The subject of scientology is inextricably tangled up with that of celebrities. This is not an accident of circumstance. L Ron Hubbard actively sought and exhorted his followers to diligently seek the support and endorsement of people he called “opinion leaders”. That is, people who hold sway over public opinion or the opinions of other influential people, because they are famous or popular or have a reputation in academia or the media that can be exploited to augment the credibility of his cult long-con. Eventually, the empty promises and moving goalposts of Dianetics processes, and the religious footing that Ron took up in order to escape the scrutiny of experts and government agencies, drove away all the opinion leaders in any field where credibility and reputation matters — which left him with only celebrities and the very wealthy to exploit in this fashion.
Many people who are watchers and critics of the cult tend to shy away from the celebrity aspect because they feel it lowers the story to a tabloid level. I think this is a mistake, and it is important to instead look at which stories draw the most interest from the general public. It is always the celebrity stories that get a lot of eyes on them; in America the public loves celebrity gossip and feeling like they know why “those big stars are not as great as they think they are”. This is familiar and appealing fodder for the public, unlike most stories about scientology and its outrageous abuse and exploitation. The bizarre details in the story of the cult of scientology can be so unfamiliar and out of context in daily life as to be repugnant and cause people to turn away — until they are connected with a celebrity. With that backdrop, the same bizarre details become salacious and fascinating. To put it another way: more people have learned about scientology and its disturbing practices via the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce story, than ever learned anything from the Debbie Cook story, which I considered a much bigger and more momentous scientology story by far. Debbie Cook testified in court and had inside knowledge of the billion-dollar reservoir of cash that the cult has on hand, among other things. There was very little interest from the media in this story. The reticence to risk scientology’s infamous cadre of attorneys still held strong sway over much of American media at that time.
It was not until the story of Tom’s divorce from Katie broke, and people began to openly declare that she was leaving to protect her child from scientology, that the media grew more courageous about covering the bizarre story of the cult. When they do so, it is still most often presented in the context of celebrities. Leah Remini’s noisy exit from the cult and open criticism of their oppressive practices did so much to expand that coverage. Now, people are far more familiar with the details that watchers and critics have known all along. Disconnection, and sec checks, and the Sea Org. This is the power of a celebrity tag on a story that is really about an evil cult. This is why I think it is a mistake to eschew the celebrity angle, if you actually want to get through to the same people who might be swayed to join the cult because Tom Cruise says it is great. If we critics and watchers ignore this factor, we can be sure that the cult does not, and they are then free to define the narrative about scientology celebrities. In an information war, it is never a good idea to cede that kind of territory to your adversary.
Further, these celebrities deserve to be called out and held under the spotlight as promoters of the “tech”, so that they can then answer for the abuse and exploitation that is part and parcel of that “tech”, and how they look away and allow their questions to be dismissed or silenced. Leah Remini in particular has pointed up this particular question about celebrities in scientology, with their blithe endorsements of it as something that has enhanced their lives. Are we to believe that Leah is the only one who noticed that their ecclesiastical leader was no longer making appearances with his wife, and seemed to have an inappropriately cozy relationship with his assistant? It is a lot more likely that she is the only one who had the courage to go ahead and ask an unwelcome question and not settle for being told to shut up, and that she was the only one with the integrity to then walk away from an organization that apparently does not allow freedom of thought or freedom of association, despite promising the ultimate liberation. Even Tom Cruise, who is apparently the most valorous scientologist ever, has never had that kind of “confront” when it comes to his religion and its leader.
For these reasons, when you talk about scientology, at some point you absolutely should talk about Tom Cruise and other celebrities that have allowed their images and star power to be used by the COS for promotional purposes. The list of celebrities under the sway of the cult is really pretty short, mostly b-list and below, and many of them really don’t seem to be very actively involved in their “church” beyond making donations to the IAS. Tom Cruise is not one of those, however. Quite the opposite. Tom Cruise is the man who received the “Freedom Medal of Valor” from his leader and friend, David Miscavige. He was presented with that medal, ostensibly, for being such a powerful “disseminator” of scientology tech and ethics. Many within the Sea Org, however, felt that he was given the medal mostly for being a famous movie star that was best friends with the leader of the church. He certainly could not be portrayed as making more of a sacrifice or effort for his “religion” than any one of those SO members, Most of whom live on subsistence pay and are often called upon to break the law for their faith. Tom Cruise was not even asked to disconnect from his “suppressive” wife and child, as so many others have been told to do to their loved ones who leave the cult, much to their distress.
