Paul Haggis on leaving Scientology: 'I was in a cult for thirty-four years'

The Washington Post/February 8, 2011

"These people have long memories. My bet is that, within two years, you're going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church."

So says Academy Award-winning writer/director Paul Haggis ("Crash," "Million Dollar Baby," "Casino Royale," "In the Valley of Elah," "The Next Three Days") who recently walked away from Scientology after more than three decades as a member of the church.

In a wide-ranging profile/investigative piece in this week's (Feb. 14) New Yorker, writer Lawrence Wright interviews Haggis about his disillusionment with the celebrity-courting organization started by "Dianetics" guru L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and talks to scores of defectors about the ubiquity of abuse -- including human trafficking, unpaid labor and physical violence -- that allegedly start with current Scientology leader David Miscavage and trickle all the way down to the group's most powerless members, some of them children.

Wright also interviews celebrities, including Anne Archer, still very much in support of their spiritual path and who, like Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis (Archer's son) discredit Haggis as someone who remained in the church only to advance his career.

Warning: set aside at least an hour to read the meticulously detailed article and explore the supporting materials -- including audio and legal documents -- online. But, if you don't have time, here are just a few of the revelations that have Scientology adherents (including, we presume, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Kirstie Alley) in an uproar:

  • Haggis left the church after the public affairs arm refused to take a public stance against California's Proposition 8, which asserted that the State of California should sanction marriage only "between a man and a woman." Two of Haggis's daughters are gay.

  • Tom Cruise and other high-profile Scientologists are the recipients of special favors and gifts from the church. Cruise, said one defector, benefited in several ways -- including receiving gifts of motorcycles and even having Scientology remodel a private airplane hangar. This while the group's bottom rung members, so called Sea Org volunteers, are sometimes paid as little as $13 a week.

  • Spending part of 2005 doing manual labor in Florida, Tommy Davis, Archer's son and now the public face of Scientology, allegedly confessed to a now defected member of the church that he was being punished because, "I got busted. I [expletive] up on Tom Cruise's lines."

  • Josh Brolin, who admits he dabbled in Scientology when he was trying to kickstart his acting career, describes to Wright a Scientology dinner he once attended:

  • Brolin says that he once witnessed John Travolta practicing Scientology. Brolin was at a dinner party in Los Angeles with Travolta and Marlon Brando. Brando arrived with a cut on his leg, and explained that he had injured himself while helping a stranded motorist on the Pacific Coast Highway. He was in pain. Travolta offered to help, saying that he had just reached a new level in Scientology. Travolta touched Brando's leg and Brando closed his eyes. "I watched this process going on—it was very physical," Brolin recalls. "I was thinking, This is really fucking bizarre! Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, ‘That really helped. I actually feel different!' " (Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account "pure fabrication.")

  • Many celebrities were reportedly drawn into the organization through the Beverly Hills Play House, whose resident acting coach was a devout Scientologist and, according to interviewees, acted as a recruiter for the church.

The Church of Scientology issued an official statement in response to Wright's article, calling it "irresponsible" and citing Wright for allegedly rehashing already disproved allegations to "garner headlines for an otherwise stale article."

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