Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology

OK, nobody really wants to read 26-odd pages about much of anything that isn’t a novel, but this is the New Yorker, which, if nothing else, is the home of some mighty fine writing. And this time, it’s the story of Paul Haggis — “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash” Paul Haggis — who quit the Church of Scientology a year and a half ago  because the San Diego Scientologists had signed on to support Proposition 8, that hateful display of Mormon and Christian money that took some civil rights away from gay men and lesbians in a fit of tyranny of the majority. Haggis had been a Scientologist for 35 years.

I’d love to say what I think about Scientology right now, but I fear a spokesman or two coming down upon my head and threatening to sue. Better let the New Yorker handle that one, or CNN which a while ago did a whole series on Scientology, careful, of course, not to hurt too many feelings.

But if I happen to say the word “cult” here, or mention something about a deranged science fiction writer, or suggest perhaps that you watch a few select episodes of “Nip/Tuck,” you might get the idea.

Seems Scientology was big on recruiting celebrities. Helped convert the little people, y’know.

Here’s a summary of the church’s most revered documents  (written by some scifi writer), according to the LA Times, as summarized by Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker:

“A major cause of mankind’s problems began 75 million years ago,” the Times wrote, when the planet Earth, then called Teegeeack, was part of a confederation of ninety planets under the leadership of a despotic ruler named Xenu. “Then, as now, the materials state, the chief problem was overpopulation.” Xenu decided “to take radical measures.” The documents explained that surplus beings were transported to volcanoes on Earth. “The documents state that H-bombs far more powerful than any in existence today were dropped on these volcanoes, destroying the people but freeing their spirits—called thetans—which attached themselves to one another in clusters.” Those spirits were “trapped in a compound of frozen alcohol and glycol,” then “implanted” with “the seed of aberrant behavior.” The Times account concluded, “When people die, these clusters attach to other humans and keep perpetuating themselves.”

It costs a heckuva lot of money to do all the coursework and training to reach the highest levels of Scientology. Not to mention complete adherence. You might have to “disconnect” from people you love and who love you. You might have to hear church officials lie about it on television. You might be declared “suppressive” or “covertly hostile.” You might just be in a really weird place with some really weird people who have some really weird ideas. Or it might the best thing since sliced bread.

A few days after sending the resignation letter to Tommy Davis, Haggis came home from work to find nine or ten of his Scientology friends standing in his front yard. He invited them in to talk. Anne Archer was there with Terry Jastrow, her husband, an actor turned producer and director. “Paul had been such an ally,” Archer told me. “It was pretty painful. Everyone wanted to see if there could be some kind of resolution.” Mark Isham, an Emmy-winning composer who has scored films for Haggis, came with his wife, Donna. Sky Dayton, the EarthLink founder, was there, along with several other friends and a church representative Haggis didn’t know. His friends could have served as an advertisement for Scientology—they were wealthy high achievers with solid marriages, who embraced the idea that the church had given them a sense of well-being and the skills to excel.

Scientologists are trained to believe in their persuasive powers and the need to keep a positive frame of mind. But the mood in the room was downbeat and his friends’ questions were full of reproach.

Jastrow asked Haggis, “Do you have any idea that what you might do might damage a lot of pretty wonderful people and your fellow-Scientologists?”

Haggis reminded the group that he had been with them at the 1985 “freedom march” in Portland. They all knew about his financial support of the church and the occasions when he had spoken out in its defense. Jastrow remembers Haggis saying, “I love Scientology.”

Archer had particular reason to feel aggrieved: Haggis’s letter had called her son a liar. “Paul was very sweet,” she says. “We didn’t talk about Tommy (Davis — the church’s spokesman).” She understood that Haggis was upset about the way Proposition 8 had affected his gay daughters, but she didn’t think it was relevant to Scientology. “The church is not political,” she told me. “We all have tons of friends and relatives who are gay. … It’s not the church’s issue. I’ve introduced gay friends to Scientology.”

Isham was frustrated. “We weren’t breaking through to him,” he told me. Of all the friends present, Isham was the closest to Haggis. “We share a common artistic sensibility,” Isham said. When he visited Abbey Road Studios, in England, to record the score that he had written for “In the Valley of Elah,” Haggis went along with him. Haggis wanted him to compose the score for “The Next Three Days.” Now their friendship was at risk. Isham used Scientology to analyze the situation. In his view, Haggis’s emotions at that moment ranked 1.1 on the Tone Scale—the state that is sometimes called Covertly Hostile. By adopting a tone just above it—Anger—Isham hoped to blast Haggis out of the psychic place where he seemed to be lodged. “This was an intellectual decision,” Isham said. “I decided I would be angry.”

“Paul, I’m pissed off,” Isham told Haggis. “There’s better ways to do this. If you have a complaint, there’s a complaint line.” Anyone who genuinely wanted to change Scientology should stay within the organization, Isham argued, not quit; certainly, going public was not helpful.

Haggis listened patiently. A fundamental tenet of Scientology is that differing points of view must be fully heard and acknowledged. When his friends finished, however, Haggis had his own set of grievances.

He referred them to the exposé in the St. Petersburg Times that had so shaken him: “The Truth Rundown.” The first installment had appeared in June, 2009. Haggis had learned from reading it that several of the church’s top managers had defected in despair. Marty Rathbun had once been inspector general of the church’s Religious Technology Center, which holds the trademarks of Scientology and Dianetics, and exists to “protect the public from misapplication of the technology.” Rathbun had also overseen Scientology’s legal-defense strategy, and reported directly to Miscavige. Amy Scobee had been an executive in the Celebrity Centre network. Mike Rinder had been the church’s spokesperson, the job now held by Tommy Davis. One by one, they had disappeared from Scientology, and it had never occurred to Haggis to ask where they had gone.

The defectors told the newspaper that (David) Miscavige (the church’s de facto “leader”?) was a serial abuser of his staff. “The issue wasn’t the physical pain of it,” Rinder said. “It’s the fact that the domination you’re getting — hit in the face, kicked — and you can’t do anything about it. If you did try, you’d be attacking the C.O.B.”  —the chairman of the board. Tom De Vocht, a defector who had been a manager at the Clearwater spiritual center, told the paper that he, too, had been beaten by Miscavige; he said that from 2003 to 2005 he had witnessed Miscavige striking other staff members as many as a hundred times. Rathbun, Rinder, and De Vocht all admitted that they had engaged in physical violence themselves. “It had become the accepted way of doing things,” Rinder said. Amy Scobee said that nobody challenged the abuse because people were terrified of Miscavige. Their greatest fear was expulsion: “You don’t have any money. You don’t have job experience. You don’t have anything. And he could put you on the streets and ruin you.”

Hell, I can’t even read the whole thing. But it’s certainly fascinating. And you can read as much as you dare at The New Yorker.