Janet Reitman's 'Inside Scientology'

Janet Reitman's 'Inside Scientology'

Reitman promises an "objective history" of the modern religion, which hasn't yet existed.


Janet Reitman, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, wrote an article on the reclusive Church of Scientology in 2006, which grew into her book Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion which was released yesterday. This 464 page volume details much of the church's history, as well as the church's reclusive founder and prolific science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and his heir to the Scientology legacy, David Miscavige. What's perhaps most interesting to note is that Reitman's book details only facts of the church's founding and evolution, which has never been done before. The last comprehensive book written on the church was in 1971 by Paulette Cooper, who was hounded for years by the church after its publication.

     A recent review in the LA Times, written by Kim Christensen, is anything but objective, but does give a fairly good backlog of Scientology's weirder aspects. Founded by Hubbard in the 1950's, the church borrowed from a number of strange, rather sci-fi sounding ideas. It attempts borrow form the Judeo-Christian idea of a spirit, but calls it an alien. This includes a cosmos-spanning narrative and plenty of loopholes and detours, ironically often attacked to the respective "tier" with which one donates to the church. However, Reitman makes the point that the church's promotion and publicity has been very malleable, appealing at first to New Agers, hippies, and free thinkers; then changing to become a "celebrity religion" on par with the west caost fascination with Kabbalah. Most recently Scientology's attempted to recruit legislators and minorities to its ranks.

     Christenson does give Reitman the acknowledgment that she attempted to be fair and objective. She often interweaves first-hand accounts of abuses and corruption from Scientologist leaders (like Miscavige, who is described as a "little tyrant") with eyewitness accounts of past and current Scientologist followers. Of course, when one realizes that even these "fair and balanced followers" are still believers in the following scenario (should they pay enough to rise in the church to the point where they're taught this):

"Xenu, the evil tyrant leader of the "Galactic Confederation", that killed his enemies with hydrogen bombs 75 million years ago and then captured their souls, or thetans, and electronically implanted them with false concepts. These altered thetans later glommed on to human bodies, the story goes, causing spiritual harm and havoc for mankind."

     There's little that can be said to further validate Scientology, either its questionable financial requirements for members or its mythology, which sounds more like cheap science fiction than anything else. However, it does go toward explaining the prevalence of this "religion" among some of the celebrity and cultural elite within our society. Those celebrity Scientologists are often over-represented in the media (It's pretty much just Tom and Katie Crusie and Travolta as far as actual celebrity), it nonetheless has garnered support from hundreds of thousands around the globe. As Reitman said in a recent TIME interview, "I decided that I needed to approach them the way a foreign correspondent would a foreign culture. That was the only way to look at them objectively, which was my biggest goal."

     Inside Scientology is available in hardcover through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28.00 retail.