Tom Cruise is held up as the very emblem of what a scientologist can be. He attributes his success in his career to his practice of scientology, and feels it gives him extraordinary abilities and power to save the planet. He conducts himself, as narcissists often do, with great charisma and solicitude, which leaves people glowing in his wake and wondering what his secret is. If they attribute that to his being a scientologist, then that will certainly lead some folks to the cult. There is no doubt that Tom is an excellent PR asset for David Miscavige. If it weren’t for Tom, Miscavige would have to be the face of the cult, and those crazy eyes and uncontrolled temper of his would drive people away, not reel them in. Tom boosts cult PR, and the cult boosts Tom’s ego, declaring him the number three “big being” in the history of this planet, and some sort of moral savior for mankind. What man who has spent his whole life playing action heroes and moral warriors could resist such an ego stroke? It is no surprise that Tom says such positive things about his cult. He knows that to do otherwise would cost him all the self-aggrandizement that he finds so irresistable. To question the behavior of David Miscavige, or the constant money grabs of the IAS, by the rules of the cult, would be counter to their ostensible intention of saving humanity. That would indicate that Tom had gone insane and needed to be shunned until he got sane again. He would no longer be the celebrated big being that deserves a shiny gold medal and to bask in the presence of the shining ecclesiatical light that is David Miscavige.
With that being said, would Tom ever leave the cult? That is the question that comes up frequently amongst scientology watchers and critics of the cult. It seems obvious to outside observers that his association with the cult, and his willful ignorance of the apparent exploitation and inurement that is going on, sometimes to his benefit, is costing him a great deal that seems to be good in his life. He has lost two marriages to his devotion to the cult. And now, his power as a movie star is fading, in part because of his association with an increasingly distasteful and disturbing story. When you add in the events and reporting surrounding his divorce from Katie Holmes it becomes even clearer that there is every reason to assume Tom feels an increasing internal imperative to leave the cult. The widely reported reason for Katie leaving Tom is that she wished to protect their daughter from the impending onset of her scientology “instruction”. That is, the drills and interrogations that scientology deems an appropriate way to initiate a child into awareness of themselves as a spiritual being — a “thetan”. This twist to the otherwise mundane story of yet another hollywood divorce, was the crucial element in allowing the media to put aside their fear of scientology’s legendary litigiousness. Tom’s religion became a fair topic for reporting, because it was apparently an element in the story of his divorce. It could not be characterized as bigotry or prurient interest in a highly personal matter. With Tony Ortega providing leadership to the media in the form of some well-written articles defining the stakes for Katie in terms of what was ahead for Suri in her father’s “church”, there was a sea change in reporting on the cult and its mad practices. That change persists to this day, and the media’s curiosity about the subject, and their willingness to milk it for all the sensationalist value possible, has lead to a very different environment for the cult in this decade.
