Tom Cruise. John Travolta. Jason Lee. What do they have in common? Aside from all sporting unfortunate facial hair at one point (“Collateral,” “Battlefield Earth” and “My Name Is Earl,” respectively) they’re members of the highly publicized, often-controversial Church of Scientology.
It’s not always easy to get to the truth about such a polarizing topic — anti-Scientology Web sites are numerous, including stopscientology.com, scientology-lies.com and scientology-kills.org — but with last week’s birth of Suri (the offspring of “TomKat”) and next week’s release of “Mission: Impossible 3,” we went to the source to find out more about the religion and ask what exactly is it about Scientology that attracts so many entertainment celebrities?
“I think they (celebrities) have to have the ability to communicate,” says Jim Bennett, director of public affairs for the Church of Scientology in Phoenix, referring to the benefits of a clear mind — a vital goal in Scientology.
“We don’t make any particular attempt to control or tell the celebrities what they should do,’’ Bennett, a Scientologist since sicne 1968, says. ‘‘They’re a parishioner just like I am.”
The Valley’s Church of Scientology is located in an office building in downtown Phoenix. Bennett says about 5,000 people are on the local church’s mailing list. Scientology's Web site (scientology.org) lists around 125 active members with an official online presence in Arizona.
Bennett makes several requests to ensure that his words are interpreted correctly. Given the onslaught of negative publicity Scientology has gotten lately, it’s not surprising.
In March, reports surface about a planned “silent birth” for Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise’s child. The issue is often presented as women not being allowed painkillers or any involuntary noise during the delivery, which has been denied by those involved.
Bennett: “As much as that is downplayed as crazy, the truth is that is one of the most important, key elements around. You just want a safe environment where the baby can enter the world in a quiet, calm manner and have a nice start in life. That’s simply all there is to it.”
An article on foxnews.com, published last year, alleges that the Catholic-raised Holmes had to cut ties with her prior faith, as well as associates who aren’t Scientologists.
Bennett: “Nobody would ever insist or ask you or even remotely suggest that you have to choose between the two (religions). It is a church, it certainly is, but it’s nondogmatic. We don’t tell you that you have to believe this way or else.”
Earlier this month, the New York Daily News reports Jett Travolta (son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston) suffers from autism and has not received proper treatment because doing so would involve consulting psychiatrists, which is against Scientology. Cruise publicly has spoken against psychiatry — on “Today,” when he criticized Brooke Shields’ discussion of post-partum depression, and in Entertainment Weekly, where he intimated connections between psychiatry and World War II Nazis.
Bennett: “People can be helped and improved without psychotropic drugs, shock treatments, lobotomies or any of a myriad of methods used by the psychiatrist to ‘help’ his patient.”
Last summer, Tom Cruise attracts attention with some bizarre behavior, including the infamous “couch jumping” incident May 23 on “Oprah,” where he extols his love for Katie Holmes, whom he had only known for a couple of months.
Bennett: “Most people don’t understand that’s just a real emotion. It doesn’t communicate to most people because most people don’t function that way. There is a certain element that will get turned off from it.”
Last November, an episode of “South Park,” lampoons Scientology and Cruise. The episode depicts Scientology as a scam designed to extort money from people manipulated into joining.
Scheduled rebroadcasts are pulled (reportedly under fear of litigation), and Scientologist Isaac Hayes (the voice of character Chef) quits the show. Bennett: “Most of the services do have a fixed donation attached to them. I’m not aware of any religion out there where there’s no charge and nothing asked for in regards to promoting and keeping the activity going. Hubbard didn’t make billions and billions of dollars like people think. It always went right back into the churches.”
The climax of the ‘‘South Park’’ episode and a bit on “The Daily Show” detail the story of Xenu, reportedly a closely guarded secret among high-ranking Scientologists. The gist, according to those programs: 75 million years ago, the universe was dominated by a federation of planets led by a galactic conqueror named Xenu. He rounded up aliens, froze them, took them to Earth on spaceships and dropped them into volcanoes (like the one appearing on the cover of “Dianetics”). This caused the alien souls (called “thetans”) to wander the planet, eventually attaching themselves to primitive man. These thetans are the cause of stress, grief and pain.
Bennett: “There are people out there who will do most anything to put out some sort of propaganda to make it seem like, ‘Holy cow, they gotta be nuts.’ Whether it’s true or false, what does it have to do with anything? The private doctrines of the Church of Scientology are the private doctrines of the Church of Scientology.”