Not long after I recommended My Name is Earl, the NBC sitcom starring Jason Lee, I learned that the show has some Scientologist connections. Last year James Donaghy reported for the Guardian:
The Scientology-Earl connection begins with Earl himself – actor Jason Lee is a Scientologist, as is show creator Greg Garcia and Ethan Suplee who plays Earl’s slow-reader brother Randy. …[T]here has also been a guest appearance from Juliette Lewis, Suplee’s sister-in-law and a practising Scientologist. Also down with the Church is Giovanni Ribisi, who plays recurring character Ralph Mariano. …
Then there’s the concept of the “overt-motivator sequence”. Crudely, this is what happens when a person does something bad then subconsciously causes something bad to happen to themself. It all sounds eerily like “Do bad things and it will come back to haunt you”, Earl’s karmic mantra.
Does this bug me? Well, a lot of good art is produced by people with some kooky beliefs. I enjoyed Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, and I like John Travolta generally. Travolta starred in Phenomenon, which I enjoyed despite its Scientologist overtones. Scientology does have some vicious streaks relative to other mainsteam U.S. religions (such as its sue-happy lawyers), yet other religions offer similarly silly teachings. I’ve enjoyed the work of Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, and others.
Besides, the idea of self-sabotage is hardly unique to Scientology. No religion is complete nonsense, or nobody would believe it. (Maybe I overestimate some people.) Dostoevsky wrote of self-sabotage, for instance. I don’t think any psychologist would deny it. But Earl is about a lot more than self-sabotage; it is partly about the simple fact that if you treat people like crap, they’re likely to treat you like crap right back. If you commit crimes, you’re likely headed for jail. If you build a good reputation, good people will respect you. These are good moral themes that transcend religion.
Aside from all that, a major television show is the result of a large group of writers and producers. I suppose that only a few of the participants are Scientologists.
In a special feature, the creator explains his inspiration: his own father decided to get his life together. That’s a good story, even if told through the lens of a Scientologist.