Paul Haggis speaks clearly on Scientology and 'Going Clear'


Longtime Hollywood director Paul Haggis, a former Scientology member, is a key voice about the inner workings of the organization in the new Alex Gibney documentary, "Going Clear," which has been in LA theaters for a while and aired last night on HBO. "Going Clear" is based on Lawrence Wright's award-winning book about Scientologists and their church's bizarre underpinnings and often nefarious practices. Other top-level defectors, including some of the senior operatives who ran vicious dirty tricks campaigns aimed at the LA Times and other media, help make the case that Scientology is a cult of dwindling membership that has gotten hugely wealthy mainly by acquiring property around the world since pressuring the IRS to award it church status for tax purposes. Haggis provides the extra insight of a level-headed devotee who went up through the tiers of indoctrination before learning the truth and deciding to get out. He wrote a piece for Tony Ortega's Scientology watching site The Underground Bunker, before the film aired on HBO, about why rank-and-file Scientologists will continue to deny the realities exposed in the film.


The slow indoctrination process is as subtle as it is dangerous — largely because you truly believe that you are thinking for yourself, when in fact you are discouraged to do anything of the sort.

Paradoxically, there is great pride in belonging to a stigmatized group. It’s like being in love with a narcissist. All your friends will warn you that you are just being used. You understand why they think what they think, but you believe in your heart that they just don’t see what you see. You just tune them out. For that reason, when I did discover what many outside the church knew, I was truly shocked. While some of the information had been out there for many years, like all Scientologists, I refused to look. Yes, I was told not to, but I didn’t have to be. This was my group and I knew there to be many people in the world who were bigoted and close-minded, and when I was told that we were “under attack” in Germany or France or wherever, instead of looking for the reasons, I assumed this to be the case — and donated many thousands of dollars toward our “defense.” Yes, there was considerable duress involved in those “donations,” but if I didn’t honestly believe what I was being told I would not have handed over such large sums.

It makes little or no sense in retrospect, and it’s very hard to understand unless you’ve been a part of a marginalized group. While I was a constant thorn in the side of the executives, questioning practices I thought unjust, it never crossed my mind to voice my concerns outside the organization. In fact, even after I sent my letter of resignation I maintained a great fondness for “the old man.” Yes, he was a rogue, and he might have gone insane later in life, I thought, but I still believed he had put together a pretty workable system for steering through life.


They truly believe that only Scientology can save the world, and that they are making major strides in this direction every year. They hold onto this belief despite the fact that there isn’t even a modicum of evidence that they are having even the tiniest impact on any problem in any part of the globe. Scientologists simply accept the assurances of the church leaders that it is so.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta both figure prominently in the film and footage of Scientology rituals — they come across as fools who might also be intimidated by Scientology's possession and willingness to use personal details divulged by all members during the "auditing" process. Cruise's marriage and divorce from Nicole Kidman comes up, along with the church's recruitment of actress-member Nazanin Boniadi to be his girlfriend. But there is literally no mention of Katie Holmes. Make what you will of that.

The Church of Scientology is disputing much of what is reported in the documentary and Wright's book. The HBO airing seems to have set off a lot of media speculation that the film will somehow doom the group, in part by exposing the ravings of founder L. Ron Hubbard about things like the former civilizations on Earth he said looked just like the white American suburbs he knew in the 1950s. Former members seem to be hoping the film just gets widely seen.

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