Reading this book and learning about the dystopian-nightmare-come-to-life that is Scientology made me want to buy thousands of copies of 1984 and Brave New World, load them up in suitcases, and travel the world distributing them like Gideon Bibles. Because OHMYGOSH. This is what your eleventh-grade English teachers were warning you about. This is it!!!!
Basically, here’s what happened: an egomaniacal science fiction writer with a vivid imagination invented a self-help program, including a bunch of secret lingo he made up himself, and notably not including any science or research or anything at all from the actual world we live in, and over time figured out he could, through charisma and intimidation, convince a bunch of other people to believe his crap and give him millions of dollars for it.
The book fleshes all this madness out in detail, from the beginning of L. Ron Hubbard’s life up to the current activities of the Scientology machine. Reitman makes a big deal about her goal of presenting a balanced, unbiased report, but I’m not sure why she was so hung up on that when Scientologist “theory” is so clearly deranged. As she presented weirder and weirder facts, Reitman maintained an increasingly neutral and scholarly tone, sometimes even seeming to defend the “science” behind Hubbard’s ideas. It was like an actor calling attention to the strangeness of her character by exclaiming aloud, “Did you see how I managed to keep a straight face while I said all that loony shit?”
The author’s self-consciousness aside, the book was absolutely fascinating. I found it made me a bit suspicious of people—the next time I attend church services, I can picture myself jumping up and shouting things like “Where did you get that information?” or “Don’t you tell me what to think!” The scariest part is that it’s all real. If only this were just a cautionary tale.
This is why reading is so important, people. If I don’t think critically or learn independently, I am ceding that responsibility to someone else—and who knows what will end up in my head then? That’s how people end up on drugs or watching the Kardashians.