The 13 Most Intriguing Revelations of The New Yorker's Paul Haggis/Scientology Expose

So you might have heard writer-director Paul Haggis caused a bit of a stir when he left the Church of Scientology in 2009. His defection, he said at the time, was attributable to the church's reluctance to declare its tolerance toward gays and lesbians -- an institutional blind spot exacerbated by its refusal in 2008 to condemn California's Prop 8. But as a much-anticipated new profile in The New Yorker proves, there is a little more to the story. Like 24,000 words more.

Surprisingly for a piece of this scope and magnitude, there's not a ton of new disclosures in Lawrence Wright's article about the church's history, tenets, ascendancy and accused abuses. But what is new is somewhat revelatory -- of chairman and alleged serial-assaulter David Miscavige (above center), head spokescreep Tommy Davis (above right), the celeb/church interface, and of Haggis himself, a thoughtful guy whose relationship with Scientology makes for must-read material on its own. But failing the hour or two you'll need to dedicate to take it all in yourself, Movieline offers these most essential points below. Your mileage may vary; tell me about it in the comments.

1. Paul Haggis is a Hell of a Fund-Raiser...

"The actor Ben Stiller, who has accompanied Haggis to Haiti, recalls that Haggis once raised four and a half million dollars in two hours."

2. ...But Wasn't an Especially Good Kid

"[He] was such a poor student that his parents sent him to a strict boarding school, where the students were assigned cadet drills. He preferred to sit in his room reading Ramparts, the radical magazine from America--the place he longed to be. He committed repeated infractions, but he learned to pick locks so that he could sneak into the prefect's office and eliminate his demerits." Haggis then left school after he was caught forging a check.

3. John Travolta Apparently Healed Marlon Brando

Best. Story. Ever:

[Josh] Brolin says that he once witnessed John Travolta practicing Scientology. Brolin was at a dinner party in Los Angeles with Travolta and Marlon Brando. Brando arrived with a cut on his leg, and explained that he had injured himself while helping a stranded motorist on the Pacific Coast Highway. He was in pain. Travolta offered to help, saying that he had just reached a new level in Scientology. Travolta touched Brando's leg and Brando closed his eyes. "I watched this process going on--it was very physical," Brolin recalls. "I was thinking, This is really fucking bizarre! Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, 'That really helped. I actually feel different!' " (Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account "pure fabrication.")

4. An Epic Intervention Almost Derailed The Next Three Days

A month before shooting began in Pittburgh in 2009, nine or 10 "Scientology friends" including Anne Archer, composer Mark Isham and EarthLink founder Sky Dayton.

"Paul, I'm pissed off," Isham told Haggis. "There's better ways to do this. If you have a complaint, there's a complaint line." Anyone who genuinely wanted to change Scientology should stay within the organization, Isham argued, not quit; certainly, going public was not helpful. Haggis listened patiently. A fundamental tenet of Scientology is that differing points of view must be fully heard and acknowledged. When his friends finished, however, Haggis had his own set of grievances.

Haggis agreed to stop disseminating his letter of resignation, but it would be the last time he communicated with virtually all of them. Church officials visited him as well in the days that followed, becoming more "livid and irrational" with the defiant Haggis. Indulging them anyway, Haggis put off preproduction just long enough to hear their case before definitively declaring his permanent estrangement from Scientology.

5. Haggis Never Read DIanetics -- and O.T. III Was "Madness"

Coursework made Haggis feel a sense of "accomplishment," but he managed to read only 30 or so pages of L. Ron Hubbard's seminal text. "I thought it was impenetrable." Later on, while attempting to read and ascertain the secret knowledge behind O.T. III -- including disclosures regarding Xenu, planetary federations, thetans, H-bombs, volcanoes and other benchmarks of the Scientological faith -- Haggis claimed to a Scientology supervisor, "I don't understand." Urged to reread in a more literal context, Haggis was further vexed: "'I sat with that for a while,' he says. But when he read it again he decided, 'This is madness.'"

6. We Were Thisclose to A Haggis/Hubbard Screenwriting Collaboration

"Hubbard had written a treatment for a script titled Influencing the Planet and, apparently, intended to direct it. The film was supposed to demonstrate the range of Hubbard's efforts to improve civilization. With another Scientologist, Haggis completed a script, which he called 'quite dreadful.' Hubbard sent him notes on the draft, but no film by that name was ever released."

