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The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology

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William Crawley | 10:43 UK time, Thursday, 10 February 2011

The big religion story of the week in the United States is the publication of a nearly 25,000-word essay in The New Yorker about the Church of Scientology. On Twitter, the essay is now being described simply as "the New Yorker Scientology Article", and links to the article are being speedily retweeted.

Another article about Scientology? What's so unusual about this one? A couple of things. First, the New Yorker and its legendary fact-checking department which is famed for combing through every factual claim and literary reference in every article to maintain the magazine's reputation for accuracy. Laurence Wright says the New Yorker has never previously devoted so many fact-checking resources to a single story.

Second, Paul Haggis (pictured), the double-Oscar-winning film director and writer, whose story prompted the New Yorker investigation. The article by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Laurence Wright is titled "The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology" and tells the story of Haggis's decision to leave Scientology after more than thirty years. Haggis is now the church's most high-profile defector.

Add to those considerations the fact that the Church of Scientology co-operated in the New Yorker's investigation, providing "seven linear feet" of documents in binders, which the magazine's fact-checkers went through with fine tooth combs.

What's the outcome? The article claims that the church's founder L. Ron Hubbard was not, as the church asserts, a war hero, who healed himself of major injuries using the techniques later described in his book Dianetics. A church spokesman reportedly told the New Yorker that the church's credibility rested on the authenticity of that assertion. The article also reveals that the Church of Scientology is being investigated by the FBI over allegations of human trafficking. (Read more UK coverage here.) (Read a summary of Laurence Wright's report.)

For their part, Church of Scientology authorities say: "The Church has never been advised of any government investigation," and maintain that the New Yorker article is "little more than a regurgitation of old allegations that have long been disproved."

Listen to Laurence Wright talking about his New Yorker article. (Read interview highlights.)


  • Comment number 1.

    I just thought that the Church of Scientology were interested in getting people to sign up for endless costly courses that would turn them into "operating theatans". I'm not surprised by the revelations about Hubbard, but the homophobic dimension to the cult is deeply concerning. Apparently many people benefit from talking about their problems, so in a sense "Dianetics" might indeed be therapeutic. For many, though, it seems that they end up penniless wrecks.

  • Comment number 2.

    It may be the big religion story of the week in the States, but I must be out of the loop.I've not heard about it til now.
    I could be wrong, but I don't think a great many folk outside of Hollywood or Manhattan care much about Scientology-or read "The New Yorker." Or for that matter, consider Scientology to be a religion.
    We live in what the more elite call "Fly-over Territory." So I guess I should not be surprised that I'm uninformed.

  • Comment number 3.


    There is quite a vociferous anti scientology movement in Northern Ireland (google anon scientology )and a scientology church and movement.

    You should open your eyes.

    I do not recommend either, I am just saying they are there.

  • Comment number 4.

    Dave :
    Thank you for the info. I did not know that about the North of Ireland nor that the "New Yorker" article was big news in America.
    I try-even in this obscure part of the States-to keep my eyes open.That's why I read the news on the BBC & several other sources.

  • Comment number 5.

    Scientology certainly seemes to be a very cruel money making scam as Newlach says. Went to LA when I was 17 with a best friend and we walked past a shop sign on Hollywood Blvd saying "free personality test". Thinking it would be harmless, like the many tests you get online, we went in. Had no idea it was a Scientology place & we were separated into booths after the test and ripped to pieces. Being only 17 and not prepared for what was happening I was taken by 2 of them to my hotel room safe to give them money for books. I know now we should have just walked away, but it was only after being in stunned-rabbit-infront-of-headlights mode I really took onboard what had happened. I guess I was lucky to only have an hour experience of them and not 30 yrs lol

  • Comment number 6.

    Crikey Ryan - glad u escaped and survived! It's dangerous stuff alright. Not good news at all. Sooner it's exposed the better.

  • Comment number 7.

    Ryan -

    I had a similar experience on Tottenham Court Road in London back in the early 80's when I was 18. I did the personality test and, frankly, my graph showed that I was a seriously hopeless case. The line of my personality was drawn along the very bottom of the graph, to indicate that I was about as sad a case as one could find! However, the "good news" was that if I didn't mind bankrupting myself, I could do their course and they might be able to raise the line to a quarter of the way up the graph. I would still be a manic depressive, but not as much of one. And, of course, I would be far freer, having been liberated of my cash!!

    Thankfully, there was no frogmarch to any safe. I left the shop and somehow just shook the experience off. A few months later I had another experience, which cost me nothing financially, and which was far more successful in liberating me from the gremlins in my system, but I don't want to start preaching now...

  • Comment number 8.

    I was suckered into starting L Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth dekalogy. I think I read about five books before I was rescued by my self and sought refuge in Robert Heinlein.

  • Comment number 9.


    ...my graph showed that I was a seriously hopeless case,

    If you are a hopeless case to them, we will have you back with open arms.

  • Comment number 10.

    It is interesting because I don't see the work of Creflo Dollar and any other megachurches operating in the USA being any different from scientology except they have refined it even more. In northern Ireland we have our own churches which demonise people their and relatives who do not 'believe'.

    At school I had a chemistry teacher who would teach us chemistry but spent the rest of the time reading his bible and wouldn't speak to us unless it was about our chemistry lesson (I think he was Plymouth Brethren) .

    My Great Aunt outed her daughter in church (iron mission) to the entire congregation in the loudest terms for having a glass of sherry one christmas. My great aunt was always dressed in black and would only speak to us to give us biblical instructions because we were not the same church.

    I paid no attention.

  • Comment number 11.

    "So it was," claims the profile of L. Ron Hubbard on the Scientology site," that Lieutenant L.Ron Hubbard commanded* warships in both the Atlantic and the Pacific."

    * My emphasis.

    I can't help wondering what the ships' captains might have had to say about such mutinous behaviour.


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