Is there no religion Reza Aslan won’t pander to?

It seems to be his schtick. Religion is just plain good, and the only way to criticize it is to cherry-pick unrepresentative bad bits, he seems to argue, and he uses this argument to paper over a lot of truly horrific, deeply imbedded aspects of faith. And apparently, he has a show on CNN called Believer, which I haven’t seen, in which he does this repeatedly.

There’s an episode coming up in which he makes excuses for Scientology, of all things; he’s going to highlight small independent groups that have split away from the mainstream cult and are somewhat less toxic (in part because they also represent a way to get outside the controlling influence of the Church of Scientology, and can be a gateway to leaving the religion altogether), while ignoring the greater crimes of the much larger, main sect.

In the meantime, we’ll point out what we did a year ago, when CNN’s series was originally supposed to come out. On occasion, we are taken to task for focusing so much energy on such a small organization, the Church of Scientology, with its 20,000 members. We think Scientology, with its billions in assets, its ruthless legal tactics, and the way it treats children and families is worth keeping an eye on, even if we are just, for the most part, a sole proprietor with a single-subject website.

If some people, however, don’t think the Church of Scientology is worth paying attention to, what does it say that CNN, with its worldwide media reach, will be using its mighty resources to promote a “movement” of perhaps only a few hundred people doing something that is not really very controversial or that affects many other people at all?

“Aslan is clearly confused or deliberately trying to create a scenario to fit his preconceived story line,” Mike Rinder tells us. He points out, however, that even if Aslan is all wet, his show might accidentally be useful for people still stuck in the Church of Scientology to believe that there are alternatives to Miscavige’s brand of Hubbardism. “The idea that Scientology is only available in the church is something Miscavige and company try very hard to pretend is true.” The idea that there are alternatives, Rinder says, could be “beneficial.” But as for Aslan’s claims about the size and growth of independent Scientology?

“It just makes Aslan look uninformed and stupid,” Rinder says.

There was a time when I thought Aslan was mildly interesting as a counterbalance to the more extremist arguments against Islam, but it’s become clear that no, he’s just an apologist for inanity.


  1. congenital cynic says

    Scientology shouldn’t even be categorized as a religion. It’s a stinking cult. A way to prey on people, take their money, control them, and frequently tear families apart. And it would seem not to have a single redeeming feature. And the leader is a vicious sociopath. It should be stripped of its tax exempt status and run into the ground. It’s one “religion” the demise of which we actually have a chance of seeing in our lifetimes.

  2. blf says

    [Scientology]’s a stinking cult

    Yes, and it’s also a big† business. Fortune reported an estimate, How much does Scientology pocket from its tax exempt status? (April-2015), “a book value of $1.75 billion, about $1.5 billion of which is tied up in real estate” (of which, “about 70% of the church’s property is tax exempt”), and “annual receipts of about $200 million”.

    That presumably gives it enough clout to avoid or sabotage any serious law enforcement investigations. And, as Fortune estimates, the estimated evaded taxes are rather small, in the low tens of millions. Mostly local taxes, so it possibly wouldn’t even pay for a hair furor weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

      † Actually, the Fortune article says “If Scientology isn’t a religion, then it’s just a very, very famous small business” (small here obviously being a bit relative…).

  3. Vivec says

    The portions of the show that I’ve seen was literally nothing but free advertising for cults. It’s fucking awful.

  4. Holms says

    #1 What’s the difference? As far as I can tell, a cult is simply a religion with little puclic support.

  5. NYC atheist says

    A cult has a person on top who knows it’s all bullshit. In a religion, that guy is dead.

  6. Derek Vandivere says

    #7: In the Leah Remini show, one of the interviewees mentions that Miscavige talked about having to put together Thetan Level Nine and up (or something like that). Pretty cleary implied that Miscavige knows it’s baloney.

    And for accuracy: they’re talking about what they expect to see in the episode, which they haven’t yet seen.

  7. Knabb says

    I get that pithy one liners about what distinguishes cults from religions are entertaining*, but there are some distinct differences, albeit with the grey area full of more cult-like strains of more conventional religions. The biggest ones all come down to how much power the religious leaders are able to exert over their followers lives directly, and how effectively the religious leaders are able to retaliate at former followers who leave. Scientology is a lot worse in that regard on average than the vast majority of religions, even if pretty much all of them do have cult like segments that are comparable.

    *The way to tell a cult apart is to have the leader point at someone and yell “Seize them!”; if it’s a religion the congregates muddle around in confusion; if it’s a cult the congregates seize them.