7. And There's a Haggis-Directed Scientology Commercial Somewhere

In the late '80s, while working as a writer on thirtysomething, Haggis jumped at the opportunity to make a 30-second TV spot for the Church. Alas:

He was determined to avoid the usual claim that Dianetics offered a triumphal march toward enlightenment. He shot a group of Scientologists talking about the practical ways that they had used Dianetics. "It was very naturalistic," he recalls. Church authorities hated it. "They thought it looked like an A.A. meeting." The spot never aired.

8. Don't Compare David Miscavige to Martin Luther King Jr.

"They thought that comparing Miscavige to Martin Luther King was debasing his character," said Haggis, who originally drew the analogue to say that even respected spiritual leaders are fallible from time to time. (Miscavige reportedly beat and tormented church members in Florida; Rev. King is alleged to have experienced "sexual improprieties.") "If they were trying to convince me that Scientology was not a cult, they did a very poor job of it."

9. David Miscavige's Wife Has "Disappeared"

According to sources, Shelly Miscavige filled several job vacancies in June, 2006, while her husband was away and without his permission. "Soon afterward," Wright notes, "she disappeared. Her current status is unknown. Tommy Davis told me, 'I definitely know where she is,' but he won't disclose where that is."

10. "Blowing" is Hard

When one 30-year Sea Org member attempted leaving the church, Tommy Davis and 19 church members tracked him down at his Texas motel -- at 5:30 in the morning. Davis later admitted "he and an entourage had flown to Texas in a jet chartered by Scientology, and had shown up outside [the man's] motel room at dawn. But he insisted that he was only trying 'to see a friend of mine.'" Speaking of which...

11. Tommy Davis is a Staggering Liar

Asked about a rumored Hubbard memo suggesting "an experiment in which ascending Scientologists skipped the O.T. III level" -- an idea allegedly "shelved" by Miscavige -- the Scientology spokesman called the assertion "libelous." He added: "[Hubbard's writing is] never altered. It's never changed. And there probably is no more heretical or more horrific transgression that you could have in the Scientology religion than to alter the technology."

Which sounded fishy to Wright and pretty much anyone else who's with the churches troubling relationship with homosexuality:

[H]adn't certain derogatory references to homosexuality found in some editions of Hubbard's books been changed after his death?

Davis admitted that that was so, but he maintained that "the current editions are one-hundred-per-cent, absolutely fully verified as being according to what Mr. Hubbard wrote." Davis said they were checked against Hubbard's original dictation.

"The extent to which the references to homosexuality have changed are because of mistaken dictation?" I asked.

"No, because of the insertion, I guess, of somebody who was a bigot," Davis replied.

"Somebody put the material in those--?"

"I can only imagine. . . . It wasn't Mr. Hubbard," Davis said, cutting me off.

"Who would've done it?"

"I have no idea."


"I don't think it really matters," Davis said. "The point is that neither Mr. Hubbard nor the church has any opinion on the subject of anyone's sexual orientation. . . ."

"Someone inserted words that were not his into literature that was propagated under his name, and that's been corrected now?" I asked.

"Yeah, I can only assume that's what happened," Davis said.

After this exchange, I looked at some recent editions that the church had provided me with. On page 125 of Dianetics, a "sexual pervert" is defined as someone engaging in "homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual sadism, etc." Apparently, the bigot's handiwork was not fully excised.

Later, asked to confirm details of Hubbard's heroic military service -- grave injuries from which directly influenced the creation of Scientology, according to Hubbard -- Davis provided records determined to be a "forgery" by an expert at the National Archives. Moreover: "Davis included a photograph of medals that Hubbard supposedly won. Two of the medals in the photograph weren't even created until after Hubbard left active service."

12. An E-Meter is Basically a Scale for Your Brain

"Thoughts have a small amount of mass," the church told Wright in a statement. "These are the changes measured." In all sincerity, the idea that thoughts weigh something is pretty much blowing my mind right now.

13. Haggis Doubts the Church is Through With Him

"My bet is that, within two years, you're going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church." Be advised!

· The Apostate [The New Yorker]


  • Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for the summary. I am not through with the article yet but I am riveted. I believe I will emerge thinking that the 28 pages of reading are well worth the time.

