Going Clear -- SHR group read

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Going Clear -- SHR group read

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1aulsmith
feb. 10, 2014, 2:11 pm

Some folks in the Science, Religion and History group are planning a group read of Going Clear this quarter (ending in March 2014 -- though late posts are always interesting.

I finished the book today, and will start talking about it as soon as I'm done setting this up. If you are the kind of person who doesn't like spoilers in non-fiction, don't read any of my other posts after this one.

2drneutron
feb. 10, 2014, 2:21 pm

I've added this thread to the group wiki.

3aulsmith
feb. 10, 2014, 2:24 pm

So my first question is whether this book is a good one for the Science, Religion and History group.

Scientology did at one point claim to be scientific, but it's really just another incarnation of the Positive Thought Movement, something the author misses entirely. It does include a good biography of Hubbard and historical aspects of the religion (if a religion that's only about 60 years old can be said to have a history) but really it's another book about an abusive religious group, so it really only fulfills one of our three criteria.

So if that's not your reason for reading books with this group, you might want to give it a miss.

4aulsmith
feb. 10, 2014, 2:56 pm

2: Thanks!

My second question is, even if you're up for another book about an abusive religious group, is this one you want to spend time on?

From my point-of-view as a connoisseur of this type of book, this one ranks pretty low on my list.

On the good side, it has endnotes and a bibliography, but these only make it clear how little the author has read about new religious movements (NRMs) in general and abusive NRMs in particular. He's still stuck in the early 70s discussing "cults" and "brainwashing." He pays some lip service to more current thought about the subject, but it looks like he never got further than the 90s. He did have extensive discussions with Robert Jay Lifton author of The Nazi Doctors among many others. Lifton's good and has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the mental phenomenon which include what we used to call brain washing, but he's not part of the NRM studies people and he did not make it clear to Mr. Wright that the use of ill-defined pergorative terms like brain-washing and cult, while useful in journalistic sense do not contribute to our understanding of how groups go off track, as Scientology most assuredly has.

Second, Wright depended a lot on secondary sources for his history of Hubbard. While I didn't find anything actually wrong, he certainly colored some incidents in Heinlein's interactions with Hubbard. Wright says Hubbard had an affair with Leslyn Heinlein (Heinlein's first or second wife depending on how you count). Heinlein and Leslyn had an open marriage, so really "affair" isn't the correct term. I suspect he has been equally sloppy in references to the Ordo Templis Orientis, though I'm not as familiar with the details there.

Third, he completely misses the similarities between Dianetics and the Positive Thought Movement and so doesn't look at all into where that entered Hubbard's thinking. See Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided for a good rundown on Positive Thought.

It is a good tale of abuse, trauma and escape, as well as making Tom Cruise look even worse than he did already. It bounces around a lot between the people involved. Some of them get sort of lost in the details. Still, it's clear what Scientology is doing and how it goes about doing it. I got caught up in one of the individual's stories, so I plugged through the whole thing. The Epilogue, about their problems with doing fact-checking with the Church are interesting.

I'd be glad to hear what others think.

5banjo123
feb. 10, 2014, 4:21 pm

>3 aulsmith: You make a good point, but I do think that the book hits the topic areas.
Truly, Scientology is not science, but the fact that it comes wrapped up in science-like phrases, and raises questions of how science and religion can be intertwined.
As far as history goes, the history of Scientology is also the history of the last part of to 20th century. It was interesting to me thinking about how Scientology appealed in the 70's and 80's-- whereas now it is very much in decline.
The discussion of religion, and why people are attracted to certain religions, was the strongest part of the book, for me. I liked the chance to think about the differences between religions like Scientology and more main-stream religions. There is nothing really, that Scientologists do, that is fundamentally different from things done by other, more mainstream, religions in their early days.

I was also interested in the "Prison of Belief' discussion, which showed that once we accept a certain set of beliefs, it becomes harder to see ways in which our religions are, quite frankly, crazy and abusive. That made me wonder if I have beliefs that are equally crazy, but which I can't see objectively.

>4 aulsmith: I liked this book a good deal more than you did, obviously. The celebrity gossip WAS fun to read.

6aulsmith
feb. 10, 2014, 6:35 pm

There's a lot about how people change when their choices are narrowed in Lifton's work. I only read The Nazi Doctors but I found it very enlightening on the subject.

We're all imprisoned in a system of belief. That's what culture is. Our minds are designed to take what is at best loosely organized and often chaotic, and see patterns in it. Once we have certain patterns of thinking we tend to build on those rather than form new ones. What is best in life is to be free to change those patterns when they don't work for us. People who don't let us do that or cut off their affection for us if we change are not good for us.

