'The Path' Creator: How I Lost Religion and Wrote a New One — That Isn't Scientology (Guest Column)

Jessica Goldberg opens up about Scientology comparisons to the cult at the center of Hulu's upcoming drama starring Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy.
 Courtesy of Hulu; Getty Images

The longing for religion is as old as civilization itself. We're all desperate for meaning and authenticity, for a frame.

I grew up in a community that was a hotbed for that desire, Woodstock, N.Y., in the 1970s and '80s. The dentist followed the Rajneesh, the owner of the video store where I worked had become a Sufi, Bob Dylan had his Christian church there (for his short-lived days as a Christian), and we have one of the preeminent Buddhist temples. When I set out to write my religion for Hulu's The Path, the Meyerist movement, I tried to draw on what I found most beautiful and compelling in the religious movements I had been exposed to as a young person, as well as cull from more mainstream Judeo-Christian tenants. Here's the rub, no matter how unique Meyerism is, when you create a new religion or movement, particularly in Hollywood, some people think of one thing: Scientology. And so the question has come up over and over: "Are you writing about Scientology?" The answer, quite simply, is: no. In fact, my desire to write a new religion came from my own deep personal spiritual crisis, from losing my "religion" as I had known it.

It started with a phone call from my mom, she was in the supermarket when it happened. Thirty-nine years of marriage, and my father turned to her and said, "I'm seeing spots." Three months later he died of cancer, and a year after that my own marriage fell apart. Just like that, everything I had taken to be true — my naïve understanding that life would somehow move along exactly the way I had planned it, was shattered. I stood staring at a broken, open future, with no idea how to proceed, so I decided to do the only thing I knew how, write about it. Write about what it feels like to suddenly wake up and doubt everything you believed in. Write about what it means to lose faith. And I didn't want to do this within the constraints of a religion that already existed; I wanted to write my own.

It was imperative that the Meyerist movement had its own unique bible with very specific mythology and tenants. Still, you will see things that look familiar to other religions. But that's par for the course, because when you break it down, most religions have more than a few things in common. There is usually some ritual to join: baptism, conversion, to become a Scientologist you sign a contract, and to become a Meyerist you take vows. There are systems to deal with sin: confession, atonement, repentance, Meyerists unburden, and then they off-set. There is often a term for those who leave: apostates or suppressive persons. The Meyerists call people who don't believe "ignorant systemites" and those who turn their back on the religion "deniers." And almost always there's an explanation for what happens when you die — there is heaven and hell, there's reincarnation, there is even the possibility of life on other planets. Meyerists believe that after the manmade apocalypse comes, they will be reunited in the garden they are creating together here on Earth.

Once people have seen the show, they don't ask me if it's about Scientology anymore. They're able to see Meyerism as a separate and unique faith. Now, those who know me ask if writing a religion has helped me deal with my own spiritual crisis. That question is harder to answer. But the combination of time, working, friends and family has certainly healed wounds, and restored my faith in the gift of life.

'The Path,' starring Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy and exec produced by Jason Katims, premieres March 30 on Hulu.

comments powered by Disqus