Totally fascinating long-form article. Haggis had been a Scientologist for decades, but quit when the religion backed the anti-gay Prop 8.
Paul Haggis Vs. the Church of Scientology : The New Yorker
During our conversations, we spoke about some events that had stained the reputation of the church while he was a member. For example, there was the death of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died after a mental breakdown, in 1995. She had rear-ended a car in Clearwater, Florida—where Scientology has its spiritual headquarters—and then stripped off her clothes and wandered naked down the street. She was taken to a hospital, but, in the company of several other Scientologists, she checked out, against doctors’ advice. (The church considers psychiatry an evil profession.) McPherson spent the next seventeen days being subjected to church remedies, such as doses of vitamins and attempts to feed her with a turkey baster. She became comatose, and she died of a pulmonary embolism before church members finally brought her to the hospital. The medical examiner in the case, Joan Wood, initially ruled that the cause of death was undetermined, but she told a reporter, “This is the most severe case of dehydration I’ve ever seen.” The State of Florida filed charges against the church. In February, 2000, under withering questioning from experts hired by the church, Wood declared that the death was “accidental.” The charges were dropped and Wood resigned.
Haggis said that, at the time, he had chosen not to learn the details of McPherson’s death. “I had such a lack of curiosity when I was inside,” Haggis said. “It’s stunning to me, because I’m such a curious person.” He said that he had been “somewhere between uninterested in looking and afraid of looking.” His life was comfortable, he liked his circle of friends, and he didn’t want to upset the balance. It was also easy to dismiss people who quit the church. As he put it, “There’s always disgruntled folks who say all sorts of things.” He was now ashamed of this willed myopia, which, he noted, clashed with what he understood to be the ethic of Scientology: “Hubbard says that there is a relationship between knowledge, responsibility, and control, and as soon as you know something you have a responsibility to act. And, if you don’t, shame on you.”
Since resigning, Haggis had been wondering why it took him so long to leave. In an e-mail exchange, I noted that higher-level Scientologists are supposed to be free of neuroses and allergies, and resistant to the common cold. “Dianetics” also promises heightened powers of intelligence and perception. Haggis had told me that he fell far short of this goal. “Did you feel it was your fault?” I asked. Haggis responded that, because the auditing took place over a number of years, it was easy to believe that he might actually be smarter and wiser because of it, just as that might be true after years of therapy. “It is all so subjective, how is one supposed to know?” he wrote. “How does it feel to be smarter today than you were two months ago? . . . But yes, I always felt false.”