Overview:

Tom Cruise is a darling of the movie world partly because he is not challenged on his nefarious involvement with Scientology. Why not?

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If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was 1986 again. We’re at war with Russia by proxy, Kate Bush is top of the charts, and Top Gun is in the movie theaters. Tom Cruise has soared back into our cinemas and into our collective consciousnesses. But is he the squeaky-clean maverick that the media seem to take him for? Why are our memories so short and our forgiveness so easy to come by?

The Thinking Atheist recently asked a very good question on the back of some personal and important points:

So, why don’t the media press Cruise more on his Scientology?

Let’s talk about Scientology

Tom Cruise is a leading member of the Church of Scientology, which has been described as “a huge pyramid scheme cult” that has been accused of promoting and selling unadulterated woo to the vulnerable. Actually, he’s not just a leading member; he’s a big name holding a huge amount of power and sway who believes that

… each human has a reactive mind that responds to life’s traumas, clouding the analytic mind and keeping us from experiencing reality. Members of the religion submit to a process called auditing to find the sources of this trauma, reliving those experiences in an attempt to neutralize them and reassert the primacy of the analytic mind, working toward a spiritual state called “clear.”

And that’s just the beginning. The “religion” was started by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard and based on his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (itself drawing to some degree on Freud). Dianetics auditing is a form of abreactive psychotherapy (the expression and release of repressed emotions through reliving the experience that caused them) that looks to cure the patient by ridding them of these “engrams” (“neuroses” in Freudian talk) so that they are “clear.” This is all done with the help of an E-meter (electropsychometer), measuring electrodermal activity. All of this costs patients a lot of money.

As Margery Wakefield says in Understanding Scientology, Chapter 1 (“From Dianetics to Scientology — The Evolution of a Cult“):

Scientologists believe that auditing, with the help of the E-meter, entirely confirms the existence of past lives. They believe that through Scientology auditing, immortality can be achieved by modern man. These were the promises made by Hubbard in his new “science.”

During this time, Hubbard introduced a policy of tithing in which ten percent of each Scientology organization’s weekly gross income would be paid directly to Hubbard. Although Hubbard told Scientologists in a bulletin called “What Your Fees Buy” that he made no money from Scientology, this was a blatant lie. During the later years of the organization, as much as a million dollars a week was being channeled directly into Hubbard’s personal accounts.

One of the most famous elements of Scientology, and the one that most often earns it the label of “cult” is the inability to get out.

You can’t leave Scientology.

If you try, just like government figures, agencies, and others, you are seen as enemies, and you qualify for “fair gaming.” This includes character assassinations, private investigation, legal cases, harassment, intimidation, and any number of troubling activities.

The reporter John Sweeney was famously on the end of this when filming a BBC documentary. He is still really fascinated with Scientology and recounts how one of the men (Mike Rinder) who hassled him to the point of a really famous on-TV explosion actually eventually left Scientology, according to Sweeney, because of him.

All of this leads many people to have a very negative view of Scientology and its many problematic activities, and not surprisingly, describe it as “a cult.”

And Tom Cruise believes all this. He lives it.

Tom Cruise’s strong connection to Scientology

Cruise’s strong connection to Scientology was revealed in this leaked recording that was made for a Scientology video:

There have also been myriad reports over the years, like Daily Beast, which covered Cruise’s relationship with the leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, who was Tom Cruise’s best man at one of his weddings, and arguably his best friend. In 2018, they reference the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief:

“They’re two peas in a pod,” Tom De Vocht, a former member of Scientology’s Commodore Messenger’s Organization (CMO), or its internal police, told me of Cruise and Miscavige. “They’re very similar characters—both rather absorbed by themselves, and intensely so. You don’t want to look at ’em wrong, say anything wrong, and you definitely don’t want to better them in any way. You had to be very careful around them.”…

And the public’s continued embrace of Cruise is troubling to many of the church’s former members, who have alleged abuse and harassment at the hands of the so-called cult—including actress Leah Remini.

“Scientologists are told that Tom Cruise is saving the world single-handedly, so he is considered a deity within Scientology. He is second to David Miscavige—the savior of the free world. Tom is even called ‘Mister Cruise’ by staff members,” Remini told The Daily Beast.

