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The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  972 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
Tom Cruise and John Travolta say the Church of Scientology is a force for good. Others disagree. Award-winning journalist John Sweeney investigated the Church for more than half a decade. During that time he was intimidated, spied on and followed and the results were spectacular: Sweeney lost his temper with the Church's spokesman on camera and his infamous 'exploding toma ...more
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published January 7th 2013 by Silvertail Books
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Jan 07, 2013 marked it as to-read
I just read the author's rather interesting piece from today's Independent:

The Church of Scientology is a cult whose core aim is to fight a space alien Satan that's brainwashed the rest of us. The Church fights the world's insanity, its celebrity followers argue, and people who tell you differently are bigots. So who's right?

Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has written what promises to be a great book on Scientology. Going Clear is due to be published everywhere on 17 Jan

Opening: Imagine two groups of people, one lot on the outside, one on the inside. The insiders believe they are defending their religion to the utmost from bigots; the outsiders believe the ‘religion’, if religion it be, is bad science fiction. The insiders believe the outsiders are brainwashed into thinking they are free when in fact they are slaves to a space alien Satan. The outsiders see a confidence trick inside a space alien cult masquerading as a religion; they believe the insiders live i
Michael Jecks
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Church of Fear - Inside the Weird World of Scientology, by John Sweeney (@johnsweeneyroar) - is a stunning read.

This book is an in-depth analysis of an investigation into the Scientologists (I cannot give them the title of "Church" because I do not believe an organisation so focussed on money should be given that honour) by John Sweeney and the Panorama team from the BBC. Sweeney conducted his researches originally in 2007 for a programme.

Scientology describes Sweeney as "a bigot and a liar
May 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
Scientologists must really hate George Lucas. After all, there are far more people who mark their official religion as Jedi than there are Scientologist. Some could argue that in the battle of the sci-fi hack writing, Lucas won a race he didn't even know he was competing in. But that wouldn't be fair on scientology and its extremely litiguous nature would mean that they'd have sued him if they had the chance. I mean, both have made an extremely profitable, aggressive business model rattle along ...more
Gavin Smith
Before getting into my (fairly negative) review of this book, I want to write a little about my opinion of Scientology and religion in general. Firstly, the tenets of Scientology seem no more or less ridiculous to me than those of any other religion. Space aliens, loaves and fishes, virgins for martyrs, fighting giants, cutting off Medusa's head, trekking to Mt. Doom: I'd be hard pressed to tell you what the difference is in the credibility of these things save for age and the lengths that adher ...more
Sep 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Objective this book isn't. Entertaining it is. BBC journalist John Sweeney recounts his highly personal tour around the downright weird world of Scientology, as he makes a Panorama documentary on the subject over a number of years. Much of the book is dialogue from that documentary, now famous for the "exploding tomato" bit, where the mental strain of going up against this mega (or not so mega, as the book reveals) church/cult/money-making machine caused Sweeney to erupt in a fit of rage viewed ...more
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is the second book about Scientology that I've read recently. You can check out my review of Going Clear for my earlier impression.

Unlike Going Clear, Church Fear makes almost no attempt at objectivity and for understandable reason. During the course of filming a documentary about the Church of Scientology, John Sweeney engaged in a series of escalating confrontations with church spokesman, Tommy Davis. These culminated in a screaming match between the two, in which they both end up trading
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was absolutely fascinating. A terrifying story of one mans descent into paranoia and fear as he tries to make a documentary about the Church of Scientology. And it's all true.

I remember watching the 2007 documentary when it originally aired. And I very definitely remember what Sweeney calls his "exploding tomato" moment. Sweeney is completely honest about this: it was unprofessional, it should never have happened, he is completely repentant. But he reasons that he had been pushed to the psy
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
One of my semi-random picks, the result of a very cheap used book price and my own idle curiosity. As it turns out, this sketchy so-so read didn't really go anywhere and what little curiosity I had about the subject was pretty much snuffed out by the disjointed and repetitive writing. I hear the author is an accomplished BBC reporter, and though I've never seen his programs, I get the feeling he's better on the air than on paper. The book reveals little (if anything at all) about the cult that m ...more
Apr 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book after having watched the unrelated BBC Panorama documentary, North Korea Undercover, reported and hosted by John Sweeney, the same author of this book. My reason for buying this book is that I have had a fleeting glimpse into what Scientology was about and wanted to find out more. I do not subscribe to any religious teachings (I was raised a Roman Catholic although I have not practiced it since around 2000) so I read this book purely out of interest. Also to get a full, broade ...more
Aug 09, 2014 rated it liked it
If you've not seen John Sweeney's documentary, or heard him speak, there will be much of interest here; if you have seen the documentary or been to a talk, then this is essentially just a recap. A good souvenir but not much more.

