From Yahoo News and Reuters. Janet Reitman has written a book on the mysterious and somewhat frightening Scientology cult titled Inside Scientology. They really don’t like negative publicity so I imagine that researching this book must have been at least a little dangerous. Of course I don’t think they still break into offices but you never know. L. Ron Hubbard’s paramilitary organization SeaOrg is still in business.
Judging from this interview though, I am not sure that Ms. Reitman has revealed anything particularly new or surprising to those who already know about this cult. We already knew they were more of a business than an actual religion, that they attract not too bright celebrities to improve their public image, etc. Here are some excerpts
A: Is Scientology still a big religion in celebrity circles?
Reitman: I totally think that celebrity Scientologists are hesitant to be public about it these days, but I don’t think they’ve ever had as many celebrities as people think. There are really very few. Cruise is a big celebrity. Travolta is a long-time celebrity. Jenna Elfman had a TV show, but most of these people aren’t huge celebrities. Kabbalah has gotten the superstars. Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Madonna — those are big stars.
Q: How effective has Cruise been as the public face of Scientology?
A: I don’t believe he’s been an effective face in terms of getting new members, but he’s been very effective in terms of getting the existing members excited. There was a specific strategy in place to make Cruise into the model Scientologist. It was a promotional strategy and it’s been good and bad.
Existing members are not necessarily aware of how the church is perceived. They are told they should not read newspapers, they would not have watched the “South Park” episode that makes fun of them, and they would not have read the magazine article that became the basis for my book. So from their viewpoint, Cruise’s behavior would be perceived completely differently than what we see. It would have made them really excited to see him jumping on Oprah’s couch.
Q: Why do you think Scientology remains so controversial?
A: I think it has to do with its history of secrecy and also its history of litigiousness. I do think that’s changed slightly. In so many ways it tries to not be so secretive anymore. It tries to be less aggressive than it was in the past. You don’t see them filing those giant lawsuits any longer. I think it’s a residual effect. They pled guilt to conspiracy once. They conducted a domestic espionage operation. And you have all these people who left the church coming out about their experience.
Q: What shocked you the most about Scientology?
A: I didn’t expect to find out how much of a business they were. They are almost like a multi-level marketing firm. They have a very shrewd marketing sense. They are drilled on how to sell. They use a book written by a car salesman that talks about sure-fire sales techniques and it shows you how to close the deal. It’s an essential part of their training.
I think that L. Ron Hubbard’s death might have caused them to mellow a little, along with the very negative publicity when the details of more of their more unsavory and illegal actions came out.
I am not sure I will get around to reading this book. I already know enough about Scientology. On the other hand, if I discover hundreds of one star reviews on Amazon.com that were obviously written by the kool-aide drinkers, I might just buy it out of spite.
- Book Review: Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman (blogcritics.org)
- Q&A: ‘Inside Scientology’ Author Details Church’s Decline (time.com)
- Scientology book author reveals church’s inner workings (thegreatone22.wordpress.com)