by Kelly R. Smith
Scientology was the brainchild of the charismatic leader and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard started in 1952. It has been classified as a religion by the United States and the United Kingdom governments for tax purposes. However, Germany calls it an “anti-constitutional sect” and France has labeled it a “dangerous cult” as have many parts of the United States. A looser definition that is sometimes used is a New Religious Movement (NRM), defined as a religious, ethical, or spiritual group or community with relatively modern origins. But is Scientology a cult or a true religion? Where is the dividing line? Does it fall somewhere in the middle, a secret society like the Illuminati?
What Is a Cult?
A sociologist will tell you that a cult is a small group of individuals without a distinctive authority structure, usually led by a charismatic leader or a small group of leaders, and who derive their cause and ideology from outside of, and counter to, the more broadly-accepted religious and social culture. However, in layman’s terms, a cult is a manipulating and authoritarian organization that likely uses mind control to recruit members, keep them in line, and poses a threat to mental health to the flock.
The term “cult” has been used broadly to refer to groups such as Scientologists, Obama’s shadow government, Satanists, Mormons, Druids, The Peoples Church, the KKK, the Manson Family, Antifa, Pagans, Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, Trekkies, and Pokemon Go players. The term is broad enough to include both dangerous types and mere enthusiasts.
Cults and New Religious Movements
One problem with the term “cult” is that it has such a negative, and to some people, dangerous and frightening connotations. This is why sociologists have dropped the term and now refer to non-traditional religious sects such as Scientology New Religious Movements (NRMs).
Scientology does not exhibit some of the most common characteristics of a truly dangerous cult. In particular, the presence of a beloved, still-living founder; a relatively small and easily controlled number of followers; and a disturbing history of murders or suicides at the command of the leader. However, there is disturbing concern over the amount of control the church possesses, and its constant legal trouble can be seen as a red flag.
Scientology and Characteristics of Dangerous Cults
- Ruled by One Charismatic leader. Scientology was created by one charismatic man, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. His originally intended it to be a branch of science, but that didn’t catch on so he switched his focus to a religious movement. He died in 1986, and the current head of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige took over. He maintains all the power and control over the money. He has a reputation as being abusive and tyrannical often losing his temper and physically attacking members of his staff.
- Complete Control Over Church Members. One of the ways it does this is the policy of disconnection. But what is it? Mike Rinder says in his blog1, “There IS policy of the church of scientology that REQUIRES someone to disconnect from anyone declared by HCO as a Suppressive Person. HCOB 10 September 83 PTSNess and Disconnection states the following: ‘To fail or refuse to disconnect from a suppressive person not only denies the PTS (person connected to a Suppressive Person) case gain, it is also supportive of the suppressive – in itself a Suppressive Act. And it must be so labeled.‘” In a nutshell, if the Church finds disapproval with a person, the Church member must disconnect association, be it a family member, coworker, or other.
- The Commission of Felonies. Many legal accusations have been directed at the Church over the years, and many have resulted in felony convictions, for example, in connection with Operation Snow White, which included theft of government documents. Through The Looking Glass says2, “Operation Snow White was a criminal conspiracy by the Church of Scientology during the 1970s to purge unfavorable records about Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. This project included a series of infiltrations into and thefts from 136 government agencies, foreign embassies and consulates, as well as private organizations critical of Scientology, carried out by Church members in more than 30 countries.” The most common accusations are fraud, extortion, and harassment, although other accusations such as kidnapping and negligent homicide have also been leveled.
- Communal Living. Many Church members live in special Church-owned facilities (presumably for more control). There are groups in Scientology (notably Sea Org) that often have semi-communal arrangements in which families may be kept separated. Former employees have reported that they worked long hours, were paid very little, and were actively discouraged from having families.
- Punishment for Defection or Criticism. According to Learn Religions3, “Defection and criticism can lead to one being labeled a suppressive person from whom other members should disconnect. SPs can become targets of harassment through the church’s ‘fair game’ doctrine. Established by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, the ‘fair game’ doctrine states that anyone identified as an opponent may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. Scientology has sued several of its former members; defectors are shunned or ‘disconnected.’ According to the church and former members, leaving is a lengthy process that can take months. The church requires that the leaving members pay ‘freeloader’ bills—former members report bills of tens of thousands of dollars—and sign affidavits which are drawn up by the officials.”
- Large Donations are a Way of Life. As soon as they join, members are required to pay large donations for their coursework. This money must be paid up front, not-pay-as-you-go. Next, members are highly-encouraged to use these services since they are a fundamental way of achieving the goals of Scientology. Then there are ongoing requests for still more donations for projects and new buildings.
So, is Scientology a cult or a religion? Given how broad the definitions are, there is a lot of gray area. We do know that they don’t believe in Jesus or any other earthly prophet. Instead, they believe in the Overlord Xenu who headed the Galactic Federation, which was an organization of 76 planets. They do believe in reincarnation (hence, the billion-year contract they sign).
- Mike Rinder, Scientology Disconnection, https://www.mikerindersblog.org/scientology-disconnection/
- The Infomaniac, Through The Looking Glass, OPERATION SNOW WHITE: How Scientology Was Behind the Largest Infiltration of the US Government, https://throughthelookingglassnews.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/operation-snow-white-how-scientology-was-behind-the-largest-infiltration-of-the-us-government-in-history-besides-israel-with-5000-under-cover-agents/
- Catherine Beyer, Learn Religions, Is Scientology a Cult?, https://www.learnreligions.com/is-scientology-cult-95820
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About the Author:
Kelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.