The real negative with this book, however, is that it seems to be an uncorrected-proof copy. There are loads of spelling, grammatical and layout errors, which suggest the need for an editor. I'm not usually a grammar pedant but you would not normally expect a journalist
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Incredibly interesting book if you want to find out what the inner workings of Scientology are.

John Sweeney is best known as the BBC reporter who became briefly famous for breaking down into a rage with a member of the "church" of Scientology, accusing them of attempting to brainwash them.

Here Sweeney uncovers exactly what lead to that breakdown, which he is apologetic for throughout the book.

Scientology is damned in this book, not really by the words and allegations of their accusers and ex-
Feb 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Very objective, well documented book. However you could watch the BBC documentary John Sweeney made, on which this book is based, its basically thebsame. Also it is not an easy read as it is not written as prose, but mostly as transcripts. However you do get a general idea about scientology. While i believe everyone is free to believe in whatever they want, i feel sorry for the way very vulnerable, weak people are being inducted in cults around the world, not just scientology. Not to mention peo ...more
Mar 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tv-tie-in
Pretty decent as far as the "Exposé of horrible cult/institution/celebrity/murderer" genre goes, but this one is about Scientology, and thus there's even more legal trouble than usual about releasing a book like this, therein lies the hook with bait of "They could ban this" on it.

Oddly enough I've read this and enjoyed (if you could call descriptions of lives ruined and abuse enjoyable, especially if non-fiction) the book's take on how cults are structured and how they work, as well as a rundown
Davina Ireland
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Another great insight into the creepy cult (not religion) that is Scientology

I have viewed both Panorama documentaries and often wondered what the back story was to it all. John Sweeney doesn't disappoint informing the reader of all details in leading up to the exploding tomato incident and the aftermath. Journalists like Sweeney deserve a medal of honour for putting up with the fair gaming Scientology practice not the likes of Tom Cruise who willingly endorse this behaviour Well done John Sween
Alistaire King
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Scientology v BBC

John Sweeney famously lost it in filming a Panorama film about Scientology. This is his account of the making of the programme and the steps taken by Scientology to frustrate and block the film. It's a useful beginning for anybody wanting to know about the cult but there are better books out there.
Jan 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I have to say that this book caught my eye having seen 'That' Panorama interview that John Sweeny has become rather renowned for. I therefore figured that it would put the whole thing in context. I have, relatively recently, read about about L Ron Hubbard and scientology and wondered if this would give a slightly different viewpoint (perhaps less that of a dangerous cult). That was not the case. Mr Sweeny interviewed various people, mainly those who had been members of the 'church' of scientolog ...more
Rene Lynn Unrein
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My hero

Great read! Really eye opening on the craziness of the scientology cult and how far they will go to hide the truth.
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: e-books, non-fiction
This was my first book about Scientology. It's a good time to delve into what Scientology actually is. If you believe Tom Cruise and all the other celebrities you get the idea that it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Under the surface though you can see that something isn't quite right. Why do all of their answers sound the same? What the hell is Scientology anyway? If you want the answers there are a variety of books exposing it and according to those who adhere to the so called religi ...more
Rabid Readers Reviews
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
A representative from gave me a free copy of this audio book in exchange for my review.

The author, former BBC Investigative Reporter, John Sweeny is well known for his research of this religion. A clip from his interview with Scientology leader, Tommy Davis, went viral. Sweeney, in the clip, explodes at the religious leader and in the aftermath of the clip Sweeney said that he’d had enough of the bullying, constant scrutiny and harassment to which Davis subjected him. The clip itself
Tyler Cowart
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This was undoubtedly an interesting read. Sweeney narrates in an entertaining way, but I found it to be extremely uninformative (disappointing considering his background as a BBC journalist), incredibly biased, and full of content that would be less interesting without great narrative power Sweeney has.

I am not affiliated with Scientology at all. I found the organization to be incredibly creepy. If that was Sweeney's goal, then he accomplished it. But I also sympathized with them somewhat and ag
Feb 25, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a tough read because it is unashamedly written from the first person of the author, a reporter from the BBC show Panorama, which results in a lot of wondering asides and odd British-ims. I would definitely not recommend this book to anyone as their first read on Scientology. The book provides a very sparse background history of the "church" and in fact seems to assume the reader knows who the main characters are. However, there is some good stuff in here, if you're willing to dig through ...more
Andrew Garvey
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
BBC journalist John Sweeney (of the infamous Youtube clip where the loses control and yells at one of Scientology's high-ranking henchman) details his dealings with the 'religion' in a fascinating and at times, very ugly story.

