Janet Reitman’s ‘Inside Scientology’ is well-researched and compelling


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Many religions are built around spreading their gospels, on sharing the good word and telling their stories. Not so with Scientology, the religion founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, which has kept its core beliefs under wraps except for the core few who reach a state worthy of enlightenment.

Janet Reitman, who wrote about the Church of Scientology for Rolling Stone, expanded that piece for the book ‘Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion,’ out now. Kim Christensen writes that the book, which tells the story of Hubbard and his successor, David Miscavige, is ‘a well-researched and compelling read.’ Our review continues:


Intertwined with the church’s history is that of Miscavige, who spent his teenage years as one of Hubbard’s cadre of young aides. He was 25 when he assumed control in 1986, when ‘LRH’ died as a paranoid recluse on a ranch in Creston, Calif., under investigation by the IRS. Miscavige went on to be instrumental in ending ‘the war’ with the IRS and securing the tax-exempt status that deemed Scientology a church, a financial boon. Sometimes called ‘the pope of Scientology,’ Miscavige in the book lives up to previous reports depicting him as a small but intimidating leader, an occasionally unhinged little tyrant alleged to have frequently whomped his top execs....

Some of the material comes from previously published reports, including a 1990 L.A. Times series and a 2009 series in the St. Petersburgh Times, which Reitman credits. She also includes new research; Scientology watchers may be interested to see the results of her new research, Christensen writes, singling out the details on the death of Lisa McPherson, a ‘clear’ church member who died in the church’s care after suffering a breakdown. Christensen continues:

It would be easy to deride or dismiss many of Scientology’s more eccentric elements, such as the long-held secret story of Xenu, the evil tyrant leader of the ‘Galactic Confederation.’ Only after reaching an advanced level are Scientologists taught that he killed his enemies with hydrogen bombs 75 million years ago and then captured their souls, or thetans, and electronically implanted them with false concepts. These altered thetans later glommed on to human bodies, the story goes, causing spiritual harm and havoc for mankind. Even Tom Cruise, the most famous Scientologist, ‘freaked out’ and was like, ‘What the …?’’’ when he learned of it, according to one former member. But in a nice touch of fair play, another ex-member reminds readers that more mainstream religions also have stories that require a long leap of faith. Water into wine? Raising the dead? How plausible are those?

Although the stories of Xenu have been a closely guarded secret, Scientology does spread some of its lessons far and wide. L. Ron Hubbard’s book ‘Dianetics’ has been a longtime bestseller.

-- Carolyn Kellogg