The Church of Scientology started its own TV channel this week, but coverage of the event -– such as it was -– didn’t come from religion specialists. Instead, it was general assignment reporters who did the job.
That left readers with some pretty predictable questions about this story. For example: What about the "why?" factor in the traditional journalism "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" and "how" sequence?
I found the show on YouTube and watched it for an hour. Muzak played throughout and much of the content was focused on how you, the viewer can -- through Scientology, of course -- set personal goals, overcome adversity, sail through life and more. There was a ton of testimonies from members (or really good actors) on how Scientology had improved their lot.
There were snippets from weekly church services, although not enough to get an idea of of what typically goes on. There were odd parts; like showcasing their bookstore? But after smiling personage after smiling personage informed me of the benefits of Scientology, my interest began to wane after a half hour.
The Church of Scientology is headed to television.
The organization is set to premiere Scientology TV on Monday, a new network that will air on DirecTV and available via streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV.
"The only thing more interesting than what you've heard is what you haven't," read a promo announcing the channel, shared on Scientology social media accounts.
The Associated Press did a more in-depth summation that mirrors what I saw:
The first hour offered a slickly produced taste of the series to follow from an in-house studio, including “Meet a Scientologist,” ‘’Destination Scientology” and the three-part “L. Ron Hubbard: In His Own Voice.” The channel is available on DIRECTV, AppleTV, Roku, fireTV, Chromecast, iTunes and Google Play.
(Scientology leader David) Miscavige didn’t directly address critics, but Scientology doesn’t lack for them. Several high-profile projects have investigated the church’s alleged abuses of former members, including actress Leah Remini’s A&E docuseries “Scientology and the Aftermath” and Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”
Instead, the channel’s debut offered interviews with church members who touted Scientology’s rewards, showed off its impressive facilities in cities including Melbourne, London, Tokyo and throughout the United States and its work with other churches and community groups.
Most other coverage was similar in vein.
But … why? Why does Scientology want to do TV? Is it merely to counteract all the bad publicity? Manage their own narrative? As the Guardian suggested:
It’s a PR move to try to make Scientology look less like a toxic dustbin full of deluded millionaires with aggressive superiority complexes.
TheWrap.com called the network “one giant ad,” but provided some TV industry know-how on exactly what the Church of Scientology might be paying DIRECTV to carry it.
But there was little analysis from any religion specialist on what “the world’s newest religion” may gain from this. Which is why I enjoyed Vice.com’s “I watched Scientology TV for 24 confusing hours straight” article.
I'm not entirely sure who the show is meant to be for. Miscavige, in his introduction, suggested that non-Scientologists are the target audience for the channel. But Inside Scientology was so jargon-heavy ("We are here to make the able more able") that it's hard to imagine it appealing to anyone who isn't a Scientologist.
I just kinda zoned out on the audio and admired the shots of the aggressively multicultural, smily, well-groomed Scientologists they had in every shot.
So there you have it: Scientology as more entertainment phenomenon than a religion. And maybe it should be treated as a set of principles more than a faith. Maybe the joke’s on them; like, some of us feel it’s really not a church but a corporation.
But as long as the group identifies itself as a church, albeit a fairly non-spiritual one, some attempt should be made to explain it as such. In other words: Where is the religion in this story?