A Brief Examination and Critical Evaluation of the Religion Commonly Known as SCIENTOLOGY

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What is 'Scientology' anyway? The word itself means 'the study of knowledge or truth', Anyone who might discover this particular fact would likely agree that an endeavor to discover knowledge and truth is a positive thing. And while most people would not, perhaps, bother to dig out the root meaning of the word which I have presented here, they would almost surely recognize its similarity to the word 'science'. And in our technologically advanced modern society, that in itself would probably also be seen in a good light. Who, after all, doesn't appreciate science which has provided so many of the advantages and comforts we enjoy? And, thus, if presented with a new and unfamiliar movement possessing the name Scientology, but no other information to go with it, well ... so far, so good.

But, of course, any given entity is more than just the name assigned to it. As the old saying goes, "You can't judge a book only by its cover". So, to repeat the opening question, what is Scientology? Is it a scientific discipline? Is it a self-help methodology? Is it a philosophy? Is it a religion? I think most adherents of the movement would probably agree and affirm that, in many ways, Scientology is really all of the above. Let's first hear from the group itself. In the glossary of one of their publications, What is Scientology? A Guidebook to the World's Fastest Growing Religion, we find that ...

Scientology: comes from the Latin scio, which means "know" and the Greek word logos, meaning "the word or outward form by which the inward thought is expressed and made known." Thus, Scientology means knowing about knowing. Scientology is an applied religious philosophy developed by L. Ron Hubbard. It is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, universes and other life. (p. 566)

That brief definition helps a little but, of course, it does not (and, to be fair, it cannot) bring complete understanding concerning the movement. It is obvious that there are still many details to be uncovered and examined about what is actually believed and about how this 'knowing' is practically achieved. And so the purpose of this study is to dig past the name and below the surface of Scientology to try to discover the truth about where it came from, what it believes, what its practices are, and the practical effects upon a person who is involved with it. And, especially for our purposes, we want to discover what compatibility there is, if any, between the worldview of a Scientologist and that of a Christian.

Why bother studying Scientology?

A natural question which might be raised by the reader here at the beginning of this examination of Scientology addresses the issue of whether this movement is worth the time invested in studying it. Is it all that important? Does it really affect a lot of people? The answer to that last inquiry is somewhat uncertain. As we will see, there is some vagueness about several aspects of Scientology. Among these ambiguities is how many actual people are truly involved in the religion. There is an enormous discrepancy in the numbers the church provides and the numbers outside observers estimate.

For instance, The official website makes the following statement about their numbers and growth:

Since the forming of the first Church of Scientology in 1954, the religion has grown to span the globe. Today, more than 8,500 Scientology Churches, missions, related organizations and affiliated groups minister to millions in 165 countries. And those numbers are constantly growing; in fact, Scientology's presence in the world is growing faster now than at any time in its history. (cited from Scientology.org on March 15, 2011)

The reference to 'millions' is common on their websites and in their publications with the specific number of eight million being cited frequently by the church of Scientology as the actual number of Scientologists around the world. That figure would put Scientology at around thirteenth in the world in terms of total number of members. Critics of the movement believe this number to be highly inflated and includes anyone who has ever had any significant contact with the religion (i.e., attending a course, a lecture, a service) whether they are currently active or not.

A more neutral observer, the website Adherents.com (cited on March 15, 2011), believes a more accurate number is probably around 500,000 people worldwide who, if asked, would identify themselves as a Scientologist. That number places the religion at twenty-second in the world according to the website. It also estimates that, of those 500,000, probably only 100,000 are currently active, with the rest being lapsed, disengaged or only sympathetic. Other estimates go as low as 50,000 total members worldwide.

In 2001, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York conducted its American Religious Identification Survey and concluded that there were around 55,000 American adult Scientologists in the United States. That makes the religion eighth in the USA following Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism, Hinduism, and Native American Spirituality. (cited from Religioustolerance.org on February 23, 2011)

NOTE: Throwing a bit of a monkey wrench into all of these statistics is the fact that Scientology seems to be one of those belief systems that people think can be merged with an existing worldview. In other words, some see no problem with being a Christian Scientologist or a Jewish Scientologist. This obviously comes from a lack of discernment or deep thought about what is being affirmed by each belief system. It is a disconnect or an act of compartmentalization, much like claiming to be a Christian and believing in evolution at the same time.

Star power

This author believes that the lower numbers are probably the more accurate ones. But whatever the actual number of practitioners may be in the world or in the United States, there is little dispute that much, if not most, of the growth of Scientology has occurred in the last ten years or so. This is due in large part to the fact that so many big name celebrities seem to be drawn to Scientology. On the website Adherents.com is a long list of actors, actresses, musicians, etc. who are part of the movement (cited March 15, 2011). Of course, most of us are familiar with some, such as John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston, Tom Cruise and his wife Katie Holmes, Anne Archer, and Kirstie Alley. There are many others connected with Hollywood and entertainment in some way or another.

The relative fame and wealth of a given religion's membership does not in itself validate or invalidate that religion, of course. But there can be no arguing the fact that having such celebrated personalities among its practitioners will give that religion a much bigger influence and impact that it otherwise might have. So even if the real membership numbers might be very small indeed, the publicity afforded by having such high-powered "stars" speaking up for Scientology on television and in interviews certainly ramps up interest in the religion. Some people associate the success of the celebrities with the religion and want to see if it will work for them. Others may just be drawn by the celebrities themselves. Still others may be willing to try anything once and they happened to hear about Scientology while watching or listening to one of these celebrities. Such well-known spokesmen add a "legitimacy factor" that non-celebrities cannot. The religion knows this and plays upon it. It is well attested in its publications and can be seen concretely in its Celebrity Centre buildings around the world.

NOTE: This "legitimacy factor" can also be seen by the fact that sometimes celebrities are called to testify in Congress about things in which they have no real expertise at all. They are there because their fame has added weight to their voices.

So we answer the question of why bother studying Scientology by answering that it has become a cultural phenomenon largely through the influence of those involved in the entertainment industry. It may not be as widespread as the religion itself claims but it is growing and we as Christians should be informed about what it is all about. To begin the examination, we will start with a look at its history.

Next: History