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Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition

Interview with Lawrence Wright

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Moderator: Robert Rivard

In his newest book, Going Clear, Austin-based journalist Lawrence Wright profiles Scientology, a new American religion that, while ubiquitous among the Hollywood elite, has a long, strange dark side. Read the full Q&A below to learn more about Wright's work (read our review of Going Clear here), including his Pulitzer-Prize winning book about al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower. See him talk about Scientology, al-Qaeda, and the power of religion at the book festival this weekend. 11-11:45 a.m., Festival Room, Central Library.

Interview with Lawrence Wright
By Michael Barajas

Why the theme of religion and faith throughout your work?

I was very a religious teenager, although I moved away from that later in life. As a reporter, I was always struck by the power of religious beliefs to shape the behavior of individuals and societies for ways both good and ill. And I began considering how politics is something that we reporters devote ourselves to so avidly. But one can hold powerful political beliefs without actually changing one's behavior. It's not so easy to do that with religious beliefs. I think that they are far more influential in people's lives than we journalists give credit for.

What's your religious background?

I grew up in a Methodist church in Dallas, but I was also involved in a Christian youth movement in high school.

Are there elements from those experiences that you've gone back and investigated or reported on?

I did a book called Saints and Sinners on people from different religious backgrounds. It included very esoteric people like Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the famous atheist here in Austin. But I also wrote about Walker Railey, who was minister of the church were I grew up in Dallas, the First United Methodist Church. He eventually strangled his wife into a coma, she lingered for like 15 years until she died recently. So all those stories are a part of that book. Religious themes have always popped up in my career.

Is there a personality, a psychology you've identified for individuals who amass a group of followers or for those who can truly devotes themselves to a religion?

Well, what I'm doing in Going Clear is really analyzing what I call the process of belief. In the case of Scientology, it's not a conversion experience. It just doesn't happen that way. But it's the movement of a personality, such as Paul Haggis, one of the characters featured in my book, who's a skeptical, intelligent person — The movement that he goes through from being a non-believer to being a believer then to again becoming a non-believer. For me, it's a way of analyzing how faith and belief systems come to be adopted. And that process is something that happens to all of us in one way or another. That really interests me because it is a very human experience. And that's how our societies are shaped, by individuals or groups coming to believe different things, like religious of political beliefs.

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