If I was able to that quickly assess and reject Scientology as a fourteen-year old, then why are dozens of celebrities willing to donate hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars just to move through the levels of a religion invented by a science-fiction writer? Well I have some theories about that, so let’s talk.
In reading a 2011 article on Scientology from The New Yorker, I came across this quote from Hugh B. Urban, who teaches religious studies at Ohio State University:
“I think the reason that celebrities would be interested is because it’s a religion that fits pretty well with a celebrity kind of personality. It’s very individualistic. It celebrates your individual identity as ultimately divine. It claims to give you ultimate power over your own mind, self, destiny, so I think it fits well with an actor personality. And then the wealth question: These aren’t people who need more wealth, but what they do need, or often want at least, is some kind of spiritual validation for their wealth and lifestyle, and Scientology is a religion that says it’s OK to be wealthy, it’s OK to be famous, in fact, that’s a sign of your spiritual development. So it kind of is a spiritual validation for that kind of lifestyle.”
Whereas many religions preach that the less you have in this lifetime, the more you deserve in the next, Scientology encourages its followers to achieve what they can, as their successes reflect back on the Church and make them more able to contribute financially. The Scientology Celebrity Centres are gaudy properties where theoretically anyone can worship, but with special entrances, VIP lounges, and separate ‘auditing facilities’ for famous adherents. In addition, Scientology seems almost specifically designed to appeal to actors, as its teachings purportedly give them control over their lives in a world where they’re really quite helpless. If you want a job, you have to audition for it, sometimes multiple times, alongside people exactly like you. You can feel that you had the best audition and not get the part, or the worst audition and get cast the next day. It’s a system with no control, where you rely on the whims of casting directors, producers, agents, etcetera, and it can become incredibly frustrating over time.
Which is where Scientology steps in. It offers a range of courses insisting they can maximize your potential, increase your intelligence, streamline your talent, and most importantly — give you control of your life. The trick of the religion is in its ability to catch people at the right time, right as they’re becoming famous, when all they need to really break through is an attitude shift, and then they’re suddenly wildly successful. The Church then capitalizes on that moment, saying that your success came about from Scientology, conveniently helping you forget all the many years of hard work, fruitless auditions, and unpaid bills.
The thing is, this technique is really genius, actually, because of the environment that’s fostered by actors working on a project. When you’re working on a show or a film, you know you’re not actually that character, but you have to suspend your disbelief to accurately portray them. You have to really open up your mind to take in new information and take on false characteristics, and in that mindset, you’re extremely susceptible to outside ideas. That’s part of why it happens so often that people have relationships with their former co-stars — you’re engaged in something intensely personal that people outside the project couldn’t understand. It’s the perfect breeding ground for a cult, and I’m honestly surprised that no one’s thought of it before L. Ron Hubbard.
I don’t want to make a blanket statement, but I’m about to. The most successful actors are typically extremely narcissistic. (Surprise!) And it makes sense. It’s so difficult to become a successful actor, let alone a movie star, that you have to have intense faith in yourself, almost to the point of irrationality. People every day for years and years will tell you ‘no’, and you have to continue to believe ‘yes’. That is completely and totally crazy. You don’t want to hang out with people like that. Those are the people who when you say, “What’s your back-up plan?” they say, “I don’t need one, I’m going to be famous and people will give me money to be more famous!” And a surprising number of cases, they’re actually right, because people who really want and believe that are going to make it happen. They are, in a word, obsessed. Think about the ridiculous things you see in the riders of famous people. They want all their M&Ms sorted so they don’t even have to TOUCH the flavors they don’t like. They want eight dozen roses in each dressing room. They want ten phone lines. That is ridiculous. No one needs all that.
But Scientology supports that kind of behavior. It encourages its members to be elitists. It seeks out egotists — people who think they’re better than us because they have proof! As a nation, we pay millions of dollars every year to watch them on movie screens. We adore them, and they begin to feel they deserve more and more adoration, which the Church heaps on so that they’ll continue to disseminate Scientology’s messages.
And even if people do become disillusioned with the religion, after a while you’ve invested too much time and money to just stop. It’s like when you’re waiting for the subway and it’s been thirty minutes — you should leave, but because you’ve already put so much time into waiting, you find yourself waiting five more minutes, and then another five, and then another five…
And hours and hours after the rest of us have sucked it up and taken a cab home, Tom Cruise will still be waiting on that platform for the G.