J. C. Hallman
The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion
by Janet Reitman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$28.00 List Price
Quite often, religion proves every bit as stupid as it is crucial. Which is to say that the sheer preposterousness of a religion—any religion—can serve as a measure of spiritual need. The longing for cosmological certainty is so great that humanity is susceptible to all kinds of bunkum. The sad truth: Our most fundamental trait is foolishness.
Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology grew out of a National Magazine Award–nominated piece for Rolling Stone, and there are two reasons you might consider reading it. One, per the above rule of cracked religiosity, you might hope for an explanation of why something as zany as Scientology can even happen. Two, you might be curious about Scientology because Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and because, well, people just seem to talk about it a lot. If you’re in the latter camp, this book will serve you fine—maybe even too fine, as Reitman has a fetish for detail. But if you’re looking for more than shallow news value, you’re going to be disappointed.
Here’s the book in a nutshell: Once upon a time, Reitman wandered into a Scientology center and watched the introductory movie. It was full of “outlandish claims,” but still she came out feeling “kind of hopeful.” When Cruise did his famous sofa dance, it became the “news hook” that nudged Reitman into reporter mode. The success of the Rolling Stone piece suggested this book-length history, broken into halves: In the first, the “larger-than-life” L. Ron Hubbard presides over Scientology’s birth and growth; in the second, a much smaller-than-life—indeed, Napoleonic—David Miscavige