Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Will The New Yorker's Scientology Article Win Converts?

The New Yorker's recent essay on Scientology by Lawrence Wright is getting a lot of attention, and with good reason: it's well-researched, uses solid insider sources, and has some bombshell revelations. (Although if you've been following Scientology reporting for any length of time, it's the same sort of shocking stuff you already know.) But J.C. Hallman, who has also written extensively about Scientology, has an eye-opening criticism of the piece on Killing the Buddha. Specifically, he believes that Wright's journalistic objectivity gets in the way of portraying Scientology for the truly scary thing it is. Here's the kicker:

The funny thing is, "The Apostate" is exactly the kind of article that might get someone interested in Scientology. There’s just enough doubt thrown in, just enough caveats and deniability and dropped threads, and just enough intrigue to make it all seem like a grand adventure. If you’re frail and needy, and if you’re a seeker, then you’re not going to listen for what Wright is suggesting between the lines of this piece, when he appears to be writing not for readers but for a judge and jury. Instead, you’ll listen to the quiet evangelism that Scientology knows creeps through all accounts like this, and is the only reason they’re willing to sit down with The New Yorker.

Read the whole argument here. And for extra credit, read The Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard -- the biography that the Scientologists pretty successfully suppressed until some nice person decided to put the entire text online.