The man who stood up to Scientology

Renunciation trails Canadian Oscar winner

London Daily Telegraph/January 3, 2015
By Hermione Hoby

For a time, the distinguishing fact attached to Paul Haggis was being the only person ever to have won the Oscar for best picture two years running.

He wrote and produced 2004's Clint Eastwood-directed Million Dollar Baby. He won his second statuette for writing, directing and producing 2005's Crash, the crime drama that cannily subverts assumptions about racism. (He wrote it, he once said, to "bust liberals" - among whom he counts himself.)

By now, though, it's another distinguishing fact that trails the 61-year-old Canadian filmmaker, born and raised in London, Ont.

In 2009, Haggis very publicly renounced Scientology, the notorious Hollywood-centric movement some call a religion and many others, including Haggis, denounce as a cult. He remains its highest-profile apostate. That identity and all the accompanying sensationalism of Scientology has almost threatened to eclipse his impressive career as a screenwriter and director, from his work as writer-director on the hit Canadian TV show Due South to his more recent Oscar successes.

He is eager to talk about his movies, but Haggis must know by now every conversation with a journalist will turn to the organization he left behind.

"Yeah," he says heavily. "We make our decisions."

He sounds regretful. Is he?

"Yes, it was a big mistake," he jokes. "I have to go back right now! Apologize to them if you would and see if they'll take me back!" And then he swiftly collects himself: "Of course not. No. Except waiting so long," he says. "Being so stupid for so long.

"But it's really insidious. I had no clue how insidious it was until I'd been out for like a year. You look back and go, 'oh my God.' I was always an outsider and if it can affect me that much - a cynic and a loner and an outsider - go figure!

"You have to be really purposefully blind, you have to choose to be blind and that's what I was doing and that's what all my friends were doing."

Haggis had been in the church for 35 years when he wrote a letter to its chief spokesman in which, in blazing language, he announced his resignation. It was precipitated by the organization's stance on gay rights (the San Diego church had supported Proposition 8, which asserted marriage should be legal only between heterosexual couples) but as Haggis began reading about Scientology his eyes were opened to a litany of other alleged atrocities and abuses.

Is he as proud about renouncing Scientology as he is about his film accolades?

"Oh God, no. Why would I be?" Well, it surely took a lot of courage.

It's a notoriously litigious and punitive organization.

"No," he says, "I just decided I had to do it and I did it. If it's a moral choice you have to make it's not a matter of courage. You just have to make the decision. I've always had a thing about that - when I saw people were being bullied, I just dealt with it. I always have, the worst comes out in me. The bigger the bully, the more I want to take them down."

A few days after sending his resignation letter, Haggis returned home from work to find nine or 10 Scientology members standing in his front yard, waiting to talk to him. In the days that followed, more church officials and members visited his office. As he told The New Yorker magazine, these officials became "more livid and irrational" as he refused to be persuaded out of his stance.

He was also "trolled" online. "I know what they do online," he says. "I've seen them attack others under false names, try to discredit them, ruin their careers. And I've heard about these two people who work in the basement of Special Affairs there and they're just online all day at their computers, going on to various blogs, commenting on people's lives and things they do.

"And I've seen the results. If you go to, for example, a site like Wikipedia - Wikipedia banned Scientology from commenting. So when people comment on me or my films, yes there's a part of me that goes, 'well that could be absolutely valid or that could be a Scientologist.' So you just don't pay any attention - you can't."

He still has friends in the church, he says, but hopes they "open their eyes" and "see it's not going to save the world, it's not going to save them."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos