Until they call Matt Lauer “glib” while denouncing psychiatry on morning television, it’s hard to accept that ostensibly sane celebrities would be Scientologists. Surely popular culture’s well-connected, beloved dignitaries know better than to join what is reportedly a brutal, oppressive organization masquerading as a religion, right?
There’s no better example of that incongruity than Elisabeth Moss, who, over the course of the past two decades, has become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses. In interviews, she seems impossibly down to earth. The characters she brings to life ― on shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Mad Men” and “The West Wing,” and in movies like “Get Him to the Greek,” “The One I Love” and “Queen of Earth” ― are progressive, dynamic and representative of feminist values.
What a bummer it was, then, to see Moss defend Scientology in an Instagram comment three weeks ago. There was no reason to believe Moss had denounced the institution ― she’d acknowledged her affiliation as recently as last year ― but I think we’d all rather believe that Moss isn’t actually devoted to the science fiction that novelist and screenwriter L. Ron Hubbard concocted. She’s too sane for that, too likable to turn a blind eye to a leadership that engages in well-documented torture, as told by former members. (The church has repeatedly denied these claims.)
With all due respect, what gives? After all, practicing Scientologists are apparently barred from communicating with anyone whom the church labels a “suppressive person,” like Kidman ― individuals who denounce the so-called religion and are deemed threats to its well-being. (“That person loses both his or her fellowship with the Church as well as with other Scientologists,” according to the group’s website.)
Moss, an eight-time Emmy nominee who was raised a Scientologist, has never been wildly outspoken about the sect, unlike Tom Cruise or John Travolta, who became the church’s celebrity mascots. She’s addressed it gently in interviews over the years, sometimes patient with questions about the topic and other times quick to say, in her own dulcet way, that she won’t discuss it. Scientology reportedly helped during her acrimonious 2010 divorce from Fred Armisen, but in 2014, she refused to talk about the organization with a New York magazine journalist, except to say it was “grossly misunderstood by the media.” During a conversation with The Guardian last year, Moss struck a balance between the two poles, saying, “I get the fascination. I become fascinated with things that are none of my business as well.”
When “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiered on Hulu in April, online articles and discussions linked the Margaret Atwood adaption’s depiction of female oppression to the way staunch Scientologists are reportedly made lackeys to the organization. That’s precisely what Moss, who is nominated for the show at this month’s Emmys, addressed on Instagram.
“Love this adaptation so much,” a commenter wrote on a “Handmaid’s Tale”-related photo Moss posted on Aug. 15. “Question though, does it make you think twice about Scientology? Both Gilead and Scientology both believe that all outside sources (aka news) are wrong or evil... it’s just very interesting.” (In the story, Gilead is the dystopian dictatorship that has taken over the United States.)
To which Moss replied: “That’s actually not true at all about Scientology. Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably. And so Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level. Thanks for the interesting question!”
As “King of Queens” actress Leah Remini said in her memoir and docuseries about leaving Scientology, the church tends to shield celebrity patrons from its punitive horrors, which allegedly include splitting up families, enacting physical violence and stalking apostates. Maybe Moss, who views Scientology as a “self-applied” belief system, doesn’t know what truly goes on behind its lucrative doors. She might have somehow avoided the massive media coverage surrounding “Going Clear,” the Lawrence Wright exposé that became a popular documentary in 2015. But wouldn’t a lifelong member know the basic tenets? Wouldn’t she know what a suppressive person is, as well as the history of Cruise and Kidman’s Scientology-inflicted divorce, whether via church lore, Hollywood gossip or media scrutiny?
How, then, can Moss make a show with a certified suppressive person? At one point, Kidman and Cruise’s own children reportedly wanted nothing to do with their mother because she didn’t embrace Scientology. (Requests for comment from Moss and Kidman went unanswered.)
It’s possible there are loopholes here: Kidman didn’t fully subscribe to Scientology, so she never had to leave in earnest. And the church’s chieftains want their devout actors to land great projects like “Top of the Lake” ― the prestige is good PR. Still, a Vanity Fair article from 2012 said the church views Kidman as an SP, and Moss is definitely a congregant of that church, no matter how far down the rabbit hole she has or hasn’t gone. Therein lies a paradox of Moss’ Scientology association.
We ask a lot of celebrities when it comes to advertising their political, religious and social viewpoints. Moss doesn’t have to talk about her personal life if she doesn’t want to. But of all the Instagram comments in the world, she picked this one to respond to. And of all the brilliant actresses in the world, she agreed to co-star with Kidman.
If Moss is going to defend Scientology in public forums, does she get to cherry-pick the church’s dogma? We’re talking about a group that blackmailed IRS officials to secure a religious tax exemption, despite collecting an estimated $200 million per year in revenue. That money ― some of which is reportedly acquired by intimidating devotees into donating onerous sums ― funds alleged misdeeds. Moss has, at some point in her life, presumably taken Scientology’s pricey courses. Does that not make her complicit in the systemic abuse claims that haunt what many deem a cult?
For the record, I’m a huge fan of Moss’ work. Her performance on “Mad Men” made Peggy Olson one of the 21st century’s greatest TV characters, and I’d be thrilled to see her score an Emmy for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I can’t wait to discover what “Top of the Lake” cooked up this time; its co-creator, Jane Campion, is one of the world’s finest directors. But Scientology is more than fascinating fodder for gossip columns and dramatic documentaries ― it’s a cagey, potentially life-threatening outfit that once claimed (perhaps erroneously) to have 8 million members globally. Like it or not, celebrities wield a lot of power in our society. They are barometers for cultural norms. They also get to choose the doctrines they defend. If famous thetans want to endorse Scientology, they can’t shield their eyes from its alarming truths.