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Skepchick Book Club: Going Clear

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(Note: The end of this post contains details for the next book club.) Welcome back to the Skepchick Book Club! This month, we read Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright.

I’m a huge fan of the New Yorker, so I was excited to read this book because I’ve enjoyed Wright’s other pieces in the past. The book is excellent although can be a bit too thorough at times (at least for the casual reader). If I read more than 50 pages a night, I would start to become unhinged and Scientology would begin to make sense to me (or at least I understood the language better).

The book is separated into three sections (as evidenced by the title). The first section is about L. Ron Hubbard’s history as a budding narcissist, his time served in the military, and his womanizing. Unsurprisingly, Hubbard was deeply insecure and had the need to make himself appear like a superhero. I was a little confused that he made up so many lies about his time in the military because there are actual records that reveal the details of his decidedly lackluster career. However, his military exploits are key to believers of Scientology, because Hubbard claimed that the war left him crippled and blind and that he healed himself with the powers revealed in Dianetics.

Before he wrote Dianetics, Hubbard spent a lot of time dabbling with black magic and the occult (although his experiences mostly involved cheating on his wife and counting how many times he could successfully masturbate in one night).

Welshie
Could that energy being be L. Ron Hubbard? Oh wait no, it’s just Melllvar. Oh and, nooooo Welshie! (source)

The second section of the book started with his declining health and eventual death (which should’ve been impossible, so it was said that he “dropped his body” instead), and the subsequent rise of David Miscavige and celebrity culture within Scientology. According to the book, Miscavige is like Hubbard except he is more sadistic and power-hungry. Miscavige is also prone to asthma attacks, during which he finds the nearest person and beats the shit out of them. (Because that sounds like a normal bout of asthma to me?) This section left me wondering: who is going to take over for Miscavige when he dies sheds his mortal coil to become an energy being and roam around the Van Allen Belt with Hubbard.

The third section is about Paul Haggis and his break from Scientology. Haggis is mentioned throughout the book, first as a budding Scientologist, then as a half-hearted true believer (like most of the celebrities), and finally as someone who wakes up and does more research into the church and finds out things he doesn’t like (i.e. the church’s use of child slaves, the fact that the church PR egregiously lies to the media, etc.).

There is so much extra material that I didn’t mention because, like I said, the book is exhaustively thorough, so make sure to bring up your favorite part in the comments (mine was the picture of Hubbard “auditing” a tomato). If you haven’t read the book but you’re interested, here are some links to help you out:

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(source)
(source)

This month’s themed recipe: Peach Muffins

These muffins are damn good, especially if you’re craving an early taste of summer. They are related to the book because it is a well known fact that Xenu and the psychiatrists worked to destroy the noble peach, but ultimately they failed due to a lack of anti-depressants. (Not really, I made all of that shit up, which definitely relates to the basis of Scientology.) Anyway, I used canned peaches (packed in water) instead of fresh, for obvious reasons, but if you are lucky enough to live in a region where you have access to delicious, fresh, locally-grown fruit, you can substitute approximately 2 cups of fresh peaches.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 0.75 tsp salt
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 0.5 cup sugar
  • 0.5 cup light brown sugar
  • 0.5 tsp cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice)
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 0.5 cup oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 0.5 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 14-oz can peach slices (in water), drained and chopped
  • Turbindo sugar (for topping)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease muffin tins and line a roasting pan with tin foil (to roast walnuts). When oven has pre-heated, add walnuts to roasting pan and put in oven for 8-10 minutes (until fragrant). Set roasted nuts out to cool.
  2. Take the chopped peaches and set on a couple of paper towels to dry off most of the liquid (the peaches do not have to be completely dried, just enough so that the batter won’t become too moist).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, sugars, and cinnamon. In a smaller bowl, combine eggs, oil, and vanilla and whisk until fully beaten. Add wet ingredients, peaches, and nuts to bowl with dry ingredients and stir just until mixture is moistened (do not over mix).
  4. Fill up muffin tins approximately 2/3 of the way. Sprinkle each muffin with approximately 1 tsp of turbindo (or large granulated) sugar each. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick tests done and tops are browned.

