Book Review: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief is a 2013 publication by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Lawrence Wright. Covering an extensive amount of material, Mr. Wright explores Scientology’s origins, tenets, attacks on critics, the treatment of newly enlisted members to high profile veterans such as Tom Cruise, and the life of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Scientology’s status as a relatively new and secretive religion has opened it to a large amount of speculation and criticism. Unlike other religions that openly declare tenets, the Church of Scientology makes its sporadic tenets public in a begrudging manner, occasionally due to various internal breaches of Church documents. However, where the majority of the public’s knowledge of Scientology ends, Mr. Wright fully explores its remaining dogma, including Scientology’s origin and its unorthodox role in religion.

The dogma of Scientology is not the only safeguarded secret kept by the Church of Scientology, since many intimate details of the life of L. Ron Hubbard are often disputed and rejected by the organization. From prolific writer to a dabbler in the occult to Captain of a Scientologist community known as “Sea Org,” it’s hard to charge any degree of boredom against Mr. Hubbard’s life. Readers are unlikely to put down Going Clear with a favorable impression of Mr. Hubbard, but the book makes a convincing case against the common perception that he did not believe the claims of Scientology.

The history of the Church of Scientology does not slow down once Mr. Hubbard is out of the picture, as a persistent clash between the Church and the US government permeates the book. One encounter, known as Operation Snow White, involved Scientologists infiltrating the US government in order to counteract any government activity dealing with the Church. Although it took place during the 1970s, it still remains one of the largest and notorious cases of espionage of the US government.

This strange incident is only one of many between the Church and the government, which share an antagonistic history dating from Scientology’s inception to the present day. For many decades, the Church has fought for legal recognition as a religion, which would allow it tax exemption in the United States. While it has achieved this status in some countries, its identification as a religion still remains controversial in many parts of the world.

Although it is still on the fringe—much to the Church’s chagrin—Scientology remains one of the largest recent religions, and consequently finds itself in a unique position. Scientology’s conception is well-documented, there remains an abundant amount of information on its founder, the Church actively attempts to conceal dogma, and critics of Scientology are often coerced into silence.

With hundreds of interviews of former and current Scientologists, research that spans Mr. Hubbard’s early life to death, and detailed accounts of current high profile Scientologists, there seems to be little left unexamined of the religion and its workings in Going Clear. On top of this expansive work, the information is easy to absorb with Lawrence Wright’s ability to create excellent narratives out of non-fiction. On a rating scale of Operating Thetan I to Operating Thetan VIII, Going Clear receives an Operating Thetan VII.