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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living