From Clear to Eternity: “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”

Alex Gibney's documentary goes under the big top of the most controversial religion of our modern age.

Step right up, folks, and peek behind the curtain of one of the biggest and most profitable sideshows of our modern age! All will be revealed—and I mean all—in HBO’s documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, directed by Alex Gibney and based on the 2013 book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Lawrence Wright.


Former L. Ron Hubbard (or, in the Scientology vernacular full of acronyms and neologisms, “LRH”) assistant and current leader of Scientology David Miscavige (DM) makes Twilight Zone–esque proclamations like, “You are missing the signpost up ahead…the one that reads infinity!” from a podium for an organization that’s part Christian mega-church, part totalitarian dictatorship, while he and the audience, thousands strong, salute LRH’s gigantic portrait.


Mike Rinder appears in Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and Prison of Belief / photo courtesy of HBO


Some of Going Clear’s most profound moments are brought to you by ex-officials within the organization. Like Mike Rinder, the church’s former spokesperson and executive director of the international office of special affairs (he has quite an eye-opening blog), who details his very public “blow” (the Scientology term for those who leave without permission; effectively an escape) from the church, which treat these offenses more seriously and with more consequences than the military treats AWOL offenses. And Marty Rathbun, the church’s former second-in-command, who states serious accounts of stalking by the church and admits to secretly taping Tom Cruise’s auditing sessions (effectively the church’s method of confession). And kookily candid actor Jason Beghe. And Academy Award–winning writer and director Paul Haggis, whose Wright–penned New Yorker interview blew the lid off Scientology in 2011.

Be shocked and amazed!

Miscavige is revealed as an abusive, paranoid sociopath with a startling amount of control, who taps phone lines and manipulates hugely important people into spilling their deepest, darkest secrets (see: one point in the film where DM is alleged to have privately mocked Tom Cruise’s sex life as “perverted”)—and their checkbooks. And just wait until you get to the part about “The Hole.”


Your mind will fail to believe what your eyes are seeing!

If you’ve read Wright’s excellent book, you’re up to speed on Scientology’s dirtiest and darkest little secrets, but seeing the emotion on people’s faces as they speak of the pain the organization has caused them is profound. In the past, it’s been baffling to figure how people are suckered into believing LRH’s blatant science fictional theories disguised as spirituality, and how honest people get tied up in an obvious financial shakedown. In Going Clear, it begins to make sense when you hear the promises made—we will help you fulfill your destiny, you are in charge of your life—and see how doors were opened for these same people. Scientology’s control is insidious.

Two sides to every coin?

There are no LRH/Scientology defenders interviewed in Going Clear, which some have criticized as being one-sided and reliant on a small sector of defectors. It’s easy to poke fun at a “religion” in which the big reveal is an alien named Xenu, a religion that has soul-monitoring equipment that looks like two tin cans tied together with strings. But the basis and routine of Scientology is so much more than that. Once you pull back the curtain, you find not an odditorium, but real victims who have been really hurt, and in some cases, destroyed or killed. And there’s no defending an organization like that. FL

Going Clear airs Sunday, March 29 at 8 p.m. on HBO.


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