If you get a moment — or a few moments, since it’s long as hell — you should really holler at the much-discussed New Yorker article about Paul Haggis, the screenwriter and director of the worst movie ever, and his falling out from the Church of Scientology after nearly three decades as a devoted, high-ranking member. Haggis discusses the ways Scientology helped his career, but he became disillusioned after a church official weighed in to support Prop 8, (Haggis has two daughters who are gay), and he learned of alleged abuses by the church that border on slavery and human trafficking. There are charges that members of the church’s elite Sea Organization order were pressured to have abortions (members can marry, but not have children) and also a cartoonishly macabre moment in which churchmembers have to play musical chairs while “Bohemian Rhapsody” plays. If they lose, they will be kicked out of the compound and the church — an outcome that would essentially destroy their marriages. As you might imagine, that game of musical chairs gets pretty physical.
(I told all this to Brokey after I finished the piece. “I really feel like you’re making this shit up.”)
Scientology’s peculiar heirarchal setup — they bring you on very slowly and don’t hit you with all the Xenu stuff until you’re many years and many stacks deep in the game — means that there’s a considerable barrier to entry. And as long as the Church of Scientology has a stranglehold on legitimate practice of “Scientology,” there will be people who are willing to endure all sorts of abuses, like the kind alleged in the story, in order to have access to the ritual and beliefs that help give their lives meaning.
Buried deep in the story, though, is an aside involving a dude who had cut ties with the church, but was counseling other former adherents using the the “auditing” techniques used by Scientologists. It’s a very minor moment in the story, but possibly a really important one for the future of Scientology. Unlike Haggis, who’s an apostate, this cat is a classic heretic — still clinging to Scientology’s tenets while he’s rejected its institutional authority. While a whole lot of people defecting this way that might be bad for the Church of Scientology, it would go a long way toward both demystifying and propagating their beliefs and practices. Martin Luther didn’t stop being a joyless, pious believer just because the church kicked him out. His challenge to Rome’s power had bad consequences for the authority of the Holy See, but he created room for a more expansive idea of Christianity, and there are many, many more Christians in the world today because of it.