If I were an actress who had spent many years fighting addiction and body image issues, I can see being enticed by a religion that promised to make everything better and convince me that none of it was really my own fault. (I wouldn’t then align myself with someone who insults others, especially other women, based on their physical appearance; my sympathy only extends so far.) They could fix everything, according to friends of mine. They’d make me look and feel better and take away the forces that made my life so difficult, even to an extent protecting me from the paparazzi and the tabloid press. That would be an awfully difficult call to resist, especially if I didn’t know much about the religion going in.
It’s not exactly a secret that Scientology woos the famous. They have an actual honest-to-gods celebrity center, designed to let the famous members have a place where everyone just left them alone. The pull of that alone would be pretty powerful, to someone whose every move is followed by the tabloid press. We applaud the tricks celebrities play to avoid paparazzi, but it can’t be easy to have to do that. Frankly, it sounds exhausting. Add that to the idea of fixing anything else that’s wrong in your life, and the fact that some of the big names in the industry are already Scientologists, and the draw is obvious.
But of course the religion uses celebrities to make itself look appealing to the rest of us. They’ve tried to normalize themselves by showing us Tom Cruise, Ordinary Human Actor, and reminding us that, hey, he’s a member! Apparently they’ve thrown Danny Masterson under the bus recently, but he was on that sitcom you all liked, right? John Travolta’s perfectly normal and healthy; nothing weird there! And so forth. If they’re members, you want to be one, too, right? There’s got to be some kind of appeal if they can entice Famous Person You Like!
They rely on you forgetting, or for preference never hearing, the stories about how Tom Cruise personally benefits from child slavery, given that SeaOrg members are often teenagers who have signed away their rights. (Which has got to be illegal, but . . . .) When he gets SeaOrg to remodel his house, he’s not paying the people who do the work; they are doing the work because they’re ordered to do so. When he goes and cruises with his buddy David Miscavige (who is literally about the same height as my nine-year-old, incidentally), he’s cruising on a ship staffed by SeaOrg members that is also, it seems, absolutely riddled with blue asbestos.
Wait, what? Oh, yes. According to what I’ve heard, they even knew that when they bought it; the Fair Winds would be toxic even if it weren’t run by the Church. The ship is so full as asbestos that it’s giving cancer to both the people who sail it and the people who merely sail on it. The tie between stress and cancer is complicated and uncertain; the tie between crocidolite and cancer very much is not. You don’t have to spend much time at all on the Fair Winds to be at increased risk. Which is one reason people such as Kelly Preston have died of cancer.
Worse, though Scientologists aren’t forbidden from seeking actual health care the way members of certain other cults are, there is still the belief that the only cure they need is auditing. According to former members, if you are diagnosed with cancer, you are told that you need auditing. If you’re an upper-level Scientologist, that can be devastating to your personal beliefs, since you doubtless already have been told that you’re clear of Body Thetans. Cancer is, in their beliefs, a disease caused by Body Thetans; it doesn’t matter if the boat is full of asbestos if you can’t be hurt by it, I guess.
Another effect can be that higher-level Scientologists can be discouraged from seeking early care. It’s not exactly a medical secret that catching cancer early is one of the most important tools in treating it; once you’re at Stage IV, they might as well just make you comfortable when it comes to certain cancers, because there’s nothing else anyone can do. If you’re told that you’re not going to get sick, you’re not going to get screenings. What’s more, if you start to believe that there’s something wrong, you’re not going to go find out what it is—it’ll go away if you just get audited. Or else it’s not really there, and you’re fine, and it can’t possibly be cancer because only people with Body Thetans get cancer.
It’s really unfortunate. My nine-year-old and I have been watching videos from former members in the last few days, and he’s learned enough to understand why we don’t watch things involving prominent members—and he hasn’t even heard the story about how the Church picketed Spielberg’s kids’ therapist’s office, the reason Spielberg will never work with Tom Cruise again. He’s heard a bit about SeaOrg, though not its full horrors, and he doesn’t know about Operation Snow White. Still, he’s lost any interest he might have had to watch Top Gun: Maverick.