Elisabeth Moss, of "Mad Men," is a great actress (one who won a Golden Globe earlier this year for "Top of the Lake"). She also gives off every indication of being a fun and normal human being. She is also a member of a religion many believe to be little better than a cult.
How do you handle it when a celebrity you generally like is a Scientologist?
This isn't as on-its-face offensive as, say, asking whether one can be a fan of a Jewish, Muslim or Catholic performer. Scientology has been widely reported, recently in Lawrence Wright's book "Going Clear," to have a history of human-rights abuses; the ongoing drama over the location of Shelly Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, is but the latest eyebrow-raising incident in a recent history that also includes Tom Cruise's shaming those who use antidepressants.
No matter what one believes about the reported abuses within the church of Scientology, it's easier to accept that the religion's most recognizable faces all have a devotion verging on the messianic, from Tom Cruise's mission of conversion to Kirstie Alley's rants against apostate Leah Remini.
Alley, Cruise and other celebrity Scientologists like John Travota and Jenna Elfman, have come in for derision due to their public association with the religion. But, with all respect due, none of them are exactly at the center of the culture; Cruise is by far the most famous public Scientologist, and his amped-up advocacy in the mid-2000s (along with his general weirdness about his wife, Katie "Kate" Holmes) led to a career downward spiral that he's only now recovering from. Other celebrity Scientologists say little about their practice: Beck, for instance, has said that he "has had lots of benefits from it,” and that “it’s just something that I’ve been around."
No wonder cool celebrities like Moss aren't jumping on any talk-show couches in order to express their fealty to the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. In a new profile by former Salon critic Willa Paskin in New York magazine, Moss says:
“I think if there was something that I didn’t know and didn’t understand, I would probably feel as opinionated. You know how you’re opinionated about when someone breaks up? Celebrities break up and you just feel like you know what happened?”
She did not elaborate further, encouraging readers to seek out her previous comments on the matter, which were made to the gay publication the Advocate in order to say that she, personally, believed the freedom-centric teachings of Scientology allowed for same-sex partnerships, and that "Many of my church’s stances and concepts are grossly misunderstood by the media. It’s a long list."
Moss is entitled to defend herself, and her defense is articulate such as it is; perhaps there's some corner of Scientology, removed from the high-powered corridors in which Cruise and Miscavige travel, that provides actual solace to Moss and those like her. I only know about Scientology what is reported in the media, and those reports are to my eye chilling. But Moss' defense of Scientology as a framework for healthier living that is wide-open to the worshipers' own interpretation stops short of actually explaining what it does for her, or how it has helped her in her own life. The last time a public figure used their media spotlight to defend the tenets of Scientology specifically was Tom Cruise's disastrous "Today" appearance in 2005 during which he called Matt Lauer "glib" for tolerating Ritalin use; is Moss' unwillingness to defend anything about her religion, all while calling those who find it objectionable uninformed, coincidental?
Perhaps there's no way for a Scientologist to defend the religion without coming across as wild-eyed or proselytizing, given all that's been reported about the church. And Moss doesn't owe the public any explanation; membership in a religion is no crime. But it makes it that much harder to root for Moss' success given the matter of her Scientology membership, and her unwillingness to get into specifics about how the media has gotten her experience wrong. Beck's acknowledgment that there's something about Scientology that's helped him, vague though it is, feels much more convincing than Moss' telling us that it's we who've got the problem! Moss feels comfortable telling the world they've gotten the facts wrong -- and either an entire media apparatus, including the fact-checking one that went into Wright's reporting, is flat-out lying, or there's room for doubt about her account.
Moss is entitled to privacy. But she's not telling the public they're wildly misinformed and acting like gawkers about, say, her former marriage or how she chooses roles: She's doing so about a topic about which there's been serious investigative journalism performed. Again, there may be no defense of Scientology that looks good, but her willingness to slag off people's genuine curiosity about a matter of serious consequence is as unflattering as Moss' early-"Mad Men" fat suit.