If you look up Scientology in media reports, books or on the internet, you are going to find it described in a lot of places as a cult. I’m sure most Scientologists find this term offensive, but the truth is that they probably don’t understand what it actually means. So I thought I would make an effort to clear this up and answer the question of “Is Scientology Actually a Cult?”
For many, the word “cult” has bad connotations, bringing to mind a dark, close-minded, secretive bunch who maybe even gather in the light of the full moon for strange rituals involving chicken blood and chanting incantations to Horus or Beelzebub.
Now those groups may be cults, but what I’m talking about is quite a bit less obvious than that. I was involved with Scientology for almost three decades so I have more than a passing knowledge of this particular group. And I don’t think anyone was more surprised than me to find out that I had been a member of a cult all that time.
Is it really fair to classify Scientology within the same category as James Jones’ People’s Temple or the The Moonies? Well, in a word, yes. Now stay with me a little longer and let me explain why.
What is a Cult Anyway?
When I was a Scientologist, my answer to the question “Is Scientology a cult?” was always “Yeah, and so is the Catholic Church and any other religious group or denomination.
Look it up in the dictionary and you’ll see.” While that may have sounded intelligent to those I was talking to at the time, it was not really an accurate statement.
I’ve done a lot more study on this since I left Scientology and I have some things to say on this subject now that I dare say are a bit more intelligent, or at least more informed.
The word cult goes back to the Latin term cultus which referred to the care owed to the gods and their temples and churches. It goes back to an earlier Latin word colere which meant to take care of, as in cultivating land or practicing agriculture.
The word “cult” came into English in 1617 through the French word culte which meant worship.
By the 19th century, it started to take on the idea of “excessive devotion” and by the late 1930s was being used by Christian groups to describe Satanic societies and heretical activities.
Now any group or any culture has things about it that define its members as different from other groups or cultures. That’s as it should be. Humanity revels in its differences across the planet and there’s nothing wrong with that. We should celebrate our differences in dress, food, thought and even ideas of worship.
One of the biggest problems with a cult is that it takes those inherent differences to a whole new level. It takes the natural diversity of life and vilifies anyone who doesn’t come to agree with the way the cult leaders say things should be.
There are a lot of different groups out there with a lot of different beliefs. All of them claim to have a monopoly on the truth. But to determine if a group is a cult or not, you have to look at what they do, not what they believe.
Let’s look at 5 specific characteristics of cults and where Scientology fits into these. Just to be clear, there are many other characteristics we could examine, but these will make the point:
1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader (whether alive or dead) and treats its belief system and practices as absolute Truth. Questioning, doubt or dissent are discouraged or even punished.
One of the first things any visitor to a church of Scientology will notice is the many photographs of L. Ron Hubbard throughout the building. Almost every room is decorated with some portrait of him, something Hubbard insisted be done in his policies.
He’s been dead for over 20 years yet every Church also keeps an office for him, complete with desk and books and stocked up with supplies so that if Hubbard were to miraculously walk in, he could get right to work. I don’t know of any other organization or Church that does this.
L. Ron Hubbard referred to himself as Source, and made it clear that he alone was the single source of all of Scientology’s teachings. Any issues or writings on Scientology which were not written by him have since either been destroyed or they were changed to put his name on the signatory even though someone else actually wrote it. This actually happened with far more issues than most Scientologists think, but unless you have a long memory or access to those earlier works, you wouldn’t know this now.
The most important policy in all of Scientology is titled Keeping Scientology Working.
In it, Hubbard states in no uncertain terms how Scientology is the most important discovery in all of history and that quite literally every single person’s life depends on becoming a Scientologist. He also asserts that any disagreements anyone may feel about Scientology come strictly out of their mental aberrations.
Scientologists are forced to accept all of this as Truth.
While studying Scientology or receiving its counselling methods, if Hubbard is questioned in any way, the standard response is to ask “What do your materials state?” and continue to go over and over what Hubbard said until the person agrees that whatever Hubbard was talking about is true, whether they really agree with it or not. Some Scientologists get very good at convincing themselves that they truly understand materials which actually don’t make any sense at all, just because Hubbard wrote it.
Hubbard’s mantle of infallibility has now passed to David Miscavige, the current leader of Scientology.
He has overseen massive revisions and changes to Hubbard’s works over the past 30 years, all of it under the guise of “making it the way Ron intended.”
No one in Scientology dares to question Miscavige, unless they want to get into a great deal of trouble and potentially get kicked out of the church altogether. Back in 1993, when I was a staff member at the Santa Barbara branch of the Church, I sent a written query to one of Miscavige’s orders. The response came within two days: two Sea Org members from the Religious Technology Center showed up in Santa Barbara to interrogate me on an E-meter to find out why I would dare to presume to question an order from Miscavige. I quickly learned to toe the line and not ask any more such questions.
