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A new book takes a deep look into Scientology's origin and theology

Pedestrians walk past the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, Calif.
Pedestrians walk past the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, Calif.
Pedestrians walk past the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, Calif.
Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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For her new book, journalist Janet Reitman spent 5 years researching Scientology – one of the world’s most secretive religions – gathering candid interviews with current and former members of the church.

Reitman gained unprecedented access to a secret desert outpost in Hemet, California, where a devout group of elite church members live. Her book, "Inside Scientology," was released today.

The practice of Scientology begins with auditing. Reitman told Madeleine Brand, “It’s basically talk therapy.”

The auditing sessions employ, “very basic psychology and it works on a lot of people,” Reitman said. “The idea is to go all the way back into your past, to a moment of physical main or unconsciousness and relive that moment, not just remember it but actually put yourself there. By reliving and reliving and reliving you strip that moment of whatever traumatic impact it may have had. “

In the 1950s, this was known as dianetics. Science fiction writer and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard realized the auditing sessions entailed spiritual component, as participants looked deep into their past experiences. Using dianetics as a starting point, he decided to found a religion.

“Part of … creating a religion is you have to have an origin myth of how it all came to be,” Madeleine remarked to Janet Reitman. In the case of Scientology, adherents are typically shown the full text of their faith’s origin story only after attaining a status the church calls “OT3.”

It begins, “The head of the galactic confederation-- 76 planets around larger stars visible from here, founded 95 billion years ago-- solved overpopulation, 250 billion or so per planet, 178 billion average by mass implanting. “

Scientology Today

After L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, David Miscavige assumed leadership of the church. Brought up as a devout Scientologist, Miscavige has a more dogmatic interpretation of Church doctrine.

In his first flush of leadership, Reitman said, Miscavige removed all the officials who had been close to Hubbard from the church, in part to consolidate power and to improve Scientology’s image. The Church had just been rocked by a major scandal – 11 prominent Scientologists were accused of spying on domestic government agencies and Interpol. Many involved in the espionage ring, known as" Operation Snow White," eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy and served time in jail, including Hubbard’s wife.

“Miscavige purged anyone who had anything to do with that operation,” Reitman said.

Under Miscavige, Scientology has expanded. The Church operates a secret desert outpost in the city of Hemet in Riverside County.

Reitman is among very few outsiders who have visited the facility. Listen in for the full interview.