Inhuman Swill : Scientology
            

Having watched Valkyrie recently, I've been thinking about the intersection of art, commerce and religion. I know, that's probably not the kind of discussion the filmmakers intended to provoke, but here we are. Germany started it.

Every so often a big kerfluffle flares up in the media or the blogosphere about what famous entertainer is or isn't a Scientologist, and why. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Isaac Hayes, Beck, Chick Corea, Edgar Winter, Chaka Khan, Mark Isham, Greta Van Susteren—we're supposed to avoid giving them money so we don't inadvertently support their reprehensible "church." Leonard Cohen, Paul Haggis, Jerry Seinfeld, Courtney Love, Gloria Gaynor—once were Scientologists, but now they're on the okay list. Neil Gaiman—wait, what's the controversy with him? I'm not supposed to read him because his relatives are Scientologists?

Frankly, keeping score like this is ridiculous.

As much as I dislike Scientology, discriminating against artists because of their private beliefs is a losing game. I hate the fact that there were Crusades, and a Spanish Inquisition, and institutional coverups of child sexual abuse, but that doesn't mean I'm going to deny myself the work of Catholic writers like Graham Greene or Tim Powers, or Catholic filmmakers like Kevin Smith. Will some of the money I pay for their stuff end up in Vatican coffers? Possibly, but I'm not naive enough to think that any of the money I give or receive is pure. We live in a pluralist society. We can't help the fact that our money is going to circulate through parts of the body politic that we don't like. The only judgment we can really make is how we respond to the art, how pure and universal and human it is, how ennobling or demeaning or thrilling or dull, how free from or full of agenda or polemic.

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I've been doing a little uploading to YouTube tonight, and I keep seeing ads for its new Scientology Video Channel. This reminds me, though, that about three weeks ago Laura and I were startled to see an actual demonstration against Scientology down in Grant Park in Chicago. Some of the picketers carried signs demanding the Church of Scientology be taxed. We cheered them on. Protesting that behemoth takes some guts.

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Where the money goes

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We were having an email discussion with some friends about what musicians we like are Scientologists. It started at Chick Corea, but by the time it got around to Beck our friends were asking if this means the money they spend on Beck albums might end up in L. Ron Hubbard's skeletal hands, and if they should be concerned by this. I said:

I'm sure that's what it means, yes. But part of your money will also go to getting Beck's children braces, and organic soy milk, and some of it will end up in the pockets of evil record company executives. I guess my feeling is that all the money we spend will eventually pass through hands we don't approve of, the same way all the atoms in our bodies will eventually recycle through other people and animals and trees and clouds and landfills. I guess I look at the pool of available money as a closed ecosystem, and some of it will always be in the hands of organizations we don't like. But it won't necessarily stay there. It will keep cycling and maybe do some good too.

I feel like money to Beck is a reward for talent, and for giving me some aural pleasure. ("Heh heh, he said aural pleasure.") I feel better about rewarding talent, even if the talent might give the money to L. Ron Hubbard Inc., than I do about giving money to faceless companies like Blockbuster and Land's End (is that right?) that donate huge amounts of money to causes I dislike. I can go elsewhere for videos or yuppie hippie clothing, but I can't go anywhere else for Beck music.

What do you think?

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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