Normally, we don't run stories about the personal lives and religious beliefs of celebrities. The exception to the rule is when they have some kind of impact (positive or negative) on a film or a career. So when Paul Haggis gives the finger to the Church of Scientology, we have to run it. As Haggis himself admits, "I am fully aware that some of my friends may choose to no longer associate with me, or in some cases work with me."

According to Village Voice, Haggis has been a member of the Church of Scientology for 35 years. But he found himself questioning its practices and beliefs, particularly after its San Diego branch openly sponsored California's anti-gay Proposition 8. Haggis asked Scientology's spokesman, Tommy Davis, to denounce the branch. Davis skirted the issue, and Haggis went on the offensive with a confrontational letter that has made its way online on Mark Rathburn's anti-Scientology blog. "The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent."

The church's bigotry encouraged Haggis to do a little digging, and he found an online interview with Davis, who claimed that the Church doesn't force its members to cease contact with anyone who forsakes the religion, or openly criticizes it. "I was shocked. We all know this policy exists. I didn't have to search for verification - I didn't have to look any further than my own home." Haggis' wife was ordered to "disconnect" from her parents because they resigned from the church.

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"Although it caused her terrible personal pain, my wife broke off all contact with them," Haggis writes. "I refused to do so. I've never been good at following orders, especially when I find them morally reprehensible. For a year and a half, despite her protestations, my wife did not speak to her parents and they had limited access to their grandchild. It was a terrible time. [...] To see you lie so easily, I am afraid I had to ask myself: what else are you lying about?" Further research turned up Scientology smear campaigns against former members. You've undoubtedly heard of these before during some of the Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman saga, where it was reported that Scientology "audit sessions "collect sensitive personal information about its believers. Allegedly, this is supposed to help its members, but anti-Scientologists insist it's for nothing but blackmail purposes. Haggis seems to support the latter theory with his claims. "I am now painfully aware that you might see this an attack and just as easily use things I have confessed over the years to smear my name. Well, luckily I have never held myself up to be anyone's role model."

But Haggis didn't intend the letter as a smear campaign of his own. He stresses: "The great majority of Scientologists I know are good people who are genuinely interested in improving conditions on this planet and helping others. I have to believe that if they knew what I now know, they too would be horrified. But I know how easy it was for me to defend our organization and dismiss our critics, without ever truly looking at what was being said; I did it for thirty-five years."

What will the future hold for the director? There's plenty of people in Hollywood who aren't Scientologists, and I sincerely doubt he'll lack for work. There are some who may go out of their way to quietly champion him. But there's no doubt that things could get very ugly for Haggis. Will Davis and the Church openly launch a smear campaign and validate his accusations? Will they remain quiet? Could more Scientologists (particularly the "good people" Haggis believes in) follow his example? It might be a fascinating exposure and exodus of this mysterious belief system. Even if it all fades into silence, I sincerely hope that Haggis' candor and stance is admired and supported by those "good people" he knows within the organization.
categories Movies, Cinematical