London, Ontario, is a middling manufacturing town halfway between Toronto and Detroit, once known for its cigars and breweries. In a tribute to its famous namesake, London has its own Covent Garden, Piccadilly Street, and even a Thames River that forks around the modest, economically stressed downtown. The city, which sits in a humid basin, is remarked upon for its unpleasant weather. Summers are unusually hot, winters brutally cold, the springs and falls fine but fleeting. The most notable native son was the bandleader Guy Lombardo, who was honored in a local museum, until it closed for lack of visitors. London was a difficult place for an artist looking to find himself.
Paul Haggis was twenty-one years old in 1975. He was walking toward a record store in downtown London when he encountered a fast-talking, long-haired young man with piercing eyes standing on the corner of Dundas and Waterloo Streets. There was something keen and strangely adamant in his manner. His name was Jim Logan. He pressed a book into Haggis's hands. "You have a mind," Logan said. "This is the owner's manual." Then he demanded, "Give me two dollars."
The book was Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, by L. Ron Hubbard, which was published in 1950. By the time Logan pushed it on Haggis, the book had sold more than two million copies throughout the world. Haggis opened the book and saw a page stamped with the words "Church of Scientology."
"Take me there," he said to Logan.
At the time, there were only a handful of Scientologists in the entire province of Ontario. By coincidence, Haggis had heard about the organization a couple of months earlier, from a friend who had called it a cult. That interested Haggis; he considered the possibility of doing a documentary ﬁlm about it. When he arrived at the church's quarters in London, it certainly didn't look like a cult — two young men occupying a hole-in-the-wall office above Woolworth's ﬁve-and-dime.
As an atheist, Haggis was wary of being dragged into a formal belief system. In response to his skepticism, Logan showed him a passage by Hubbard that read: "What is true is what is true for you. No one has any right to force data on you and command you to believe it or else. If it is not true for you, it isn't true. Think your own way through things, accept what is true for you, discard the rest. There is nothing unhappier than one who tries to live in a chaos of lies." These words resonated with Haggis.
Although he didn't realize it, Haggis was being drawn into the church through a classic, four-step "dissemination drill" that recruiters are carefully trained to follow. The first step is to make contact, as Jim Logan did with Haggis in 1975. The second step is to disarm any antagonism the individual may display toward Scientology. Once that's done, the task is to "find the ruin" — that is, the problem most on the mind of the potential recruit. For Paul, it was a turbulent romance. The fourth step is to convince the subject that Scientology has the answer. "Once the person is aware of the ruin, you bring about an understanding that Scientology can handle the condition," Hubbard writes. "It's at the right moment on this step that one . . . directs him to the service that will best handle what he needs handled." At that point, the potential recruit has officially been transformed into a Scientologist.
Paul responded to every step in an almost ideal manner. He and his girlfriend took a course together and, shortly thereafter, became Hubbard Qualified Scientologists, one of the first levels in what the church calls the Bridge to Total Freedom.
Haggis was born in 1953, the oldest of three children. His father, Ted, ran a construction company specializing in roadwork — mostly laying asphalt and pouring sidewalks, curbs, and gutters. He called his company Global, because he was serving both London and Paris — another Ontario community fifty miles to the east. As Ted was getting his business started, the family lived in a small house in the predominantly white town. The Haggises were one of the few Catholic families in a Protestant neighborhood, which led to occasional confrontations, including a schoolyard fistfight that left Paul with a broken nose.
Although he didn't really think of himself as religious, he identified with being a minority; however, his mother, Mary, insisted on sending Paul and his two younger sisters, Kathy and Jo, to Mass every Sunday. One day, she spotted their priest driving an expensive car. "God wants me to have a Cadillac," the priest explained. Mary responded, "Then God doesn't want us in your church anymore." Paul admired his mother's stand; he knew how much her religion meant to her. After that, the family stopped going to Mass, but the children continued in Catholic schools.
Ted's construction business prospered to the point that he was able to buy a much larger house on eighteen acres of rolling land outside of town. There were a couple of horses in the stable, a Chrysler station wagon in the garage, and giant construction vehicles parked in the yard, like grazing dinosaurs. Paul spent a lot of time alone. He could walk the mile to catch the school bus and not see anyone along the way. His chores were to clean the horse stalls and the dog runs (Ted raised spaniels for ﬁeld trials). At home, Paul made himself the center of attention — "the apple of his mother's eye," his father recalled — but he was mischievous and full of pranks. "He got the strap when he was five years old," Ted said.
When Paul was about thirteen, he was taken to say farewell to his grandfather on his deathbed. The old man had been a janitor in a bowling alley, having fled England because of some mysterious scandal. He seemed to recognize a similar dangerous quality in Paul. His parting words to him were, "I've wasted my life. Don't waste yours."
From Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. Copyright 2013 by Lawrence Wright. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.