We have a “Tom Cruise is awesome” box and a “Tom Cruise is a whacko Scientologist” box. We know both boxes exist, but they are separate, and we are able to open one box without thinking about the other. Sometimes, one box is so rarely opened that we forget about it. And the less we open a box, the less powerful its content becomes.

Several former Scientologists have also weighed in on Cruise’s involvement. In this eye-opening interview with ex-Scientologist Jon Atack, he claims that Tom Cruise is “a child,” ridiculing his intelligence and maturity. Another former Scientologist Chris Shelton claims Tom Cruise “is a monster.”

Chris Shelton in the interview above, building on what Jon Atack discussed, said about Cruise:

“He doesn’t think a lot. He is one of these powerhouses who has this bottomless well of energy and when he is focused or directed on a mission or a task, he is the Energizer bunny, he just goes. He’s also best friends with David Miscavige, the head of Scientology….

So they are boozing buddies and if you know anything about David Miscavige (and it’s not hard to find out), he is a sociopath. He beats people and he enjoys it. And Tom Cruise is on that wavelength. It’s not like he doesn’t know what David Miscavige gets up to. He thinks it’s justified. He thinks Daivd Miscavige is right for having to abuse and beat on people because that’s what they need in order to get their heads out of their asses so that they do what they aare supposed to do and get their jobs done. This is the attitude that top Scientology has about its members and Tom Cruise is 100% behind that kind of abusive treatment becuase he thinks that is what is necessary to get the job done.”

Leah Remini, a film and TV star and former Scientologist who has been extremely outspoken and critical about Scientology, talks about how those in the corridors of power in Scientology go to great lengths to make sure that Tom Cruise doesn’t see anything disparaging.

“They’ll go so far as, if he’s going to walk a certain place, they’ll make sure there are no magazines that are anti-Scientology, so he can’t see that,” she stated in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Remini also claims that Cruise is in the know. “Where Tom is concerned, that is very different. He is very aware of the abuses that go on in Scientology. He’s been part of it.”

Like Miscavige’s preponderance for giving out corporal punishment, which Cruise allegedly has intimate knowledge of this given his close relationship with the leader. The Daily Beast reported:

“He’s best friends with David Miscavige, so he’s privy to the punishments that David Miscavige doles out, and I’ve been told by a senior executive of Scientology, who was there, that David Miscavige constantly threatened the staff at Gold Base with bringing Tom Cruise to Gold Base to kick their fucking asses,” claims Remini.  

She also alleges a Scientology official informed her that Cruise personally administered punishment on a high-ranking member of the church—on Miscavige’s orders.

“He is not in the same category as the average Scientologist,” she says.

Scientology is on the decline now due largely to the internet age. The bullying tactics, the “fair gaming,” and the intimidation may not be as effective with the internet flooded with former Scientologists and critics giving their two cents’ worth.

“Where Tom is concerned, that is very different. He is very aware of the abuses that go on in Scientology. He’s been part of it.”

And yet, with all Cruise’s reported negative involvement, the media won’t press him. Is it because they are still afraid of the tactics of the elite Sea Org group within Scientology, and the threats and intimidatory behavior the organization delivers?

Interviewers play it safe, media organizations err on the side of caution, and Cruise’s relationship with Scientology goes uncontested. And with the amount of money these movies cost, the studios will most likely be steering the media circuit away from discussing anything controversial.

Scientology can’t get in the way of good profit and bad publicity.

It seems that the world still loves Tom Cruise, while at the same time recognizing that the Church of Scientology is what many people, particularly former Scientologists, see as a dangerous cult.

How our minds cope with the love-hate relationship with Tom Cruise

Humans are quite adept at compartmentalizing, and utilizing cognitive dissonance reduction. Cognitive dissonance is the disharmony one experiences when holding a core belief, and receiving rational evidence against the existence of that core belief.

In this case, the core belief is that Tom Cruise is a great guy and a brilliant actor. This core belief is largely correct, or at least is at first glance, but then challenged when we are presented with the data that Cruise is in a nefarious, quasi-religious, “giant MLM cult.”

Add to this the strange relationships he has had with Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes, whose endings, we are told, were masterminded by the organization, and we start suffering some serious mental disharmony.

Cruise is a consummate professional, according to many reports, though there are many claiming he is also a harsh and ranting taskmaster, producing movies in which he acts well, and ones that are extremely successful.

Due to his outward charm and charisma, he’s also a superb guest, at least when not challenged on topics like his ex-wife Katie Holmes, on the mass of TV shows he has appeared on. He seems likable, as a person, which could be helped by the fact that he’s hardly been a bad guy in any of his roles. This plays into his public image as a nice guy—a good guy. He is presented as someone we would like to be or to know, someone to aspire to be or be like.

Leah Remini has warned the public not to be fooled by his charm, in her reply to the Claire Headley message seen at the beginning of this piece.

The psychological drama and Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia might be worth mentioning here, as Chris Shelton in an interview with Andrew Gold above sees this movie role (where he plays a motivational speaker) as the most self-reflective of Cruise’s character:

In “Magnolia,” Cruise plays a motivational speaker of sorts, Frank T.J. Mackey, whose main objective is “Seduce and Destroy.” Mackey is an unrepentant misogynist preaching his seduction skills to a room full of men all too eager to listen. He’s a charismatic jerk teaching seminars on how to get laid, mainly through subterfuge, all while treating women as objects to be conquered. In other words, this is not an easy guy to root for.

It is perhaps no coincidence, then, that Anderson went on to make The Master, which he and others were at pains to deny had any connection to Scientology (for legal reasons), but which was a clear and obvious, though veiled, biopic of the demagogic leader and creator of Scientology, sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard.

That said, Tom Cruise is arguably a role model. Yet, we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.

Former Scientologist Chris Shelton paints Tom Cruise as a complete narcissist, adding, “I won’t diagnose Tom Cruise [as being a psychopath] but I will say that he is not a good person…. It’s just people have no idea. The guy has such good looks and a winning smile that everybody just falls to pieces over him. He’s a monster. And we really need to be clear about that: Tom Cruise is a monster.”

And even without such a dark characterization, is he not at fault simply due to his deep association with this questionable organization?

So why do we still love Tom Cruise?

People are very bad at changing their minds and beliefs. We chase bad money with good. We don’t like dealing with evidence that might disabuse us of cherished views and opinions. Look at what has happened in the nonreligious community when people have made missteps, from Laurence Krauss to Richard Dawkins. Some people take on new data and re-evaluate previously formulated conclusions and opinions, but an awful lot don’t.

The recent superb Netflix documentary Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey looks at the F.L.D.S. (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) cult leader Warren Jeffs who was found to have committed sexual abuse, including with children, and all sorts of misdemeanors. He will be in prison for the rest of his life. But, from there, he is still administering to most of his flock who have managed to reduce their cognitive dissonance to remain seeing him as their prophet.

“I won’t diagnose Tom Cruise [as being a psychopath] but I will say that he is not a good person…. It’s just people have no idea. The guy has such good looks and a winning smile that everybody just falls to pieces over him. He’s a monster. And we really need to be clear about that: Tom Cruise is a monster.”

Chris Shelton

There are several ways this continues to happen. And, remember, the media are and include people like you and me (I say this in writing for a media organization). This is what they do because this is what we do, as humans.

1. Most people just don’t know of the contrary data. In terms of the F.L.D.S., most of the flock live in very useful isolation and are not privy to the news and media to find out about what Jeffs actually did. In Cruise’s case, most people simply don’t know about his Scientology. It may sound ridiculous to you and me, projecting (as we do) onto everyone else our own experiences and thoughts. But not everyone watches documentaries on Scientology. Not everyone sits on YouTube watching videos of Tom Cruise’s idiosyncrasies and cultish behavior. Many people are happy to bumble along watching movie promos and Entertainment Weekly, sucking up all the positive media they can, oblivious to the world of Tom Cruise being a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

There are some people—the good and right people—who have changed their opinions of Tom Cruise, adjusting to the new data over time.