And just so you see how far this unquestioning commitment has gone, the very first thing Tom Cruise did when he received the highest award in Scientology – the Freedom Medal of Valor – was to praise David Miscavige in terms that defy all reason. I think this proves the point beyond anything else I could say.
2. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leadership and members.
Throughout his writings, Hubbard comments repeatedly as to the special and superior nature of anyone who is in Scientology. After being indoctrinated in Hubbard’s writings, Scientologists come to believe that to be a fact. They begin to think of themselves as being more ethical, more intelligent and, in a word, more righteous, than anyone else. For example, in that policy I mentioned earlier, Keeping Scientology Working, Hubbard wrote:
“For that matter, look how we ourselves are attacked by ‘public opinion’ media. Yet there is no more ethical group on this planet than ourselves.”
When writing about Scientology counsellors, called auditors, Hubbard said “It is my opinion and knowledge that auditors are amongst the upper tenth of the upper twentieth of intelligent human beings. Their will to do, their motives, their ability to grasp and to use are superior to that of any other profession.” He later said,”Scientologists are the best people on each of the five continents and that’s all there is to it.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with giving any group’s members a pep talk or making them feel good for being part of one’s group. But to say that Scientologists are in the “upper tenth of the upper twentieth of intelligent human beings” is a bit much.
Especially if Scientologists are compared to people who have made real forward strides and substantial gains for all of mankind in the time since Scientology has been around.
3. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
Because Scientologists are told and believe that they are unique and are better than other human beings because of the special spiritual states they supposedly attain, it’s very easy for them to artificially create differences between themselves and the rest of the world, where no such actual differences exist.
The spiritual states that Scientology offers are wholly subjective with no real proof ever having been offered that these “higher states” even exist, much less that they create more powerful, more able or more “causative” human beings.
But that doesn’t stop Scientologists, even those who haven’t even been put through these advanced spiritual procedures, from thinking that they are superior to non-Scientologists. Hubbard even coined terms for non-Scientologists, calling them “wogs” or “raw meat.”
This us vs them mentality goes so far as to bring about the separation of families and friends, when those who are not Scientologists express concern or distress over what the Scientologist is involved in. Rather than engage in rational discourse free from any agenda, Scientologists instead are made to do carefully orchestrated PR “handlings” on their relatives, friends or associates. If this doesn’t work, then the Scientologist must permanently separate, otherwise they won’t be allowed to do Scientology anymore. This is called “disconnection”.
There is no such thing as religious tolerance or “live and let live” in Scientology. If you don’t agree that Scientology is the best thing that ever happened, you quickly will find Scientologists very reluctant to have anything to do with you.
4. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.
There is a lot that can be said about this point, enough to fill a book actually. Once someone is involved deeply enough with Scientology, he or she will find themselves justifying all sorts of behavior they never would have considered acceptable when they first got involved.
To pay for their next Scientology services, or just to donate to the “future good” of Scientology, members have cashed in their children’s trust funds or retirement accounts, taken out double or triple mortgages on their homes, or taken on more and more burdensome debt to the point of having to declare bankruptcy. This happens far more often than you might think. And that’s actually the least of the morally reprehensible things that Scientology pushes its members to do.
Scientology plays fast and loose with the concept of truth, especially when it comes to public relations. For instance, Hubbard wrote about the concept of an “acceptable truth”.
“Handling truth is a touchy business also. You don’t have to tell everything you know…. Tell an acceptable truth. Agreement with one’s message is what PR is seeking to achieve…. So PR becomes the technique of communicating an acceptable truth – and which will attain the desirable result.” (HCO PL 13 Aug 70 II, THE MISSING INGREDIENT)
It’s all about communicating whatever will create the effect they are trying to achieve. If that means not telling the whole story, leaving out important bits or, through inference or deception, creating an impression that is just not true – it’s all good. This is a common tactic when they are trying to avoid difficult topics like how families are broken up with disconnection or where all the money they collect actually goes or how they can claim to have millions of members worldwide yet have empty church buildings all around the world. These are questions most Scientologists can’t answer. When they are caught flat-footed, they are indoctrinated into always putting a happy face on things rather than even imply that something might be seriously wrong with Scientology.
But their “end justifies the means” mentality goes far beyond just telling some fibs. It’s a well-documented fact that core members of Scientology, both Sea Org, staff and even certain public, engage in what the Church calls Fair Game activities.
In a nutshell, this is where Church members execute Hubbard’s directions to “ruin utterly” anyone who they perceive is an enemy of the Church. The lengths that the old Guardian’s Office and now the Office of Special Affairs have been known to go to carry out Hubbard’s directions have almost no limits.
