New Yorker staff writer and Looming Tower author Lawrence Wright is writing what his agent calls "the most profound reckoning to date" with Scientology, told through the eyes of director and apostate Paul Haggis. This should be good.
Haggis spent 35 years as a Scientologist before angrily and publicly ditching the cult in 2009 after he became convinced that leader David Miscavige is a violent nut. He hasn't spoken publicly about Scientology since, but a "blown" celebrity (to use the Scientological term for leaving the fold) like Haggis is Scientology's worst possible nightmare—it can smear and threaten rank-and-file detractors all it wants, but when one of its former leading lights is making the charges, it's harder to strike back.
Wright is a meticulous and muscular reporter, so the two men collaborating to tell the story of Scientology from the inside will be a very big deal. The book, which doesn't have a publisher yet, will be called The Heretic of Hollywood: Paul Haggis vs.The Church of Scientology and will explore both founder L. Ron Hubbard's life and Haggis' personal investigation into Miscavige's violence, the enslavement of "Sea Org" volunteers, and forced abortions for church workers, according to a catalog from Wright's agent Andrew Wylie [pdf] that was pointed out to us by a tipster. Full text of the catalog copy is below.
Wright has mentioned the project before in interviews, and indicated that it grew out of a New Yorker story that hasn't yet run.
It will be interesting to see whether Scientology's counterintelligence and disinformation machinery will be up to the challenge of undermining a project like this: Back in the 1970s, the cult actually managed to infiltrate the private life of Paulette Cooper, author of The Scandal of Scientology, with a stooge acting as her best friend in a failed effort to frame her and drive her to suicide. So Wright might want to be careful about making any new friends for the next few years.
The Academy Award winning writer and director, Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash), spent three decades in the Church of Scientology. Haggis was one of the church's Hollywood trophies, along with Tom Cruise and John Travolta, whose paths cross with Haggis's. His resignation from the church in August of 2009 was a crushing disappointment to the organization. This is the first time Haggis has spoken about his experience.
The roots of Scientology are explored in this book, particularly the life of its eccentric founder, L. Ron Hubbard, whose flashes of brilliance and insanity are woven into the fabric of this elaborate belief system. Through Haggis's eyes, we discover the appeal of Scientology, especially to talented and ambitious members of the entertainment industry. Haggis conducted a personal investigation of the church, in which he was told about the wanton physical abuse on the part of its current leader, David Miscavige, of senior members of the organization. He was told that young volunteers in the Scientology clergy, called the Sea Org, are subjected to conditions approaching slavery or imprisonment, and that many female members have been forced to have abortions.
The most profound reckoning to date with this powerful and secretive organization, The Heretic of Hollywood is also a moving human story of the lure of extreme faith and the price of leaving it.
[Photo illustration (not actual book) at top via Shutterstock.com. Photos of Wright, Haggis, and Scientology Centre in Los Angeles via Getty]