Church of Scientology the movie …

February 27th, 2015

RELS 341 – 01 Religion and Politics

 Church of Scientology the movie …

An article written by Michael Cieply for the New York Times ( posted on January 15 of this year is a summary of the controversy surrounding the film Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The documentary by Alex Gibney based on Lawrence Wright’s book about Scientology premiered January 25, 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival and is to be televised on HBO on March 16, 2015. The issue with the film is that the Church of Scientology had not actually seen it before it was shown and it directly mentions celebrities who chose not to participate in interviews creating even more bad press for a religion that is already scrutinized.

What is so bad about the Church of Scientology? People attack the Church of Scientology on the basis of it being more business like than religious; but all religions need some kind of funding to operate. As well many people lump the Church of Scientology with cults, but ‘cult’ is a loaded term. People generally associate ‘cult’ with control, brainwashing and death and are unaware of what the definition of a cult actually is. A cult is defined as something contrary to the ordinary, different than the dominant culture and often some subcultures (Understanding Cults and New Religions pp. 6) The brainwashing thesis for why people would join the Church of Scientology is wrong, people possess free will and can join and leave the Church if they want to – L. Ron Hubbard did not force people to join the Church of Scientology when it was founded in the 1950’s (New Religious Movements pp. 133-135). Looking at historical accounts of the Church of Scientology it is obvious that is its own worst enemy in creating all of the negative publicity surrounding it: tax evasion, attempting to block judgmental publications, infiltration of government agencies. The Church was trying to prevent negative exposure but the aggressive tactics used painted a more controlling ‘cult’ like picture of the Church and did more harm than good to its image (New Religious Movements pp. 140). Most notably there is no death, sacrifices or mass murder caused by the Church of Scientology, it is just more controlling than other religions when it comes to publicity. It seems that the Church failed to realize in the past that exposure to the public of any kind will allow for the NRM (new religious movement) to gain momentum and provide it with the power to propel itself through the media. It is possible that the Church learned from its mistakes and that is why it did not try to block the Scientology and the Prison of Belief video. The documentary itself is obviously tainted with Gibney’s biases as he directly stated that the theme of his documentary is to show how people become prisoners of faith in various ways and he wanted to increase information about the Church of Scientology and force it to make changes. He also seemed to only interview past adherents that would shed a damaging light on the NRM. Gibney chose only to see the bad produced by the Church of Scientology, which means his film is lacking – he should have looked at the Church from all angles. By creating a film from such a narrow perspective Gibney shows aggressive tactics in the media not unlike the acts committed by the Church of Scientology. For more information about what has happened since the debut of the movie in the Sundance Festival checkout (, and tune into HBO in March to watch it.

#uwreligions Signed: RBRELSPOLI


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