Friday, December 11, 2015

Choosing Exile

I went looking for info on Paul Haggis the creator of Due South, this Canadian TV show about a Mountie exiled to Chicago that has piqued my curiosity---
and, as I'd guessed from the show's nods to film history, Haggis is the sort of guy who, at twenty-one years old...
"was so affected by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up that in 1974 he decided to move to England, in order to become a fashion photographer, like the hero of the movie [David Hemmings, below]. That lasted less than a year."

He also wrote Million Dollar Baby and wrote and directed Crash (starring, among others Ryan Phillippe, who I'd just mentioned was in an episode of Due South).

What I'd never have guessed was that Haggis was a Scientologist for thirty-four years before publicly leaving in 2008--the subject of a New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright in Feb. 14, 2011:

"The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology"

Wright expanded his research into a book, 
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief (2013), which I'm going to get at the library.

Haggis had had his doubts about Scientology all along, but the organization offered a young Canadian alone in LA community and belonging:
"In 1976, [Haggis] travelled to Los Angeles for the first time. He checked in at ... a run-down church retreat called the Manor Hotel. (It has since been spectacularly renovated and turned into the flagship Celebrity Centre.) 
 “I had a little apartment with a kitchen I could write in,” he recalls. “There was a feeling of camaraderie that was something I’d never experienced—all these atheists looking for something to believe in, and all these loners looking for a club to join.”"
But,  Haggis said, among other things, that "he felt unsettled by the lack of irony among many fellow-Scientologists—an inability to laugh at themselves."

(I think humor is an indicator of at least the possibility of some kind of health.)

Due South itself is so funny, loving and respectful about poking fun at Fraser's Dudley Do-Right personality (as well as hinting there's something deeper and darker than his surface goofy good nature).

After thirty-four years, what finally spurred Haggis to take a deeper look and then to leave Scientology was the top muckety-muck's refusal to denounce the San Diego branch's public sponsorship of Proposition 8.
Haggis, the father of two lesbian daughters, wrote to the Church that Prop 8:
“succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California—rights that were granted them by the Supreme Court of our state—is a stain on the integrity of our organization and a stain on us personally. Our public association with that hate-filled legislation shames us.” 
Haggis wrote, “Silence is consent.... I refuse to consent.” 
He concluded, “I hereby resign my membership in the Church of Scientology.”
I'm interested in the process of people changing their beliefs, which can be extremely painful.  It can lead to loss of friends, family, and even homeland. I think a lot of us don't do it because even small shifts in opinion can cost so much.

For all Due South's goofy humor, the main character, Constable Fraser, is fundamentally sad.

For the New Yorker article, Wright asked Haggis "if he felt that he had finally left Scientology. 

"'I feel much more myself, but there’s a sadness,' [Haggis] admitted. 'If you identify yourself with something for so long, and suddenly you think of yourself as not that thing, it leaves a bit of space.'"

[I'd like to write more about this, but I have to get going... I'll just post it half-baked as it is. More later, I hope.]


Julia said...

If you want a great rabbit's hole of a blog on Scientology, I've wiled away time pondering how cults function on

It also has the distinction of having (at least a year or two ago when I was reading it regularly) perhaps the best comment section I've come across. Good discussion around heated topics, with apology and compassion when things spilled over.

Zhoen said...

Leaving the Catholic church left me very empty for a long time. Still went on Ash Wednesday for a long time "Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return..." Missed the incense and music and ceremony. Hated the misogyny so deeply. When the priest abuse issues kept coming up, I felt so glad to have left, before feeling like I had to just to keep some integrity.

Still, sometimes, especially around this time of year, I miss the minor key hymns and the candles in a dark church.

Fresca said...

JULIA: I looked at that site and it confirms what Lawrence Wright found and wrote about in his book, which I read, Going Clear.
In fact, it gets boring after a while---the same bleak info over and over about how icky and weird this "religion" is---more like a pyramid scheme...

ZHOEN: I miss Advent vespers at this time of year, but when I've tried to go, it's like there's a forcefield around the church keeping me out.

deanna said...

I love your interest in the process of changing one's beliefs; of course because I'm writing about my belief changes, but also because your view of these things is always fascinating. Some thoughts of yours about fundamentalism have helped me define it as the need for all in a group to believe the exact same way. Which is pretty humorless, not to mention impatient and judgmental. I appreciate Julia's link to the site about Scientology and may look at it sometime. Now I must get a package mailed...

Thanks for all your posts.

Frex said...

Thanks, Deanna--- While I was writing this, I thought of you who have bravely followed your spirit to a new homeland.