"Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien" has a first look at a new book that takes us inside the world of Scientology, uncovering details about the secretive group that were never before known.
The book is called "Going Clear, Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of Belief" written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright. It's already in its second printing. The church's response has been swift and furious.
This morning, Soledad talks with Wright about his controversial new book.
Transcript and statement from the Church of Scientology regarding the book are available after the jump.
O'BRIEN: The book is called "going clear." what does "going clear" mean?
LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR: It's a stage in scientology and the progress up their ladder. The idea is that there are two minds, one is a rational mind, analytical, and the other is what they call the reactive mind, and it's full of all the things that cause you fears and neuroses and triggered by ancient memories. And the goal is to eliminate those memories. When that happens, you go clear, and then you have these kinds of extraordinary powers. You're more intelligent, you never get ill, and you're at peace with the universe and able to control your environment.
O'BRIEN: What does scientology and Scientologists have that others don't? What's the promise at the end of scientology for people?
WRIGHT: What you discover inside scientology oftentimes in the auditing sessions with an e-meter between the two of you, you might discover a past life. And that comes as great news to a lot of people, the idea is that you're immortal. Other people I've spoken to have, in scientology terms, have "gone exterior." In other words they've had an out of body experience, they've had the sensation of being able to leave their incorporated body and move around the room to other planets.
If you've had that experience, then the criticism and the logic others might bring to bear about scientology is not going to affect you very much because you've had a life-changing experience.
O'BRIEN: It certainly is talked about when you know a celebrity who is also a Scientologist. What is the answer to that? Clearly they are aggressive in getting celebrities to be Scientologists.
WRIGHT: Oh, from the very beginning, the church was established in L.A., and the celebrity center there, it was all with a goal of as L. Ron Hubbard, the founder said, taking over the entertainment industry.
O'BRIEN: But taking over to what end?
WRIGHT: Well, if you have somebody of that reputation, it's very appealing to other people. Just as you see with Tom Cruise, I mean, he makes a huge impact in the world as a Scientologist. If you subtracted tom cruise and Kirstie Alley and John Travolta and others from the list of Scientologists, I don't think people would really know what that organization is.
O'BRIEN: There are people who are celebrities, and I'd say they are maybe less famous than the huge celebrities, who have said scientology has helped them.
WRIGHT: I believe scientology has helped some people. And oftentimes when you're drawn into the church they ask you, what is your ruin, what is the thing spoiling your life you'd like to change? And you might say it's my job or my relationship or something like that. And they say we have courses that can help you, and they may well help you. I don't dispute that at all.
O'BRIEN: You said though, as you go up levels it gets expensive. What do you mean by expensive?
WRIGHT: Very expensive. I mean to get to the top of the ladder, more than half a million dollars.
O'BRIEN: Tell me about the leader, David Miscavige.
WRIGHT: He's a very controversial figure in Scientology right now, for years there have been allegations of abuse, physical abuse on his part against the other executives in the church. I talked to 12 people who told me that they had been beaten by the leader of the church.
O'BRIEN: Physically beaten?
WRIGHT: Physical beaten. I have 20 witnesses who witnessed such attacks.
O'BRIEN: What do you think is the biggest most valid criticism of scientology? You talk about children being put to work in the book.
WRIGHT: That's the part of it that disturbs me the most, the exploitation of children and what - they have a clergy called the Sea Org or Sea Organization and children, very young children, are often –
O'BRIEN: How old?
WRIGHT: Some as young as six, they sign a contract for a billion years of service. They essentially surrender any real education, they're impoverished by their service, they get paid about $50 a week and they're secluded from the world.
O'BRIEN: They say your sources many of them are completely unreliable.
WRIGHT: Yes, we talked to more than 250 people, I'm not sure exactly which ones they're complaining about, but most of the people I talked to were Scientologists or former Scientologists, many of them had been at the highest levels of the church.
Now, I asked the church repeatedly for the opportunity to talk to other executives and to their leader, David Miscavige.
O'BRIEN: What did they say?
WRIGHT: They absolutely denied me that opportunity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: CNN reached out to the Church of Scientology. They responded to Lawrence Wright's claims of physical abuse saying this, "The stories of alleged physical abuse are lies concocted by a small group of self-corroborating professed liars. The hard evidence clearly shows that no such conduct ever occurred and that, in fact, there is evidence that shows it did not occur."
Church of Scientology also responded to Lawrence Wright's allegations about the exploitation of children saying this "Regarding the claim that the Church made children work long hours, the Church diligently followed and continues to follow, all child labor laws in every state or country in which it operates." It went on to say "their chores never amounted to child labor." Making the Church of Scientology responses available at CNN.com, just search under the word "Scientology" in the search field.