7streamsong
Editat: feb. 12, 2014, 10:35 am

I hadn't really planned to read this one, since I'm not very interested in cults and I have so much I **do** want to read and to get off Planet TBR this year.

However, after Banjo's remarks, I read the first chapter or so over on Amazon and found it rather interesting. Unlike Auslmith, I have no background at all in this and have never read anything on the subject of cults. I think I'll make this my next audiobook - it'll be a while since my current audiobook, (Five Days at Memorial), is a bit longish and I use audiobooks in my car as my commuting to work books -about an hour a day.

As for the book belonging here--I think with 8 books a year we have a place for popular as well as scholarly treatments. Books only need to hit one of three possibilities (science, religion, history) and be voted in to have a place. Naturally, the books that hit 2 or 3 of the possibilities may generate more interest.

8qebo
feb. 12, 2014, 11:02 am

3: So my first question is whether this book is a good one for the Science, Religion and History group.

I wouldn’t’ve expected Going Clear to hit the “science” point. It was nominated, a bunch of people voted for it, and it added “religion” to a month that already had “science & history”. This one, from your description, does hit the “history” point, if only relatively recent history, and the cult / brainwashing / deprogramming era raised questions about what religion is. So I think it's perfectly appropriate. I’m interested enough to read the book, but I’m maxed out for February.

9klobrien2
feb. 12, 2014, 7:00 pm

I've just dipped into Going Clear and it's piqued my interest, so I will continue. And, I agree, it's a fit for this group based on the criteria of "history" and "religion," probably not so much "science."

Karen O.

10aulsmith
feb. 15, 2014, 11:41 am

7: Five Days at Memorial was great! Enjoy.

11JDHomrighausen
març 4, 2014, 12:55 am

In the middle of the audiobook. Streamsong, the narration is good -- you will enjoy it.

So far I am getting two sets of emotions from this book. This book is making me madder than ever at L. Ron. Wright makes it pretty clear that they guy was a brilliant con man. I might add psychopath or severe narcissist. I am amazed and appalled at Hubbard's ability to lie and manipulate everyone around him. It's telling that two of his wives and several of his children were completely estranged from him.

But I do feel Wright is very sympathetic towards those who join Scientology. Many of them are simply truth-seekers trying to find something that works. Even today there are "independent Scientologist" groups who seek to use Dianetics while eschewing the personality cult of Hubbard and the unhealthy organizational workings of the Church. I definitely feel like I have a better understanding of what drives one to be a Scientologist.

So: this book is making me both more sympathetic and more angry.

12klobrien2
març 4, 2014, 6:45 pm

<11: I find myself in agreement with everything you write! I am amazed at the background behind the cult and its founding. I'm only about a fifth of the way through the book, but I've already been doing quite a bit of head shaking and eye-rolling.

Since I've been reading the book, I notice bits in the news about who is/was in the church/has left the church. The latest news I saw was about Leah Remini, who says she's left the church because it demanded too much of her time, time that she would rather spend on her family. The church has responded that Remini is "self-absorbed." Heh.

Karen O.

13streamsong
març 8, 2014, 10:48 am

Yay! The audiobook has finally arrived for me in the library.

In the meantime, I've been listening to Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. As it also discusses the dynamics of belief I'm thinking there will be some overlap at least in those areas.

14streamsong
març 25, 2014, 9:04 am

I'm about half way through the audio. Wow-- 17.5 hours. I can't decided if I'm interested enough to continue with the second half of this, although for right now I'll keep going. I've just started with the Hollywood stuff, and since I'm not star struck, this section means less to me than some.

Basically, the rich get richer and the strange get stranger.

It is. however, challenging my idea of what a religion is.

First paragraph from Wikipedia:
"A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. From their beliefs about the cosmos and human nature, people derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle."

So it fits into the Wikipedia definition, which is why it gets its religious (tax exempt) designation in the US.

But the heart of it is missing.

Ethical system from the above definintion are definitely missing and is any desire to help others.

From the Wikipedia article on Scientology in the United Kingdom: "Church's application for charity status in England and Wales was rejected in 1999, on the grounds that there is no "public benefit arising out of the practice of Scientology" ." And yet that article outlines how it's making inroads into being called a religion in the UK.

I have no religious scholarly training. I'd appreciate some help finding the religion in scientology.

15aulsmith
març 25, 2014, 9:32 am

Ethical systems and "a desire to help others" are not a required part of a religion. You'll notice that the list at the end of the Wikipedia definition is linked by an "or" not an "and". So Scientology gives its adherents a preferred lifestyle and a cohesive community of people who share a desire for that lifestyle.

