CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


Reza Aslan on Scientology: Much Ado About Not Very Much?

by Massimo Introvigne



On Sunday March 26, 2017, the controversial CNN show on religion “Believers,” by Reza Aslan, aired its episode on Scientology. As a longtime scholar of Scientology I was curious about the episode. I was happy that it avoided the usual anti-cult rhetorics but disappointed about how the episode was structured.

The introduction by Aslan criticized the anti-cultists and stated clearly that criticism by Lawrence Wright and others against Scientology could easily have been applied to any religion, including Christianity. Aslan's comment that, had Wright lived in the time of Jesus Christ, he would have ridiculed his miracles too, was fair enough.

Follows an interview with our colleague Donald Westbrook, which is the best part of the episode and very much to the point. He emphasizes that Scientology is a religion and explains in clear terms why.
Then Aslan states that Scientology refused to participate in the episode - so he had to build it with schismatics and free zoners. The rest of the program is a journey through several small schisms that separated from Scientology in the U.S. and Israel.

Of course, the schismatics present their point of view, which includes both a strong defense of L. Ron Hubbard and his “technology” and a strong criticism of the Church.

Aslan's conclusion is that the very existence of schisms proves that Scientology is a religion not so much different from the others, as all large religions have schisms.

The episode has some acceptable parts, but largely misses the point and may even be misleading, as it exaggerates the importance of the schisms he shows, which are in fact really minuscule.

My main objection to Reza Aslan's CNN episode is that it gives exaggerated importance to tiny groups, repeatedly comparing their role in the history of Scientology to the Protestant Reformers in the history of Christianity. This comparison is grossly exaggerated, as the Reformers took with them half of Europe's Christians while these schisms only gathered a handful of followers. Aslan should perhaps have explained that these groups only have a few dozen followers each, and represent a very tiny percentage of the worldwide Scientology movement. As it is, the shows misleads the audience into believing that these schismatic groups are a big deal. They aren't.