  • The Pope says:

    No need to read about those loonies. Much better fun to plunge into Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

  • Strawberry Pain says:

    The most disturbing part of this? The reminder that Anne freaking Archer is a Scientologist. Egad.

  • Sun Shine says:

    What will it take for the other celebs to wake up?
    Miscavige must go to jail.

  • Louanne says:

    This article is another thinly veiled tabloid piece repeating old and new rumors from people with an axe to grind with the Church of Scientology. The New Yorker author Lawrence Wright could not come up with a single line that has not been discarded as the work of fanatic anti-religionists a long time ago. This piece actually sheds a new light on him as a researcher and writer. How much does his obvious hate against religion taint his judgment? This piece has been written by someone with a deep-set hatred against religion and spirituality. Just like the Hollywood dude Haggis, who openly confesses that he makes a living putting his personal life traumata in movie scripts, Lawrence Wright lives his anti-religious hatred in writing one-track minded articles and books. The New Yorker, putting on tabloid colors for a moment, has allowed him to air his therapy sessions and that is their choice but one really has to ask: I don't really want to waste my time reading something like this.

  • Margaret says:

    Umm ... Movieline ... good list, but wasn't the fact that the FBI is investigating the Church of Scientology somewhat intriguing to you?!?

  • unclear says:

    Xenu is very angry with you, Louanne. Into the volcano!

  • A_Watcher says:

    Really, Louanne... I've seen this EXACT SAME COMMENT from you copied and pasted at EVERY article that discusses this. You really have nothing new to add, especially given the fact that you are OSA (Office of Special Affairs). You can't defend the indefensible.
    There is NOTHING defensible abotu the accusation being leveled against Scientology. Especially when these accusations have been going on for DECADES.

  • Thanks! And the FBI investigation is absolutely intriguing, though I could have sworn at press time that I'd heard or read about it before. I guess let's make it #13.5?

  • HwoodHills says:

    1. A sci-fi writer creates a religion...
    2. Parts of that religion are steeped in "facts" that an alien entity had spirits placed in a volcano...
    3. (A religion started by a sci-fi writer)...
    4. They start a "Celebrity Centre" (Yeah, that's right, they jazzed it up by going "French" on us) in order to get word out about it's success and positive influence...
    Hopefully I'm not too late to start my "Cepsi" religion.
    (Some like Coke, some like Pepsi...But what if they ALL loved the same thing!?!)
    You have all been warned.
    (Sorry, I meant "gifted with the knowledge.")

  • stolidog says:

    Can we go back to a simpler time, like the Macarthur years, and have somebody publish a list of all entertainment scientologists? It will make choosing what I view so much easier.

  • stolidog says:

    mccarthy. damn irish.

  • Thinly Veiled says:

    The only thing that is is thinly veiled is Louanne as your cult is stark naked after that 26 page exposé. Tommy Davis made a first class lying fool out of himself, and I hope every journalist in the country uses Wright's article for research and the fact-checking that went into it. Too often journalists simply rely on letting the cult go on and on, with their diversionary and misleading propaganda.
    Before, Bare-Faced Messiah was the definitive work on Hubbard, but because it was written by a Brit or something, it was ignored in the U.S. No longer. With Wright's book to follow, and a new book by Janet Reitman, Tommy will have to announce that the cult is going to let Xenu out of his mountain prison on LIVE TV to generate any interest in this scam.
    Except for slave labor, 3rd World recruitment isn't going to work for their members, because even people in those countries are getting the internet, and plus they people without money are not the cash cows that uneducated Hollywood celebrities are.

  • jackmurphy1969 says:

    I'm sure that you didn't mean to refer to Mr. Hubbard as a science fiction writer. I'm sure that you meant to call him a BAD science fiction writer. Hack would also work as an adjective.

  • John Saint-Clair says:

    $camology has a lot to answer for, suicides, blackmail, fraud, dissconection, human rights abuses, forgery, tax fraud, mail fraud, child abuse, the list goes on and on and on! WAKE UP you deluded dupes in this 'Church' what Church does this to people ? Not even Anton La Veys Church of satan was ever this bad, for the last time WAKE UP! This Louanne woman whoever she is- sounds like she has some self esteem issues and lack of self worth - SHE needs therapy BIG TIME, not just some ancient lie detector that Hubbard himself said was 'Useless crap' .... Hubbard was a liar.