I finally got around to watching Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the HBO documentary about Scientology. It was everything everyone said it was. The truth really is stranger than fiction. I’m not going to do a full review, there have been plenty of others, and the film is still too new in my head to give it any kind of overall analysis. There are just a few quick points and questions I wanted to address:
- Watching the movie you see an alternative reality, where people believe things that can only be described as batshit insane. Yet, many of these people are highly functioning members of society. What widely held beliefs do we hold in our society that appear absolutely ridiculous to those viewing us from afar? I don’t mean ones that differ from other societies, there are plenty of those, but ones that are provably false, yet a great deal of Americans put faith in them.
- Many of the people interviewed, the high ranking former Scientologists, that now have retired from the church, look back upon their former life with disbelief. If we were to be removed from our current station in life are there things that we would view as absurd?
- When something looks and feels like a propagandist rally, it probably is. There are creepy spectacles where the leader of the modern church, David Miscavige, and Tom Cruise speak to a stadium full of people in tuxedos and ball gowns. Fireworks go off, people wave flags, inspirational videos are shown. It looks like a megachurch combined with a political party convention combined with a sports rally. All of these things are things in which every day America people have to suspend disbelief to participate in. Sure, a sports rally is largely harmless, but you are essentially pretending that the action on the field somehow matters in your life, which unless you have money on the game, it doesn’t. I think the other two examples are self-explanatory.
My point is that the church of Scientology is ridiculously absurd. But at the same time, it is just an exaggerated version of many of the things that inhabit everyday life. In fact when compared to some of the televangelists that John Oliver recently spoofed, it really isn’t any more absurd. People in this documentary do horrible things to other people in the name of belief. So many of the ills of mankind are based on a belief of some kind, but because they are more accepted, are not recognized as absurd. The prison of belief. One of the things that makes the documentary so powerful is that it is explicitly about Scientology, but it is also implicitly about the way that people get carried away by belief. I would bet that even those of us that think we have a realistic view of the world have some pretty ridiculous notions if we look hard enough. Hopefully this documentary will make people look at their own lives and not just the lives of the freaks on view. That being said, the things Scientologists believe in are really, really, really fucking insane!