RAKES IN THE DOLLARS
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,