Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While I lived in Hollywood for a few years I would see Scientology buildings around town and I would wonder what went on inside. It was all very secretive. It still is, but due to books like this and, even more so, the internet the veil has been lifted. Which has left me wondering, if the incredible allegations are made against the Church of Scientology are true, why would humans allow others to do such things to them?
I read this in part to learn more about L. Ron Hubbard. I guess I could've just Wiki-ed him, but this book provided much more info. He reminds me of a Teddy Roosevelt character type. A brash go-getter, who could boast some impressive deeds. But where Teddy turned his wild energies and imagination toward public service, Hubbard turned his towards science fiction writing. That in and of itself isn't a bad thing, unless you let your imagination carry you away. Hubbard's mad desire for macho-man adventure so infused his ego as to warp his stories into tall tales of personal achievement that he himself started to believe. Again, that's no big deal, until you start getting others to believe you, others who then follow you and give you all their money.
When Hubbard passed on, the Church passed into even more controlling, determined, single-minded hands, the hands of David Miscavige, a diminutive, sickly youth who grew into a pint-sized dictator. Miscavige credits Hubbard's teachings for curing him of his youthful ailments and frailty. Such miracles will tend to instill an unbreakable devotion in a youthful, impressionable mind. If you isolate that mind early enough, it will forever believe the legend. It will progress no further, learn nothing new, for it has seen the light. If that mind belongs to a raging A-type personality, it will attempt to shove that light down others' throats.
Anywho, that's enough of that nonsense. I won't detail the entire history. That's what books like this are for.
Many reviews have called Inside Scientology boring. Granted, it is quite textbooky, but I feel like those people were looking for something more People-magazine-salacious with cover-to-cover celebrity stories. That's not what you get here. Famous names are dropped. Whole parts of the books are devoted to the topic of celebrities within Scientology, but this is more history than anything. Having said that, there's plenty on Tom Cruise, as you'd expect.
All the while I was reading, I kept in mind that this is one book and one person's take on the topic, so I'm willing to reserve complete judgement. However, Reitman sources a lot of people, mostly Church "defectors", who spent years, even decades within the organization. There are so many of them that it makes you doubt that they're all lying ax-grinders.
Though mostly negative, Inside Scientology does include a few positives in the Church's favor, such as the charity work they've done during natural disasters. Reitman interviews a Scientologist teenager who grew up in the organization and remains there, and the girl comes off as one of the most well-adjusted people in the whole book. And taking into account that it is such a large, many faceted organization spanning the globe with different divisions, departments, whatever you want to call them, so surely one individual's experience will differ from another. No doubt some have derived positives from their association with the Church of Scientology. There, that's my charitable act for the day.