The Church of Scientology is one of the most controversial and high profile new religious movement, more commonly called a cult. Although the Church of Scientology itself strongly objects to being called a cult, an abundance of evidence from former members has led to damning exposures into how the organization works, functions, and entraps its members. The Church of Scientology is much more famous than other cults because of its high-profile celebrity members, most notably Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Isaac Hayes. The Church of Scientology is one of the perfect examples of how difficult it can be to differentiate at all between a religion and a cult, given that so many world religions also have outlandish beliefs and engage in social control or mind control to a degree. Yet a closer examination of the Church of Scientology does reveal that the organization much more resembles a cult than a traditional religion.
One reason why Scientology can be classified as a cult is that it is relatively secretive. All religions have degrees of secrecy and secret knowledge available to elite members and not to the general public, but Scientology takes secretiveness a step further. Interestingly, the Scientology website does nothing to refute the accusations of secrecy even though it expressly claims that it is a religion and not a cult. According to Olson, scholars have had a difficult time understanding or contextualizing Scientology because so little is known about the organization’s structure or governance. “There is very little hard evidence” about Scientology given that many of their most important documents and doctrines are shrouded behind paywalls of secrecy.
In fact, another reason why the Church of Scientology is more a cult than a religion is that there are membership fees that increase the deeper one becomes involved in the organization. The Scientology organization will not disclose how much members need to pay once they get past the initial stages of membership, but given the massive investments the organization has made into commercial properties around the world, the dues must be high. Moreover, the Church of Scientology has spent millions on lawyers, given all of its potential fraud and ethical violations that have brought lawsuits against it (Gilbert). At times, The Church of Scientology is the plaintiff in lawsuits, filing slander and similar suits against media behemoths like Time and The Washington Post, as well as former members (Gilbert). The Church of Scientology has been notorious for using their tax-exempt status as an organized religion to conduct business activities. In fact, many countries around the world have not offered Scientology the same consideration as the United States government and the IRS. Belgium is one of the countries that most famously rejects Scientology’s claim to being an authentic religious faith. In response, Scientology slyly slanders Flanders by stating, “Belgium labeled Hasidic Jews and even the YWCA as “cults.” (Church of Scientology).
The Church of Scientology is heavily invested and operates like a business. According to Thangavelu, “the church has a money-making business model,” (1). However, the organization also receives funding from wealthy members including celebrities. Thangavelu, writing for Investopedia, claims that The Church of Scientology brings in $200 million in annual revenues, of which $75 million comes from the membership dues. The church of Scientology also cuts down on labor costs by relying on unpaid volunteers for many church operations (Thangavelu 1). The Church of Scientology also has an offshoot organization called the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises, or WISE. WISE is the business side of the Church of Scientology,...
Essentially, the Church could be laundering money from WISE into the Church to continue enjoying such fiscal rewards. By some estimates, the Church of Scientology is worth $1.75 billion as a business. The main sources of this valuation are the church’s numerous real estate holdings in high-priced and central urban locations in places like London and New York (Thangavelu 1).
Scientology’s wealth, status, and power also reinforce its allure, attracting increasing numbers of wealthy and powerful members. According to Olson, “the Church of Scientology is making strategic rhetorical choices in order to manipulate the spiritually vulnerable into joining their organization,” (1). Those rhetorical choices have to do with presenting and positioning the Church of Scientology as the kind of place that teaches people how to be wealthy and powerful. By showcasing its celebrity members, the Church of Scientology essentially enjoys endorsements that enhance its credibility. All business organizations use celebrity endorsements, but few religions can be said to use celebrities as a marketing tactic.
One of the premier functions of a cult is control. Religions use social and mental control to a great degree, at times more obvious than others. The Catholic Church and Protestant Christian branches have used tactics like fear to manipulate the public and have also used the tactics of colonialism and oppression as weapons for political, economic, and social dominion. Islam and other world religions are also guilty of these types of ethical breaches of power. Scientology, however, manipulates its members to a degree that no mainstream religion can be reasonably said to do. One way the Church of Scientology manipulates members is by dictating who they can and cannot marry. As Orth points out, the Church of Scientology selects mating partners for members, a policy that directly and adversely impacted Tom Cruise’s relationships with Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, and, now, Katie Holmes (1). Even with this information out in the open, the Church of Scientology claims that it does not a cult. On its website, the Church of Scientology states that the organization “maintains every individual should think for themselves...Scientology is not authoritarian, but instead offers a technology one can use and then decide whether it works for them,” (1). Based on the stories shared by former members—and the loved ones of current and former members—nothing could be farther from the truth. The television show South Park also repeatedly reminds viewers that the Church of Scientology brainwashed Isaac Hayes, leading to a falling out between him and the show’s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Even former leaders of the organization like Mike Rinder have came out strongly against the Church of Scientology for promoting a “culture of violence and abuse,” (Gilbert 1). Marty Rathbun, who actually helped the Church of Scientology win its tax-exempt status in the United States, is now an outspoken critic of the organization (Gilbert 1). Scientology cannot earnestly deny its cult status.
The Church of Scientology does not just manipulate the minds of its members, but of the public and the media. Gilbert points out that the Church of Scientology “has long been known for its efforts to manipulate information about it in the public sphere,” (1). Being manipulative is one of the main reasons why the Church of Scientology is classified as a cult. The Church of Scientology has lied about the number of attendants at its own services, a tool that was cleverly adopted by Donald Trump (Gilbert 1). Maintaining their own media and public relations outpost, the Church of Scientology can cleverly craft whatever messages it wants to send. Thus, if it wants to appear more popular than it actually is, the organization can leak these types of stories and fake information to the mainstream media. The mainstream media no longer takes the Church of Scientology seriously, which is why the organization cultivates a hostile relationship with…
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Auditing helps the practitioner remove the "implants" that prevent one from being happy and fulfilled. In accordance with its systematic maps of human consciousness, the Church of Scientology and its social organization are hierarchical and rigid. Members pass through stages of development during which they improve their self-awareness and overall intelligence. Human progress and personal growth is described as a series of dynamic impulses. When Hubbard first codified his beliefs
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