A thoroughly engrossing, if absurdly lengthy article in The New Yorker about screenwriter/director Paul Haggis’ much publicized break with The Church of Scientology. While The New Yorker might not be the first place I’d look for a balanced look at anything remotely religious in nature, the article contains some undeniably provocative quotes. Plus, reality checks are always useful, especially when it comes to something that, in certain very superficial lights, resembles AA or Roman Catholicism or American Evangelicalism. For our purposes, the details of Haggis’ protracted “disconnection” are less interesting than all the tidbits about the ideology itself: the unapolgetic self-salvation and elitism, the blatant intertwining of “good works” with success, the heavy internal policing and hierarchical gnosticism, the extraterrestrial stuff, the very idea of what constitutes a “faith,” etc. The more you dig, the more it looks like the very antithesis of Christianity, a religion in the most negative sense, precisely the sort that Christ came to expose and dismantle. But perhaps that’s being charitable… to Scientology, ht LB:

The Church of Scientology says that its purpose is to transform individual lives and the world. “A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology,” Hubbard wrote. Scientology postulates that every person is a Thetan—an immortal spiritual being that lives through countless lifetimes. Scientologists believe that Hubbard discovered the fundamental truths of existence, and they revere him as “the source” of the religion. Hubbard’s writings offer a “technology” of spiritual advancement and self-betterment that provides “the means to attain true spiritual freedom and immortality.” A church publication declares, “Scientology works 100 percent of the time when it is properly applied to a person who sincerely desires to improve his life.” Proof of this efficacy, the church says, can be measured by the accomplishments of its adherents. “As Scientologists in all walks of life will attest, they have enjoyed greater success in their relationships, family life, jobs and professions. They take an active, vital role in life and leading roles in their communities. And participation in Scientology brings to many a broader social consciousness, manifested through meaningful contribution to charitable and social reform activities.”…

I asked Haggis why he had aligned himself with a religion that so many have disparaged. “I identify with the underdog,” he said. “I have a perverse pride in being a member of a group that people shun.” For Haggis, who likes to see himself as a man of the people, his affiliation with Scientology felt like a way of standing with the marginalized and the oppressed. The church itself often hits this note, making frequent statements in support of human rights and religious freedom. Haggis’s experience in Scientology, though, was hardly egalitarian: he accepted the privileges of the Celebrity Centre, which offers notables a private entrance, a V.I.P. lounge, separate facilities for auditing, and other perks. Indeed, much of the appeal of Scientology is the overt élitism that it promotes among its members, especially celebrities. Haggis was struck by another paradox: “Here I was in this very structured organization, but I always thought of myself as a freethinker and an iconoclast.”

…what [Haggis] understood to be the ethic of Scientology: “Hubbard says that there is a relationship between knowledge, responsibility, and control, and as soon as you know something you have a responsibility to act. And, if you don’t, shame on you.”

The auditor often probed for what Scientologists call “earlier similars.” Haggis explained, “If you’re having a fight with your girlfriend, the auditor will ask, ‘Can you remember an earlier time when something like this happened?’ And if you do then he’ll ask, ‘What about a time before that? And a time before that?’ ” Often, the process leads participants to recall past lives. The goal is to uncover and neutralize the emotional memories that are plaguing one’s behavior.

Although Haggis never believed in reincarnation, he says, “I did experience gains. I would feel relief from arguments I’d had with my dad, things I’d done as a teen-ager that I didn’t feel good about. I think I did, in some ways, become a better person. I did develop more empathy for others.” Then again, he admitted, “I tried to find ways to be a better husband, but I never really did. I was still the selfish bastard I always was.”

He felt unsettled by the lack of irony among many fellow-Scientologists—an inability to laugh at themselves, which seemed at odds with the character of Hubbard himself. When Haggis felt doubts about the religion, he recalled 16-mm. films he had seen of Hubbard’s lectures from the fifties and sixties. “He had this amazing buoyancy,” Haggis says. “He had a deadpan humor and this sense of himself that seemed to say, ‘Yes, I am fully aware that I might be mad, but I also might be on to something.’ ”…

[Film director and renowned Scientologist Terry] Jastrow, in his back yard, told me, “Scientology is going to be huge, and it’s going to help mankind right itself.” He asked me, “What else is there that we can hang our hopes on?”

“That’s improving the civilization,” Archer added.

“Is there some other religion on the horizon that’s gonna help mankind?” he said. “Just tell me where. If not Scientology, where?”

Since leaving the church, Haggis has been in therapy, which he has found helpful. He’s learned how much he blames others for his problems, especially those who are closest to him. “I really wish I had found a good therapist when I was twenty-one,” he said. In Scientology, he always felt a subtle pressure to impress his auditor and then write up a glowing success story. Now, he said, “I’m not fooling myself that I’m a better man than I am.”

I once asked Haggis about the future of his relationship with Scientology. “These people have long memories,” he told me. “My bet is that, within two years, you’re going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church.” He thought for a moment, then said, “I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.”

For more on Scientology, read Jeff Stockett’s expert post on its appeal.