The A-Listers' Belief System: Why Was There a Scientology Tent on the Set of War of the Worlds? Boyd Farrow Explains How This Cult Religion, Whose Followers Believe That People Are Immortal Spiritual Beings, Is Gaining Ground Thanks to Support from Hollywood's Biggest Stars
Farrow, Boyd, New Statesman (1996)
The summer blockbuster season has been dominated by an evil galactic ruler who, 75 million years ago, blew up 178 billion abducted alien souls with hydrogen bombs planted in earth's volcanoes and bundled them into clusters that now cling to every human being, wreaking havoc with our bodies and minds.
This is not the plot of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. It is central to the philosophy of the Church of Scientology, a sect created in Los Angeles in 1953 by the sci-fi writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.
"Scientology," say its spokespeople, "is a religion which addresses people as immortal spiritual beings." A more cynical viewpoint is that of Time magazine, which on 6 May 1991 ran "Scientology: the cult of greed" as a cover story, calling it a ruthless global scam that ruins lives and destroys fortunes. A libel suit against Time was dismissed, and the ruling was upheld by a United States federal appeal panel.
Over the past few weeks, Scientology's profile has been raised significantly by its most famous advocate--and the world's biggest movie star--Tom Cruise. In the week the actor "went wide" (to use film-biz parlance) with his cheerleading for the sect, Google listed "Scientology" as its tenth-fastest-gaining query.
Since being recruited in the mid-1980s by Philip J Spickler, one of Hubbard's original disciples and the father of Cruise's first wife, Mimi Rogers (Spickler and Rogers have since left Scientology), Cruise had not been evangelical about his beliefs. He almost never discussed his membership publicly. Nicole Kidman, his second wife, was not a follower. Moreover, since 1991, Cruise has made three films for Warner Brothers and two for New Line Cinema, both Time stablemates within the Time Warner empire.
However, Cruise's sudden zeal for all things Hubbard overshadowed the publicity campaign for War of the Worlds, his latest blockbuster for Paramount. This was partly a consequence of Cruise appointing a new publicist--his sister and fellow Scientologist Lee Anne de Vette. To the bemusement of the US media, Cruise set up a Scientology tent on the film set, with "volunteer Scientology ministers". He also insisted that Paramount executives tour the sect's "celebrity centre" in Hollywood, allegedly spent six hours taking a reporter around three of the Church's facilities, blasted other stars for using antidepressants, and aggressively rubbished all forms of psychiatry and psychology. Few were surprised when Cruise's latest fiancee, Katie Holmes, announced that she'd begun taking Scientology courses. A senior Scientology wrangler has joined her entourage.
Some observers of the sect attribute Cruise's sudden outspokenness to his attainment of one of the most advanced grades along the "Bridge to Total Freedom", invented by Hubbard. Scientologists become "clear" (after it has been proved to them that their personal flaws result from trauma built up over trillions of years of reincarnation) by taking multiple courses, and through "auditing" via an "E-Meter", a Scientology brain-monitoring gadget. Church members past and present say reaching the highest levels usually takes between ten and 30 years. Conservative estimates for the cost of this are roughly $30,000, but some people claim to have spent $250,000 on the "journey".
Clearly, this is small change if you are Cruise or another of the big names affiliated with Scientology: John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston; Kirstie Alley; Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson); or, in the music world, Beck and Lisa Marie Presley. However, investing in celebrities is crucial to the Church, which, observers estimate, makes $300m a year from sales of Hubbard's books and from fixed-price "donations" by followers attending "enlightenment courses". The organisation, which is based in Clearwater, Florida, owns assets worldwide worth an estimated $2bn, including Freewinds, the ship that houses its upper management and treats the Caribbean island of Curacao as its home port. …