Tony Ortega: Knowingly Misleading, Inaccurate


Tony Ortega is up to his old tricks again. In what seems to be his obsessive, ceaseless crusade to attack religion in any form, Tony Ortega this time set his sights on social scientists, stereotyping them as “religious studies types”.

One of the many problems with Tony Ortega’s narrow-minded approach is he doesn’t have the sense to know when he’s academically out-gunned. In his mind, he, Tony Ortega, is the expert on all matters religious. I guess that’s what makes the Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Ohio State University professor Hugh Urban’s take down of Ortega so satisfying.

Professor Urban, who holds a Ph.D in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago, calls out Tony Ortega’s self-styled ‘journalism’ as knowingly misleading and inaccurate and unnecessarily combative in nature.

He writes:

I guess I should be flattered that Tony Ortega has taken the time to read and comment on my work. However, I also found many parts of this piece problematic, and I would like to respond briefly to several points that are inaccurate and misleading. For the sake of space, I will limit my comments to the following:

1. Let’s begin with the title and my alleged search for Scientology’s “warm and fuzzy side.” Anyone who has read my book and the ten or so articles I’ve written on Scientology knows this is pure nonsense. There is neither fuzz nor warmth in anything I’ve written about the church – if anything, I’m usually accused of the opposite. After writing a very positive review of my book, interviewing me at length, and extensively discussing my article on Scientology, Ortega obviously knows this. I can only conclude that the title here is purely a means of attracting readers with a provocative, titillating headline. But it is extremely misleading and (it would seeming) knowingly so.

2. Ortega took issue with my review of Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear,” particularly my suggestion that the book focuses too heavily on celebrities and doesn’t discuss the lives of ordinary, non-celebrity Scientologists. He writes: “we find that religious studies academics tend to fetishize the idea of a mythic ‘ordinary’ Scientologist …Somewhere, these academics assert, there must be examples of simply content Scientologists who are the real, pure example of the faith. ” I’m not sure which academics Ortega is talking about here, but it is not me (this also reflects a common pattern in Ortega’s article, which is to lump all academics together, as if we are all the same and all think the same way). To say that there exist non-celebrity Scientologists is surely not the same as saying that they are more “real or pure” than celebrities. They are roof contractors in Columbus and insurance salesmen in Cincinnati, with as many problems and failings as anybody else.

One final and perhaps most important observation: In general, it seems to me that journalists and academics have a mutual interest in providing as much accurate, detailed, and nuanced information as possible… I don’t think it’s productive to that larger end to attack one another, particularly based on misleading and inaccurate characterizations of one another’s work.

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