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Note: We have started the process of reorganizing our research resources on Scientology, the Church of Scientology, and its related entities, front groups, and issues. When this project is complete, all Apologetics Index research resources on Scientology can be accessed in this Scientology topic. Until then, most of the resources will still be located here
What is Scientology?*
Marketing itself as a ‘religion’ has enabled the Scientology organization to dismiss criticism of its beliefs, practices and goals as ‘religious discrimination.’
However, in our opinion — and that of cult experts and counselors around the world — the organization is a destructive cult that, among other things, engages in quackery and pseudo-science.
The Scientology organization has a history of taking advantage of vulnerable individuals — often under the guise of its humanitarian outreach efforts.
We encourage anyone interested in Scientology, for whichever reason, to carefully examine the large body of documented research available.
That said, a good way to begin learning about a religion or movement it to allow its adherents and supporters to define it:
In a soft-core Q&Q ‘interview’ published by city blog Gothamist, the “Rev.” John Carmichael — President of the Church of Scientology in New York — briefly explained Scientology as follows:
Scientology is a unique and practical religion, one which contains tools people use to lead better lives, lives of greater self-respect and respect for others, greater happiness and understanding. The name means, “study of wisdom,” or “knowledge in the fullest sense of the word.” So it is about knowing, not believing, and no one is expected to take anything in Scientology on faith.
It’s based on the premise that the individual is an immortal spiritual being, seeking to survive, basically good, and with tremendous potentials not currently realized. Because we believe the individual is basically good, Scientology is based on restoring to the individual his or her own freedom. In freedom the individual also finds responsibility and happiness.
How this is done is the whole subject of Dianetics (the precursor and substudy of Scientology) and Scientology, and is just too much to explain here. In brief, the Church provides: 1) courses in the fundamentals of life and their application, and 2) a kind of one-on-one application called “auditing” (from the Latin, audire, meaning to listen) — it’s not called counseling, because the auditor does not tell you what to think about your problems or their solution. Instead, you find out for yourself what has kept you from solving your own problems — and from knowing your own spiritual nature, as well.
Millions of people around the world have found the applied philosophy of L. Ron Hubbard enormously valuable – from dealing with an inability to study, to coming to their own conclusions about the age-old questions about the universe — so much so, that Scientology and Dianetics now include some 7,500 Churches, missions and groups in 163 countries.
– Source: Rev. John Carmichael, Church of Scientology, interviewed by Jen Carlson, Gothamist, Aug. 14, 2007
The Church of Scientology International (CSI) describes itself as “the mother church of the Scientology religion.” Among its tasks is the training of executives and staff of individual Churches of Scientology. At its officials website it answers the question, “What is Scientology?”
The word Scientology literally means “the study of truth.” It comes from the Latin word “scio” meaning “knowing in the fullest sense of the word” and the Greek word “logos” meaning “study of.”
Scientology is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life. The religion comprises a body of knowledge extending from certain fundamental truths. Prime among these:
Man is an immortal, spiritual being. His experience extends well beyond a single lifetime. His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized — and those capabilities can be realized. He is able to not only solve his own problems, accomplish his goals and gain lasting happiness, but also achieve new, higher states of awareness and ability.
In Scientology no one is asked to accept anything as belief or on faith. That which is true for you is what you have observed to be true. An individual discovers for himself that Scientology works by personally applying its principles and observing or experiencing results.
Through Scientology, people all over the world are achieving the long-sought goal of true spiritual release and freedom.
– Source: What is Scientology? Official website of the Church of Scientology International. Last accessed, Aug. 16, 2007
In a sidebar to an article on the recent restoration of a house briefly used by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, The East Valley Tribune of Phoenix, Arizona, briefly described Scientology — based on Church of Scientology literature:
Founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) and based on his research and book, “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” Humans are immortal spiritual beings, not mere flesh and blood, Scientology believes.Fair Use quotes by L. Ron Hubbard show him to be a quack, a racist, a hate monger, a pill-popper, and a mad man.
It also believes humankind is good, not evil, but experiences have led people to commit evil deeds, which are outside the basic nature of humans. It teaches the soul can be cleared of its negative energy through “processing” or “auditing.” During auditing, a person is instructed to look at one’s existence to improve one’s ability to confront circumstances. Auditors ask a question “until it is totally answered and the person is totally aware that he has answered it.” A person can advance to the degree in which he preserves his spiritual integrity and values and remains honest and decent. Hubbard wrote: “There is hope for man. With Scientology, he can get better, and he can get kinder and more decent and more tolerant of his fellow man and perhaps some of the basic goals of religion of the past can be attained through Scientology.”
Stresses of life can “fixate attention to the point that one’s awareness of self and environment is greatly diminished.” Scientology seeks to “wake the individual up” to become more alert, increase abilities and make one better able to handle life.