Right now the Church is fighting in court to defend its supposed right to harass and stalk its critics and ex-members, but these activities are actually amongst some of the more tame examples of what Scientology is willing to do to someone when it decides that person is an enemy of the Church.
I’ve talked about this subject before but I’ve really toned it down. The fact is that they don’t just hire private investigators to follow people around. They have successfully gotten people fired from their jobs, infiltrated people’s personal and business lives in order to break up relationships and business partnerships, engaged in breaking and entering and committed cybercrimes like hacking into people’s computers, email accounts, etc. This is in addition to purposefully and with malice aforethought, tearing apart families, friendships and businesses in order to keep Scientologists from learning the truth about what Scientology is up to.
They will go to any length they feel is necessary to find whatever they want to know about their perceived enemies so that they can then use that information against them or disrupt their lives permanently. Another kind of Fair Game activity is taking ex-Scientologists and critics to court, not for any real purpose other than to harass the person into stopping whatever the Church disagrees with.
Hubbard’s policy bluntly states “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway…will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.” (Ability Magazine 1, THE SCIENTOLOGIST – A MANUAL ON THE DISSEMINATION OF MATERIAL)
Now to be clear, not all Scientologists engage in this Fair Gaming to such an extent. Many of them don’t even know this kind of thing goes on. They get hints about it or read something that maybe indicates that this kind of behavior is okay with the Church and they turn a blind eye to it. They need to take these blinders off.
They do these things without remorse, feeling entirely justified in their criminal behavior because they think they are “saving the world.”
When someone first signs up for Scientology, they never imagine that they will get involved in any of these kinds of activities – financial mismanagement, deception and even breaking the law. It’s done gradually, step by step,
kind of like Walter White in Breaking Bad, each decision gradually worse and worse until they find themselves in circumstances where they feel they have no other choice.
5. The group is preoccupied with making money.
Anyone who has ever been involved with Scientology knows that despite any hype or PR about how you can do Scientology for little to no money, the truth is that Scientology courses and counseling cost money. And to get all the way to the top, we are talking about a lot of money.
The Church’s website states “In the Church of Scientology, parishioners make donations for auditing or training they wish to receive. These contributions are the primary source of financial support for the Church and fund all Church-sponsored religious and social betterment activities. Scientologists are not required to tithe or make other donations.”
As any Scientologist knows, these statements are not true. Yes, Scientologists do donate for the courses and counselling, but a tremendous amount of church income comes from a different kind of donation. We’ll call these straight donations, made by parishioners who are talked into giving the money for no exchange of any kind. In other words, they aren’t buying anything for their money.
These are donations made to either the International Association of Scientologists Religious Trust or to building fundraising. The church is making literally millions and millions of dollars on these kinds of donations and there is no accountability or transparency of any kind on this. The fact is that Church parishioners have absolutely no idea where those straight donations go or how much is spent on what. They simply trust the Church leaders to wisely invest in whatever will forward or enhance Scientology.
Given the fact that the only thing the church really has to show for itself these days are big empty church buildings, it doesn’t seem like all of these hundreds of millions of dollars in straight donations are actually being spent on anything.
There are certainly no broad dissemination or promotional campaigns being carried out, as the church has a negative PR value in the media and its very name is used as a punchline by talk show comedians.
There’s no tangible evidence of the Church carrying out any of its stated purposes to rid society of drugs, illiteracy, crime or insanity. Every claim ever made by the church on this cannot be substantiated by any other media source and fact checking routinely shows that what the church says they are doing, is not in fact what they did.
But that doesn’t stop Church management or the International Association of Scientology fundraisers from continuing to push its parishioners hard for more and more of their hard-earned money, no matter what the cost to the church members personally.
Let’s Put this in Perspective
Scientology is a system of belief that enforces mental and spiritual control under the guise of giving its members “total spiritual freedom.”
If you are in Scientology, I want you to honestly look at the points I’ve covered here. Look at where you are now compared to what your life was like before Scientology. Now let me ask you some questions about your freedoms.
Are you really free to think for yourself? If you don’t agree with L. Ron Hubbard or David Miscavige about something, do you feel safe in talking about your disagreements openly or would there be bad consequences if you spoke up?
Are you free to ask where the money you donate is actually going? Do you have any idea what it’s really being spent on? Could you get an accounting of it if you asked for one?
Are you free to look at anything you want to on the internet?
Are you free to read anything you want about Scientology itself, even materials not written by L. Ron Hubbard?
Are you free to talk to anyone you want, regardless of what they think about Scientology?
Do you freely tell anyone and everyone that you are a Scientologist, or are there some circumstances where you feel it’s just better to not bring it up? Why do you think that is?
And finally, are you really better off spiritually? Financially? Physically?
In the end, there really is no question about it. Scientology is a cult. And for your own health and sanity, you should stay as far away from it as possible.
Thank you for watching.