April 9, 2015

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)


There is just so much crazy in one movie I'm not sure I'll even be able to cover it all. I almost feel silly writing a review about it because I'm not sure how anyone who isn't a Scientologist could watch this movie and still need someone to add commentary. It's pretty self-explanatory. But I do it for the fans, man.

The movie doesn't necessarily introduce much new information that hasn't already been known for some time, but it does re-introduce the facts from the mouths of some of the highest members within the organization, which lends it some serious credibility. My personal favorite was hearing from Marty Rathburn, who was the former #2 and was responsible for carrying out many of the unsavory actions of the organization. (Ahem. Church.) It was also super interesting to listen to Hanna Ettringham, a founding member of the Sea Org, one of the branches of Scientology. Again, it lends credibility to claims when made by people who were not only a part of it for so long, but who were there from the beginning and were in positions of power and influence. Because honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if most Scientology members either weren't aware of what the organization (ahem, church) was doing, or chose to ignore it because frankly, it's all so unbelievable.

On some of the other points against Scientology, I felt a bit more sympathetic. For example, the footage of their rallies (or whatever you call them--ceremonies?). Do I think it's weird to have the organization's (ahem, church) leader stand at a podium on a gigantic stage while proclaiming the good deeds they've done? Yep. But do I also think it's weird that Catholics think they're drinking the actual blood of Christ every Sunday? Yep. Now, I know that one is a rite and the other is well, a rally? but the point being, everyone thinks stuff other people do in the name of religion or belief is weird. What about revivals where everyone shouts along and people faint and stuff? Also weird. 

Which brings me to the $64,000 question. Is Scientology a religion? Well, it's not really for me to say. And I don't care to wade into those waters. But I certainly don't think it should be up to the IRS to decide. I mean really, who cares if people want to believe some sci-fi story that L. Ron Hubbard made up that they are possessed by the frozen spirits of aliens, ruled by the Galactic Overlord? Frankly, this would all be less of an issue if religious organizations weren't able to accumulate so much property, tax-free. (And while we're at it, let's revisit the tax policies surrounding universities too...) Sure, the free speech protections surrounding a religion are a big deal, but as the documentary kept pointing out, much of Scientology's power comes from it's money, which is what continues to keep it relevant these days, even in spite of declining membership. I think everybody in this country understands that money buys you influence and power, so even an organization (ahem, church) like Scientology can continue to reign over certain populations because it has money.

Where I started to feel sad was when members told their stories of abuse and intimidation and how they chose to stay with the organization (ahem, church) through it all. Because listening to their stories of how they got started, it all seemed pretty innocuous. Good, even. I could easily see how so many people got hooked into it. And as the tale unfolded, you could hear how they were wrapped into this abusive relationship and felt unable to get out. For me, that's my issue with Scientology. Not that people get e-meter readings or pay money to the organization (ahem, church) because again, Catholics do basically the same thing with confession and tithing. It's the "reform centers" that "re-educate" members in a way that makes those Christian "gay conversion camps" seem rosy in comparison. Oh, and the forced cutting off communication from non-believers. If that doesn't raise any red flags with you, well,  you are probably in an abusive relationship.

But while I oddly now feel less judgmental toward the members (ahem, parishioners) of Scientology, that understanding only extends to pre-existing members. Now, with the wealth of information on the organization (ahem, church) out there: the details of abuse and intimidation of both its members and those who defy it and the backstory of the Galactic Overlord no longer a secret from its members until they're deeply entrenched in the organization (ahem, church), I wonder how anyone sees that and thinks to themselves, "I want to be a part that." But hey, there are also people leaving our country to go join ISIS, so who knows. (In Scientology's defense, I'm pretty sure they're not trying to kill anyone or return us to the Stone Age, so they've got a leg up there...)

Final word: Probably only Scientologists and people who have no empathy for people in abusive relationships can watch this without being affected.

P.S. I know my blog isn't that big, but talking about both Scientology and ISIS probably ensures I'm flagged by the FBI now. ;)

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