Garry Wills reviews Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion, by Janet Reitman and Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, by Jason Berry for the New York Times Sunday Book Review:
Even religious leaders develop a certain swagger when they know they are backed by bundles of cash. When a French court fined Scientology nearly a million dollars, one of its officials shrugged that off as “chump change.” And when the Vatican ran a deficit of nearly 2.4 million euros in 2007, an Italian journalist familiar with the church’s finances dismissed the debt as “chopped liver.” Chump change or chopped liver, both churches have bigger sums they can get to and use, and few outsiders are given a look at how they do it. These two books trace the cash source of theological confidence.
Whether Berry is considering sex scandals or money scandals, or the refusal of the hierarchy to be open with its own believers on many fronts, the thing that sours all relations is secrecy — as we can see from the conduct of our own government. Secrecy eats at the soul. Some are surprised that religion is so corruptible. They should not be. When secrecy is used to protect a higher order of knowledge, it can make the keepers of the secrets think of themselves as a higher order of humans. Corruptio optimi pessima, goes the old saying. Blight at the top is the deepest blight. It is the sin of taking God’s name in vain.