In the temples of Hollywood, they like to look after the stars of Scientology

The sect of the `Thetans' has acquired a kind of respectability in the US, says David Usborne

A constellation of Hollywood stars and leading producers and directors sign a joint letter defending a religious group which has frequently been derided as a cult and pinning accusations of Nazism on modern Germany - and the reaction in America is, shall we say, muted. It barely registers, in fact.

That - the absence of surprise and debate in the United States - is almost more remarkable than the act itself. Is the American media intimidated by this group's fearsome reputation for taking out lawsuits or is what happened here simply not considered especially unusual?

We are talking, of course, about the full-page advertisement placed this week in the International Herald Tribune lambasting the German government for its intolerance of the Church of Scientology. Signed by such figures as Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn, Mario Puzo and Aaron Spelling, it explicitly evoked the Nazi atrocities against the Jews six decades ago and the Holocaust.

The letter's author was Bertram Fields, a well-known lawyer to the stars. A Jew, he is not a Scientologist and nor are the 33 other signatories. He has said that he was acting on a conviction that Scientologists were a persecuted minority in Germany who needed protection.

"I decided that if I was going to stand by my principles, I had to do something about this," he said. "I sent a detailed letter to a number of my friends, in addition to a copy of this letter, and asked if they would sign it. Surprisingly, most of the people I sent it to agreed." Scientology would seem like a risky cause for public figures to become associated with. Founded by the American science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard (LRH to church members) in the Fifties, the church has suffered always from the perception of outsiders that it is both batty in its beliefs and manipulative and dangerous in its recruiting and use of members' money.

The doctrine was laid out in Hubbard's 1950 book, Dianetics. The church promises those who join that it will "clear" their spirits through "auditing". Hubbard taught his followers that they were vessels for immortal souls called Thetans. The enemy of Thetans are Engrams, which can be purged by auditing. A device called the E-meter measures your Engram level.

Scientologists have come under public assault in several countries other than Germany, notably in France, Canada and the US. The sect's standing in America in recent years, however, has recovered somewhat. In part this is because of its successful programmes for instance on drug abuse and graffiti.

It is in Hollywood itself, however, that the church has undoubtedly scored biggest. In the studios of La-La Land, Scientology has become almost trendy. It does not hurt, of course, that among its disciples are the likes of Tom Cruise, his wife, Nicole Kidman, and the other star du jour, John Travolta. Others said either to support the church or to be full members of it are Demi Moore, Priscilla Presley, Kirstie Alley and Shirley Maclaine.

Some Germans boycotted Tom Cruise's last blockbuster, Mission: Impossible, because of his beliefs. Mr Cruise is a mighty property, however, whom everyone in the industry needs to be seen to be supporting. And there is Mr Travolta. He has publicly attributed his return to success to his membership of the Church of Scientology.

Helmut Kohl may fulminate and sensible thinkers in Europe may be aghast. The friends of Mr Fields - or friends, rather, of Mr Cruise and Mr Travolta - are not likely to be harbouring regrets.

David Aaronovitch, page 15

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits