Americans are fascinated by Scientology, a fact revealed once again this week following the release of the much anticipated "Going Clear: Scientology a Prison Of Belief" documentary on HBO.
Scientology is one of the most controversial, and secretive, religions in the United States. Its mysterious and paranoid character, combined with its connection to celebrities like Tom Cruise, make it an inherently intriguing entity.
HBO's documentary delves into much of this, offering what has been characterized as a very scathing portrayal of the church.
It's no secret there are a number of disconcerting, cultish and arguably criminal, aspects to Scientology. Yet, the renowned astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made an important point during an interview with The Daily Beast on March 31.
Tyson, a perpetual voice of reason, admitted he didn't watch the documentary, stating:
What matters is not who says who's crazy, what matters is we live in a free country. You can believe whatever you want, otherwise it's not a free country — it's something else. If we start controlling what people think and why they think it, we have case studies where that became the norm. I don't care what the tenets are of Scientology. They don't distract me. I don't judge them, and I don't criticize them.
Indeed, we live in a country founded upon values of religious freedom and tolerance. While we have not always lived up to this philosophy -- currently a controversial topic in regards to Indiana -- it's something to think about when approaching Scientology.
And let's be honest, there are unusual, controversial, anachronistic and reprehensible elements to faiths that have been around for far longer than Scientology, which was established in 1954.
With that said, whether you watched the HBO documentary or not, Scientology can be a shocking institution.
Much of the following information is nothing new, but here are 10 weird facts about Scientology you probably didn't know:
1. Scientology's founder was a science-fiction writer.
Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who holds the Guinness World Record for Most Published Works By One Author. The foundational texts of Scientology and the church's creation story, involve aliens. The church denies that it believes in aliens, however.
2. The founder of Scientology once told his wife he murdered their child.
Hubbard is an extremely controversial figure, particularly for exhibiting paranoid and abusive tendencies, which the church seems to have adopted as well.
Apparently when his second wife threatened to leave him, he kidnaped their daughter. He then called his wife and claimed he'd butchered the girl, but later called back and admitted she was still alive.
3. Members are pressured to talk about their sex lives.
Scientologists have to go through a process known as auditing, in which the church asks them extremely personal questions about their lives.
This seems to be a form of blackmail, as the church keeps detailed records of the proceedings and the questions often pertain to people's sex lives. If members ever want to leave the church, it can threaten to reveal this information.
4. Scientologists believe mental illness doesn't exist.
Hubbard believed that psychiatrists were evil and even characterized them as terrorists. Scientologists do not believe in psychology and are vehemently against using psychiatric medication.
5. There was apparently a Scientology "prison camp."
Previous members of the church have described what seems to be a Scientology "prison camp," which disobedient members were sent to for "re-indoctrination." At the camp, known as the Rehabilitation Project Force, people were forced to eat meager meals and do hard labor.
6. Jerry Seinfeld, among other celebrities, dabbled in Scientology.
In order to increase its power and status, Scientology actively seeks out celebrity members. Some of the more famous ones are Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but many celebrities have also left the church for various reasons.
7. The FBI investigated Scientology for human trafficking.
The church has been accused of enslaving members, The Telegraph reports. Indeed, there have often been allegations that it's nearly impossible to leave the church once you join.
There have also been reports of violence from church officials, all of which prompted the FBI to investigate the ways in which members might be controlled and coerced into staying.
8. Scientology is constantly preparing for the apocalypse.
Scientology is hardly the first religion to reference the apocalypse, but not every faith is building secret bunkers in the woods in preparation for it. These bunkers include nuclear-proof shelters and massive vaults with footage of Hubbard.
9. The church tried to censor Wikipedia.
Wikipedia has banned any organization affiliated with Scientology from editing its articles. The church has been accused of repeatedly attempting to remove information critical of it.
This should come as no surprise considering Scientology has a very antagonistic and repressive relationship with the media and Internet.
10. The church spied on Nicole Kidman at Tom Cruise's request.
All of this ultimately helped lead to Cruise and Kidman's divorce.
Citations: Neil deGrasse Tyson Defends Scientology and the Bush Administrations Science Record (The Daily Beast), 21 Insane Scientology Stories That Going Clear Left Out (Vulture), 16 Things We Learned from the Shocking Scientology Doc Going Clear (Esquire), Scientology the facts (The Telegraph), Church of Scientology investigated by FBI (The Telegraph ), 16 Shocking Allegations In Scientology Documentary Going Clear (Huffington Post), Inside Scientologys Secret Bunkers (The Daily Beast), Scientologys war on psychiatry (Salon), Inside Scientologys Auditing Process How Members Are Pushed To Reveal Their Private Sexual Indiscretions (Huffington Post), 10 Things We Learned From Scientology Doc Going Clear (Rolling Stone), Celebrities Who Have Left Scientology (Rolling Stone ), Eyes Wide Shut (NYT)