It has always been one of life's great mysteries: why would anyone, ever, choose to become a Scientologist? Religions generally, of course, require a suspension of critical thinking and the swallowing of a certain amount of preposterosity, but Scientology is out there in a class of its own. From Michael Kinsley's review at the NYT of Lawrence Wright's new book Going Clear:
The planet Earth, formerly called Teegeeack, was part of a confederation of planets under the leadership of a despot ruler named Xenu,” said Hubbard, who was a best-selling science fiction writer before he became the prophet of a new religion. To suppress a rebellion, Xenu tricked the confederations into coming in for fake income tax investigations. Billions of thetans were taken to Teegeeack (you remember: Earth), “where they were dropped into volcanoes and then blown up with hydrogen bombs.”
And so on...and on...and on. Hubbard's sci-fi books were all door-stoppers, and the B-movie fantasies at the core of Scientology are equally prolix.
On top of that, it's exceedingly nasty:
Wright’s book...makes clear that Scientology is like no church on Earth (or, in all probability, Venus or Mars either). The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday: the ruthless struggles for power, the show trials and forced confessions (often false); the paranoia (often justified); the determination to control its members’ lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick); the maintenance of something close to prison camps where dissenters, would-be defectors and power-struggle rivals were incarcerated in deplorable conditions for years and punished if they tried to escape; what the book describes as mysterious deaths and disappearances; and so on. Except that while the American Communist Party, including a few naïve Hollywood types, merely turned a blind eye to events happening in faraway Russia, Scientology — if Wright is to be believed, and I think he is — ran, and maybe still runs, a shadow totalitarian empire here in the United States, financed in part by huge contributions by Tom Cruise and others of the Hollywood aristocracy. “Naïve” doesn’t begin to describe the credulousness and sense of entitlement that has allowed actors, writers and directors to think they were helping themselves and the world by hanging around the Scientologists’ “Celebrity Centre,” taking “upper level” courses and gossiping about who was about to be labeled a “Suppressive Person” (bad guy).
You can read 15 Scientology Revelations from Wright's book here: mostly confirming that Hubbard was very close to insane, as well as being a deeply unpleasant individual.
As for current leader David Miscavige (an equally nasty piece of work)....well, The Atlantic, in one of its odder editorial decisions, decided to run an advertising campaign on behalf of Miscavige and the Church of Scientology last week, starting with a puff piece under the headline "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year". The subsequent uproar from its readers persuaded the editors that perhaps this was not such a good idea, and the campaign has been temporarily suspended "pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads".