Fall 2005, Vol. 8, No. 2

Table of Contents
Fall 2005

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Articles in this issue

From the Editor:
Was New Orleans Asking For It?

The God Squadron

Culture War, Italian Style

Establishment In the Balance

Covering Homosexuality in the Schools

Presbyterians Divest the Jews

Cruisin' For a Scientological Bruisin'


Cruisin' For a Scientological Bruisin'
by Christine McCarthy McMorris





The first hint that Tom Cruise’s new eagerness to talk about his religion of Scientology and its ramped-up war on psychiatry would become the summer’s hot topic cropped up in an April 27 feature in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.

Cruise and director Steven Spielberg were on the road priming the publicity pump for their hoped-for summer blockbuster, War of the Worlds. Not surprisingly, in a country where Scientology does not enjoy the tax-exempt status of a legitimate religion, as it does in the United States, Cruise was asked why he set up a Scientology information tent on the set of War of the Worlds.

Cruise: The volunteer Scientology ministers were there to help the sick and      injured....I have absolutely nothing against talking about my beliefs. But I do so much more. We live in a world where people are on drugs forever. Where even children get drugged.

Der Spiegel: Do you see it as your job to recruit new followers for Scientology?

Cruise: I’m a helper. For instance, I myself have helped hundreds of people get off drugs. In Scientology, we have the only successful drug rehabilitation program in the world.

 Cruise’s claims about Scientology’s drug rehab program were treated with some skepticism by the magazine, but one of the actor’s follow-up statements proved quasi-prophetic. “You have no idea,” he insisted, “how many people want to know what Scientology is.” Journalists did, anyway.

In the following weeks untold ink was spilled in a media frenzy that moved back and forth between Cruise’s theology and his love life—more specifically, the confirmation, through his publicist, that he had been dating the 26-year-old actress Katie Holmes “for a few weeks.”

An AP story filed April 27 duly published the news, and Holmes and the twice-married Cruise rapidly appeared on the covers of US Weekly, Star, and People magazines. (Although most of the coverage was standard celebrity fluff, People ran a poll May 2 in which 62 percent of respondents called the romance a “publicity stunt.”)

Cruise’s subsequent move, an ecstatic tribute to his new love widely seen May 24 on The Oprah Winfrey Show, included his jumping up on the interview couch, waving his arms, and telling a stunned Winfrey, “I’m in love! I’m in love! I can’t be cool. I can’t be laid back.”

Two days later, Cruise sat down for a chat with the usually issue-free television zone of NBC’s “Access Hollywood” and shifted the story back toward Scientology’s assault on psychiatry. Prompted by the softball questions of interviewer Bill Bush, the actor spoke expansively on his own childhood diagnosis of dyslexia and what he termed the dangers of “child drugging” with Ritalin. “Here is the thing: you have to understand, with psychiatry,” Cruise said, “there is no science behind it. And to pretend that there is a science behind it is criminal.”

That might have raised eyebrows, but it was his dissing of onetime costar Brooke Shields and her recent best-selling memoir Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression that sent the sparks flying. Asked about Shields’ claim that antidepressants had aided in her recovery, Cruise countered, “Look at her life. Here is a woman—and I care about Brooke Shields because I think she is incredibly talented—[but] you look at where has her career gone?” Prescribing an alternate treatment of “vitamins and exercise,” he pronounced, “She doesn’t know what these drugs are and for her to promote it is irresponsible.”

Shields quickly shot back: “Tom should stick to saving the world from aliens and let women who are experiencing postpartum depression decide what treatment options are best for them.”

The media agreed. On May 25, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article warning that “Scientology evangelist” Tom Cruise “is not a doctor. He’s an actor following his church’s party line.” On June 6, the New York Daily News registered the public’s growing “perception that he’s gone off the rails;” while on June 7, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper blurted out: “Everyone asks the same question: Is Tom Cruise nuts or what?”

