Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Going Clear, Lawrence Wright

Why I read it: This amazing New Yorker article

Podcasts: Slate Book Club, NPR Fresh Air

Summary: Lawrence Wright gives us the complete history of Scientology, from L. Ron Hubbard's manic days as a pulp science fiction writer, which inspired some of the religion's weirder beliefs (galactic battles 43 trillion years ago anyone?), to the present day. He tries to give us a full perspective, from ordinary members to the current leadership, but is stymied by the fact that few practicing Scientologists - and none of the celebrities or executives would give him an interview.

Brow: quite solidly Middle, with a healthy dose of celebrity gossip mixed in with an exhaustively-researched history of a cult.

What I liked about it: Even though I am not a member of any religion, cult or mainstream, and haven't been since the age of 8, for some reason I still love reading about them, especially the weirder ones like Scientology, with its billion-year contracts and fanatical belief in the power of two tin cans hooked up to a heart monitor. Not that their belief that we are all inhabited by trillion-year-old aliens is any stranger than a virgin birth. And those who like weirdness will not be disappointed. For example, did you know that L. Ron Hubbard spent 8 years in the late 60s and early 70s sailing around the Mediterranean, trying to find a country they could occupy and establish as a permanent base for Scientology? And that it was mainly about avoiding the IRS? Well, you'll find all the details and more in this book. But it's not all fun and games. There are a lot of sad parts, too, like the kids who sign the billion-year contracts that they can't read because a Scientology education mostly consists of cleaning, or the people who are 'punished' for years in the desert and eating table scraps. This book will not help the cult find many converts.

What I didn't like about it: Although Wright is fair to Scientology, he is extremely unfair to the city of London, Ontario, which happens to be my home town. It is most decidedly not the humid, dying hole that Wright makes it out to be.

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