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Scientologists, Catholics and More Money Than God


Paul Mounce/Corbis
The Church of Scientology building in Los Angeles.

We do not need these books to tell us that money and religion make for a poisonous combination. But it is of some interest to see that ancient truth confirmed in both a church as relatively new as Scientology and one as ancient as Roman Catholicism. Even religious leaders develop a certain swagger when they know they are backed by bundles of cash. When a French court fined Scientology nearly a million dollars, one of its officials shrugged that off as “chump change.” And when the Vatican ran a deficit of nearly 2.4 million euros in 2007, an Italian journalist familiar with the church’s finances dismissed the debt as “chopped liver.” Chump change or chopped liver, both churches have bigger sums they can get to and use, and few outsiders are given a look at how they do it. These two books trace the cash source of theological confidence.

As Janet Reitman describes in “Inside Scientology,” Scientology did not begin as a religion, which its founder, L. Ron Hubbard came to consider his initial mistake. In 1950 Hubbard published his book “Dianetics,” which proposed a variant on the “mind cures” that have littered the American landscape through most of its history. He offered his followers a process of “auditing” that combined Freudian sessions with elements of his former career as a writer of science fiction. People being audited could relive their births, or test their future hopes on the E-meter, a kind of super lie detector that revealed “the anatomy of the human mind.” Mental health authorities, Reitman notes, were quick to condemn Hubbard’s claims as fraudulent. He did not, at this point, have the money to fight against such attacks, a situation he would spend the rest of his career correcting.
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TAGGED: BOOKS, CULTS, REVIEWS


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