Reviews of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright; The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology by John Sweeney; Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013. 432 pp. $28.95, ISBN 978-0-307-70066-7
Silvertail Books, London. 2013. 336 pp. $28.95 ISBN 978-1-909269-07-1
William Morrow, New York. 2013, 404 pp. $27.99. ISBN 978-0-06-224847-3
TIMES ARE TOUGH FOR THE CHURCH OF Scientology. Since SKEPTIC'S Scientology cover issue went to press near the end of 2011, the Church of Scientology has faced increasing media attention on revelations from high-ranking defectors as well as internal criticism over its strategy of continual fundraising to build "Ideal Orgs" (or, as some wags have dubbed them, "Idle Morgues"). The latter spilled over into public view as the result of an email sent to thousands of Scientologists on December 31, 2011 which argued that this fundraising violates L. Ron Hubbard's policies, citing and quoting chapter and verse. The sender was (at the time) a Scientologist in good standing who was well known to members of the Church --Debbie Cook, former Flag Service Organization captain known as the "face of the Sea Org" for her appearances in Sea Org recruiting videos. The Church of Scientology sued her in January, but was embarrassed by her testimony in an open court hearing in February about the abuses she witnessed at Scientology's "Int Base," where executives were kept in prison-like conditions in a pair of double wide trailers known as "The Hole." The case was quickly settled in April, and Cook moved to the Caribbean and then to Mexico.
Now 2013 is shaping up to be even worse for the Church. In just the first six weeks of the year three major critical books have been published and an hour-long critical documentary aired on cable television. On January 7, BBC journalist John Sweeney's The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology, was published. On January 16, a documentary of Nancy Many's My Billion-Year Contract, about her time in the Sea Org including her time in Scientology's dirty tricks organization--the Guardian Office--aired on the new Investigation Discovery channel. January 17 saw the publication of Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief, a book that grew out of his February 14, 2011 New Yorker story, "The Apostate,' a profile of Oscar-winning film director Paul Haggis's noisy departure from Scientology. And last but not least, a memoir from the niece of the head of the Church of Scientology, Jenna Miscavige Hill's Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, was published on February 5, 2013.
Timed to distract from the Many documentary and the Wright book, the Church of Scientology paid $50,000 for an "advertorial" on the website of The Atlantic magazine on January 15. The piece, titled "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year;' argued that Scientology is growing like never before, citing the opening of numerous "Ideal Orgs." The Atlantic's "sponsored content" prompted such a backlash that the article was pulled from the website before the day was over. On February 3, perhaps in an attempt to garner some distracting publicity from Jenna Miscavige Hill's book, Scientology purchased television advertising in several local markets during the Super Bowl's half time to air an advertisement, titled "Knowledge" which it had already released on YouTube on December 18.
Each of these books recounts a different slice of life experience with Scientology. Sweeney's book reports the experience of a critical journalist as Scientology's power to intimidate is beginning to decline, Hill's book is about growing up as a third-generation Scientologist and family relation of the head of the Church, and Wright's book focuses on Scientology as seen by its senior executive clergy and celebrities. …