When you are asked to do a piece for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, I can only assume it’s an honor that pays. So when Michael Kinsley was asked to review Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, I assume he took the assignment seriously. Kinsley does not, however, take Wright’s book seriously. Rarely do reviews damn so effectively as this.
Kinsley doesn’t have much to say about the book’s contents. The brevity of the review speaks volumes, not only about Wright’s apparently lackluster effort but also about Scientology status as a “religion.” Like me, Kinsley is interested in simple questions: How could a person possibly believe that any of what Hubbard said had even minimal contact with reality or is, to use a quaint word, true?
This is a question that Wright never bothers to ask, let alone answer. Understandably, this drives Kinsley to distraction:
“The planet Earth, formerly called Teegeeack, was part of a confederation of planets under the leadership of a despot ruler named Xenu,” said Hubbard, who was a best-selling science fiction writer before he became the prophet of a new religion. To suppress a rebellion, Xenu tricked the confederations into coming in for fake income tax investigations. Billions of thetans were taken to Teegeeack (you remember: Earth), “where they were dropped into volcanoes and then blown up with hydrogen bombs.”
Hubbard apparently could go on for hours — or pages — with this stuff. Wright informs us, as if it were just an oversight, that “Hubbard never really explained how he came by these revelations,” but elsewhere he says they came to him at the dentist’s office.
I’ve known a few Scientologists who, when asked this question, usually just stare at me like I’m crazy, or indicate — with unencumbered and limitless credulity — that the question had never occurred to them.