75 million years ago, the earth was over-populated with 186 billion people, so its ruler rounded up most of the people and put them in volcanoes and blasted them with H-bombs. But their souls escaped, so he rounded up all the souls and made them watch movies that tricked them into believing they were gods or devils. After that the souls clumped up and invaded the bodies of the remaining people. The souls are still in us today, and the only way we can get rid of them is to join Scientology.
L Ron Hubbard wrote that story over 60 years ago, but the cult based on it is still in existence, and lots of nutty Californians are members. Actually, not that many - it seems that Scientology only has about 25,000 members - but when you think how ridiculous the story is that is (apparently) the basis of the entire faith, it really is a lot.
The Feb 14-21 New Yorker has a long, engrossing story about Scientology, The Apostate, and author Lawrence Wright does a brilliant job. I was glued to the page for hours. This is even more amazing given the awkward writing style which I am certain was caused by a team of lawyers scrutinizing every word to ensure that the aggressive Scientologist legal team couldn't find grounds to sue. In fact, that aspect of the writing makes the article even more engrossing: there are things not said, things teasing me from words I can just barely sense were removed.
At one point the author flies to California for an arranged meeting with the Scientology spokesman, but the guy plays games with him and utimately won't talk to him. A few paragraphs later, the spokesperson flies to New York to meet the author and his editors, and brings with him an entourage of two other executives and four lawyers, along with 48 binders of supporting documents. What did the New Yorker do to cause that about-face? An entire backstory lurks behind the tale.
In my lifetime, the three litigious heavyweights have been Brian Mulroney, Conrad Black, and the Church of Scientology. News articles about all three have had this awkward, overly scrutinized feel. I remember one article about Mulroney in the Globe & Mail (the article that broke the news of the envelopes of cash from Karlheinz Schreiber), which was almost unreadable - and the bombshell $300,000 figure was hidden in a paragraph near the end. The breakthrough of the New Yorker article is that the legal scrutiny actually made the article better.