Lawrence Wright’s 26-page New Yorker exposé of Paul Haggis’s defection from the Church of Scientology is a balls-out hit parade of insanity. In “The Apostate,” Wright reveals the squirrel-on-skis nuttiness of the church and its equally nutty celebrity adherents, complete with allegations of human trafficking, laugh-out-loud celebrity interventions, and that scratching-record moment where John Travolta grabs Marlon Brando’s injured leg, and, with penetrating concentration, uses his mind-power to heal Brando’s injury.
Since its publication, however, most commentators have focused on Haggis—his experiences, motives, and fear of retribution. Many applaud Haggis for taking an ideological stand and exposing the church’s . . . uh . . . idiosyncrasies. But, really—is defecting from the Church of Scientology an act of courage?
Haggis is a big-time Hollywood screenwriter who served the church for 35 years as a loyal member, apologist and propagandist. Through the church’s Hollywood connections, he developed relationships that elevated his status in the entertainment industry (Wright’s article provides illustrative detail). In 2004 and 2005, Haggis’s films would win back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Picture—an unprecedented feat for a screenwriter.
Despite his professional successes and years of spiritual (and financial) investment, Haggis would later find himself in a bitter dispute with the church. Unable to resolve the dispute, Haggis would tender his resignation in August of 2009.
What compelled Haggis to trash-can 35 years of dedicated service to the organization? Was it the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent for the church’s “auditing” services? Was it the secret disclosures of O.T. III regarding Xenu, warring planetary federations, H-Bombs and volcanoes? Was it the wild material excesses enjoyed by church leadership?
As it turns out, it wasn’t any of these things. Rather, Haggis’s beef stemmed from the views of a single staff member from the church’s San Diego franchise who signed an online petition supporting Proposition 8 (the California ballot proposition outlawing same-sex marriage).
When Haggis demanded that church leadership publicly denounce the measure, it issued a press release clarifying that the church did not support Proposition 8. Harris demanded more forceful rhetoric, however. When the church refused to openly declare its support for gay rights, Haggis quit.
In short, Haggis left the Church of Scientology not because of its bat-sh*t crazy ideology (you know, the thetan whosits and e-meter whatsits), but because it wasn’t a more outspoken defender of same-sex marriage.
Haggis—who admits that he only read 30 pages of church’s master-text “Dianetics”—shilled for Lord Xenu for nearly all of his adult life. During that time, Haggis alleges that the church required Haggis and his ex-wife to “disconnect” from family members who were not supportive of the church. He sent his children to special Scientology schools which left one daughter functionally illiterate until age 11. Another daughter refused to speak to him for years (“I’m very proud of [her] for not talking to me,” Haggis remarked—with apparent seriousness. “Think what that takes”).
And, yet, despite all of the disastrous effects that Scientology wrought on his family, the deal-breaker was the fact that the church didn’t loudly champion a gay rights agenda.
The strange thing is that Scientology has very little to say about homosexuality. While previous Scientology texts (penned by founder L. Ron Hubbard) did define “sexual perversion” to include homosexuality, church leadership has since redacted the negative references. True to form, the church explains away the offending language by claiming that a rogue scrivener inserted the (kind of) anti-gay references in the material after El Ron’s death. In fact, the church’s current stance on homosexuality is explicitly neutral. As stated by chief spokesperson Tommy Davis, “neither Mr. Hubbard nor the church has any opinion on the subject of anyone’s sexual orientation . . . .” In the eyes of Haggis, however, the neutrality is tantamount to bigotry.
Notwithstanding the wild inferential leap taken by Haggis, he (and his supporters) seems completely oblivious to the logical fallacy of objecting to an ideology on the basis of a belief completely unrelated to that ideology. Of all the reasons to reject Scientology (like, literally everything about it), you reject it on the basis of its gay rights agenda?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that it’s crazy to leave a church based on its views on homosexuality. I’m saying that it’s crazy to leave that church based on its views on homosexuality.
Unlike Scientology, the Anglican Church continues to engage in an entirely legitimate ecclesiastical debate about these issues. Of course, the issue of homosexuality goes to the very core of that belief system. In the world of Scientology, one’s sexual orientation is as relevant to its belief system as one’s fast-food preferences. Haggis’s defection is as incongruous as a reformed Episcopalian leaving its church because of its stance on anti-psychotic drugs.
Sadly, this incongruity is completely lost on Wright. By dubbing Haggis “the apostate,” Wright gives him way too much credibility. True apostasy is about substantively rejecting an ideology and invokes historical images of religious rebellion. Haggis’s brand of apostasy is either based on a pretext or is extremely misdirected.
No, Haggis isn’t a hero. He simply determined that it was more professionally expedient to associate with the cause of gay rights than a well-connected Hollywood cult. So, while the Church of Scientology deserves our ridicule, the dolts who create culture in our society deserve it more.