For those who have never read L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics (or don't remember its kickass late '80s television ads), never suffered through all 118 minutes of Battlefield Earth, and never listened to Tom Cruise wax philosophical on Thetans, your understanding of the Church of Scientology is probably limited to the quick sound bites offered by the media, particularly when some celebrity member of the Church defects.
In his new film, Going Clear, which aired on HBO Sunday night, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney gathers a host of former members (many of them high-ranking ones) and loads of archival footage to give viewers a better understanding of the Church's practices, and the frequent allegations of abuse and controlling behavior that are lobbed at the secretive institution, which counts Cruise, John Travolta, and Beck among its many well-known members.
Leading up to the film's TV debut, the Church of Scientology has unsurprisingly gone apeshit, and taken to Twitter to discount the film entirely. Here are 16 things we learned from watching Going Clear.
1 | L. Ron Hubbard is a Guinness World Record holder
Actually, he's a three-time Guinness World Record holder: for Most Published Works By One Author (with a grand total of 1,084 tomes written between 1934 and 2006); Most Translated Author, Same Book (as of 2010, Hubbard's The Way to Happiness can be read in 70 languages); and Most Audio Books Published for One Author (as of 2009, that number was at 185 – and growing).
2 | His friends call Hubbard "LRH"
Or at least his followers do. Which really does save time.
3 | Scientologists have superpowers
"From the beginning, you hear these stories people tell of these abilities they've been able to gain," former Scientologist (and two-time Oscar winner) Paul Haggis states in the film. "I don't know if they said it, or it was just talked about by others that they had superpowers," adds Spanky Taylor, a public relations consultant and former Scientologist who was with the Church for 17 years. "I was really young, but I thought, 'I'd like to have superpowers!'" Later in the film, she cites mind-reading and the ability to move objects at will as being just two of the many powers the highest-level Scientologists came to acquire.
4 | "Hip hip, hooray" is the Scientology battle cry
Like the Pledge of Allegiance, Scientology gatherings usually include a salute to an enormous photo of L. Ron Hubbard that presides over the Church, followed by a declaration of "Hip hip, hooray!"
5 | The book upon which Going Clear is based wasn't meant as an expose
Lawrence Wright, the author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, asserts in the film that his "goal wasn't to write an expose. It was simply to understand Scientology. Trying to understand what people get out of it. Why do they go into it in the first place? I was interested in intelligent and skeptical people who were drawn into a belief system and wind up acting on those beliefs in ways they never thought they would."
6 | John Travolta was in a Band-Aid commercial
In 1973, Travolta was stuck on Band-Aid. Thanks, Scientology.
7 | Hubbard questioned his own sanity
In archival footage of an interview with Hubbard, LRH himself concurs that he may very well be mad. In writing Going Clear, Lawrence Wright uncovered a letter, shown in the film, which Hubbard wrote to the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles, asking for psychiatric assistance. "I think that his whole creation of Scientology really was a form of self-therapy," Wright posits. "If he were just a fraud then he would have at some point taken the money and run, and he never did that."
8 | Jason Beghe is the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with
It's a good thing that Going Clear is playing on HBO and not PBS; otherwise, Beghe – who plays Hank Voight on Chicago P.D. – might not have made the final cut of the film, as his fascinating insights into the Church and his own experiences as a Scientologist are filled with expletives. But in the most charming way possible.
9 | Marty Rathbun is the Michael Jordan of auditing
In the film, Beghe refers to Marty Rathbun, a former executive with the Church and one of its preeminent auditors, as both the Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky of auditing. Which amuses Rathbun. "Here is my recognition after all of these years," Rathbun tells Esquire in an interview, with a laugh. "I really looked at what sort of set me apart or put me at this place where he would say, 'Hey, he is really good,' and recognize all of this complicated, sophisticated stuff that goes with it. The only thing that set me apart was my ability to instill confidence in somebody."
10 | The highest order of Scientologists sign a billion-year contract
The Scientology website describes the Sea Organization as "a religious order for the Scientology religion... composed of the singularly most dedicated Scientologists – individuals who have committed their lives to the volunteer service of their religion." They're not kidding. Sea Organization members prove their commitment to the group by signing a billion-year contract. "Which I did as soon as I could," Spanky Taylor admits. "I left skid marks getting to that billion-year contract."
11 | Scientology is tax-exempt
After having its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS in 1967, current Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige was able to have it reinstated on October 1, 1993. A major celebration followed, with the Church declaring that "The War Is Over."
12 | Scientologists have got pipes
As part of the extended celebration of their newly tax-exempt status, the Church shot a "We Are the World"-like music video called "We Stand Tall." Which is really best explained by watching it yourself. "When he got absolute power, he went absolutely bonkers," Rathbun says, referring to Miscavige.
13 | Tom Cruise is the man
Yes, you already knew this. But to illustrate just how important he is to the Church of Scientology, he was presented with the IAS Freedom Medal of Valor. An honor that comes not just with an oversized gold medallion, but also with a very, very long tribute video with rather impressive production value.
Tom Cruise getting his dance on in Going Clear
14 | Being labeled an SP (suppressive person) is not a good thing
In the documentary, former Scientologists share the stories of how they were labeled SPs and forced out of the Church.
"It is really Byzantine and complicated, depending on your status and whether you are staff or a certain level," Rathbun tells us. "The bottom line is that if you don't tow the line, if you are critical, if you express criticism to any degree and you persist with it, you will be labeled a suppressive person. And when you are a suppressive person, all other Scientologists – by longstanding policy – must disconnect from you in every way, shape, matter, or form, including any communication or any association whatsoever."
When Rathbun chose to leave the Church after 27 years, his wife stayed. "I spent the last 10 months attempting to sort of reconcile the fact that I had to go because of the extremity of abuse that was going on. [My wife] was a second-generation Scientologist. She chose to stay."
15 | John Travolta is looking forward to a world without insanity
In an archival interview with John Travolta (who declined to be interviewed for Gibney's documentary), Travolta shares that his "favorite concept about Scientology is a world without criminality, a world without war, and a world without insanity. And I know of no other group that their goals are that clear." (It should be noted that Travolta gives the interview while dressed head-to-toe in camouflage, which we'll surmise was for a film.)
16 | Tom Cruise still likes that old time rock and roll
In what is perhaps Going Clear's most bizarrely entertaining moment, footage from a Scientology-hosted birthday party for Cruise shows a fun nod to his star-making turn in Risky Business with a live performance of Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll," which goes downhill quickly when Cruise dances over to the microphone (eek!), grabs it for an impromptu vocal performance (yikes!), then launches into a full split (ouch!).
This article was originally published on Esquire.com