In January 2008, America saw one of its most familiar movie stars talking in a most unfamiliar way. “The thing is, I just go through that tech,” says Tom Cruise in a YouTube video introduced as “Tom Cruise on Tom Cruise, Scientologist,” the star wearing a black turtleneck as a jangly guitar version of the “Mission: Impossible” music plays. “And it literally is, it’s not how to run from an SP, a PTS/SP, [it’s] how to shatter suppression, confront and shatter suppression, you apply it, it’s like” — Cruise snaps his fingers — “boom.” With a glassily menacing stare, he adds, “Because they don’t come up to me and do it. They don’t do it to me. Not to my face.”
Beyond the sheer trippy weirdness of watching Jerry Maguire say things like, “It’s our responsibility to educate — create the new reality,” one of the things that most confused viewers of Cruise’s video was the unintelligible language: abbreviations like “PTS/SP,” jargon like “tech” and “suppression.” Yet such language is an essential feature of Scientology, one that colors the thinking of people in the religion — even long after they leave.
Scientology’s power over its followers is coming under new scrutiny because of the HBO documentary “Going Clear,” which premieres March 29 and is based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book of the same name. As Wright reported, Scientology has long relied on an arcane lingo that helps induct adherents into founder L. Ron Hubbard’s complex mythology while also isolating them from the outside world. “I’ve had a lot of former Scientologists tell me,” Wright said to me, “that it took quite a while for them to sort out what was a real word and what was a Scientology term.”