I will tell you right off the bat that Marc Headley's Blown for Good isn't well written. Headley too often gets bogged down in Scientology jargon and abbreviations, uses way too many exclamation points and can be sloppy, repetitive and ham-handed.
But the story he tells is utterly fascinating.
Like many folks, I was aware before reading this book that Scientology was a weird business masquerading as a religion. I knew that big-name actors such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley were Scientologists, alongside lesser-known names such as the musician Beck and the actor (and Beck's brother-in-law) Giovanni Ribisi.
I knew little, however, about how the everyday Scientologist lived. Headley joined Scientology when was 15, because his mother did. He attended their schools and before too long, moved into one of their West Coast facilities and began working there.
At age 16, Headley became the treasury secretary for the group's Association for Better Living and Education International (ABLE Int -- Scientology loves its acronyms), which controls, among other things, four of Scientology's non-profit organizations.
At age 16, he's in charge of finance for a major organization, but like most people living at Scientology's heavily guarded compound in California, he's unable to have a driver's license.
The fact that Headley, and countless others in the book, are put in charge of projects and departments that they're clearly not qualified for, amazes me. I believe that head Scientologist David Miscavige runs the system this way so that he can come in and look like a genius when his underlings screw up, and then bust them down to slave-level jobs so it takes them a really long time to climb the ladder.
In order to move up the food chain, members are required to take course after course based on the teachings of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. They are also regularly "audited," during which they are grilled for hours while hooked up to an E-Meter, which is similar to a lie detector. If they exhibit physical reactions that lead the auditor to believe they're lying, or hiding something, then they don't pass, and have to study some more.
Headley recounts being audited a number of times by Cruise, when the "Top Gun" actor was earning his stripes with Scientology. Members who don't live in one the group's compounds pay thousands of dollars for courses and auditing. This is how Scientology makes its money. Well, that and selling books and videos to members.
I was just astounded at how much of a cult Scientology is. Those who are members of what's called Sea Org wear matching uniforms, live in Scientology-owned housing, often work 100-hour weeks for little or no pay and are warned that if they ever try to leave, they will be cut off from their families who are still in the "religion." Short for Sea Organization, the name Sea Org is rooted in Hubbard's late '60s initiative to teach Scientologists aboard three ships, an effort that many attribute to Hubbard's need to evade the prying eyes of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Internal Revenue Service.
I could go on and on about the mental and physical torture that Sea Org members, and those living in other Scientology encampments, endure, and about how bizarre their litany of courses and organizations and books and films are, as Headley describes them. But I feel as though in doing so I would drive myself crazy.
That's how I felt while reading this book: that I was going insane. The Scientology culture is so claustrophobic and controlling and filled with meaningless jargon -- and I haven't even gone into their belief that all humans have lived past lives going back trillions of years!
I'm sure there are other, better written accounts about life behind Scientology's barricades. I recently added Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion to my Amazon wish list.
If, like me, you get consumed by labyrinthine issues and outraged by how the I.R.S. in 1993 granted tax-exempt religion status to Scientology basically because the revenuers were exhausted by a barrage of Scientology lawsuits, then read this book. Or check out Reitman's book and let me know how it is.
Maybe this video of Supreme Scientolgist David Miscavige and Tom Cruise will convince you to buy a book:
OK, I just watched that video and wow, is Tom Cruise an idiot? Is he a robot? I think he's trying to come across as enthusiastic and serious and committed, but I don't see it or hear it. All I can do is shake my head.