And Scientology is a religion, Wright argues. Almost any pathological characteristic you can find in Scientology has a counterpart in some major world religion, current or historical. Though some Scientology critics will surely be offended by Wright’s constant use of the word “church,” the term seems apt. History shows that there’s nothing intrinsically benign about churches or religions. Scientology holds no monopoly on corruption, or secrecy, or avarice.
But as far as I can tell, Scientology is the first religion to make litigation a sacrament. Hubbard wrote that lawsuits were important tools for bankrupting and demoralizing enemies of the church. He taught that critics were “fair game,” meaning that the faithful had a spiritual duty to ruin them by any means necessary. Though Hubbard eventually retired the term “fair game,” the underlying policy never changed.
When Paulette Cooper revealed Hubbard’s bogus educational credentials and the church’s vindictive treatment of defectors in her 1971 book The Scandal of Scientology, Cooper reported that her phones were tapped; a delivery man attempted to shoot and strangle her cousin, likely mistaking her for the author; Scientology officials accused her of sending a bomb threat to the church. Cooper was indicted on that trumped-up charge.
And when Richard Behar of Time called Scientology a “cult of greed,” he said that the church sent private investigators to illegally obtain his phone and credit records, and sued him all the way to the US Supreme Court. Scientology lost, but not before costing Time more in defense costs than any other case in the magazine’s history up to that point.
Scientology has issued an official rebuttal to Going Clear, which claims to document some 200 errors in the book. No perceived oversight is too small to merit comment. Scientology excoriates Wright for mischaracterizing the volcanic island of Madeira as an atoll. Atolls are ring-shaped and made of coral, volcanic islands are made of rock. Point: Scientology.
With its rebuttal, Scientology seems to be laying groundwork to argue that Wright did not follow standard journalistic practices in his investigation. (As the church writes: “These represent errors, some large and others small, but all of them a result of reporting methods that lacked factual accuracy, avoided the Church and relied on individuals who display their disdain for their former religion and could hardly be qualified as reliable or ‘expert.’”)
But what’s amazing is how much of Wright’s account goes unchallenged in Scientology’s rebuttal. Wright quotes a handwritten memoir of Hubbard’s from the late 1940s in which Hubbard confesses to being a chronic liar, a malingerer, a military shirker, and a conflicted masturbator. Wright explains that when the document first came to light in 1984, the church’s lawyers initially acknowledged Hubbard’s authorship but claimed the document shouldn’t be taken seriously because it was just a form of “self-therapy.” Later on, Wright says, the church claimed without evidence that the document was a forgery. This time, church leaders just let it pass without comment.
The author weaves the normally hidden fact-checking process into the action of the book, dramatizing a showdown between The New Yorker’s factchecking team and senior Scientology officials. Hubbard claimed that he used Dianetics to heal himself of wounds he suffered in combat during World War II. In the factchecking meeting, a Scientology official named Tommy Davis vehemently defends the story, saying that if Hubbard was never wounded and never healed himself, then Dianetics—and thus all of Scientology—would be based on a lie. Wright presents overwhelming evidence that Hubbard was neither wounded in battle nor healed of blindness after the war; he argues convincingly that the documents Scientology cites to “prove” Hubbard’s war wounds are clumsy forgeries. Point: Wright.