Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Louis Theroux isn’t the first who tried to find Scientology’s positive side and failed

[Rev. Stewart Lamont, photo by Callum Moffat]

Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie is now on Netflix, but Jon Atack reminds us that Theroux wasn’t the first investigator who tried to find something positive to say about Scientology, and ended up in a very different place.

The first book I contributed to – back in the distant mists of history (c.1986) – was Stewart Lamont’s Religion Inc. Not a bad title, and with some interesting content (though he describes me as a “young businessman,” which came as a surprise). Lamont had made a favorable documentary for Yorkshire TV, and when we first met he told me that Scientology had been persecuted, and he wanted to put the record straight. I had enjoyed the documentary, because by offering an entirely uncritical view, Lamont had encouraged the Scientologist contributors to boast about their strange belief system.

I best remember a Sea Org executive dripping in braid and campaign medals. This alone made Scientology seem fatuous. Some good documentaries simply allow fools to express their folly: Lynne Allway’s Meet the Mormons is another example of the softly-softly approach – nothing has horrified me more about the routine practices of the Latter-Day Saints (not to be confused with the LDS’s own film of the same name!).

On that first meeting, Lamont was freshly returned from Boston, where he had met the legendary attorney Michael J. Flynn. By this time, Flynn had over 20 cases against Scientology. Nibs Hubbard and Gerry Armstrong were among his clients. Lamont told me that Flynn was “paranoid,” because he believed that the Scientologists were going through his trash. I told Lamont that the Scientologists had indeed carefully pasted shredded documents back together and submitted them to court. At the time, I don’t think he believed me, because he was convinced of his hypothesis that criticism of Scientology was hyperbole.

It is often the case that Scientology has ceded defeat from the jaws of victory. Lamont was alarmingly pro-Scientology on that first meeting, but he changed direction for his book, because, unlike Michael J Flynn, the Guardian’s Office of Special Affairs really was paranoid: They started following him and wrote to his publisher to threaten litigation.


Religion Inc. turned into a damning critique of Scientology. As Lamont says in the prologue: “I originally wanted to write a book telling the story without offending anyone, but the more written material and personal evidence I gathered, the more I became convinced that despite my good intentions and those of many Scientologists, I could not avoid the verdict that Scientology does more harm than good and that its founder Ron Hubbard was more an evil genius than an idol with feet of clay.”

Looking back at the book, I see that I have peppered the margins with exclamation marks, because there are many trivial errors (for instance, saying that HCOBs are to be found in the green volumes, or that Volney Mathison developed the e-meter in 1959), but the thrust of the book makes it worthwhile for completists, and it has some interesting interviews – with Gerry Armstrong and the “world’s first real Clear,” John McMaster, for instance.

At times, the book is gently amusing. I rather liked this analogy: “One must be careful to distinguish between the right to believe the earth is flat and the right to charge people large sums of money to jump off the edge” (perhaps into the Abyss below the Bridge). Lamont was perhaps riffing on Justice Latey’s condemning ruling on Scientology: “If people believe that the earth is flat there is nothing to stop them believing so, saying so, and joining together to try to persuade others.”

In the epilogue, Lamont cited a statement I’d made about the real membership figures: In 1977, Scientology claimed 336,000 UK members, but my information was that 5,500 British residents had taken a “major course” or received auditing by 1981. The 2011 UK Census showed that only just over 2,000 people admitted Scientology as their faith (with over 170,000 people claming to be Jedi Knights).
Lamont concluded by saying that Hubbard, “was, according to the term he defined himself, a Suppressive Person.” I had come to the same conclusion by that time (and even attested in my last auditing
session, in 1983, that I had been “PTS” to Hubbard). So, a favorable book turned sour, Lamont had his trash raided, and the world kept on turning (though I still wasn’t really a “young businessman”).

Stewart Lamont is a minister in the Church of Scotland, and in 2016 joined the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, a Spiritualist organization in Edinburgh, which investigates claims of the paranormal. He has moved from cultbusting to ghostbusting. I wish Reverend Lamont all the best, and applaud his courage in standing up to Scientology in those dangerous times.

If you want to support efforts to proof the next generation against cults and other toxic relationships, grab a look at our Open Minds Foundation website.

— Jon Atack


A new defector leaves Flag in dramatic fashion


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,861 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,844 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,618 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,964 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,458 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,498 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,210 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 736 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,825 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,965 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,285 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,260 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 616 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,918 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,025 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,427 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,300 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 881 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,386 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,630 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,739 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on September 2, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email