As Tom Cruise makes the media rounds to talk up both War of the Worlds and Scientology, it's beginning to feel as though he's reprising his role as Frank T.J. Mackey, the strutting rooster of a motivational speaker in Magnolia. By now it would be unremarkable for Cruise to order that his next befuddled interviewer "respect the Thetan." In a piece that ostensibly celebrated Cruise's freewheeling appearances, TV writer Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times referred to Cruise as a "passionate, stubborn true believer" -- and we all know how troublesome true believers can be. Similarly, Cruise's argument with interviewer Matt Lauer spent considerable time on Cruise's unequivocal opposition to psychotherapists and the drugs they prescribe:
Cruise: . . . I'm saying that drugs aren't the answer, these drugs are very dangerous. They're mind-altering, antipsychotic drugs. And there are ways of doing it without that so that we don't end up in a brave new world. The thing that I'm saying about Brooke is that there's misinformation, okay. And she doesn't understand the history of psychiatry. She doesn't understand in the same way that you don't understand it, Matt.
Lauer: But a little bit of what you're saying Tom is, you say you want people to do well. But you want them do to well by taking the road that you approve of, as opposed to a road that may work for them.
Cruise: No, no, I'm not.
Lauer: Well, if antidepressants work for Brooke Shields, why isn't that okay?
Cruise: I disagree with it. And I think that there's a higher and better quality of life. And I think that, promoting -- for me personally, see, you're saying what, I can't discuss what I wanna discuss?
Lauer: No. You absolutely can.
Cruise: I know. But Matt, you're going in and saying that, that I can't discuss this.
Lauer: I'm only asking, isn't there a possibility that -- do you examine the possibility that these things do work for some people? That yes, there are abuses. And yes, maybe they've gone too far in certain areas. Maybe there are too many kids on Ritalin. Maybe electric shock —
Cruise: Too many kids on Ritalin? Matt.
Some of the best reporting on the continuing Tom Cruise saga began this morning on Salon, with James Verini's first installment of a four-part series about Scientology.
Verini discusses whether Cruise has reached the level of Operating Thetan VII, and what that means:
According to experts and the church's own literature, OT-VII ("OT" stands for Operating Thetan, "thetan" being the Scientology term for soul) is the penultimate tier in the church's spiritual hierarchy -- the exact details of which are fiercely guarded and forbidden to be discussed even among top members. It is where a Scientologist learns how to become free of the mortal confines of the body and is let into the last of the mysteries of the cosmology developed by the church's longtime leader, science fiction novelist and "Dianetics" author L. Ron Hubbard. This cosmology also famously holds that humans bear the noxious traces of an annihilated alien civilization that was brought to Earth by an intergalactic warlord millions of years ago.
Lee Anne De Vette, Cruise's publicist and sister, refused requests to comment for this article. And when asked about Cruise, Ed Parkin, vice president of cultural affairs for the Church of Scientology, said only, "We do not discuss the personal religious experiences of our members with the press." Parkin also would not confirm or deny details of the OT teachings. Responding to questions about them, he wrote: "Scientology, which means 'knowing how to know,' is a religion based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). Scientology addresses people as immortal spiritual beings. It gives them tools they can apply to their lives to improve conditions."
But one Scientologist who left the church in 2003 after 30 years -- and who had reached the OT-VII level and become a member of the church's governing Sea Org -- said it was his understanding that Cruise was very near completing, if he had not already completed, the OT-VII level. The former Scientologist would speak to Salon only on the condition of anonymity.
A current Scientologist who has reached the level OT-V, and who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that considering the amount of time Cruise has been in the church, an OT-VII status seems probable. And Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta who has published articles on Scientology and Hollywood, also said that Cruise's behavior strongly suggests OT-VII.
Cruise is acting as though he "feels he's more in control over his environment and can convince more people to look into the organization," Kent said. "In the high OT levels one supposedly gains the skills to master one's universe. One is removing countless entities that have been holding people back. Cruise feels that he has freed himself from thousands of errant thetans, and he seems to be in a kind of euphoria he hasn't experienced before."