I’d like to think I am one of those. Yes, I am.

Yeah, but I’m not.

2. We are good at ignoring contrary data. We can simply and easily bury our heads in the sand. This might well be a very subconscious thing to do, veering away from the contrary data. Our obliviousness can be an overt or subconscious decision to not interact with challenging evidence.

3. And this is very similar, we are good at compartmentalizing. So, we might watch documentaries on Scientology and Cruise, and place that knowledge and experience in a box in our minds and keep it closed. We have a “Tom Cruise is awesome” box and a “Tom Cruise is a whacko Scientologist” box. We know both boxes exist, but they are separate, and we are able to open one box without thinking about the other. Sometimes, one box is so rarely opened that we forget about it. And the less we open a box, the less powerful its content becomes. We should open such boxes on a regular basis to remind ourselves of their powerful content.

When Top Gun: Maverick is released, we go straight to the “Tom Cruise is awesome” box and we forget, or don’t bother ourselves with, the “Tom Cruise is a whacko Scientologist” box.

4. We can see Cruise and his character as different. Something that may also help this cognitive dissonance reduction is that we can recognize that Tom Cruise might be a fruit loop but we are able to differentiate Tom Cruise the actor from the character he is playing. So Maverick in Top Gun is this imaginary character whom we love and cheer on, but it is not actually Tom Cruise. Et voilà, we can happily watch his films.

Imagine what would happen to our brains if we found out that Star Wars icons like Mark Hammil, George Lucas, or Harrison Ford were mass murderers or pedophiles (lawyers, they are not, this is a hypothetical!). The brains of millions of people would implode and cognitive dissonance would reign supreme until we learned how to deal with it. Guaranteed, the Star Wars franchise would handily survive.

Think about Chris Brown, R. Kelly, or Michael Jackson. Is it still right to like their music? Have they morally tarnished their creative output? Or can humans separate the art from the artist?

5. We can trash the source. Another heuristic—mental mechanism—that we employ is to denigrate the new data. This might not happen so much with Tom Cruise, because I think the previous options are more prevalent, but this does happen in many other spheres, notably religion. Think creationism. When confronted with the fossil record and plate tectonics, creationists either flat-out say the data is false (citing carbon-dating techniques as erroneous, using confirmation bias and their own sources, for example), or claim that Satan planted the data there, or they attack the sources evolutionists cite (this scientist, or this source of information, is disreputable). The power of the core belief overrides the contrary data to the point that the brain trashes it.

The added challenge that many of us have is nostalgia. A movie like the new Top Gun film hits all the right buttons for people of a certain age who grew up with the first installment, seeing it as an iconic movie. As with Star Wars above, there is enough power and draw in the whole franchise or project to simply overcome our otherwise negative evaluations.

The media do at least some of the above, while also juggling the needs of their business models and trying to avoid lawsuits.

Yet there are some people—the good and right people, I think—who have changed their opinions of Tom Cruise, adjusting to the new data over time.

I’d like to think I am one of those. Yes, I am.

Yeah, but I’m not. I am one of those odd types of people who recognize very openly the misgivings of Cruise and his ilk. I even announce to people that I don’t like Tom Cruise and find him smarmy, and his beliefs insidious and deeply troubling. And then I give in and watch his movies anyway.

Perhaps I am the worst of people, openly giving a moral calculation and then going against my calculations, weakly giving in. When those movies are a few years old, I watch them anyway. I am a hypocrite.

And though I won’t go to the cinema to watch Cruise’s movies (though is this to do with the movies themselves or my moral evaluation of him?), I really wouldn’t mind seeing the new Top Gun: Maverick film because it has had good reviews and because… nostalgia.

So writing this is, in a way, a semi-formal contract with you to say:

No, I won’t pay to watch it in a theater. I will not financially support the enterprise of Tom Cruise movies that, in some sense, finance the Church of Scientology.

Am I right in this? I’m sure you will let me know. However, I will call him out, as I have done here.

That said, will I be so weak and hypocritical as to watch the new Top Gun movie on some streaming platform or in a way that doesn’t financially support the project?

Probably. After all, I’m not perfect. This project is a work in progress.

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...