This Creepy Cult Has Hollywood in Its Grip

Hollywood tends to have an energising effect upon our more distinguished thinkers and writers. The shortest visit will have them pontificating about the allure of the place, its influence and money, its power to corrupt. This month the eminent Pulitzer Prize winner E Annie Proulx flew in for the red-carpet treatment but, after a film based on one of her short stories failed to win any of the main Oscars, she then made a terrible mistake. She lost her temper in print.

E Annie Proulx is an author who takes her work and herself seriously. There was much discussion at one point about whether the first initial of her name should be dropped on book covers. “I see myself as a figure standing in the tall grass watching what happens in the lives of others,” she once said. But, when Brokeback Mountain won a mere three Oscars – the same number as King Kong, she noted with disgust – she threw a hissy fit, blaming the “conservative heffalump Academy voters”, referring to the winner of the Best Picture award Crash as Trash and even – unwisely, under the circumstances – sneering at the “insufferable self-importance” of the ceremony.

But it was her final shot that was a bit of a puzzler. As the guests left after the Oscars, the red carpet had turned a hue of purple. “The source of the colour was not far away. Down the street, casting its baleful light everywhere, hung a gigantic, vertical, electric-blue neon sign spelling out SCIENTOLOGY.”

Now what is E Annie hinting at here? Is she implying that the evil influence of the Church of Scientology over Hollywood had somehow robbed her gay cowboy story of its Best Picture award?

Certainly the cult set up by the failed science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard would seem to have some significant adherents in the entertainment business. Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and Juliette Lewis, all rather good and interesting actors, are said to be Scientologists, as is the perfect Nicole Kidman. Set L Ron’s team against the team representing Christianity – Mel Gibson, Jane Fonda and Charlton Heston – and there is not much competition.

This week, Isaac Hayes, who plays Chef in the great South Park, came out as a Scientologist, resigning from the show on the grounds that “there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs begin.” Since few programmes have been as bold in their mockery of sentimentality and religious blindness than South Park, Hayes’s sudden attack of conscience was something of a surprise.

So perhaps E Annie is right about L Ron. Just because a cult seems loopy, its power should not be under-estimated. Scientology has vast wealth in America. It covertly influences public debate through innocent sound organisations such as the Way to Happiness Foundation and the Concerned Businessmen’s Association. It has a creepy degree of control over its followers and is financially dubious. “Make money. Make more money,” L Ron once wrote to those running his church. “Make others produce so as to make money. However you get them in or why, just do it.”

It is nutty, of course, but these are fruitful times for those selling faith. Isaac Hayes, unwittingly, has reminded us that there is indeed a lot of intolerance and bigotry about. That is why satire, covering both the reputable and the sleazy in religion, is part of a civilised society.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Independent, UK
Mar. 17, 2006 Opinion
Tererence Blacker
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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 17, 2006.
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