RAKES IN THE DOL­LARS

Finweek English Edition - - COVER STORY -

Af­ter a se­ries of scan­dals and dam­ag­ing books threat­ened to ham­per its rev­enue f lows, that mega-con­glom­er­a­tion of busi­nesses called the Church of Scien­tol­ogy In­ter­na­tional is fight­ing back. For the first time ever, an ad­vert pro­mot­ing Scien­tol­ogy was f lighted along­side the likes of Coca-Cola, Bud­weiser and MercedesBenz at the an­nual Su­per Bowl in the US ear­lier this year. The com­mer­cial had the same dul­cet tones as the fa­mous “Think Dif­fer­ent” Ap­ple ad­vert – “To the cu­ri­ous, the in­quis­i­tive, the seek­ers of knowl­edge, to the ones who just want to know about life, about the uni­verse, about your­self,” the ad says invit­ingly in a warm male voice over soft-fo­cus vi­su­als of at­trac­tive, whole­some-look­ing youth.

The 60-sec­ond ad was pro­duced with a lit­tle help from a US pro­duc­tion com­pany at the church’s own tele­vi­sion stu­dios, but the place­ment alone cost close to $8m. A spokesper­son for the or­gan­i­sa­tion told The New York Times that the com­mer­cial wasn’t a re­sponse to the re­cent spate of bad pub­lic­ity, but rather a re­sponse to the grow­ing need for in­for­ma­tion about Scien­tol­ogy.

The Oc­to­ber 2012 is­sue of Van­ity Fair ran a damn­ing piece called “What Katie [Holmes] didn’t know” which ex­posed how the Church of Scien­tol­ogy In­ter­na­tional man­aged the love life of its Hol­ly­wood A-list cham­pion, Tom Cruise. This was fol­lowed by two tell-all books: Go­ing Clear: Scien­tol­ogy, Hol­ly­wood, and the Prison of Be­lief by Lawrence Wright, and Be­yond Be­lief: My Se­cret Life In­side Scien­tol­ogy and My Har­row­ing Es­cape by Jenna Mis­cav­ige Hill, with Lisa Pulitzer.

Mis­cav­ige Hill is the niece of the cur­rent leader of Scien­tol­ogy, David Mis- cav­ige, and in her book she speaks of the child labour prac­tices, bul­ly­ing and cruel pun­ish­ments that were part and par­cel of grow­ing up in­side the re­li­gion. The book of­fers in­sight into the psy­cho­log­i­cal tech­niques used on adepts. Af­ter quit­ting Scien­tol­ogy, Mis­cav­ige Hill told the me­dia: “Look­ing back, I feel com­pletely brain­washed. I didn’t even know what I liked or what sort of per­son I was. I was just a robot of the church.” Sim­i­larly, Wright’s book reads like a chill­ing hor­ror story with its ex­act­ing ac­counts from peo­ple who man­aged to es­cape Scien­tol­ogy’s grasp. The cen­tral char­ac­ter is a Hol­ly­wood screen­writer by the name of Paul Hag­gis, who wrote the Academy Award-win­ning screen­play for Clint East­wood’s f ilm Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby. He’s a l so t he writer be­hind Crash and two James Bond movies, the 2006 ver­sion of Casino Royale and Quantum of So­lace. Go­ing Clear lays Scien­tol­ogy’s busi­ness strat­egy bare and ex­plains how celebri­ties like Cruise, John Tra­volta and ‒ un­til fairly re­cently ‒ Hag­gis, re­cruited new mem­bers, raised funds and gen­er­ally spread the Scien­tol­ogy gospel (which is called the church’s “tech­nol­ogy”).

Scien­tol­ogy was started in the Fifties by a fairly medi­ocre sci­ence-fic­tion writer called L Ron Hub­bard, who a decade ear­lier had de­clared: “Writ­ing for a penny a word is ridicu­lous. If a man really wants to make a mil­lion dol­lars, the best way would be to start his own re­li­gion.”

Hub­bard did just that – he in­vented a re­li­gion, with a scat­tered the­ol­ogy that is re­vealed to mem­bers in pro­gres­sive form and for in­creas­ing amounts of money. The church claims to have some 8m mem­bers,

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