Looking at Cruise’s comments through the lens of its role as Hollywood’s hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times’ Rachel Abramowitz and Chris Lee opined that “the movie business has shown wariness to how Scientology plays, especially abroad,” where critics call it “a cult that employs mind-control techniques.” They reported that Cruise, after replacing his former publicist with his (Scientologist) sister Lee Anne De Vette, had been “increasingly open about his Scientology beliefs,” even passing out Scientology brochures at an elementary school where War of the Worlds was shot.

The decidedly negative media reaction to his outspokenness did not deter Cruise from using his next publicity jaunt to promote his Scientology agenda aggressively. In a June 17 interview on Entertainment Weekly, he accused the late Swiss psychiatrist Karl Jung of being “an editor for Nazi papers during World War II,” and informed viewers that methadone was “originally called Adolophine. It was named after Adolf Hitler.” EW went so far as to provide a disclaimer on Cruise’s claims of psychiatry as a “Nazi science,” a long-held tenet of Scientology.

In the interview, the actor seemed less evangelical than defensive, rebutting a question on the public’s criticism of his remarks with the comment, “Who cares what other people say? If they don’t like it, fuck them.” Switching gears, he went on to discuss how his (now) fiancée Katie Holmes, a graduate of Catholic parochial schools in Toledo, “digs” Scientology.

Perhaps it was those comments that sent the Internet universe into overdrive, with numerous blogs including devoting a section to “TomKat news”; a website ( selling items like t-shirts that read “Run Katie Run”; and the popular search engine Yahoo announcing June 21 that Scientology had made its first ever appearance on the top search terms at number 37 (and soon rising to number 9, behind Pamela Anderson but ahead of World Wrestling Entertainment).

The Church of Scientology responded with a link on its website to a “blog” of its own, essentially a promotion of Cruise and his various Church-related activities ( In this mid-June spate of coverage, many newspapers ran boilerplate descriptions of Scientology and its creation in 1951 by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, whose book Dianetics, advancing a program for resolving personal problems sans psychiatry, is now a seminal text for the church. The articles neutrally reported the claims of both the Scientologists and their detractors. Jennifer Garzain’s June 18 piece in the Sacramento Bee was typical, quoting an official of Scientology’s Sacramento church’s comment that the religion “is not a cult,” balanced by a nod to critics who “say it is a sect that expects huge contributions from its members.”

Similar articles ran in numerous papers, including the Macon Telegraph (“Tom Cruise and Scientology: Your Questions Answered,” June 17); the Houston Chronicle (“The Ins and Outs of Scientology,” June 22); and the Chicago Sun-Times (“TomKat” Casts Spotlight Back on Scientology; Criticism Fades, but Some Still See it as a Money-Making Cult,” June 26).

Katie Holmes’ hometown news-paper, the Toledo Blade, ran an informed piece June 26 by religion writer David Yonke that included Scientology’s belief that an evil alien named Xenu “implanted alien spirits in Earth’s volcanoes 75 million years ago…and that these alien spirits invade human bodies today.” Sticking to the “he said, she said” style, the article followed up with David Bromley, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University, who “cautioned that many religious stories—including Christianity’s founding belief that God became man, was killed on a cross, and rose from the dead—would seem strange to someone who never heard it before.”

Interestingly, tabloid coverage seemed to split geographically. West Coast papers seemed to take the religious dimension in stride, with Los Angeles Daily News, for example, calmly asking on June 25, “Just What is All the Fuss About With Scientology?” On the East Coast, the mood was more hysterical. Thus, the New York Post speculated June 18, “Wackily Ever After—When Tom and Kat Say ‘I Do’ the Scientology Way,” and the New York Daily News wondered on June 25 “Is War of Worlds star Tom Cruise lost in space?”

