Lawrence Wright on Scientology's "broken community," and the complicity of Tom Cruise and John Travolta - 2015-03-11
Needless to say, the Church of Scientology and its secretive leader, David Miscavige, will not be overjoyed by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney's explosive new documentary "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief." But the film's depiction of the celebrity-centric self-help sect as a micro-Stalinist police state — dogmatic, autocratic and plagued with internal violence and abuse – is only part of the problem. What may be even worse, from the church's point of view, is that Gibney and his collaborator and central interviewee Lawrence Wright (who wrote the exhaustively researched nonfiction book on which the film is based) depict Scientology as declining and beset by crisis, for all its real estate wealth and reflected Hollywood glamour.
Miscavige and his minions remain well insulated by their millions, but Wright believes the church is now down to a few thousand active members. In terms of pure numbers, there are far fewer Scientologists in America than there are Sikhs or Wiccans or Rastafarians. (Scientology may be on a numerical par with Zoroastrianism, an ancient faith that is likely to die out in another generation or two.) Furthermore, Scientology's celebrity glitter, which drove the church's growth in the '80s and '90s, has faded considerably. Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology's biggest Hollywood names, are now over 50; there are certainly younger professional actors in the church, including Elisabeth Moss and Michael Peña, but they are nowhere near as prominent or as outspoken. (Will Smith has consistently denied being a Scientologist, although he's good friends with Cruise and appears to have been influenced by Scientology doctrines.)