Gary Wills–Scientologists, Catholics and More Money Than God

When Hubbard died in 1986, his leadership role was taken over by a less flamboyant figure, David Miscavige, who had been a Scientologist since the age of 8. He followed the founder’s plans, especially his “celebrity strategy,” conceived in 1955. Hubbard’s initial hopes were to lure admired people like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Edward R. Murrow into his church. But this ambition shrank, by Miscavige’s time, to recruiting show business personalities. The big catches here were John Travolta and Cruise, on whom Miscavige danced continual attendance, in a tactic the church called “admiration bombing.” A glitzy Celebrity Centre was built for any new catches, and less-known figures proved useful. Nancy Cartright, the voice of Bart Simpson, gave the church $10 million in just one of her years of devout service.

[Janet] Reitman, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone who spent five years trying to pierce the walls Scientologists put up against outsiders, gives us the most complete picture of Scientology so far. She seems, now, uncertain of its future. But its continued existence, given its weird aspects, is its main claim to religion’s power. It is something of a miracle.

The Catholic Church offers a very different picture, but one where money is even more important. Jason Berry, the reporter who broke several of the priest abuse scandals of recent times, finds the same pattern of deception, denial and subterfuge in the church’s handling of money as in its treatment of pedophiles. The Vatican comes to its high-handed way with money in an understandable fashion. In the Middle Ages, all authority was male and monarchical, so the pope became a king. His multiple realms had all the appurtenances of a medieval monarch ”” armies, prisons, spies, torturers, legal courts in papal service. The money flowed in from many sources ”” as conquest, as tribute from subordinate princes (secular and religious) or from the crops on farm lands held by the pope, who was not accountable to anyone for use of these funds. When normal sources did not satisfy papal ambition, clerical underlings invented new kinds of revenue ”” like the granting of time off in Purgatory for cash contributions during life (“indul­gences” for sale).

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One comment on “Gary Wills–Scientologists, Catholics and More Money Than God

  1. Paula Loughlin says:

    “In the Middle Ages, all authority was male and monarchical,”
    I like it when the tone of the veracity of an article is set early on. It lets me know what to expect. Though since this is by Wills so I pretty much know it would be agenda driven and less than accurate to put it mildly.