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I know I just talked about an HBO documentary I loved, but there’s already another one that I have to mention: Going Clear, the documentary based on the book of the same name, premiered last week and it’s really a well-done piece of filmmaking.
Going Clear covers the seedier aspects of Scientology: things like their habit of taking as much money from the faithful as possible, of forcing people to disconnect from their non-Scientologist family and friends, their stalking and libeling of critics, and their abuse of unpaid or poorly paid workers.
While those broader facts may be well known at this point, it’s still important for people to watch the film and get additional insight into the truly horrific details of what has been going on inside the cult for the previous few decades, and possibly renew calls for people to stop buying tickets to see Tom Cruise and start petitioning the IRS to revoke the Scientologists’ tax-exempt status.
And because I think that, I am now going to disagree with Neil Degrasse Tyson for possibly the first time ever: when someone asked him about his feelings about Scientology, he pointed out that their beliefs were just as weird as Christianity’s, and the only difference between a cult and a religion is the length of time it’s been active.
I understand why he said those things, because I’ve said those things. Those things are, like, annoying atheist 101, a stage that I think most atheists go through at some point.
It’s true that Scientology’s belief that an alien imprisoned a bunch of souls in volcanoes and then blew them up with bombs is equally as silly and implausible as a god impregnating a virgin so that the baby can grow up and get murdered to forgive humanity for behaving the way that the god made them.
But it’s not true that Christianity and Scientology are equal on the cult scale. Maybe a part of it is time: it’s not just that we think more of older things, but that religions definitely do mellow after a few millennia. Right now, Scientologists aren’t even told what they believe until they’ve given many years and all their money to Scientology. Hiding your religion’s beliefs from your own adherents? Yeah, that’s a cult.
Cults like Scientology are also set apart by their insistence that members cut off all contact with their support network, forcing them to rely upon the cult for everything they need. I was raised Baptist and when I became an atheist, my former church didn’t insist that my family cut off all contact with me. Some religions, like the Amish, do. That is culty behavior.
And my old church also, as far as I know, never tapped my phone lines or tried to have me institutionalized. Had I been a Scientologist, that may have been different.
So yeah, I get that it’s cute to say that Scientology is just as crazy as any other religion, and that you’re hoping it forces religious people to realize that we’re all just people and their beliefs are just as stupid as everyone else’s and why can’t we all just get along, but it just doesn’t work. Comparing Scientology to mainstream Christianity doesn’t make Christianity look worse – it just whitewashes Scientology.
I highly recommend Tyson actually watch Going Clear, or read the book, to see exactly why Scientology is a danger to the people who join, as well as to the people who have friends or family who join, and especially to the people who have the temerity to criticize the cult.