Writer/Director Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) left the Church of Scientology in October 2009, after being a member for 35 years. The New Yorker ran the longest story I’ve ever seen in its pages (25,000 words! That’s more than a third of Catcher in the Rye), about Haggis and Scientology entitled ‘The Apostate.’
Scientology’s been the butt of a lot of jokes this decade, especially since Tom Cruise started talking about it in public. But the claims made by Haggis and others who have left the church in the New Yorker story move way past just kookiness–they charge the Church with enforcing permanent and complete family separations (‘Disconnection’), running what amounts to a forced labor camp for abducted minors with its branch organization Sea Org, covering up information about the church and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and intimidating and threatening people who leave the church, or want to speak out about its questionable activities. Haggis left specifically because his daughter is gay and Scientology refused to come out against Proposition 8 (the publicly-voted mandate outlawing gay marriage in California), but since he left he has decided that the church is fundamentally messed up: “I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.”
Scientology is a religion. It doesn’t have many followers–there are twice as many people in the U.S. who claim Rastafarianism as their religion than Scientology. But Scientologists probably want it that way. As far as I can make out, L. Ron Hubbard had some pretty out-there ideas about the earth’s origins (aliens and Thetans and all that), which I don’t even know if he completely took seriously himself, but he probably was somewhat perceptive about human behavior, and that perceptiveness has proven useful to Scientology’s adherents in living their lives.
Scientology claims to have all the answers. Not just for the spiritual or after-life, but in the here-and-now. It is a tempting philosophy for celebrities, who have achieved a status the vast majority of us can only dream about. There must always be worlds to conquer.
Why and how the church skidded off the tracks remains to be answered. (The charges against the church are multiplying. The FBI has been involved for over a year. Somehow this thing is going to play out, in the near future–I don’t think a complete collapse is out of the question)