up everything there is to know about Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, and the book Going Clear: There is nothing, really, that can be known There are only stray facts that give the appearance of conclusions but are really just assumptions for you to accept whatever story and whatever teller you choose to believe.
Like all books on Scientology, actual first hand evidence is hard to come by. L. Ron Hubbard was a known teller of tall tales and the church itself has purchased and collected as much documentation of his life as possible, withholding access to most people, especially journalists. We are left with the anecdotes by people of unsavory and/or not quite reputable backgrounds. Whether you choose to believe them is something that The Church of Scientology has spent millions of dollars in court costs and smear campaigns trying to prevent.
This is an exciting and interesting book (the parts about Operation: Snow White and other related operations were particularly striking and frightening) that Wright has tried his best to try to keep level even though his bias against the “facts” presented by the church is manifest. Until we finally get access to church records, this is always gonna be a story of he said/she said. But the story I believe is much closer to the one presented in this book than the one told by L. Ron Hubbard and his successor David Miscavige. The more books like this that are written, the closer we get to that elusive fractal truth.