While working on a 2007 Panorama documentary he is systematically harassed, followed, spied on and badgered by the Church's minions. That alone would be enough to make even the most generous reader suspicious but when added to the eyewitness accounts of former Scientologis
Matthew Tree
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a report of the report that BBC journalist John Sweeney did for the Panoroma programme on the Church of Scientology in 2007 (with some interesting follow-ups a few years later). It's a witty, deft book written by someone who evidently found dealing with this peculiar self-help-racket-cum-religion more harrowing on occasion, than any of his innumerable assignments in some of the world's worst war zones. Fascinating though the story of what he went through is, I got the book for research r ...more
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
After reading this book, I come to the conclusion that Scientology is not the type of organisation I would like to get involved with.

However, this book revolves about investigative journalist John Sweeney trying to prove two things: Firstly that scientology is a cult and secondly that it is not a religion. Not only does this get repetitive, but using the same criteria that he used in this book, I think most televangelists' organisations would qualify as a cult. Secondly, one of the Sweeney's re
Feb 13, 2013 rated it liked it
A lot of the content of this book has already been seen in Sweeney's Panorama docs, but the book also adds some interesting behind the scenes stuff that wasn't shown for various reasons, and adds some updates too. The basic material in the book is fascinating - if you haven't seen the Panoramas then it's worth reading just to get an insight into the bizarre world of Scientology, which Sweeney makes a compelling case for being a cult. That said, somebody really needed to properly proof-read it be ...more
Stephen Bell
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Most remembered and vilified for his moment of rage ("exploding tomato" as he refers to it), BBC reporter John Sweeney lays to bare his account behind the panorama programme, that almost lead to his moment of journalistic suicide.

With ferocious vigour, a repenting John Sweeney attacks the church/cult of Scientology as a hostile, intrusive, paranoid (basically any other negative adjective you can throw at it) cult. Exposing their paranoid and obtrusive nature to anyone willing to come across the
Chris Steeden
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I certainly give credit to the author for not only apologising for his unprofessional outburst in an interview with Tommy Davis of the Church of Scientology but also for when he shouts out ridiculous things to John Travolta at a premier (just embarrassing and very immature). He knows when his behaviour is not right and he does highlight this in the book.

This is an engrossing book and the Church obviously became a bit of an obsession for the author. I have no time for religion at all and I think
Mark Edon
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Yes it is very scary.

Surprisingly perhaps, it seems to be very scary for nearly all those on the inside too, probably even the monster at the very top. Maybe a few celebrity members are still so far removed from reality they haven't twigged yet.

What is the harm? Scaring people isn't enough? Ok then how about breaking up families?

There is much more besides but read the book yourself, it might act as an antibiotic or even as a vaccine against other malign influences on you and yours.

The book it
Alford Wayman
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
An excellent book documenting the destructive side to Scientology. It is important to also view the BBC documentary that this book was based on. While some belief systems enhance the life of the believer it is also important to look under the rug, or ask the ex-wives of belief systems to fully close the circle. Sweeney does an excellent job pointing out these issues while being hassled by the church's devout, some who later leave, and then come back to Sweeney for interviews against the current ...more
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John Sweeney is an award-winning journalist and author, currently working as an investigative journalist for the BBC's Panorama series. Before joining the BBC in 2001, Sweeney worked for twelve years at The Observer, where he covered wars and revolutions in more than sixty countries including Romania, Algeria, Iraq, Chechnya, Burundi and Bosnia.

In 1996, He was sued for criminal defamation in Fran
More about John Sweeney...

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“Our ignorance of history makes us slander our own times, wrote Gustave Flaubert.” 0 likes
“Back in the day, the story goes, four science fiction writers - Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert and L Ron Hubbard - were hanging out late at night in 1940 in LA, drinking and putting the world to rights. They made a bet, who could dream up the best religion? Asimov explained in a TV interview in the 1980s that it was more of a dare than a true bet, and the goal was not a religion proper but ‘who can make the best religious story.’ The results were ‘Nightfall’ by Asimov, ‘Dune’ by Herbert, ‘Job’ by Heinlein and ‘Dianetics’ by Hubbard. If the first version of the story is true, Hubbard won the bet. They” 0 likes
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