HBO lawyers up in preparation for Scientology documentary

I watched the ‘Going Clear’ documentary last night and it reminded me of this article I wrote for TheVine. It was a weird one because I was actually writing a lot about religion at the time. It became this kind of half ‘n’ half thing because if I’d really written all I knew on the subject it would definitely be a “tl;dr” situation. Nevertheless I would highly recommend a watch. It will terrify you in quite a unique way. 


HBO have green lit the making of a documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear and they’ve hired “probably” 160 lawyers totally out of sheer necessity. Wright’s book is scathing, particularly with regard to Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard, and I can’t imagine the church is going to be real happy about its appropriation for TV. To give you an idea of just how pissed off they’re going to be the LA Times said this about the book:

Who’d have thought a history of religion would offer so many guilty pleasures? Lawrence Wright’s enthralling account of Scientology’s rise brims with celebrity scandal. To anyone who gets a sugar rush from Hollywood gossip, the chapters on Tom Cruise and John Travolta will feel like eating a case of Ding Dongs.

Wright claims Hubbard beat his wives, threatened to murder his children, started the church with the intention to make money, and was involved in several human rights abuses such as separating children from their parents and locking up disobedient members in an LA church basement. Wright’s conclusions are drawn from interviews with previous members and analysis of famous scientologists such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but of course the church has denied everything. Spokesperson Karin Pouw told CNN last year:

The stories of alleged physical abuse are lies concocted by a small group of self-corroborating confessed liars. The hard evidence clearly shows that no such conduct ever occurred and that in fact there is evidence that shows it did not occur.

I once gave Scientology a go. It was a half-hearted dabble because I was really doing it for a uni assignment. We were studying immersion writing and the idea was to try doing something you wouldn’t normally do. I was raised a heathen so my mind went straight to religion and what could be more interesting than writing about Scientology? What I’m getting at is I totally understand why HBO would want to make a documentary about it. Scientology is hella interesting. People tend to know two main things about Scientologists: they believe in aliens and they will try to scam you out of large sums of money. It’s a surprisingly enduring ‘religion’ that seems a hell of a lot like a cult.

When I visited the Melbourne Org I tried my best to stay open-minded. As was pointed out to me by a friend, Christians believe in a virgin mother and a man who rose from the dead so why should aliens be so unbelievable? I mean the word Science! is right there in the title and I’ve read about the expanse of the universe and am completely convinced we’re not alone in it. In other words I was an easy mark. Unfortunately there was absolutely no talk of aliens during my visit. But there was evidence of money everywhere – big flat screens, nice furniture, and gold lettering spelling out phrases like “you are not mortal” across the walls. I found out later they keep that whole aliens thing close to their chests until you’re in deep enough to be trusted – they’re tactic appeared to be more about focusing on what Scientology can offer the individual.

When they gave me the results to my personality test (known as the Oxford Capacity Personality Test though it has absolutely nothing to do with Oxford University) they promised me I could be a happier, more confident person if I undertook 24-hours of auditing which would cost me something like $500. Of course I politely declined because ain’t nobody got time fo’ that, so they offered me a $55 course in ‘Personal Values and Integrity’ instead. Up until that point everyone had been super nice and gentle with me, I hadn’t even smirked when they tried to tell me I could unearth trauma from my past lives through what sounded like hypnotherapy, but when I refused to buy the course their trademark Scientology aggression finally came out.

I argued with two separate members for about ten minutes each before I started scanning for the nearest exit and planning my escape. I would like to say I stood up for myself and triumphantly sprinted down the street, but instead I decided to cop the $55 so they would let me leave (I did cancel my keycard as soon as I left). The whole thing left a terrible taste in my mouth and I still get a sinking feeling every time “private number” comes up on my phone. It’s been three months since my visit and I’m still getting letters from them. Honestly it’s more like being signed up to a subscription you don’t want than having a stalker, but if they’re so intense with one broke arse uni student I can only imagine the wrath they’re planning to rain down on HBO.

Published by The Vine on 26 Nov 2014. Picture also from The Vine.

Words: Alix Palmer