Many controversies have arisen regarding Scientology, which was started in 1952 and declared itself a religion in 1953 when it was incorporated as the Church of Scientology. Scientology can be identified as being both a cult and a complex pyramid scheme in which people are coerced or convince to donate money in order to attain spiritual salvation. Scientology has encountered several legal, ethical, and moral dilemmas during its brief history and demonstrates many characteristics that allow for the "religion" to be classified as a cult.
The definition of a cult depends on the perspective that is being taken. For the purpose of this report, a universal definition, as opposed to a secular or Christian definition will be applied to Scientology. The universal definition of a cult contends that a cult is "any group which has a pyramid type authoritarian leadership structure with all teaching and guidance coming from the person/persons at top. The group will claim to be the only way to [spiritual salvation] and will use thought reform or mind control techniques to gain control and keep their members" (Groenveld). Furthermore, it is important to remember that a group is identified or classified as being a cult not because of their doctrines, but because of the manner in which they behave.
Scientologic doctrines, despite the manner in which they are achieved, do have spiritual influences. For example, Scientologists believe that "the nature of the Supreme Being," whether it is God or gods, "is revealed personally through each individual as s/he becomes more conscious and spiritually aware" ("What Scientologists Believe"). Scientologists also contend that "all humans are immortal spiritual beings (thetans) capable of realizing a nearly godlike state through" the religions practices and beliefs ("What Scientologists Believe"). This contention, and several others, vaguely echoes the beliefs of Buddhism/Hinduism. Moreover, Scientology believes in reincarnation and declares that "rebirths continue until one consciously confronts all pre-birth, current-life, and previous-life traumas and realizes one's true nature as a "thetan," immortal spirit -- transcending matter, energy, space, and time" ("What Scientologists Believe"). Scientologists also believe that everything in existence is a manifestation of the (undefined_ universal spirit and that nothing else aside from this universal spirit exists. One of the last Scientologic tenets that resemble those of other organized religions is the manner in which salvation is attained. Scientologists believe that "salvation is achieved through the practices and techniques of Scientology, the ultimate goal of which is to realize one's true nature as an immortal spirit, a thetan" ("What Scientologists Believe").
Despite some tenets that make Scientology appear as though it may be a religion, or a self-affirming organization, the manner in which salvation is reached begins to resemble a complex pyramid scheme and further enforces the notion that Scientology is a cult. Methods that are employed by cults to maintain control of their followers include the belief that they are the only true church, the use of intimidation or "psychological manipulation" to retain member loyalty, expecting members to give "substantial financial support to the group," an attempt to be in complete control in "almost all aspects" of their members' lives, and expecting the members of the group to demonstrate their loyalty to the group (Groenveld).
While Scientology holds that salvation is achieved by following the group's doctrines, the manner in which salvation is attained is quite complex. Scientologists believe that in order to attain salvation they must gradually increase their mental awareness; states of mental awareness include pre-clear, clear, and Operating Thetan ("What Scientologists Believe"). The status of "Operating Thetan" appears to have supernatural or extraterrestrial connotations as Scientology defines an "Operating Thetan" as "a spirit who can control matter, energy, space, time, thought, and life" ("What Scientologists Believe"). However, in order to reach a higher level of mental awareness, and eventually gain the knowledge to become an "Operating Thetan," the Church must evaluate the preparedness of the individual. In order to aid members in their quest to become "Operating Thetans," auditors are employed to assist members along their spiritual journeys. Auditors play the roles of ministers and counselors and assist other members to "identify their pre-birth, current, and past-life disturbances, which are obstacles to happiness and spiritual enlightenment" ("What Scientologists Believe"). However, what is not clearly stated is the fact that these audits are not free and in fact cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Initial auditing fees can range from $15 and grow to be thousands of dollars as higher spiritual levels are reached and cleared. Furthermore, Scientology trains its followers to audit others, thereby bringing the organization more money (Cooper). Additionally, members are expected to purchase other "auditing materials" such as books written by L. Ron Hubbard and attend lectures and speeches given by "top" Scientologists (Cooper). It is estimated the cost of auditing from pre-clearance to a level 9 Operating Thetan can reach an excess of $380,000 (Operation Clambake).
In addition to receiving funds from selling auditing services, and receiving monetary donations from its various members, Scientology has been known to resort to participating and running front groups and financial scams. For example, Scientology was involved in consulting through the Sterling Management Systems, formed in 1983, targeted health professionals such as dentists, chiropractors, podiatrists, and veterinarians, offering them courses and seminars, at a cost, that Sterling claimed could help these health professionals increase their revenues (Behar). Other forays into health related fields include a chain of clinics run by Scientologists, HealthMed, that "promotes a grueling and excessive system of saunas, exercise and vitamins designed by Hubbard to purify the body" (Behar). Furthermore, Hubbard's purification treatments are the mainstay of Narconon, a Scientology-run chain of 33 alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers -- some in prisons under the name "Criminon" -- in 12 countries" (Behar).
While the Church of Scientology has found itself embroiled in several lawsuits throughout the years, including fighting and winning the right to be considered a non-profit organization, they will do almost anything in their power to fight anyone that opposes the church. More than twenty years ago, in 1991, the church was actively involved in at least 71 lawsuits against the IRS alone; attorney Michael Flynn, who aided Scientology victims in the late 1970s to late 1980s was targeted by the church and hit with "14 frivolous lawsuits," while attorney Joseph Yanny was the target of "death threats, burglaries, lawsuits and other harassment" after he left the church (Behar).
Scientology also employs techniques that allow the church to control its members. It is believed that many people that are drawn into cults like Scientology are victims of "seduction syndrome" and are in trying to figure out who they are as an individual or spiritually (Wakefield). Brainwashing can be, according to Willa Appel, broken down into a three-stage conversion process. In the first stage of the conversion process, the "recruit is isolated from his past life" (Wakefield). In Scientology, new members are separated from their previous lives as they begin to undergo the auditing process, which may take up a majority of their time and money, and are expected to devote as much time as possible to the church. The second phase of "conversion" requires that the recruit surrender his or her former life. Scientology is able to accomplish this through their auditing, which will allegedly help the individual figure out who they are spiritually. Scientology is also able to accomplish the second phase through the "ethics" process in which the individual is required to record every "wrong deed, real or imagined, committed in this and in previous lifetime;" these past-life deeds are "discovered" during the auditing processes (Wakefield). The third and final phase requires that "the convert assumes a new identity and a new world view" (Wakefield). Scientology is able to accomplish this by requiring its new recruits to…