Church Of Scientology Calls New HBO Documentary 'Bigoted' The filmmaker of Going Clear, which is critical of the church, says the documentary treats the dangers of "blind faith." Scientology officials have hit back with their own public relations effort.
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Church Of Scientology Calls New HBO Documentary 'Bigoted'

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Church Of Scientology Calls New HBO Documentary 'Bigoted'

Church Of Scientology Calls New HBO Documentary 'Bigoted'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Scientology is well-known for its efforts to silence critics. Now an upcoming HBO documentary about the church is coming under attack by Scientology leaders. The film will debut this weekend. "Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief" is based on a book by Lawrence Wright. Scientology is seen as a religion by its adherents, although some governments don't allow it that status. It is known for aggressively confronting former scientologists who have turned against the faith. As NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, the HBO film takes a harsh look at its practices.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Church of Scientology is based on a system of beliefs established 60 years ago by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Spiritual awareness comes as a result of finding your own truths about yourself through a process known as auditing, explained here on the Scientology website.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERNET VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: An auditor does not offer solutions or advice. They are trained to listen and to help you locate those experiences that need to be addressed.

GJELTEN: Celebrities such as John Travolta say the auditing exercises remove self-doubt and boost confidence. But you pay for them - the cost of auditing can total thousands of dollars. Indeed, Scientology is known for its great wealth and for the lengths to which church leaders go to keep believers in line and censor criticism. That's what drove Mike Rinder to leave the church.

MIKE RINDER: My issue isn't with the beliefs of Scientology. My issue is with the abuses that are carried out in the name of Scientology.

GJELTEN: Rinder is a former Scientology spokesman and one of about a dozen former Scientologists featured in the HBO documentary. In this clip provided by HBO, Rinder and former Scientologist Tom de Vocht describe a facility known as the hole where church members considered unreliable were sent for discipline.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF")

RINDER: The doors had bars put on them, the windows all had bars put on them. And there was one entrance door that the security guard sat at 24 hours a day.

TOM DE VOCHT: I had to stay there, sleep there. It stunk. And, you know, there were ants crawling around.

GJELTEN: Some Scientology members turn their children over to the church's care and effectively lose control over them. In the film, former member Spanky Taylor says her disenchantment began when she found her infant daughter in a urine-soaked crib in a Scientology nursery. Pregnant by then with her second child and living with other Scientologists, she says she had to scheme to get her daughter out of church custody.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF")

SPANKY TAYLOR: I told them that I was having problems with my pregnancy and I needed to use the phone. So they sent a bodyguard with me. I called one of the few non-Scientologists I knew, a wonderful woman who happened to work for John Travolta. I said, meet me at this address. I gave her a time and I hung up.

GJELTEN: When her friend arrived in a car, Spanky says, she grabbed her daughter, ran out of the building and jumped in the car. One allegation highlighted in the film is that when Scientology members turn away from the church, family members still in the church are obligated to break all ties with them.

RINDER: The entirety of my family was Scientologists and I knew that they would be required to disconnect from me.

GJELTEN: Mike Rinder, the former Scientology spokesman. In an interview with NPR, he described what happened when he told his wife he was leaving the church.

RINDER: Very shortly thereafter, I attempted to reach out to her. And she simply wrote back in rather colorful language and said no thank you, the divorce papers will be filed. And my son and daughter, they both also disconnected from me, as did my brother and my sister and my mother and all of my nieces and nephews.

GJELTEN: A Scientology spokesperson says members are not required to separate from someone who has merrily left the church. Disconnection is mandated, the spokesperson says, only if the person attacks the church and can't be handled any other way. The church says it offered HBO director Alex Gibney 25 individuals for him to interview. Gibney tells NPR they weren't the people he wanted to talk to.

ALEX GIBNEY: I set out to make a film that I wanted to make, not the film that the church of Scientology wanted to make. And there were key people that could've shed light on my story, but they declined to appear.

GJELTEN: Gibney says the people offered up for interviews were family members and former acquaintances of Scientology dissenters.

GIBNEY: Really what they're trying to do is to give voice to people who'll vilify the people who appear in the film because they're ex-Scientologists and they're critical of Scientology. That's really what their MO is, is to smear and rattle people.

GJELTEN: In a series of videos on the Scientology website, the church attacks each of the people featured in the HBO film, and in highly personal terms. As a former church spokesman, Mike Rinder gets especially harsh treatment with his brother and daughter brought in to say bad things about him.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERNET VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So, who is Mike Rinder? Just ask those who know him best - his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Mike as a child was aloof, different, didn't particularly have many friends.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: When I was in hospital, when I was getting married, when I was needing help on any part of my life, he was never there.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mike Rinder failed as a family man and failed on the job.

GJELTEN: Spanky Taylor, who told the story of her daughter being neglected while in Scientology custody, is likewise set up for ridicule.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERNET VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Meet Spanky Taylor, quoted extensively in Lawrence Wright's book and her story prominently featured in Alex Gibney's documentary of the same name. Spanky Taylor is a drama queen. And where there isn't drama, she'll create it.

GJELTEN: The church's official statement on the HBO describes it as propaganda and the critics as discredited misfits. Mike Rinder says he would've said the same thing when he was the church spokesman. In Scientology, he says, the ends justify the means. Scientologists say if everyone followed their religion, there'd be no more war or crime or insanity.

RINDER: We're saving every human being on Earth so if there are people who are intent upon stopping us in our mission, then they should be, you know, stamped, squashed, annihilated because that's all for the greater good.

GJELTEN: Did you share that mentality when you were there?

RINDER: Yes, I did. That was very much my mentality.

GJELTEN: Director Alex Gibney says he wanted to present a sympathetic picture of the estimated 30,000 people who embrace Scientology. To the extent his film has a message, he says, it's about the dangers of blind faith, something that could apply to any belief system. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

CORNISH: The HBO documentary film "Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief" debuts March 29 on HBO.

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