In a surprising move for a man who has no problem tearing down religion, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson defended Scientology in the wake of HBO’s documentary Going Clear, which focuses on the religion.
Of course, in true Neil deGrasse Tyson fashion, his defense of Scientology certainly did not equate belief in any higher power, but instead drew on what he sees as a matter of relativity.
“So, you have people who are certain that a man in a robe transforms a cracker into the literal body of Jesus saying that what goes on in Scientology is crazy? Let’s realize this: What matters is not who says who’s crazy, what matters is we live in a free country. You can believe whatever you want, otherwise it’s not a free country — it’s something else.”
Although Neil deGrasse Tyson has not yet seen Going Clear, he doesn’t believe that anything uncovered about Scientology would sway his firmly-held belief that people are free to choose their own beliefs.
“I don’t care what the tenets are of Scientology,” he said in an interview with the Daily Beast. “They don’t distract me. I don’t judge them, and I don’t criticize them.”
So, although Neil deGrasse Tyson is ostensibly defending Scientology, it’s a defense based on his idea that all religion is suspect rather than one religion having precedence over another.
Tyson also objected to the fact that Scientology isn’t given the same tax-exempt status as other religions, asking, “But why aren’t they a religion?”
He answered the question by saying that Scientology isn’t seen as a religion, not because of its tenants or beliefs, but simply because it hasn’t been around long enough.
“If you attend a Seder, there’s an empty chair sitting right there and the door is unlocked because Elijah might walk in. OK. These are educated people who do this. Now, some will say it’s ritual, some will say it could literally happen. But religions, if you analyze them, who is to say that one religion is rational and another isn’t? It looks like the older those thoughts have been around, the likelier it is to be declared a religion. If you’ve been around 1,000 years you’re a religion, and if you’ve been around 100 years, you’re a cult.
“The line I’m drawing is that there are religions and belief systems, and objective truths. And if we’re going to govern a country, we need to base that governance on objective truths — not your personal belief system.”
Although willing to defend people’s freedom to believe and worship as they see fit, Neil deGrasse Tyson has made his skepticism abundantly clear and advocates continuously for religion to stay within the confines of the church.
“I don’t have an issue with what you do in the church, but I’m going to be up in your face if you’re going to knock on my science classroom and tell me they’ve got to teach what you’re teaching in your Sunday school. Because that’s when we’re going to fight,” he famously said in a keynote speech in 2008.
But that doesn’t mean the astrophysicist is without any feelings of spirituality; however, his spirituality is connected back to his love of science.
“Not only are we in the universe, the universe is in us. I don’t know of any deeper spiritual feeling than what that brings upon me.”
Still, Neil deGrasse Tyson can’t help but occasionally poke some fun at organized religion. Click here to see what he said on Christmas that outraged so many. For more on HBO’s documentary on Scientology, click here to read about the alleged John Travolta blackmail and examples of torture within the church highlighted during Going Clear.
[Image by Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images]