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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Every Atheist Needs: Going Clear


My stepdaughter and I have this ritual when she comes over. On a Friday or Saturday night, after the little one has gone to bed, we wait for Godless Dad to inevitably fall asleep, and send him to bed, too. Then we pop some corn and turn on a parade of horror flicks, which we proceed to watch, make fun of and get scared by until the wee hours of the morning.

Most of them are ridiculous. Most of them are subject to our constant, giggly scrutiny through the whole thing. We laugh at the idiotic characters who seem compelled to run into worse situations instead of easy routes to freedom and safety. We crack jokes about poorly done make-up and stories that are just too twisted to effectively suspend our disbelief. We point out the gaping holes in the plots and impersonate the stupidest characters until we can’t breathe for laughing. We look forward to it, we enjoy it… it’s our thing.

Every once in a while though, someone makes a film that actually scares us. During those flicks, we’re silent, wrapped in blankets up to our noses, huddled together on the couch. Shrieks are emitted now and then when something truly scares us. Mothman Prophecies, The Shining, The Strangers. We sit, stunned through the credits that someone was actually able to freak us out. We live for these films. When this happens, it’s been a successful night.

It’s always been fun, lighthearted and carefree. We trudge to bed after, either sufficiently exhausted from hysterical laughter, or wide-eyed and terrified, checking behind doors and in closets for disgruntled spirits. We sleep. We move on.

Last Thursday night, though, I saw a film that made The Shining look like Yo Gabba Gabba! It reduced the Strangers to a romcom and made every other scary movie look like a trip to the beach with chilled apple juice and SPF 50. The film was nothing short of world-shattering terror.

A documentary by HBO, Going Clear exposes Scientology, its origins and the lengths the church has gone to so things turn out in their favour.

“The only way to really make money is to have a religion.” L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, said this in the beginning stages of the church. Hubbard, who rarely attended his engineering classes at University and never studied anything that would give him an authority on these topics, wrote a document filled with absurd claims about the nature of our minds, our emotions and the world around us. He called it Dianetics. When the book’s initial interest died down, Hubbard tried to revive it, by building a church up around it.

Obviously, it worked.

The documentary exposes this, as well as other stories from the first days of Scientology that will leave you breathless.

A devoted member of Scientology discovers her infant in the care of the church, near death, her eyes glued shut with mucous. A church executive leaves Scientology and is followed for near a decade afterwards by church goons, who even went so far as to buy the house across the street from his, to watch him from. Grown women and men are forced to work slave labour for nothing, they’re forced to physically hurt each other, and submit to hours upon hours upon hours of “auditing” which is just a nice sounding word for creating false memories.

The church takes on the IRS… and wins.


Towards the end of the film, a woman was asked to disconnect from her child. This means no more contact, whatsoever. It is the Scientologist’s version of shunning. Some people are labelled an SP or a Suppressive Person, and they must be disconnected from completely or the church will label you an SP as well. She was asked to disconnect from her son who, after being raised in the church, was labelled an SP for a small slip-up. His mother was pressured to disconnect from him, and when she said no, she was labelled an SP, as well. Consequently, her daughter, also raised on Scientology, was pressured to and actually did, disconnect from her SP family. The woman told her story clearly holding back tears.

The most terrifying part of this film is realizing that when Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman broke up, it was no normal breakup. It was entirely facilitated by the church of Scientology because Nicole would not disconnect from her psychologist father. Psychology, is, of course, the enemy to Scientology naturally making all psychologists automatically SPs.

They entered Cruise’s home and spoke to his and Nicole’s adopted children to turn them against their mother so Cruise would get custody.

They set the break up in motion. They were authoring and are still authoring how Tom Cruise’s life plays out.

They were authoring and are still authoring its members' lives.

This church was founded by a sci-fi writer and has unfolded to make very real some of the most terrifying phenomena ever written about in the sci-fi genre. An all-powerful institution takes away people’s freedom to choose their own path, to privacy and to keep their family intact. I am reminded of Lois Lowry’s The Giver or the lifelong, back-of-the-mind haunt left by Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.

The thing is though, this time it’s real. This time, I can’t just turn off the bad horror film and go to bed; I can’t just put down the sci-fi novel and go about my business, because this is real. It’s happening to real people, to good people all over the world.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels between the story of Scientology and all the other organized religions in the world. The only difference here is that we can see where Scientology came from. We can illustrate, undeniably, that its origins are questionable at best.

This terrifying film is a must-see for everyone, not just atheists. Just remember though, when you’re watching it, to apply the very same questions you have about Scientology to all the other religions out there. Protect yourself from losing yourself to a powerful institution that clearly doesn’t give a shit about anything but your money and servitude. Ask the questions before you get sucked in, and then do your best to spread critical thought so organizations like Scientology don’t have a prayer.

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