My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second book about Scientology that I’ve read recently. You can check out my review of Going Clear for my earlier impression.
Unlike Going Clear, Church Fear makes almost no attempt at objectivity and for understandable reason. During the course of filming a documentary about the Church of Scientology, John Sweeney engaged in a series of escalating confrontations with church spokesman, Tommy Davis. These culminated in a screaming match between the two, in which they both end up trading accusations about the other being brainwashed. The video of this argument became something of a YouTube sensation. Sweeney is very candid about losing his cool with Davis and admits that he behaved poorly, comparing his actions to an “exploding tomato.”
Church of Fear the chronicles adventures of Sweeney and his film crew as they travel around America, filming their documentary for the BBC. He describes interviews with critics and former members of the Church of Scientology. In almost all of these interviews, Davis, accompanied by a film crew, shows up to discredit the interviewee. He describes car rides in which they appear to have been followed. He also interviews celebrity members of the church, including Kirsti Alley, Anne Archer, and Leah Remini, all of whom give curiously rehearsed answers to his questions. Another highlight is Sweeney’s visit to Scientology’s exhibit on psychiatry, which they allege is behind many of the horrors in recent history, including the Holocaust. It was after this visit that Sweeney had his famous blow up with Davis.
As with Going Clear, Church of Fear documents numerous allegations of vicious physical and mental abuse committed by the church’s leader, David Miscavige. All of which, of course, the Church denies. But as allegation after allegation piles up, it’s hard not to see a pattern.
Sweeney writes in an accessible style, with British self-deprecating humor and humility over losing his temper. Which this explosion of tempers is not the highlight of his career, his willingness to frame this book around his mistake speaks highly of his character. In comparison with Going Clear, Church of Fear is much more readable. It’s more of a written documentary than compilation of research, but it does give some truly disturbing insights into this bizarre religion.