Scientology book exposes religion's celebrity pandering: Neil Macdonald

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There's a new book generating a lot of voyeuristic delight across America, but good luck getting the Scientology expose in Canada. Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, recently reviewed by CBC's Neil Macdonald, has been released in the U.S., but is not going to be published in Canada, according to reports.

The religion's practices and inner-workings are highly guarded by its members, so Wright's meticulously researched expose has been highly anticipated by those wanting to know about the religion that attracts so many celebrities.

"It reinforces what a lot of Americans want to hear about Scientology," said MacDonald. "That it may well be a legally acknowledged religion, but it's also really, really weird and so are its celebrity members." A number of Hollywood stars belong to the church, like John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Jenna Elfman and -- of course -- Tom Cruise. 

MacDonald says the book's juiciest details lie in the granular explanations of the organization's teachings. Basically, Scientologists believe aliens once lived on Earth -- formerly called Teegeeack. A dark lord, Xenu, destroyed the aliens by stuffing them into volcanoes and attacking them with hydrogen bombs. Now, humans have these aliens' spirits attached to them, which the church of Scientology helps people unattach from them via counselling courses that can cost thousands of dollars.

The other good stuff? MacDonald says it's Wright's account of Scientology's deliberate catering to celebrities, especially their highest profile member, Tom Cruise. Cruise has championed the religion publicly for years. In a leaked Scientology video from an awards ceremony where Cruise received a 20th anniversary freedom medal from the church, Cruise rants for several minutes about the power of Scientologists.

"We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind. We are the authorities on improving conditions," he says. "We can rehabilitate criminals ... We can bring peace and unite cultures."

His involvement with the religion has spurned many scandals including a growing belief that Scientologists audition appropriate girlfriends/wives for the actor and backlash when he publicly decried the use of anti-depressants for post-partum depression.

And it's not just the church's celebrity members who become engulfed in scandal. MacDonald says the book scared him because it outlines "what an organization with enough money and zealous acolytes can do once it has wrapped itself in a religious cloak: assault, conspire, burgle, forge, perjure, spy, bully and intimidate anyone who gets in its way."

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