Almost any time we write anything about Neil Gaiman, you can be sure that someone will feel the need to post a comment “outing” the man as a Scientologist. While we have a fairly relaxed attitude to comments and will publish almost anything that contributes to an article, you won’t find many comments about Neil Gaiman’s alleged ties to the Church of Scientology published on this site. We simply don’t see the relevance of his religious beliefs to a discussion about how The Graveyard Book won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for instance.
An article we wrote some time ago about The Graveyard Book being adapted for the big screen received a comment the other day from someone called Clamwatcher, stating that “Neil Gaiman is a Scientologist and is underwriting Scientology. The Scientologists list Neil Gaiman in the Cornerstone Newsletter along with Mary Gaiman, as contributing $35,000.00 in 2009. Being listed in the Cornerstone Newsletter means you are in good-standing with the cult.” There’s more but the gist of it is that Neil, his sisters and former wife Mary are all practicing Scientologists, and his current partner Amanda Palmer must also be a Scientologist otherwise she “would not be allowed anywhere near this royal family of Scientology”.
A quick search of the web will turn up this same text and variations all over the place in what is clearly a campaign to discredit or “out” Gaiman for alleged membership of the Church.
Now I’m no fan of Scientology nor of its creator and founder L. Ron Hubbard (although my objection to Hubbard is as much a consequence of his awful writing as his extracurricular activities). On the other hand, as a devout atheist I see no substantive difference between believing in Scientology’s thetans, Judeo-Christian angels and devils, or any religion’s god or gods. All religious beliefs demonstrate the same remarkable tendency of our species to create meaning in a meaningless universe: imagining a metaphysical or supernatural framework for reality is where it all begins. So, as far as I’m concerned, criticising Neil Gaiman’s alleged belief on the grounds that it’s a lie and a con is to criticise everybody’s religious beliefs on the same grounds.
Of course, the attack on Neil Gaiman is also an attack on the Church of Scientology and its practices, which I take no position on here. What interests me is Neil Gaiman’s standing as an influential writer and whether an alleged belief in Scientology influences his writing. Is his writing propaganda for the Church of Scientology?
First then let’s deal with the main charge that Neil Gaiman is a Scientologist.
It’s well known that David Gaiman, Neil’s father, was deeply involved with the Church of Scientology throughout Neil’s childhood, and one of the “arguments” put forward by the “outers” is that Neil must therefore also be a member. But the history of the Gaiman family itself proves how absurd it is to assert that a man’s beliefs must be the same as his father’s: David Gaiman’s father was Jewish, David was a Scientologist. And Neil? He claims not to be a Scientologist and I see no reason to doubt him.
But even if he is, does it matter? The man’s personal beliefs are no one’s business but his own until he uses his position to influence others. In which case the only relevant questions are these: is Neil Gaiman’s writing propaganda for the Church of Scientology and/or does he use his influence as modern fantasy’s most cool dude to promote the cause of Scientology?
Most of us who love Gaiman’s writing, only know the man through his writing, and it’s reasonable to assert that his influence over us is mostly limited to his writing: he’s not there at our shoulder whispering in our ears and trying to convert us (I’ll get to the Cult of Personality in a moment). But before we consider whether Gaiman’s writing is religious propaganda let’s consider the religious agendas of two of the twentieth century’s most influential fantasists, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Tolkien was a devout Catholic and C.S. Lewis an avowed Anglican and their religious beliefs are deeply ingrained in their writing: if you are a sensitive reader, it’s impossible to read either of their works and not be aware of their religious beliefs. Certainly their fiction is not intentionally propagandist (well not in the case of Tolkien, anyway), but in both cases their religious beliefs are inseparable from the written word and bound up with the reading experience.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Neil Gaiman is a Scientologist and that he infuses his fiction with his religious beliefs: is that any different to what Tolkien and Lewis did with their fiction? If we’re honest, we’d have to say no. And if we do object to one case and not the other, we’re simply manifesting a value judgement about the relative truth of one religion over another.
So what about Neil Gaiman? Is his writing a propagandist vehicle for the Church of Scientology?
If I can claim any expertise it is as a critical reader, by which I mean someone trained through way too many years of study and practice to deconstruct the word on the page, and I see no evidence whatsoever of Gaiman’s alleged belief in Scientology in his writing. It is simply not there in any obvious way.
True, I read Gaiman for the pleasure of it and haven’t really undertaken a critical analysis of his fiction, but surely if it’s necessary to resort to that degree of critical analysis even to identify that there is a propagandist agenda, he’s not doing a very good job of promoting the cause of Scientology.
On the other hand, if the conspiracy theorists would have us believe that Gaiman’s writing is subliminally transmitting the Call of Scientology, the man is failing miserably on that count too: I certainly haven’t felt the urge on reading his fiction to trot down to the local Scientology recruitment centre to take a free personality test and hand over one tenth of my earnings, and I’ve not heard of anyone else falling victim to any such Manchurian agenda either.
If the claim is that simply being Neil Gaiman is sufficient to influence people into joining up, that’s also a flawed argument. Sure he’s a cool dude, but as there’s not even any compelling evidence that he is a member of the Church of Scientology, what exactly is he influencing people to do? Hmm, I think I’ll sign up with Scientology because Neil Gaiman is a cool dude and I’ve heard that he might be a member…
I don’t think so.
So, finally, here’s the point of all of this: if Neil is not using his writing and/or influence to peddle the cause of Scientology, what the hell is the point of outing him as a Scientologist?
One last word that might put this allegation in some perspective: on balance, I’d have to say there’s considerably more evidence in Gaiman’s work of a Judeo-Christian ideology. Just consider the crucial emphasis on sin, guilt and transgression in his screen adaptation of Beowulf, all qualities that are quite alien, or at least underplayed in the Anglo-Saxon source material.
Oh my god(s), Neil Gaiman is really a Jew! Or a Christian! Must be time for a book burning!