On Sunday 29 March 2015 the US TV channel HBO broadcast the two-hour documentary about the Church of Scientology called Going Clear. Immediately two sides of the world erupted.
Interviews and revelations
The one was voices from those who regard Scientology as a money-grabbing, mind-bending cult, the other from those within the cult's echelons.
Going Clear is based on Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.
It essentially features interviews and revelations from eight former members of Scientology, and also features the founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard’s ex-wife Sarah Northrup who was shunned by the Church in later life.
The documentary (view below) features rare archival footage, including of the founder himself. It details how the organisation works and how devotees proceed up the ‘bridge to total freedom’ and live to their full abilities as Operating Thetans – pure spirits.
Many of the ex-members interviewed speak of their convictions that high-profile members such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise absolutely cannot be oblivious to the worst accusations of abuse against the organisation.
Judging from writings of those who have escaped the cult, and there are many testimonies on the Internet, the abuses range from psychological to physical and economical.
A New York Times article details how defectors say they were beaten by the church’s chairman, David Miscavige, pressured to have abortions, forced to work without sleep on little pay and held incommunicado if they wanted to leave.
One of the biggest Hollywood stars
In an article for the Daily Mail, Piers Morgan describes the documentary as “an astonishing, terrifying film; one which finally nailed many of the unpalatable truths about this deeply secretive and deeply unpleasant organization.”
The documentary, which debut earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, may not have had as much of an impact on the some 1.7 million HBO viewers if it didn’t target one of the biggest Hollywood stars of our time: Tom Cruise.
The producers, who had some 160 lawyers scrutinise the film before it was deemed fit to broadcast, devote some of the airtime pointing out how the Church manipulated the women in his life, including actress Nicole Kidman.
It shows how Cruise allowed the Church to turn his children against their mother because she was regarded as an ‘SP’, or Suppressive Person in Scientology speak.
Another sore point touched on is the Church’s tax-exempt status because of it’s classification as a non-profit.
On Monday 31 March 2015 (a day after the HBO airing) the actress Mia Farrow shared a petition to revoke its tax-exempt status with her 640 000 followers:
She wrote: “#Scientology is a thuggish, dangerous, cruel cult. Sign petition to revoke their tax exempt status https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/revoke-scientologys-tax-exempt-status … #GoingClear,”
Amid rumours that those who spoke out have received death threats from the Church, they themselves have not wasted a moment to hit back, calling the film "desperate, ludicrous and made-up".
Paid promotional tweets
The US-based news website Hollywood Reporter states that, after reporting extensively on the documentary, they received a five-page letter from the Church in which they discredit director Alex Gibney’s sources, but without actually commenting on the major revelations in the film. You can read the letter here.
Scientologists also reportedly took out full-page advertisements against the film in the New York Times and other papers, and took the battle online using paid promotional tweets and targeted Google ads. The effect, however, has been to more widely publicise the documentary.
Health24's CyberShrink, Professor Michael Simpson, has this to say about Scientology:
"There isn't one single shred of respectable reliable and convincing scientific evidence that anything to do with Scientology and Dianetics is of any value whatever (except to the organization itself). And somehow I don't consider the approval of Tom Cruise and other notable celebrity followers to be very convincing."
Watch: Going Clear Scientology and the Prison of Belief 2015, Source: Youtube (may not be available for viewing in the US)