This is a very thoroughly researched and executed work. Given the litigious history of its subject, that would have to be so if it were to survive the kinds of onslaughts Scientology has unleashed in the past. In fact the book details examples of what has happened to people who have attempted this in the past and it is not pretty reading. It would seem to spring from the unpredictable and capricious mentality of its founder, Ron Hubbard, who developed layers of formal organisational processes that spring into action at the slightest indication of what he would have seen as any activity white-anting him or the organisation.
The book had two foci for me. One was to create a clear understanding of the origins of the organisation and the personality of its founder (where such information is available). It is enough to say that this has been admirably well done. A careful reading will reward with a step-by-step explanation of how the organisation has morphed throughout the years retaining its key focus of promising improved self-knowledge and understanding, for those who felt a need for that, with an accompanying institutional structure that supported and promised much for those who were willing to suborn themselves. Unfortunately, in the manner of Stanley Milgram’s well-known authority experiments, it has also spawned internal controls and processes that can only be described as dangerously negative. The material is quite up-to-date covering recent developments particularly with the current focus on obtaining celebrity memberships and the process by which current leader David Miscavige came to power.
The other valuable component, which surprised me, was the extent to which it has had Australian involvement. I am old enough to remember the appearance of signage and street-based attempts to invite people to undertake e-metering and to hear about what was involved but very little detail on what was happening behind the organisational ‘front’. It emerges that Australia was once regarded as a ‘great white hope’ as two of Hubbard’s development aims were realised here – recognition as a registered religion and tax free status. However, in more recent times, and particularly with its history of public inquiries and the activities of Senator Xenophon, Rupert Murdoch (long time enemy) and Julian Assange (yes!), we are not nearly as loved. I also remember the public debate over the ‘deep sleep therapy’ practised at Chelmsford in Sydney in the 60’s and 70’s. Scientology was involved in attacking this damaging process and the eventual setting-up of the commissions of inquiry. The involvement, however, was largely an individual matter and did not seem to have had strong organisational origins.
Rupert Murdoch has long been antagonistic and Cannane argues that there was a determined attempt to subvert his influence via his son Lachlan who was once a close personal and business associate of Jamie Packer. Their joint financial interests were disastrous with huge financial losses. It would appear that Packer, depressed at that time, did become involved with Scientology though he has since distanced himself. Cannane argues that it was hoped that Packer’s involved might also bring in Lachlan Murdoch and so generate leverage to silence his father’s opposition. It all sounds almost crazily conspiratorial but a reading of how Scientology operates makes it less so.
Cannane documents the Australian development of the organisation and tracks the long-term involvement of individuals and families many of who fell by the wayside while some few have obtained high positions and influence in the organisation.
This is a very enlightening read yet it is not too heavy as much of the weight is carried by the remarkable stories of those who have been involved and are prepared to supply so much valuable information and insights.