Sunday, July 10, 2022

Book Report Going Clear


        Going Clear by Lawrence Wright provides an in-depth understanding of the origins and transformation of Scientology from a self improvement story in the 1950s to a multi+billion dollar cult in the 2000s. The beginning of the book explains the psychotic life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, an excellent science fiction writer and an even better liar.  These traits aligned perfectly when Hubbard's fantasy fiction book, deceivingly titled Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health was published and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Substantial income and popularity derived from the success of Dianetics gave Hubbard a respectable platform he would use to disguise his nefarious plan. Wright delves into how Hubbard capitalized on the opportunity; using psychoanalysis ideas from Sigmund Frued in combination  with a cheap contraption to conduct what he called “auditing”.  Auditing in Scientology is essentially a form of self-help therapy, jazzed up to avoid the stigma around mental health in the 50s.  Through interviews of former Scientologists  transcribed in Going Clear. Wright exposes  how  meticulous records were kept of each auditing session. Church members were told the sessions were confidential, however,  personal information obtained through auditing was frequently held as collateral to keep members in line.  The auditing sessions would progress from self help therapy to manipulative brainwashing once the individual fully trusted the church. Members' faith was measured in dollars, as each session would become increasingly expensive.   Once Hubbard had built a pious following he fabricated rules to construct member`s rights and squeeze all the money he could manage out of them.  At this point, the bok pivots from how the Church of Scientology works to how it impacted people in or around it, and how psychological manipulation kept members coming and paying.

        After discussing the fundamental principles of Scientology, Going Clear explores how this seemingly strange practice evolved into a well-known multi-billion dollar cult. During  the power vacuum that followed L Ron Hubbard's death in 1986, lifelong Scientologist David Miscavige seized control of the church. Miscavige swiftly dissolved all church authority structures and assumed complete control. In a daring act of defiance, he fought the IRS for official "religious group" status, and the IRS eventually capitulated. Thereafter,  the Church expanded rapidly. As a religious organization, the church was now exempt from paying taxes, could justify slave labor as a religious ritual, and members could deduct contributions from their taxes. Miscavige ordered more auditing, which increased the church's revenue and maintained the brainwashing effect on its members.  Wright again includes a plethora of interviews, and shared personal experiences of the happenings inside the Church at this point. The rest of Going Clear examines how the Church of Scientology invoked it`s wealth and manpower to keep celebrities roped into the organization. Wright also includes information about the abuses that existed in the Church hierarchy, and how the ensuing lawsuits played out. Finally Wright discusses how damaging it has been for the people who have left the Church, by sharing eye opening personal experiences from former Scientologists.  In all I thought the book tended to be long winded, but overall a pretty quick and interesting read, definitely worth my time.  I am glad I picked this book and would recommend it to anyone taking this course as the topics and themes are very applicable to the course material, making there plenty to write about.

Favorite Part

        I found the most interesting section of Going Clear to be Lawrence Wright`s interviews with former Scientology members about their transformation after joining the Church.  I was curious how people go in with good intentions, and emerge spewing nonsensical pseudoscience adapted from the Church.  To describe this, I must first explain that during auditing sessions, members are asked specifically ambiguous questions that target sensitive memories. Auditors guide a  dissection of memories moment by moment. to the point where a member can pinpoint the root of associated negative emotions.  After self searching and reframing, negative emotions tied to memories are dispelled, and the church member is deemed “clear” to advance to the next level of Scientology; hence the book's title.  Going fully clear can take months, with many auditing sessions. The initial reflective aspect of auditing sessions forced individuals to confront their problems, which instilled confidence in the Church among new members.  Unknown to the new Scientology member, however, the auditor is trained to twist and bend these memories and restructure their thinking to match that of the Church. In the following paragraphs I will discuss how my favorite part of the book is relevant to class material, as well as how topics from the course apply to the book generally.


Favorite Part Related

        The manipulative auditing process I previously described can be explained by a few concepts we studied in class. To begin, research shows that memory recall is a constructive process, where the brain pulls information from a plethora of sources to recreate a specific moment or sequence of events..  To educate myself further on this topic I read an informative research publication from David Rubin.  Dr. David Rubin is a professor of psychology at Duke University, who is widely recognized for his research publications on long-term biographical memory. While at Cambridge University, Dr. Rubin wrote in Psychological Science, Vol. 7, NO. 3 that the process of memory recall “combines actual memories with content of suggestions from others''(pg. 127).  The brain frequently forgets which aspects of a memory recall are factual or fictional; expounded by Rubin as “a classic example of source confusion, in which the content and the source become dissociated”(pg 128).  In the case of Scientology, members regularly received outside input from auditors during sessions, which over time restructured individual`s most integral memories to reflect the views of the Church. Furthermore, newly enthused Scientologists had no idea their minds were being meddled with. In fact, the lecture 7 powerpoint slide 17 informed me that “the majority of the time there is little or no correlation between recall accuracy and confidence in the velocity of recalled events”.  Wright includes comments from Paul Haggis, a former Scientologist, about the auditor`s deceptive intentions. Haggins says his final exercise before becoming an auditor himself was to “Go out to a park, train station or other busy area. Practice placing an intention on individuals until you can successfully and easily place an intention into or on a Being and/or a body” (Wright 237). Between the book itself, our course material, and some of my own research I was able to gain an understanding of how mostly normal people subconsciously and unbeknownst became enthusiastic cult members.  Going Clear ties in nicely with the learning styles and false memories chapter of the course, and I was able to derive a greater appreciation for this material after seeing it applied to the real world.  

Other Related Topics

        On a similar wavelength as creating false memories, Hubbard also believed in past life regressions, and encouraged his followers to explore their own.   In fact, the FAQ page on Scientology`s official website says  “Past lives is not a dogma in Scientology, but generally Scientologists, during their auditing, experience a past life and then know for themselves that they have lived before”.  These past lives are just false memories, created by auditors who use specifically ambiguous terminology to lead members to false conclusions.  Past lives that are often found during out of body experiences, yet another pseudoscience ideology embraced by the Church.  Out of body experiences, referred to as exteriorization, happens when individuals “unsurpress” their minds and use their brain's full potential.  Scientology teaches that human minds are suppressed by society, however, through the training provided by the Church individuals can increase spiritual awareness.   If anyone casts doubt on Scientology`s legitimacy, the individual is labeled as a “suppressive person” and church members must cut off communication with them to avoid being tainted by society. For this reason among others, Scientologists usually associate themselves with other Scientologists This breeds a strong confirmation bias,as any skepticism is erased by constant affirmation of falsehoods by family or friends.  To top it all off, once people are completely entrenched in the culture of the Church, they are told a highly guarded secret: the world is ending, and only the work of the Church could save them from eternal doom.  It seemed like the Church of Scientology employed a pseudoscience mechanism from every lecture of the class.



        To tie everything together, Going Clear was a great read with a ton of relevant applications of course content. Having the lecture slides handy while reading as well as doing some research myself helped me learn the course concepts and content better; all while developing an appreciation for the book. Below I have included some videos and websites that relate to the book or Scientology that I found interesting for my creative extension part of this report. 

Extension and Creative Links

Want to learn a little about Scientology without reading 449 pages like I did? Check out this 2 hour HBO adapted film. The book does a significantly more thorough job explaining everything but this is a quick to the point overview.

This is the Scientology FAQ page, it's pretty entertaining

The article i referenced can be found in the following book available online:

Psychological Science, Vol. 7, NO. 3, pages 12S-128; May 1996.




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