Man’s experience extends well beyond a single lifetime, and one’s capabilities are unlimited, even if they are not now realized. Scientology holds that “spiritual salvation depends upon oneself and his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe.”
– Source: Church of Scientology in brief, East Valley Tribune, Phoenix, Arizona, Aug. 11, 2007
So what is Scientology? There is no one book that comprehensively presents and explains what the beliefs the Church of Scientology adheres to. As the Los Angeles Times noted, its theology is scattered among the voluminous writings and tape-recorded discourses of L. Ron Hubbard.
Piece by piece, his teachings are revealed to church members through a progression of sometimes secret courses that take years to complete and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
To us, that is Scientology: the selling of a complex and bizarre set of fantasies produced by a man who had a hard time telling truth from fiction — packaged and marketed by the Church of Scientology.
Scientology according to its critics
The Scientology theory (described as a ‘religion’ by its proponents), is much criticized — as are the corporate entities set up to disseminate Scientology teachings and practices.
Critics have labeled Scientology as everything from a dangerous cult run by amateur psychologists to a scam exploiting money from its members.
“We don’t expect mainstream religions to lie, to exploit people, to engage in illegal activity,” said David Touretzky, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Scientology is not a true religion, because it does all of these things.”
– Source: Scientology: Fact or fiction? Star Tribune, USA, Oct. 22, 2005
More often than not, criticism of Scientology is strongly worded:
The Church of Scientology is a vicious and dangerous cult that masquerades as a religion. Its purpose is to make money. It practices a variety of mind-control techniques on people lured into its midst to gain control over their money and their lives. Its aim is to take from them every penny that they have and can ever borrow and to also enslave them to further its wicked ends.
It was started in the 1950s by a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in fulfilment to his declared aim to start a religion to make money. It is an offshoot to a method of psychotherapy he concocted from various sources which he named “Dianetics”. Dianetics is a form of regression therapy. It was then further expanded to appear more like a religion in order to enjoy tax benefits. He called it “Scientology”.
Scientology is a confused concoction of crackpot, dangerously applied psychotherapy, oversimplified, idiotic and inapplicable rules and ideas and science-fiction drivel that is presented to its members (at the “advanced” levels) as profound spiritual truth.
– Source: What is Scientology? Operation Clambake
Scientology’s critics famously include the country of Germany. The website of the German Embassy, Washington, D.C., long included the following explanation:
The German government considers the Scientology organization a commercial enterprise with a history of taking advantage of vulnerable individuals and an extreme dislike of any criticism. The government is also concerned that the organization’s totalitarian structure and methods may pose a risk to Germany’s democratic society. Several kinds of evidence have influenced this view of Scientology, including the organization’s activities in the United States.
– Source: Understanding the German View of Scientology German Embassy, Washington, D.C. — as archived by the Internet Archive
In an article titled, “Scientology: Religion or Racket?”, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, a professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel concludes:
Scientology’s own documents show an organization which is blatantly commercial, blatantly secular and blatantly predatory, as well as blatantly fraudulent. As Hubbard himself said in 1962, the religion label “is entirely a matter for accountants and solicitors” (Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, HCOPL, 29 October 1962). Scientology will use the religion label when it is convenient, and a secular label when it suits better. It will use the cross (as it has done in publications and displays on buildings) just like it has used Sigmund Freud’s name.
The preponderance of the evidence indicates that the religion claim is merely a tax-evasion ruse and a fig leaf for a hugely profitable enterprise, where the logic of profitability and profit-making dictates all actions. Scientology is in reality a holding company, a business empire earning profits from a variety of subsidiaries. It is guided by considerations of economic consequences and benefits, a strict business strategy.
The assertion that Scientology is a misunderstood religion seems less tenable than the competing assertion, that it is a front for a variety of profit-making schemes, most of which are totally fraudulent. The question is only whether Scientology is “an ordinary profit-making enterprise”, as Passas & Castillo (1992) suggest or whether “Scientology’s purpose is making money by means legitimate and illegitimate” (US District Court, Southern District of New York, 92 Civ. 3024 (PKL) see www.planetkc.com/sloth/sci/decis.time.html ). The most charitable interpretation would be that it is a profit making organization; a less charitable one that it is a criminal organization. The evidence for an explicit policy of deception makes it harder and harder to show any degree of charity.
The story of Hubbard and his brainchild deserves treatment by those who have written on famous impostors and great con men (Maurer, 1940/1999). Similar cases include the phenomenon of “psychic surgeons” in the Philippines, who prey on terminal cancer patients from the West, or the Dominion of Melchizedek (a cyberspace scam, self-described as a “recognized ecclesiastical and constitutional sovereignty, inspired by the Melchizedek Bible”). In the context of United States cultural history, Hubbard seems like a combination of the best-known qualities of Roy Cohn (Von Hoffman, 1988) and Lyndon LaRouche (King, 1990). The similarity between Scientology and the LaRouche organization in terms of ideology and activities seems far from than trivial, but has never been noted.
