Scientology is something of an easy target.
But in many ways, it’s arguably no more nonsensical than any of the other man-made religions that people choose to pin their colours to, frequently in complete defiance of logic, common sense and the wider needs of mankind.
Scientology was the brain child of one L.Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer. Its origins go back to Hubbard’s initial work with Dianetics back in the 1950s. It is classified as being a form of: “spiritual healing technology and an organized science of thought,” where the “intent is to free individuals of the influence of past traumas by systematic exposure and removal of the engrams (painful memories) these events have left behind…”
Dianetics was later to morph into and become known as, Scientology.
Louis Theroux is certainly not alone in having his curiosity piqued by this apparently most cultish of all religions.
Predictably, this most secretive of institutions was never going to welcome an investigative reporter like Theroux with open arms, and thus Louis is forced to find an alternative angle from which to approach his research.
Fortunately for him, there are any number of disgruntled ‘bitter’ (according to the Church of Scientology), high profile ex-members only too willing to spill the beans concerning the Church’s inner secrets and practices, and Louis takes full advantage of their knowledge.
One ex-member in particular will prove to be key in gaining as authentic an insight as possible. Mark ‘Marty’ Rathbun, an ex-senior official of the church, will, along with Louis, audition a number of young aspiring actors for the role of David Miscavige, (the current and long time head of the church of Scientology), and the ‘chosen one’ will then recreate a number of disturbing scenes from the depths of Rathbun’s own recollections.
David Miscavige, short in stature he may well be, but by all accounts he’s a pretty ruthless customer, having been accused over the years of numerous wrong doings including acts of violence.
Before too long, word of Louis’ experiment has spread, and sure enough, members of the Church of Scientology begin to emerge, armed with their own video cameras, and to a man, remain completely non-compliant with Louis’ line of questioning. Theirs is a counter-campaign of intense pressure, the sole aim of which being to intimidate to such a degree as to force Louis to call a halt to his reenactments.
But of course, as we all know, Louis’ nerdish, apparently affable innocence and naivety belies an unflappable presence, whose subtle, dogged insistence has faced up to far more threatening a foe than this before.
It all makes for some frequently odd, yet very amusing confrontations, through which the Church, in some ways, inadvertently gives away far more about itself than it would have done if it had just maintained an air of aloof mystery, and left well alone.
Theroux’s documentary, driven along by the strains of a lavish, overbearing and, it should be said, slightly out of place soundtrack, announces its intentions clearly as a cinematic piece rather than any sort of low-key documentary. It provides us ably with a general overview of Scientology for the uninitiated. Everything from the perceived negativity of an SP (suppressive person), to the concept of squirrel-busting. From Thetans to E-meters. It’s all here. It’s a steep learning curve, and one which on the surface at least, paints Scientology to be a little absurd to say the least, dressed up as it is in its science fiction finery, metaphorically speaking.
It’s only then once one breaks it all down into its constituent, functioning parts, that the nuts and bolts of scientology begin to bear quite a startling, if predictable resemblance to any number of established and ‘accepted’ religions:
Talking of the human body as being merely a vehicle for a Scientologist’s time on earth – Aspiring to ascend to a more enlightened state of being – The rejection of logic and common sense in favour of an accepted, mythical ‘truth’ no matter whether it stands up to scrutiny or not – and adopting a sense of like-minded community and the subsequent frowning upon, and at times ostracising of those who abscond from its clutches. Theroux reveals that this aspect in particular has led to whole families being ripped apart, potentially never to be reunited again whilst the spell of Scientology retains its hold.
Possibly it’s only really therefore the sense of Scientology being a rather rigidly-policed, apparently paranoid, Masonic type of institution, veiled in its self-imposed secrecy, that leaves this most Buck Rodgers-esque of ‘religions’ so wide-open to ridicule and idle speculation?
Perhaps so, but as one of Scientology’s favourite sons, Tom Cruise, is at pains to say: “Ignorance breeds bigotry.”
A fair point, and Amen to that.