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Gulp

Next Book Club: Gulp by Mary Roach

We will be reading Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach. April is going to be a busy month for me, so our local book club is meeting on May 18th (and I will put a post up here on May 19th). If you haven’t read any of Mary Roach’s other books, she has a fun style and they’re a fast read (also, where have you been that you haven’t been reading her books?). To give you a hint about the contents of this book, one review describes it as “gross” and “also enthralling” (which sounds like all of her other books). Bon appetit!

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11 Comments

  1. I think L Ron Hubbard’s attempt to destroy a nonexist submarine when he was in the navy was the most amusing part of the book for me. Overall though I thought it was a pretty grim read, especially in light of the immense wealth the church has amassed. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read Heinlein in the same light again; I felt bad for him and lost respect for him.

    • I loved the submarine story. Especially the footnote where the church says it DEFINITELY HAPPENED.

      I agree that it was a bit depressing to read at times. I had to stop after a while and go watch something happy, like “Law and Order: SVU.”

  2. I still think sometime in the past, L. Ron, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and others were sitting around and came up with the idea of creating a “religion” and seeing how many fools would take them seriously. L. Ron won.

  3. Listening to the audiobook of Going Clear: The Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. It’s a little extra interesting to me since I took acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse back in 1992. Also bought a couple of Milton Katselas’s books, and coughed up the money to attend one of his seminars.
    It was odd to realize just how much of the way the class was setup came from Scientology. For instance, every class had an Ethics officer. It seemed like a reasonable thing at the time. And tours of the Celebrity Center were a kind of reward. Reward for what, I was never sure. One of the girls in my class who went came back with this frightened look. She said they worshipped aliens. She seemed freaked out by that. At the time I thought she must have that wrong and it was a pretty hilarious misunderstanding. I found out about Xenu later.
    There was very little active recruitment that I saw. There was the bookstore outside the Skylight Theater (a smaller secondary theater connected with the Playhouse). When you joined, you were supposed to buy 2 books by Milton – One was called Dreams Into Action, I don’t remember what the other one was. Looking back, I can see where those were kind of the happy, socially-acceptable Scientology-lite.
    I do remember that the setup of the Playhouse encouraged single-mindedness and ambition. The worst thing someone could call you was a Dilletante. It was setup as a hierchy. You had the beginning level classes with other teachers , then the intermediate, and I believe there might have been another level leading up to the pinnacle – the Saturday class with Milton himself. Invitation only. Working actors only. There were also workshops and seminars with Milton. They cost extra, but anybody could go and you’d rub shoulders with lots of people who were currently on TV or in a movie. It was rumored that to move up in the class levels you had to be a Scientologist. That did not appear to be an official rule, but if you were willing to consider Scientology, it did seem to speed up your progress.
    I was not one of the people considered as acandidate for moving up the class ladder (I’m average at best at the acting thing), so I really didn’t experience any pressure to join anything. My roommate did get asked to read Dianetics, so I did too. I was kind of a raw nerve on the gay thing at the time, so I picked up on the homophobia right away. I pointed it out, even highlighting paragraphs and my roommate took it to our teacher. He said whoever had underlined those paragraphs was obviously a Suppressive Person. I happened to be in the room at the time and happily raised my hand right up with a slightly angry, “It was me.”
    Didn’t seem to surprise him.
    Eventually, I ran out of money and left. Other students who left they chased after. Not me. But they were genuinely nice about the whole thing and when I later had a play produced, a lot of the Playhouse crew showed up for support. Later, I heard that several of the people at the Playhouse had a falling out with Milton, but no one seemed to know why. Must have been that revolt Wright mentioned. Which is sad. He seemed like he lived for getting love from his people. We called them the Milton-Zombies, but with humor and affection most of the time.
    Anyway, wasn’t expecting Milton to be highlighted in this book. I don’t think about that stuff much these days. Cast a different shadow on the things I remember, which in turn colored my perception of the book. Weird.

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