Paul Haggis on Scientology: 'Morally reprehensible'
Everybody has his or her own take on Paul Haggis' dramatic letter, announcing his break with Scientology after 35 years of membership in the church. But what especially fascinated me was how much his letter, full of passion and moral outrage, resembled large portions of his film and TV work, especially his scripts for "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Crash," the latter of which won him an Oscar.
If you missed the news, the Church of Scientology was a public sponsor of Proposition 8, which Haggis describes in his letter as "a hate-filled legislation that succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California."
Haggis had apparently been campaigning for months to get the church's official spokesman, Tommy Davis, to condemn the Prop 8 sponsorship, saying he couldn't in good conscience be a member of an organization in which gay-bashing was tolerated. But to no avail. It's intriguing to see that once Haggis saw the church in a new light, he found himself alienated from some of its others actions. For me, the letter's most astounding revelation is that Haggis calls out the church for its policy of disconnection, which apparently calls for members to cut their ties with people Scientology has deemed as unfriendly to the church.
Haggis acknowledges that his wife was ordered to disconnect from her parents because of something they supposedly did 25 years earlier when they resigned from the church. His wife followed the church's orders, refusing to speak to her parents, who'd introduced her to Scientology in the first place. As for Haggis, he says that he refused to break off contact, explaining, "I've never been good at following orders, especially when I find them morally reprehensible."
It was at that point in his letter that I realized that Haggis was a dead-on spiritual heir to Dalton Trumbo, the best-known screenwriter of his generation and perhaps the most prominent member of the Hollywood 10, who was blacklisted for his membership in the Communist Party. Like Haggis, Trumbo was the high priest of righteous indignation, firing off blistering letters at a rapid pace to friends and enemies alike. (They are collected in "Additional Dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962," a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Hollywood in the era of the blacklist.) In Trumbo's day, the enemy wasn't Scientology but rabid anti-Communist crusaders as well as weaselly Hollywood careerists who refused to stand up to the worst excesses of the Red Scare.
But see for yourself. Here is Haggis, writing to Davis, in reference to a series of stories in the St. Petersburg Times, that detailed a host of church excesses:
"And when I pictured you assuring me that it is all lies, that this is nothing but an unfounded and vicious attack by a group of disgruntled employees, I am afraid that I saw the same face that looked in the camera and denied the policy of disconnection. I heard the same voice that professed outrage at our support of Proposition 8, who promised to correct it and did nothing. I was left feeling outraged, and frankly, more than a little stupid."
And here is Trumbo, writing to a former movie biz pal, who had turned on Trumbo when the screenwriter was being hounded by right-wing zealots:
"You should not, in your letter to me, assume a whore's virtue at confession by using the word 'affection.' My affection caused me to assert your ability to producers when you were out of favor; yours impelled you to cry out against me in the most fatal hour of my career. Mine persuaded me to spend long hours in discussion of your story problems when you sought to re-establish yourself; yours led you to organizational meetings calculated to deprive me of my rights within the Guild, to destroy my good name and to make it impossible for me to work in my profession. Give me no more such affection. I stagger beneath that already conferred. Give me rather your hatred and let me console myself by the exchange of a weak friend for a strong enemy."
Ah, the lesson here is clear: Beware the wrath of a screenwriter scorned!
Photos: Paul Haggis by Claudio Onorati / EPA; Dalton Trumbo by Mitzi Trumbo.