I recently watched the 2015 documentary Going Clear:Scientology And The Prison of Belief. It's based on the 2013 book by Lawrence Wright Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Obviously it deals with the religion, so-called, of Scientology; it is in fact an expose of the extremes and abuses of the church. It does this through interviews with ex-church members, footage of scientology events and the behaviours of various present members, and also by looking into the disturbing biography of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
The documentary delves into the shady history of Hubbard- his actual history, not the one he made up and told his credulous followers. For example, L.R.H. claimed to be a naval war hero who was wounded in battle and received a Purple Heart. In reality, he was removed from his command due to incompetence, and was hospitalized with an ulcer, not a war wound. Guess which version the Church of Scientology subscribes to.
Going Clear also details how many of the former members interviewed got involved with the church. Some were born into families already involved in the "religion" but many of them joined themselves, of their own volition. A story common to many of them seems to be that Scientology was first presented to them as kind of a self-help movement, with classes which they paid to take. Then, of course, there were more levels which required higher and higher rates of payment to have further truths revealed.
One bizarre- and creepy- practice which the documentary covers is that of auditing, which all church members whatever their level must submit to. In these audits, the subject must grasp the two handles of a device which is supposed to detect thought. The subject is then required to tell the auditor these thoughts, which are all taken down and recorded. All I can say is, if I'd paid good money for some class and the person running it handed me two tin cans strung together with wire, told me that he could detect my thoughts and demanded that I confess what they were, I very much doubt that he'd want to record my thoughts on the matter.
The former members also relate the mental- and sometimes physical- abuse that they were subjected to in order to keep them in line. Also, women who work in the higher echelons of the organization are "encouraged" to have abortions if they happen to get pregnant. If they do not, they frequently have their children taken from them to be "raised" by the church. When they left scientology, the church would not allow their families to be in contact with them anymore. They also described being followed by agents from the church, having their phones tapped, and having their characters smeared by the church. The church, naturally, denies all of these charges.
Going Clear also examines Scientology's love of and dependence on the endorsement and financial support of major celebrities and donors such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise. It suggests outright that the church deliberately broke up Cruise's marriage to Nicole Kidman because she was influencing him to distance himself from scientology. It also claims that girls were brought in and auditioned to be Cruise's girlfriend. The film also hypothesizes that the reason why some of the more prominent members don't leave is because they fear the church will reveal things about them which they confessed to during their auditing sessions. That seems entirely plausible, given what we know about how the church of scientology treats those who dissent from its teaching. So this is a short overview of Going Clear; I'll share my thoughts on the documentary in a follow-up post.