It is also a very different media environment for Tom Cruise. Where he used to be able to effectively control the conduct of interviews with him, with his publicist dictating to reporters and media outlets that the topic of his religion is off limits, now he must simply avoid most media outlets and speak only to those known for sticking to softballs and celebrity ass-kissing. If Tom were to open himself up to the kind of media junket most movie stars do to promote a movie, he would soon find himself being asked some uncomfortable questions about his religion, his marriages, and his behavior. He would find that he is not the universally beloved action hero that he once was to the average movie-goer. Tom would be confronted with the hierarchy of public affection, as it applies to the story of his divorce from Katie Holmes. In the eyes of the public, the child is always number one — she is young, lovely, well-behaved and doted on by her mother. Katie comes next in terms of affection, because of this. Katie kept quiet through the entire divorce process, leaving the public to decide for themselves what her motives were in leaving. As details emerged concerning the steps she felt it necessary to take to get out of her marriage — the disposable phone, the cover story about developing a script about a single mom, etc — the media and the public began to form an impression of her as a woman who stood up and said no to an unhealthy situation imposed on her and her daughter by Tom Cruise. The stories fed to the media about how shocked and hurt he was, and how cold-hearted Katie was for dropping a surprise divorce on him, never took root. People had not forgotten how Tom had treated his ex-wife Nicole, and he got no sympathy on the whole “ambush divorce” angle. This is when it became clear that his standing in the eyes of the public was degrading, steeply. Tom came in last in the competition for public affection, and that will be his position from now on. No matter what he says or does, unless Katie were to trash her image and Suri turned into a brat, he will remain at the bottom of the list.
The important question is, what is Tom’s personal hierarchy of affection? Tom has made it clear that David Miscavige is his personal hero, and presumably he believes David should be an object of even greater applause and adulation than Tom himself. However, it is also clear that Tom loves being a star, he loves the public affection he receives, and he loves being the hero in the movies he makes. Even Miscavige himself has emphasized the importance of Tom’s celebrity as his means for dissemination to “billions of people on this planet”. When he is confronted with a situation where one is pitted against the other, he is put in a double bind. He is caught between two competing investments, psychologically. Being a devout and sincere scientologist as defined by his best friend David Miscavige, and being a beloved celebrity who is spoken about with respect and admiration. If these two are at odds, that dichotomy can create a real ego crisis for him. It begs the question; which is more fundamental to maintaining his ego intact — being a good scientologist, or being beloved and respected by the public? In considering the answer to this question, it is important to remember that he sought celebrity before he ever heard of scientology and often refers to scientology’s value in his life in terms of how he imagines it has enhanced his career as a movie star. This suggests that being a movie star is the real bottom line for Tom.
Tom Cruise must eventually realize that he is stuck on a false dichotomy. When he realizes that there is a way to remain a “good scientologist”, while also rescuing his beloved celebrity status from the corrosive effect of David Miscavige and his abusive behavior and remaining popular and respected by the public, that would be a turning point. He could come off as brave, and strong enough to admit he was “misguided”. Tom could announce he is disaffected with growing corruption in the hierarchy of his church and unanswered questions about it. Then, heroically walk away and declare himself an independent scientologist, courageously reclaiming his right to practice his faith on his terms regardless of any authority. He could even claim that it took losing Katie to wake him up, thereby reclaiming some public sympathy in that situation. This would be the move of a powerful, big being, who is in fact free and fully in possession of himself. That is the irony of Tom’s situation, joined at the hip to David Miscavige, and dependent on his validation, while Miscavige puffs him up as the most powerful and free being in the world, and has control of his entire life. Tom’s career choices, marriages, relationships with his exes and his children, and especially his money, are subject to the “ethics” dictated by scientology, via David Miscavige. Being under the thumb of another man doesn’t support the assertion that Tom is a heroic and powerful being. It would be surprising if this has not already occurred to him.
It really comes down to one question — how much has David Miscavige persuaded Tom of the necessity of his leadership and influence? How much does Tom conflate the power of his religious beliefs with the leader of his religion? That’s hard to say. Tom keeps quiet about Miscavige most of the time, and in any case he is an actor capable of projecting any emotion with conviction. He could persuasively pretend to suck up to important people in his sleep, I’m sure. He has seemingly been persuaded that being a good scientologist means absolute unswerving dedication to the agenda and ego of Miscavige. If Tom should change his mind about that, then it would be a simple matter for him to become an independent scientologist, if that is what he wants, and to reclaim the good will of the public and his standing as a go-to guy for big box office returns. This is true to some degree for any celebrity scientologist. Whatever secrets the cult may hold over their heads, culled from recorded auditing sessions, would cause far less damage to their image and career than a continued association with an allegedly abusive and psychotic cult leader. Here’s hoping that all the celebrities who have been shilling for the cult can wake up, and walk away for good.