One of Hubbard’s innovations was a system of penance called the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), in which members who need religious remediation are allegedly consigned to live like medieval ascetics, without contact with the outside world, forced into labor and fed the most meager of meals. Custom furnishings for Cruise’s airplane hangar — “a dry bar, table and chairs” — were milled at an RPF base in Los Angeles, according to Wright.
That Cruise does not get more than a passing mention until halfway through the book is a testament to Wright’s even-handed treatment of his sensational material. But when he does, it’s worth the wait. The reader learns that Miscavige had fields of flowers planted in the desert near Scientology headquarters in Southern California after learning that Cruise and his then-girlfriend, Nicole Kidman, yearned to run through them. We are told that, before Katie Holmes, Scientology found a different girlfriend for Cruise, one who was raised in the church and groomed and styled to suit the star; she moved into his house, but after a gaffe at a dinner party, she was unceremoniously dismissed. “Cruise was too busy to say good-bye,” Wright writes. The girlfriend’s “last glimpse was of him working out in his home gym.”
Any casual observer who might have considered Cruise a benign or naive participant in a Hollywood spiritual fad will have a different opinion after “Going Clear.” The star comes across as a narcissistic monster who finds in Scientology an army of acolytes ready to deliver on his whims.
In a recent interview with New York magazine (where I am on staff), the pop musician Beck dismissed his longtime involvement in Scientology with a shrug. “It’s just something that I’ve been around,” he says. “Some people do yoga, some get into meditation.”
Mining Wright’s book, one encounters a long list of well-known people who have found in Hubbard’s teachings some degree of truth and help. Besides Cruise and John Travolta, there’s TV host Greta Van Susteren; actresses Anne Archer, Juliette Lewis and Jenna Elfman; actor Giovanni Ribisi and his sister (Beck’s wife) Marissa. Wright does not train his investigator’s eye on them, nor on the vast majority of Scientologists who have found clarity and comfort in the religion and — like adherents of so many other faiths — ignore or make an uncomfortable peace with the sins of their leaders. He only asks why they would.
is a religion columnist at The Washington Post, a contributing editor at New York magazine and the author of “Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife.”