Lawrence Wright is a New Yorker writer who has also written the history of Al Qaeda -- "The Looming Tower" -- that won just about every major prize for non-fiction in 2006. Al Qaeda? That's nothing compared to the risk he's taking in publishing an up-close and personal study of Scientology. Scientology doesn't like to be researched and has a history of making trouble for those who talk about them. Wright seems unfazed. He goes after Scientology's leaders in "Going Clear." And he's very clear about their excesses.
Scientologists say the e-meter can measure the mass of your thoughts — and, says Wright, if you believe in the technology, outside criticisms of the religion aren't going to bother you, because auditing can be a transformative experience.
If that sounds like brainwashing, Wright says, there are indeed forms of what he calls "thought control" in Scientology, particularly within the clergy. "It's called the Sea Org, and many of them live inside a compound in Southern California, in the desert," he says. "The world outside is not very well-known to them. They've set aside their education, they're impoverished by their service, many of them have all their family members inside Scientology, and if they were to try to leave, no one in Scientology would ever speak to them again."
Sea Org members are also billed for "services rendered," Wright continues, an amount that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. "And if they decide to run away, usually, there's a team that goes after them and tracks them down and brings them back." Escapees, he adds, can be confined involuntarily in re-education camps, sometimes for years on end. ...NPR interview
Scientology is also in another kind of trouble. It's losing members. Who can blame them!
While it pulls in large dollar amounts, Wright says Scientology is poor in members. "I think they're hemorrhaging members," he says. "Certainly, I've talked to a lot of former members who say they've left the church recently."
"Certainly, the two things Scientology has on its side are money and lawyers," he says of the notoriously lawsuit-happy church, "but those qualities won't save it if it can't find a way to bring new members into the fold."
Is Wright afraid of Scientology's fearsome legal reputation? "We've had a lot of letters from lawyers," he says. "But I went into this with my eyes open. I've been careful. I've done what I can to query the church about factual matters. It's been a very difficult relationship with them, often very hostile in tone on their part, but the thing is, it's an irresistible story, and for someone like me, the risk was worth it." ...NPR interview
You can read an excerpt from "Going Clear" here.
And you can read Wright's profile of one Hollywood sucker's experience with Scientology here.