Paul Haggis, director of Crash and In the Valley of Ellah, quit the “Church” of Scientology with a fire-tongued parting volley made public earlier this week. Haggis said he was leaving because he refused to condone the organization’s anti-gay stance, evidenced by its support of Prop 8 in California. Quoting from his letter to Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis: “I told you I could not, in good conscience, be a member of an organization where gay-bashing was tolerated.” CNN 10/27/09
So resolute was Haggis’ denouncement, an observer is left wondering what he was waiting for. Having been a Scientologist for 35 years, presumably this isn’t the first time Haggis has tripped on a distasteful political position in the hallowed halls that Hubbard built. His letter was written in four parts, each outlining an area of disappointment with the organization’s teachings — so we can safely assume he’s been mulling this for a while. Better late than never, yes; but still, why so long?
The answer, I think, is probably the same as why any of Scientology’s long-term adherents stick around: they’re getting what they need — the ‘need’ being a degree of psychological leverage against the conflict and stress of living. With its goulash of hack psychotherapy, mind science, and quasi-spiritual overtones, Scientology is a pay-as-you-go elixir for anxiety and uncertainty.
In the letter, Haggis says that in his 20s and 30s he received “a great deal of training and counseling” from Scientology. This makes perfect sense. As a screen writer and budding director, Haggis was dealing with the tumult of being a creative spirit in the grasp of a pragmatic industry. He needed leverage, and Scientology offered just that: a method to stay focused, goal oriented, task proficient. Success followed, and Haggis remained loyal. Until now.
Scientology’s founder, L . Ron Hubbard, was a skilled fabulist who knew that people crave narrative to make sense of their lives. The problem with religious narratives, Hubbard recognized, is exclusionary dogma and resilience against scientific explanation. The problem with science, however, is its refusal to embrace a central and enduring narrative, since by definition science is designed to continually falsify its own conclusions.
Hubbard’s solution: combine the appeal of religious narrative with the explanatory power of science. Jettison the dogma and falsifiability, and you have a product people will buy — and as their self esteem benefits, they’ll buy even more.
If you’ve ever wondered why anyone would remain in Scientology even after hearing all about the thoroughly ridiculous science fiction origins of the belief system (Xenu, Body Thetans, et al) — it’s not because they’re imbeciles (necessarily), but because they’re getting what they crave. Criticisms of the cartoonish scifi backdrop of the “church” are insignificant against the mental rush of stability Scientology devotees believe they’re tapping into, however illusory it actually is.
And, of course, the answers Scientology claims to offer are illusions tailored for commercial consumption. I have a suspicion that Haggis figured that out some time ago, but his loyalty kept him in the ranks. The Prop 8 stance was the final straw. Again I say, better late than never. Maybe he’ll spark an exodus.
The video below shows how Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis–the guy Haggis’ letter was addressed to–handles questions about his beliefs (with a little help from the amazing Keyboard Cat).