Is Scientology self-destructing?

Scientology has been in the news recently and not in ways that it likes. There is a new book on the organization by Lawrence Wright called Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief that is reviewed here.

Scientology has for almost all of its history been one of the most notoriously secretive and litigious religious organizations in the world, its leaders among the most paranoid and obfuscating. In this book, Wright, a staff writer at the New Yorker and winner of a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” brings a clear-eyed, investigative fearlessness to Scientology — its history, its theology, its hierarchy — and the result is a rollicking, if deeply creepy, narrative ride, evidence that truth can be stranger even than science fiction.

“Going Clear” starts with exactly the right questions: “What is it that makes the religion alluring? What do its adherents get out of it? How can seemingly rational people subscribe to beliefs that others find incomprehensible?” And in his early chapters, Wright implicitly draws parallels between this religion and those with which readers may be more familiar.

It looks interesting and I may get a copy and read it.

Meanwhile Alex Klein wonders if Scientology is on the verge of self-destructing, as its fund-raising tactics are ramped up and the proceeds siphoned off to be used by the central office and to put up extravagant building, constituting what he calls a real estate scam. This is exhausting and disenchanting its dwindling base of followers.

Back in the ’70s, the famously litigious church had time to fight publicly with the novelist William S. Burroughs, himself a Scientology defector — or, in the ’90s, with Time magazine. Today, going after every Cruise-bashing blog post would be impossible.

And the ranks of the faithful are dropping. In 2008, there were 25,000 self-identifying American Scientologists, down by over a half from 55,000 in 2001, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. (Over the same time period, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 134,000 to 342,000.) The 2011 British census showed a total of 2,418 Scientologists across England and Wales; about 73 times as many Brits identified themselves as “Jedi.”

Klein interviews a huge number of disaffected Scientologists for his article and they seem willing to dish the dirt on it despite the well-known intimidation tactics of the organization that uses extremely harsh measures on those who leave the group or reveal its inner workings.