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 Susterenwe'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 Gaynoronce were Scientologists, but now they're on the okay list. Neil Gaimanwait, 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.
And let's face it, Scientology is no more ridiculous on the face of it than Catholicism or Zoroastrianism or Islam or Greek mythology. The claims of these other religions are just as extraordinary. The only difference is that the origins of the rest are shrouded in antiquityas if mere age confers some kind of stature or holiness or untouchability. In historical terms, Mormonism is nearly as recent as Scientology, and in cosmological terms makes claims every bit as grand and silly, but how many of you Wheel of Time readers are going to boycott the new volume just because Brandon Sanderson wrote it?
The value of the work is in the work itself. If the work makes your life better or more pleasant, support it. Pay for it. It's that simple. Clint Eastwood's a libertarian who supported McCain? So what. I love his movies. Beck and Chick Corea give money to L. Ron Hubbard's successors? Big deal. I get a lot more pleasure from their records than from most Cruise or Travolta movieshell, than from most Mel Gibson movies or Orson Scott Card novels these daysso I'm happy to give them my money. I, an atheist, have given money to causes devoted to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States, but that mere fact hardly makes my fiction superior to or more worthy of support than a Catholic like Gene Wolfe's.
As for Neil Gaiman, I'd be an awful hypocrite to avoid his books just because his father was a big muckity-muck in the Church of Scientology. I myself am a direct descendant of Edward Partridge, the first Mormon bishop. No, I avoid Gaiman's books because I simply don't care for them.
Artists, like most people, are more than just the religions they profess. So get down off your high horse and give the poor Scientologists a chance. The rich ones, too, if they're your thing.