Astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil DeGrasse Tyson is defending Scientology in light of HBO’s highly critical documentary on the church.
HBO’s documentary “Going Clear” did not show the church in an entirely positive light — Scientology has a built a reputation for tormenting members who leave it either by surveillance or harassment.
The film highlights the celebrities who made the religion intriguing to the world as well as the horrific stories of abuse from former members.
But Tyson, in an interview with The Daily Beast, declined to bash the controversial church, saying people are free to believe whatever they want.
“So, you have people who are certain that a man in a robe transforms a cracker into the literal body of Jesus saying that what goes on in Scientology is crazy? Let’s realise this. What matters is not who says who’s crazy, what matters is we live in a free country,” Tyson, known for his sceptical views of Christianity, said. “You can believe whatever you want, otherwise it’s not a free country — it’s something else. If we start controlling what people think and why they think it, we have case studies where that became the norm. I don’t care what the tenets are of Scientology. They don’t distract me. I don’t judge them, and I don’t criticise them.”
There is dispute, however, about whether or not Scientology is a legitimate religion.
France convicted the organisation for “organised fraud.” And the organisation is notorious for convincing people to join their system, having them pay for “readings,” and allegedly employing types of blackmail to keep people in the organisation.
Former members of the church have sued, claiming the church has duped people into donating millions of dollars toward misrepresented causes, according to The Telegraph.
A 2011 tax filing values the three organisations comprising Scientology at $US1.5 billion, according to The Wrap. The church sought a tax-exempt status from the IRS for several years before it finally got it in 1993.
The church’s founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, “started his career as a writer doing pulp-fiction works for which he was paid a penny a word.”
Most of his writing was science fiction, specifically about missions into space — themes that would later come up again in Scientology’s unbelievable theory of how the world began.
Hubbard reportedly said, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion,” at a meeting of the Eastern Science Fiction Association in November 1948.
Here’s what Tyson told the Beast about Scientology’s status as a religion: “Religions, if you analyse them, who is to say that one religion is rational and another isn’t? It looks like the older those thoughts have been around, the likelier it is to be declared a religion. If you’ve been around 1,000 years you’re a religion, and if you’ve been around 100 years, you’re a cult. That’s how people want to divide the kingdom.”
Tyson continues: “Religions have edited themselves over the years to fit the times, so I’m not going to sit here and say Scientology is an illegitimate religion and other religions are legitimate religions. They’re all based on belief systems. Look at Mormonism! There are ideas that are as space-exotic within Mormonism as there are within Scientology, and it’s more accepted because it’s a little older than Scientology is, so are we just more accepting of something that’s older?”
“Going Clear” is based on Lawrence Wright’s best-selling book of the same name. The documentary premiered Sunday night on HBO.
Jason Guerrasio contributed to this report.
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