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Like most fellow members of the Netflix generation, I watch a lot of online movies and documentaries. One of the most fascinating specials I’ve watched in the past year was HBO’s “Going Clear,” about the Scientology cult and its policies. Some of the strange facts I already knew – for example, the entire idea was created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, that it relied heavily on a scheme of “levels” based on monetary donations, and that the organization bloated Tom Cruise’s ego so much that it drove him to the point of mania. However, I learned a few new things too; for example, that followers of this cult must submit to “audits,” which are essentially recorded therapy sessions/confessionals that can later be used against you.
They also define anyone who speaks out against their “Church” as O.P.’s, or Oppressive Persons, and members of Scientology are forbidden from interacting with these OP’s (whether they’re your friends, relatives, or even your own children).
Anyway, after hearing about some of these dark details on the show, I became mildly obsessed with learning more about this organization. The question that I kept asking myself was why someone would be even remotely interested in such a creeptastic cult? How could someone fall for this scheme?
Enter Leah Remini’s book.
The Nitty Gritty: Leah Remini actually grew up as a Scientologist before she became a celebrity, and she knows all the in’s and out’s of this organization. As a pre-teen, her whole family moved down to Clearwater, Florida, to live in a hotel and undergo extensive Scientology training. Once Leah began her acting career, she would spend multiple hours per day at the church AFTER working a full day on-set, studying Scientology policy and training for her “next level.” At every step, she and her family were donating most of their savings to the organization, as the more generous your contributions to the Church the easier it was to move up in the levels (anyone sensing a Scheme here?). Whenever Leah did something the church considered “wrong,” like getting extra food from the Scientology cafeteria or speaking out against high-ranking members who broke policy, Leah would be fined for her transgressions. Leah estimates that she spent over $2 million in training and over $3 million in donations for the organization. As a result, she knows all about audits, sec-check’s, O.T. levels, and the Sea Org (is this real life?), as well as The Hole, a Scientology punishment/torture center in California.
The first portion of the book was my favorite part, because it reveals how a family can become so enamored with such a crazy organization. Leah didn’t grow up with wealth or a stable family life – her parents divorced at a young age, and her father was a rough-and-tumble kind of guy. Her mom struggled to make ends meet and raise her daughters in a safe environment. The “Church” was a sanctuary for them, a place to feel like they belonged. All the crazy stuff happens in the later levels of the Church, after you’ve become emotionally invested in the organization.
The book is really packed with juicy scandalous details, and, because I listened to this via audible.com, I heard it all through Leah’s smoky, bawdy Brooklyn narrative (seriously, if you’re trying to get into audiobooks but can’t find one to stick with, try this one, it’s pure entertainment). Even though Leah explains that there actually aren’t that many celebrity followers, the few that are Scientologists are treated like royalty within the Church, even having a special “celebrity entrance” into their building in L.A. She discusses the absolute train wreck of Tom Cruise and his romance with Katie Holmes (which she hints was orchestrated by the organization), as well as their wedding and all the drama that ensued because Leah wouldn’t follow the set itinerary the scientologists set for her in Italy. Because she didn’t ride in a car with other Scientologists to the wedding, or sit with specific Scientologists at the reception, she was ordered to fly to Flag (the headquarters in Florida) for THREE months to be constantly audited and grilled over her “oppressive behavior.” She spent $300,000 while there for training sessions (AKA brainwashing), donations, and gifts to “apologize” to the Cruises for her “transgressions.”
The book also discusses Leah’s disgust over the Miscavige scandal (the wife of David Miscavige, one of the main leaders of Scientology, has mysteriously vanished since 2007 and no one in the church has answered questions about her whereabouts since). Leah kept attempting to make contact with Mrs. Miscavige, which angered the leaders of the Church to the point that Leah finally decided to break with the cult entirely.
Rating: 4/5. This book has all the great beach-read features: scandalous and controversial subject, a celebrity willing to dish out gossip in an entertaining way, and sprinkled with enough information to feel like you’re learning something decently worthwhile.
Who Should Read This Book? People like me who are a little too fascinated with the lure of cults; celebrity groupies, sociology readers