Tom Cruise must be ruing his stars. Just as his hopes of a return to Hollywood superstardom seemed to be finally coming into shape, the documentary Going Clear has neutered the promise of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. A look inside the Church of Scientology, the documentary is a scathing attack on the foundation, principles and dramatic personae that drive the cult. The title of the film comes from one of the levels on the Scientology hierarchy that, if cleared, confers significant prestige on the adherent. The film then proceeds to show how hollow, how incestuous that prestige is.
The documentary charts the growth of Scientology under its founder L Ron Hubbard, a disgraced World War II naval captain who wrote pulp novels on the side. Hubbard believed that psychotherapy and psychiatry were sham disciplines and that humans had the power to combat neuroses on their own. So far so good. But Hubbard also believed that humans were unhappy because their bodies were infested with Thetans, souls of ancient man, and unless those Thetans were expelled from the system through Scientology’s audit system (in which members were asked to disclose their most intimate secrets) there could be no relief for the sufferer.
The rise of Scientology is a study in disbelief. Hubbard’s book Dianetics, which laid out his vision, remained on the NYT bestseller list for weeks, and prompted thousands of common Americans to apply for Hubbard’s audit process. This was the 1950s and the fee charged was $500 per candidate. Scientology became one of the richest cults in America and Hubbard fought for it to be conferred the status of religion so that it would be tax-exempt.
After Hubbard’s death in 1986, his protégé David Miscavige took on the reins of the cult and fought a brutal battle against the IRS to shield Scientology’s books. Over the course of the next five years he bombarded the IRS with hundreds of lawsuits that were filed by members of the cult from different jurisdictions. Finally, the IRS relented on the religion clause under the condition, which Miscavige was only too happy to oblige, that he take back the lawsuits.
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