http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/atheologies/4885/a_peek_inside_the_‘onion’_of_scientology/ Interview July 19, 2011 A Peek Inside the ‘Onion’ of Scientology An interview with Janet Reitman, author of Inside Scientology: The History of America’s Most Secretive Religion By Kristin Rawls From the cover of Inside Scientology: The History of America’s Most Secretive Religion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) Kristin Rawls Kristin Rawls earned her first Masters degree in Ethics/International Relations in 2006 (American University) and a second in Philosophy (Pennsylvania State University) in 2010. Her published academic work focuses on human rights and U.S. foreign policy. She is a frequent contributor at Global Comment and other publications. Inside Scientology: The History of America’s Most Secretive Religion Janet Reitman Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011) In 2005, Rolling Stone contributing editor Janet Reitman first stepped into the New York Church of Scientology to begin research on what culminated in her 2006 article, “Inside Scientology.” The piece was nominated for a National Magazine Award and provided some of the groundwork for her new book, Inside Scientology: The History of America’s Most Secretive Religion. Reitman has spent the past five years researching the controversial Church of Scientology, seeking, “to understand Scientology: not to judge, but simply to absorb.” The result is an exhaustive narrative history of the Church that shatters many popular myths about Scientology and parses its complex belief system in accessible prose. RD spoke with Reitman about what it meant to maintain objectivity even when covering some of the more troubling critiques of the Church of Scientology. You write in the introduction that you intended to create the first “objective history” of the Church of Scientology. You took pains not to discuss the Church in inflammatory language and use a lot of multiple sourcing, but the Church comes across as so much more disturbing than I expected. Could you say more about the standards of objectivity you adhered to when you wrote Inside Scientology? My top editor, Jann Wenner, schooled me on objectivity when I did my piece on Scientology for Rolling Stone. Any prejudicial language that may have been in the story had to go. When you’re dealing with material that is shocking or dramatic, you shouldn’t sensationalize it. My goal was to write in as measured a tone as possible, and that was one of the things that I believe gave me, but also the story, credibility. It’s difficult to talk to representatives of the Church about anything and get an answer that feels truly honest; but their job is to present their viewpoint, like any official, really. I had three 16- or 17-hour days with top Church officials when I worked on the magazine piece. They try to exhaust you, and they were basically there to spin me. I had access to Mike Rinder, their top PR guy, then ranked second or third in the Church hierarchy. Rinder and another top official, Tommy Davis, had a lot to say. I got answers from them about specifics that were a little bit more honest than what they would have said if it had just been a one or two hour interview. It wasn’t the kind of straight PR you might expect, and it informed my thinking. I also looked for ex-members who had not sued the Church of Scientology, who had not written books about the Church of Scientology, and who did not want to be known as critics. They agreed to tell the truth using their names for this book for the first time in 2007 and early 2008. Then, in 2008, the hacker community, Anonymous, came on the scene, and they began holding anti-Scientology protests and releasing internal Church documents. That empowered a lot of my sources to feel that they could go public. Some of them began to write books, and some set up blogs. Some decided to sue the Church. I met them all long before they did any of these things. I searched for the most credible sources, and I continue to think that’s what they are. I looked for ex-members who had been top officials and who I felt were trustworthy. Jeff Hawkins, a major character in the book, is an extremely sane human being—well-adjusted, articulate and very mainstream. And if I had doubts, I went to the original source of the information in [Church founder] L. Ron Hubbard’s writings. It’s all there. That’s really the best you can get. And most importantly, I had to go into this without judgment. I’m really big on objectivity, so I get excited when people ask about it. How did you get such unprecedented access to Church records and historical documents?