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Scientology: All-American or Aging Hoax? By Gordon Haber

  • Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , 2011)
  • The Church of Scientology byHugh Urban (Princeton U. Press(2011)

In Los Angeles, I’ve heard a lot of stories about Scientologists. There was the jaw-dropping (and unfortunately off-the-record) one about the flagrantly unethical executive. Or the one about the articulate grip who calmly explained the religion’s tenets at the craft services table. And then there’s the stylist who has so many run-ins with proselytizing Scientologists that she calls it “getting Sci-Tied.”

What’s interesting is that all these experiences were related as momentarily discomfiting but ultimately harmless. Of course, the perception of Scientology is something else entirely. The church is seen as a scam, as a fake religion, as a refuge for credulous actors, as the domain of paranoid, exploitative leaders. It is also seen as rich, powerful, and vindictive. I’ve often heard people mock the Church of Scientology—but always in private.

This discretion is likely due to Scientology’s history of remarkable hostility toward critics. When it sees a threat, the church goes nuclear. Consider Paulette Cooper, author of The Scandal of Scientology. After her book was published in 1971, Cooper was subjected to years of harassment, including frequent lawsuits (a classic Scientology tactic), a smear campaign, and an outrageous attempt to frame her for bomb threats.

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