Friday, January 04, 2013
A Careful Writer Stalks the Truth About Scientology
By CHARLES McGRATH
AUSTIN, Tex. — The writer Lawrence Wright doesn’t seem at all the sort of person you’d find in public wearing a black cowboy shirt emblazoned with big white buffalos. He’s shy, soft-spoken, a little professorial. But as if he didn’t have enough to do, besides working on three plays simultaneously and getting ready to publish a new book in two weeks, Mr. Wright has been taking piano lessons with Floyd Domino, the two-time Grammy winner, and on a recent Saturday, in his buffalo shirt, he played in a concert at the Victory Grill here with the band WhoDo. Mr. Wright was at the keyboard, and sang solo on “Sixty-Minute Man” and the Count Basie tune “She’s Funny That Way.” Not bad for a bookworm.
“I decided a while ago that I would only do things that are really important or really fun,” Mr. Wright said. “This is really fun.”
More fun, probably, than dealing with lawyers. His new book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief” (Knopf) is about the famously litigious Church of Scientology, and he said he has received innumerable threatening letters from lawyers representing the church or some of the celebrities who belong to it. (Transworld, Mr. Wright’s British publisher, recently canceled its plans to publish “Going Clear,” though a spokeswoman insisted that the decision was not made in response to threats from the church.)
The book, which recounts the history of Scientology through the interwoven stories of key figures like L. Ron Hubbard, the religion’s founder, and celebrity Scientologists like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, claims among other things that the church has virtually imprisoned some of its members, threatening blackmail if they try to leave, and that its current leader, David Miscavige, has physically abused some of his underlings. The book won’t do anything to enhance the image of Scientology, already diminished by Janet Reitman’s 2011 book, “Inside Scientology: The History of the World’s Most Secretive Religion.”
In a statement, Karin Pouw, a Scientology spokeswoman, said Mr. Wright and his publisher refused to provide a copy of the book in advance and “showed little interest in receiving input” from the church. “The portions you cite from the book are preposterous lies,” she said, adding that “the allegation about Mr. Miscavige is false and defamatory.”