Some of the scholars claiming that Scientology is some kind of a religion have put their statements to an empirical test. Both Bainbridge & Stark (1981) and Passas & Castillo (1992) did suggest that Scientology would become more religious in the future, just because its claims of efficacy were absurd and unprovable. More than two decades later (for Bainbridge & Stark, 1981) and more than a decade later (for Passas & Castillo, 1992) these predictions have turned out to be totally wrong. Scientology has not become more religious in any discernible way since 1981 or 1992. It is as much a religion today as it has ever been, and as it will ever be.
– Source: Scientology: Religion or racket? Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, University of Haifa, Israel. Marburg Journal of Religion, Volume 8, No. 1 (September 2003)
Scientology’s PR Push
In recent years, the Church of Scientology International has stepped up its PR programs designed to entice people into believing that Scientology is a force for good in society.
It has also introduced a program of so-called ‘Volunteer Ministers’ who show up at trouble spots ranging from Ground Zero in New York to a train crash in England and tsunami-hit countries.
While volunteer work is to be commended, critics rightly not only view their actions as mere photo opportunities for the Church of Scientology, but also are concerned about the use Scientology’s alleged ‘healing’ practices — considered to be medical quackery at best.
Scientology’s rabid hatred of psychiatry also comes into play. In July, 2006, BBC radio 5 did a report on the involvement of Scientology’s “Volunteer Ministers” in the rescue work after the July, 2005, London bombings: Reporter Elodie Harper goes undercover to reveal the tactics used by Scientology followers in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events. She reports:
What you just heard there was Paul Fletcher telling us that he and other Scientologists were keeping the psychs away when they went to help trauma victims amongst all the chaos of the day. And Stefania jokingly refers to it as a type of spiritual security needed to save people from the threat of receiving psychological counseling.
– Source: Five Live Report, July 2, 2006
As part of the Church of Scientology’s efforts to create greater acceptance for Scientology is has developed what it claims to be ‘secular’ programs that use and/or promote ideas developed by L. Ron Hubbard. In recent years these programs have made inroads into schools, government departments and even
The Scientology programs being established in other faiths are under the umbrella of the Association for Better Living and Education, a nonprofit established in 1988 to oversee various outreach efforts connected with the Church of Scientology. ABLE has four main programs: the anti-drug Narconon; the criminal rehabilitation program Criminon; the morality code of The Way to Happiness; and the literacy and educational efforts of Applied Scholastics.
ABLE considers all of its programs secular and the non-Scientology champions of them say they are no affront to their faith.
– Source: Scientologists find unlikely allies in other faiths, AP, via the Florida Times-Union, USA, Aug. 8, 2007
Fortunately, Scientology’s PR push does not always work:
State Superintendent Jack O’Connell urged all California schools on Tuesday to drop the Narconon antidrug education program after a new state evaluation concluded that its curriculum offers inaccurate and unscientific information.
“We’ll get a letter out to every school district today, saying this program is filled with inaccuracies and does not reflect widespread medical and factual evidence,” O’Connell said of Narconon Drug Prevention & Education, a free program with ties to the Church of Scientology.
O’Connell requested the independent evaluation in July after The Chronicle reported in June that Narconon introduced students to some beliefs and methods of Scientology without their knowledge.
– Source: Schools urged to drop antidrug program, The San Francisco Chronicle, USA, Feb. 23, 2005
Scientology has generated much news in recent years — in large part due to the antics of top-scientologist Tom Cruise and other celebrity Scientologists. Yet, its claim of being the world’s fastest growing religion is still considered ludicrous.
Nevertheless, Scientology’s continued exposure in the media — along with the inroads made by Scientology-related programs — means there is a continuing and perhaps growing need for good research resources on the movement’s claims and practices.
Nevertheless, Scientology is coming apart at the seams
Chris Shelton, seen in the video below, says:
The public image and public relations of the Church of Scientology has never been at such a low point as it is now. There are reasons for this and in this video I break down what some of those reasons are. Scientology is literally collapsing right before our eyes and its leader, David Miscavige, is not dealing with this in any kind of effective or reasonable manner.
Scientology: Is it a Church or a Cult?
Tony Ortega is a journalist who among other things runs The Underground Bunker — a daily blog on Scientology.
In this video clip he explains why he does not refer to the Church of Scientology as a cult:
Research Resources on Scientology
As mentioned at the top of this page, we have started the process of reorganizing our research resources on Scientology, the Church of Scientology, and its related entities, front groups, and issues. When this project is complete, all Apologetics Index research resources on Scientology can be accessed in this Scientology topic. Until then, most of the resources will still be located here
* This page, this section, and indeed this entire website, is not affiliated with the Church of Scientology or any of its related entities and/or representatives. Terms and quotes are used in accordance with “Fair Use” principles described in Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.