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The New York Times

Television Review: 'Inside Scientology': Persecuted or Persecutor?

By WALTER GOODMAN


Is Scientology a religion or a cult, and is there a difference? Are its disciples being helped to live happier, more rewarding lives, or are they being exploited? Is the organization out for power and wealth, or is it doing good works by contributing to drug and literacy programs? Is it the victim of persecution, or does it persecute its critics?

Such are the main issues that have roiled around the contentious Church of Scientology, described somewhat ornately Monday night by Bill Kurtis as seeking a place "on the map of global emerging philosophies," since its beginnings a half century ago.

The first hour is given to the shadowy, some say shady career of the movement's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer who discovered or invented or conjured up the principles and tactics, which he labeled "Dianetics," and which have attracted hundreds of thousands of followers. The group's methods of operation, especially its aggressive treatment of those it deems insufficiently friendly have attracted the generally unfriendly attentions of the law and the media.

The second hour pits disaffected Scientologists, who charge the organization with thought-control tactics, against its acolytes, who tell how their lives were enriched by techniques that they say clear them of bad thoughts and attitudes. Testimonials come from celebrity members like Isaac Hayes ("I felt great") and John Travolta, who reports that he has found in Hubbard's teachings the answers to criminality, war and insanity.

David Miscavige, the current leader of the organization, says that Scientology is "the place where science and religion have truly met." Nothing heard is likely to persuade you of that or of much else about the efficacy of its therapeutic approach, much less its spiritual provenance. But at the least, you may come away with an appreciation of the zeal that is still being churned up over the church or the cult, both among those who worship there and those who preach against it.

BROADCAST NOTES:

'INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS: INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY'

9 p.m. ET Monday on A&E

For Investigative Reports: Bill Kurtis, host and executive producer. For A&E: Michael Cascio, executive producer; Gayle Gilman, supervising producer. Produced by Tobin Productions for A&E.

9 p.m. ET Monday on PBS


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