Scientology film gives a welcome push to the boundaries of religious freedom

I wouldn’t be surprised if actor Tom Cruise’s control and tenacity comes from his indoctrination in the Church of Scientology. Religion can transform people from the inside out. Mr. Cruise’s confidence embodies the forbearance training a millionaire can purchase in the Scientology cult.

There are at least eight (expensive) levels of “thetan” presence that Scientology implants into its devotees, and the result is a forceful presence which allows you a “tone 40” command or possibly more. I am usually mesmerized by Mr. Cruise on screen, I think he’s got at least a “tone 40,” and now I can speculate from whence it came.

This revelation is thanks to the Canadian premiere of My Scientology Movie, by director John Dower and Louis Theroux, which screened at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival on Sunday. The film is captivating, hilarious, and frightening as it pushes how far the boundaries for religious freedom can go.

The documentary embeds Mr. Theroux into a recreation of Scientology techniques with a former inspector general of the faith, Marty Rathbun. Over his 27 years as a Scientology devotee, Mr. Rathbun held the highest rank of ecclesiology, unsuccessfully tried to reform the belief, and now writes and counsels on exiting the faith.

Mr. Theroux is a British celebrity journalist whose sweetly invasive style feigns a curious soul trying to figure out how the secretive leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, operates. For me, the documentary evoked the ancient words about Jesus in Matthew 9, where people curious for a better life had swarmed the rabbi: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I have no problem with Mr. Cruise employing mind-control techniques for his own uses, but Scientology, wrapped in the guise of a religiously structured church, is a system accountable to scrutiny.

If more filmmakers turned their camera on religion, like My Scientology Movie has done, we’d have a better world. The Oscar-winning best picture Spotlight, recounting the sins of the Christian church’s pedophilia scandal, spoke up for the helpless in a profound way. Open storytelling which examines the beliefs that shape Islamic State will be part of the future to peace. As Mr. Theroux intones in his documentary, “It may be every religion carries its own DNA for its destruction.”

Harassed and helpless, that timeless phrase which describes people’s search for health and wholeness, requires not less religion, but better understanding of what is in the DNA of our religions. Charles Taylor, writing in A Secular Age, documents how we’ve reinvented our spiritual search and advises, “We are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee.”

Maybe the ways of Mr. Miscavige and his disciples are exactly that, fruit of the new age, people out on a path to belong somewhere with a hope to improve their lives? To make sense of it means we need to do the deliberate personal work of religious education. Schools and places of worship should be strengthened for the search, not shuttered. Book clubs, family discussions, media, all of it needs to engage the spiritual.

A solid education, an open education, is a good thing for what is ultimately a most private connection between people and God.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Lorna Dueck has explored the intersection of journalism and Christianity for over 30 years. That curiosity led to the creation of Media Voice Generation (MVG), a community-held Canadian charity that exists to create boundary-breaking media that reveals Christ. Context with Lorna Dueck is the flagship TV show and online production of MVG. Lorna is a regular commentary writer on faith and public life in Canada's leading national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and a frequent media commentator.

About the author