Tom Cruise's Scientology Connection

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hide captionCruise gets a kiss from girlfriend Katie Holmes at the May 2006 Hollywood premiere of Mission Impossible III.

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The Tom Cruise story is about box office gross, odd behavior — and, of course, the mysterious and controversial religion called Scientology. Cruise has been a Scientologist for years, but has only recently gone public with his religion. Last year, he raged against psychiatry and psychiatric drugs in an interview with Today host Matt Lauer. And he incurred the displeasure of Steven Spielberg by focusing on Scientology (and Katie Holmes) in interviews when he was supposed to be talking about War of the Worlds.

NPR's Kim Masters looked into the star's relationship with Scientology for an article that appeared in a 2005 issue of Radar magazine. Masters spoke with host Madeleine Brand about her findings — read excerpts below:

Not many reporters take on the Church of Scientology. It's known for being quite litigious.

They have been quite hostile to media scrutiny in the past. They have now said that they're trying to be more welcoming to the press. They've taken several reporters on tours of their celebrity center here in Los Angeles. But they made it very clear that they don't like what I did because I interviewed quite a number of fallen-away Scientologists, and they feel that that just taints the journalism in the piece.

Because they had an ax to grind.

Well, they did. They're hostile to the Church of Scientology. No one is arguing that point. The [Church feels] that these fallen-away Scientologists are people who did not live up to the church's ethical standards and that what they're saying is false. Many of them, the [Church alleges], are paid to lie.

Let's go back — tell us a little about what Scientology is and how it was founded.

Scientology was created by L. Ron Hubbard. It starts out as a self-help kind of thing where you talk about issues that are bothering you. And you are audited with an E-Meter, which is a sort of a lie detector-like device. And the [Church is] looking to remove the issues that are plaguing you. The Church of Scientology has attracted a lot of Hollywood people who are always looking for a way to have an edge and to conquer their insecurities and to clear whatever problems might be impeding them in their career.

We've known for years that [Cruise has] been a Scientologist, but it seems only recently that he's really come out as a Scientologist publicly. Why is that?

The fallen-away Scientologists say that as you move up the ranks of the church you become what they call an "operating thetan." A thetan is a spirit. And the way it works — it's kind of complicated to explain, but 75 million years ago — according to the story that is told — there was an intergalactic warlord named Xenu who was faced with a serious overpopulation problem in the galaxy, and he gathered up these spirits and put them on planet Earth and then nuked them. And they then became these free-floating spirits who were brainwashed to forget what had happened to them. And again, the church disputes this version that is told by the fallen-away Scientologists, but this is their story. And these thetans, these spirits, have attached themselves — either singularly or in clusters — to all of us [and] are the source of many of our problems. And it is the mission of Scientology to awaken and release these thetans so that we can move forward with our lives.

And once you attain higher ranks, you have shed yourself of these thetans?

At the level that Tom Cruise said to be at, OT-VII, you are supposed to spend some time every day seeking out, auditing yourself to find these clusters of thetans and get[ting] them to move on. As you do that, your obligations to the church simultaneously are said to have expanded. You are expected to — according to one of the Scientologists we talked to who had, again, fallen away — you are expected to report on what you have done to spread the word about Scientology.

And how is Tom Cruise's public embracing of Scientology being received in Hollywood?

A lot of people in Hollywood feel that he has damaged himself. It hasn't been visible yet because War of the Worlds was his biggest opening ever. And many people in Hollywood do feel there's damage there and many people in Hollywood have gone to psychiatrists, have taken medications that are verboten in the Church of Scientology and it makes them quite uncomfortable.

And do you think that this is something that [Cruise] is worried about?

No. One of the things Scientology does, as was explained to us by the people who left, is that they avoid bad news, and it would be the job of people to keep Tom Cruise from taking in a lot of bad news. And that is what caused one of the former Scientologists that we interviewed to talk about this notion that a celebrity like Tom Cruise is living in what he described as The Truman Show, that he has no idea that there's a whole world out there that's different from what he hears. And any criticism they just dismiss, if they even hear it — I don't know how much of this Tom Cruise has even heard.

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