Click here to read reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott's take on Inside Scientology.
The average person probably first became aware of Scientology after actor Tom Cruise’s chastisement of Matt Lauer during an interview on the Today show and his verbal attack on Brooke Shields for her use of antidepressants to help her cope with post-natal depression. Scientology, however, has been a strong and ever-growing movement since at least the early 1950s, when science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard developed his Dianetics theory as an alternative to traditional psychotherapy, then built a ‘spiritual science’ around the bestselling book.
At various times, Scientology has been described as a spiritual philosophy, a self-help program, and -- currently, according to the official website – a religion. It has weathered lawsuits and bad press, the death of Hubbard, and even various incarnations of its own making. The ever-changing persona, while denounced by many, may actually be what keeps Scientology going strong – like a chameleon that can adjust to the changing surroundings.
You can’t swing a limo in Hollywood without hitting at least one celebrity Scientologist. Cruise is currently the most visible, but Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and Greta Van Susteren are among the many devoted followers. It’s easy to assume that only the rich and famous make up the roster, largely because Scientology is a costly project. According to Inside Scientology, “…Scientology charges members for every service, book, and course offered, promising greater and greater spiritual enlightenment with every dollar spent.”
The movement has centers around the world, establishes charitable foundations, runs substance abuse rehab programs, and encourages the use of its educational curriculum in schools. Scientology also has its own vocabulary, which makes it all the more difficult for outsiders to figure out just what this group promotes and condemns. For example, members experience a process called ‘auditing,’ the goal of which is to remove ‘spiritual disabilities’ and allow the individual to become ‘clear.’ One who is clear can then move up the ladder to become an ‘Operating Thetan’ at various levels.
According to author Reitman, “Scientologists are taught to believe that every single word of their doctrine was written by and conceived of by the founder. In truth, most of Hubbard’s ideas appear to have been taken or adapted from a wide variety of sources.” This, of course, is true of almost every religion’s doctrine, and unremarkable in itself. Hubbard’s genius, however, lay in “shrewdly boiling down those teachings, packaging them as both mental health technology and scientifically applied religious philosophy, and selling them to a society that was increasingly fixated on both.”
Scientology is considered a cult by the mainstream, an eye-opening universal truth by adherents. Reitman’s stated goal is to provide here “the first objective modern history of the Church of Scientology.” Inside Scientology may be as close as we get to anything objective. The highly secretive culture of the organization is a tremendous hindrance to anyone seeking to get a better view of just what it is and how it operates. The majority of Reitman’s sources are former Scientologists who left on less-than-positive terms and whose opinions of Scientology and its hierarchy may or may not be accurate. Reitman also gained interviews with a few young people, second-generation Scientologists, who are not only happy with their religion but who also appear to be reasonable, sane, and perfectly likeable individuals who are free to speak to anyone, including journalists.
What Inside Scientology is not is a tabloid-style expose. A brief chapter about celebrities and the organization gives a quick overview of the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman breakup and reports that the Church was instrumental in helping Cruise find his next wife. Aside from that, there’s little in the way of gossip. The book contains a summary of the much-ridiculed secret knowledge that is shared with Operating Thetans; this turns out to be a story about a Galactic Confederation, extraterrestrial prisoners taking over human bodies, and the resulting identity confusion that leads to the need for auditing.
Beyond these titillating offerings, Inside Scientology is a well-researched and thorough history of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic and influential men as well as the movement built upon his creativity and charisma. Reitman sticks to the facts, avoids speculation, and proves herself a tenacious journalist with years of investigation poured into this highly-detailed and oddly riveting book.