Some anthropologist still insist that a religion must have a supernatural component (see Boyer's Religion Explained), but that leaves groups that function like religions but have little to do with the supernatural, including Scientology, outside religious studies, although the behavior of their adherents is clearly similar to the behavior of people who believe in the supernatural. That's why I prefer a broader definition. Scientologists clearly believe that the process Hubbard developed can improve their lives and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve their goals. At base that isn't any different from people who believe that following the teachings of Jesus or Buddha or whoever will make their lives better. There may be other reasons for following those teachings as well, but that doesn't negate the similarity.

The difference in the tax exemptions between the US and the UK is a difference in our legal systems. The US government does not tax religions because it is seen as an interference of the government in religious life. In the UK there is an established church. They give tax exemptions to other religions because they do charitable works, not because they are religions.

I thought the second half of the book dragged. I read it just to find out what happened to some of the people. How are you doing with Under the Banner of Heaven. I found that a very good book.

16JDHomrighausen
Editat: març 26, 2014, 3:21 pm

> 14, 15

We in the comparative religion guild have this debate over and over: what is a religion? While the IRS has to make hard boundaries, we do not. I tend to take a fuzzy borders definition of the term; if we exclude anything without a supernatural component, we leave out certain forms of Buddhism, whereas if we include everything, then we have Deadheads and Beliebers as a religious movement. As scholars rather than tax collectors we have the freedom to say, "{Worldview or community} may or may not be a religion, but it has similar traits to one and as such we can study it using some of the same lenses and techniques as we would Buddhism or Judaism."

Scientology does have an ethical system, if by ethics we mean "a system of rules or principles to guide one's life by." Just because it's one we find unpalatable doesn't mean it isn't there. Authoritarian ethics are still ethics. I like how Wright brings out how certain Scientology teachings and practices are beneficial for followers, as pseudoscientific as they are.

As for the book as a whole, for me the most interesting parts were the intellectual and spiritual background of Scientology (lots of Theosophical influence) and the concluding ruminations on the promise and peril of a new religion. Creating a new set of religious practices and symbols allows for the joy of creativity, but the symbols do not carry the same weight of centuries that venerated crosses and Buddha statues do in their cultures.

17qebo
març 26, 2014, 4:45 pm

> 14, 15, 16 My father, who is a retired professor of comparative religions, would say that some forms of atheism satisfy some definitions of religion...

18banjo123
març 27, 2014, 12:17 am

>14 streamsong: Aulsmith: Thanks for the clarification about tax status. It actually drives me crazy that religious organizations are tax-free here in the states, but having a state religion would be even more irritating. For what it's worth, Wright didn't think Scientology should be exempt.

Scientology is on the decline now, so that's for the good IMO.

19klobrien2
Editat: abr. 1, 2014, 11:36 am

Well, I finished Going Clear last night. April fools!

Actually, I'm making good progress through the book, but I still have a way to go. It's an intriguing read, but it leaves me shaking my head and quite queasy at times.

But I'll be finishing up, probably in a week or so. I'm so glad that those in the Science, Religion, and History group picked this book to read.

Karen O.

p.s. here is a link to a newspaper article from a few years back, when the "largest Scientology church in the Midwest" was established in downtown St. Paul (I live in a suburb of St. Paul).

http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_19185470

20banjo123
abr. 4, 2014, 8:46 pm

In case anyone is interested here is a podcast of Wright's lecture in Portland. I thought he did a good job summarizing the book and was easy to listen to.

21klobrien2
abr. 26, 2014, 11:38 pm

I'm quite late with my reading, but I finished today. I spent a great part of the read shaking my head in disbelief in the absurdity and the cruelty that was detailed here. I plan to do more reading thanks to the great bibliography. I think I'll also look into Wright's other books--I liked his style.

Karen O.

22banjo123
Editat: abr. 27, 2014, 7:28 pm

>21 klobrien2: I am also planning to read more by Wright. I think that The Looming Tower sounds super interesting.

By the way, I enjoyed hearing Wright speak. There is a pod cast of Wright's talk at the Portland Arts and Lecture series here

23streamsong
abr. 28, 2014, 9:29 am

Thanks, Banjo. I enjoyed the podcast.

I'm sorry I didn't get back to discuss more of this topic.

To me, what makes scientology different is their huge wealth and their ability to sue into oblivion any negative voices. After finishing the book, I googled 'Lawrence Wright scientology lawsuits' and found that threatened lawsuits have stopped this book's publication in Canada and Great Britain; in addition there are threats of lawsuits here in the US. Looking at Scientology's history suing Time-Warner and the US IRS, as well as various individuals, these threats have to be taken seriously as they take hugely deep pockets to defend.

I guess my take away is that scientology not only controls the thoughts of their members, they want to control thought of those outside their church, too. Scary stuff.