The criticism became more pointed and sophisticated after Cruise’s June 24 appearance on NBC’s Today Show. Asked by host Matt Lauer about his criticism of Brooke Shields, Cruise snapped, “Psychiatry is a pseudoscience. You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.”

And when Lauer asked about children who had been helped with the attention-deficit disorder medication Ritalin, Cruise ranted “Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, you don’t even—you’re glib. You don’t even know what Ritalin is. If you start talking about chemical imbalance, you have to evaluate and read the research papers…that’s what I’ve done.” 

In response, Washington Post staff writer Richard Leiby sarcastically asked, “Okay, should we address him as Dr. Tom Cruise from now on? Or will the Rev. Dr. Cruise suffice?” On June 28, the American Psychiatric Association released a statement quoted in a Reuters wire story that warned, “[I]t is irresponsible for Mr. Cruise to use his publicity tour to promote his own ideological views and deter people with mental illness from getting the care they need.”

Brooke Shields also responded less flippantly to Cruise’s escalating attacks on antidepressants, writing in a much-quoted op-ed in the July 1 New York Times, “While Mr. Cruise says that Mr. Lauer and I do not understand ‘the history of psychiatry,’ I’m going to take a wild guess and say that Mr. Cruise has never suffered from postpartum depression.” Pointing out that “one in 10 women suffer, usually in silence, from the treatable disease,” Shields concluded that Cruise’s remarks were “a disservice to mothers everywhere.”

The same day, wrapped up an impressive four-part investigative series, “Summer of Scientology.” According to Joe Strupp, author of part three (“The Press vs. Scientology,” June 30), the current reluctance of the press to ask hard questions about a “controversial” religion was most influenced by the lawsuits that followed a May 6, 1991 Time cover story by Richard Behar (“Scientology: The Cult of Greed”) that was highly critical of Scientology’s financial practices and its treatment of former members.

Because Time was sued by the church and Richard Behar and other critical journalists harassed, Strupp asked, “[H]as the press simply shied away from potential court fights, especially at a time when many news outlets are cutting back on budgets and facing stronger competition in a growing media market?” Alice Chasan, senior editor at, concurred: “There is less of that kind of investigative reporting going on. Clearly, the spate of lawsuits has had a chilling effect.”

Part Four of the Salon series (“Scientology’s War on Psychiatry” by Katharine Mieszkowski) linked Cruise’s provocative remarks about psychiatry to a ramping up of the church’s activism—and in particular, its promotion of legislation in numerous states that would “penalize, even criminalize, schoolteachers who recommend mental health treatments to students or parents.”  Mieszkowski gave evidence of increased activities on the part of the church’s secular, lobbying arms, including the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which investigates “psychiatric violations of human rights,” and Narconon, a church-sponsored drug rehabilitation program that was banned by the San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts this year.

Salon’s series concluded with a quote from current church leader David Miscavige, from a 1995 address to the International Association of Scientologists in Copenhagen. Looking forward to the 21st century, Miscavige said, “Objective one—place Scientology at the absolute center of society. Objective two—eliminate psychiatry in all its forms.”

Whatever, by the end of summer 2005, Cruise’s Scientology spectacular looked like it had finished its impressive run. Then, on October 5, People magazine reported that Katie Holmes was expecting a baby, and the story was back in the limelight with an obstetrical twist.

Because Holmes had embraced Scientology, “no medication will be given to her during her delivery,” Charita M. Goshay informed readers in an October 12 piece for the Copley News Service. “Scientologists also practice ‘silent’ childbirth, meaning that women in labor are not permitted to utter a sound, to prevent ‘emotionally scarring’ the infant.”

In the vast journalistic literature on Scientology, it was that rarest of moments when attention actually focused on what it means to be a practitioner of this half-century-old religious tradition. Is it too much to hope that reporters will now begin to explore other dimensions of Scientological practice? Perhaps not—at least if the Cruise-Holmes relationship lasts long enough to offer other opportunities for, ah, celebrity religion coverage.



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