I HAVE FOR DECADES NOW been a Tom Cruise apologist. I have stuck with him through all the rumors and innuendo, the couch jumping and maniacal laughing, Vanilla Sky. I dug him whether he was married to Mimi Rogers or Nicole Kidman or Katie Holmes, whether he was in Risky Business or A Few Good Men or Tropic Thunder. Even when he broke up with Holmes, and unflattering stories began to trickle out, I stood by him. So what if he was a Scientologist? Sure it was a zany cult, but what he did in his private time was none of my business.
Or so I was led to believe.
After watching a certain HBO documentary on the “Church,” however, I have, ahem, gone clear. Both Going Clear the film and Lawrence Wright book on which it is based (Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief) present a damning portrait of L. Ron Hubbard’s “Church.” Far from innocuous silliness, Scientology is basically a pyramid scheme disguised as a New Age belief system, in which adherents pay increasingly greater sums of money to move up levels. As adherents advance, they are made to confess all their sins, however minor, and this information, obtained under the presumption of confidentiality, is used against them if they try to leave the “Church.” There is also a long culture of physical and mental abuse, perpetuated by its Fascistic leader David Miscavige, whose wife Shelley has been missing since 2007. The employees of a “Church” worth upwards of $3 billion are paid slave wages. And the adherents are made to “disconnect” with “SPs,” which has been known to break up families. On top of that, when someone does manage to leave the “Church” and dares speak up against it, Miscavige and his odious minions unleash a shit-storm of public abuse, stalking, and humiliation that makes the machinations of 1984’s Big Brother seem quaint. In short, Scientology is actively harmful, if not downright evil.
And Cruise is not, as I had convinced myself, just a high-profile victim. He was, and remains, a major part of the problem. Many, many people have suffered mightily because of Scientology—which means they have suffered because of Thomas Cruise Mapother IV.
There are celebrities, and then there are celebrities. While he’s certainly lost some zip on his fastball, Tom Cruise is, by any metric, a hugely famous star, arguably the biggest of my lifetime. Those few human beings blessed with that much star power have, I believe, a moral obligation to use it for the greater good. Paul Newman is the template here, but plenty of current A-listers invest considerable time and money on political and charitable causes. Mark Ruffalo has been a Hulk-like force against the fracking movement, George Clooney was instrumental in calling attention to the situation in Darfur, and Angelina Jolie has done so much charity work that I’ve lost track. Leonardo DiCaprio is also pretty amazing in this regard.
But Tom Cruise? In The Sixth Extinction, her book about the biological costs of climate change, Elizabeth Kolbert spends a chapter on an important research center in the Amazon rain forest. The scientist tells of a visit Cruise made to the center; he’d been hoping that the famous movie star would take up the cause. No such luck. “He seemed to enjoy himself,” the scientist reported, but his interest lasted only as long as the tour.
This story neatly encapsulates Tom Cruise the humanitarian/benefactor/change agent. What does Tom Cruise do? What does he stand for? The answer is Scientology, which, in addition to being actively malicious as already discussed, effectively operates as a personal tax shelter (he gives to the “Church” and writes off the donation, all the while benefiting from the organization’s lavish attention). That’s his legacy. That’s what he chose to do with the vast fortune he’s amassed since the early 80s—invest it in the sick product of the perverse imagination of a hack sci-fi novelist with bad teeth. Obviously Newman did not rub off on him when they made The Color of Money.
The same qualities that make Cruise a singular movie star—preternatural intensity, boundless energy, kingly charisma, an incredible ability to convince us to suspend our belief, and, especially, a tendency toward megalomania—also make him a perfect ambassador for Scientology. Listening to him, you get the sense that he really believes he’s some sort of demiurge, sent here by the gods to make the world better. That’s great when he’s playing Jack Reacher, but catastrophic when he’s peddling Scientology courses.
But take away the fame, the fortune, the movie-star looks, and the Sea Org disciples, and what remains is a thrice-divorced, mean-spirited fifty-year-old with undiagnosed mental illness. At least I hope, as a fan of his work, that mental illness is the reason why he’s turned a blind eye to the evil wrought by this “Church” of which he is the leading public face. Otherwise, he is not just passively complicit, but actively guilty of perpetuating the abuse—mental, physical, emotional, financial, and otherwise—in which the “Church” specializes. It was good sport to laugh at him jumping on Oprah’s couch, but the act just isn’t funny anymore. Too much is at stake.
Much ink has been spilled on Cruise’s sexual preferences. They are irrelevant. “Tom Cruise is gay and if he ever renounces Scientology, the ‘Church’ will spread so much dirt around him that not only will he never work again, but his entire cinematic legacy will be tarnished.” For years, that has been the speculative reason for his decision to remain. But I call bullshit. Even if the in-the-closet rumors are true, by being silent, Tom Cruise is advancing the position, in twenty-fucking-fifteen, that being openly gay is somehow morally worse than being one of the public leaders of an abusive cult. But get clear, Tom. Unless you’re a serial rapist—which is to say, a Bill Cosby—what could they have on your that would ruin your reputation more than being Top Gun in the Church [sic] of Scientology?
If Mr. Cruise went to Washington tomorrow and met with the FBI, and he told them, “In exchange for immunity for any crimes I may have confessed to while being ‘audited,’ I will give you all the information you need to prove that the Church [sic] of Scientology is a misnomer, and it’s bilked the American people out of billions of dollars in tax revenue,” I suspect the G-men might order the Code Red.
This is your mission, Mr. Cruise, should you choose to accept it: renounce Scientology, take down Miscavige, destroy the cult he’s created, liberate the 50,000 human beings trapped in that faith-prison, and help finance their rehabilitation. Free Elisabeth Moss, damnit! And Beck! And Mrs. Miscavige! Until you do, you will remain one of the Worst People in America.
Like your legacy, this message will self-destruct in five…four…three…two…