Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is Scientology A Cult?

I had an interesting comment from Lawtears which I would have published if it hadn't linked to his profile and his anti-Scientology blog. (See my rules about what I publish).

What he said was this: At the anonymous demos, there's guys there that will say scientology is a cult because X,Y,Z happened. What I'd love to know is what your X,Y,Z is, that makes scientology NOT a cult. What are these 3 things (or give me more or less) that make you sure that, yes, scientology is the way for humanity and not a cult?

First of all let me say that Scientology is the way for people who want it. Religion is not something you can force on people. It's been tried in the past and it has brought only misery and suffering. Just look at the last 2,000 years of history alone for many horrible demonstrations of that.

Now we come to the "C" word, "Cult". If we are going to discuss that word then we should define it so we know what we are talking about. Until not very long ago, the mid-1970's in fact, the word "cult" meant: 1. Attentive care; homage; worship. and 2. A system of religious belief and worship. (See Webster's 1913 dictionary: Cult.) In the late 1970s the word was changed to have a sinister meaning. I recommend you read this article on how that happened, it is extremely enlightening: The Lies Behind Bigotry (Chapter 1).

After its redefinition, the word "cult" didn't have a clear cut definition but it had very clear cut connotations. A "cult" was a bad thing, a nasty thing, an evil and destructive thing. It was something to run away from screaming. You may think I'm being funny, but actually those are the concepts that have become associated with the word.

So for the purposes of this discussion let's use the definition given by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: Cult (you'll have to scroll down to almost the bottom of the page to find it).
The definition I'll use for this discussion is the one they say is used by the "anti-cult movement", which is: a small, evil religious group, often with a single charismatic leader, who engage in deceptive recruiting, brainwashing and other mind control techniques

So let's break that down.
small - Scientology is not small. The number of Scientologists around the world is a disputed figure, the Church estimates it at 10 million , anti-Scientology elements say it is much less. However, if you take a look at two things: a) the number of Scientology Churches, Missions and Groups (7,500) and b) the amount of press on the subject. You'll have to admit that it isn't "small".

evil - that is such a difficult word to deal with, isn't it? One man's meat is another man's poison. I can only refer you to what is in Scientology books and what is on the Church's website. Take an unbiased look and decide for yourself. I'd suggest you start with the Scientology Video Channel and then move to Scientology Basic Books.

often with a single charismatic leader - L. Ron Hubbard was our "single charismatic leader" for many years. I personally don't know why having a "single charismatic leader" is a problem. Didn't Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and many other religions have the same? Don't musical groups, corporations (e.g., Apple) and other groups have "single charismatic leaders"? If you want make that something bad then go ahead.

who engage in deceptive recruiting - If you want to know what Scientology is all about then go to the Scientology Home Page or buy a Basic Book or watch the videos on the Video Channel. It's all there. I'm sure that anyone with the ability to read can figure out if Scientology is something they want to be "recruited" into at that point. There is no deception. What we believe is all out there.

In fact no one is allowed to take Scientology services unless they themselves have made the decision to. For example, if a child is being pressured by parents to take a course in Scientology and the child isn't interested then the kid will not be allowed to take the course. It is against the rules of the Church for a person to take services unless they have chosen for themselves.

Before you can take any major service in a Scientology Church you will be asked if you are there on your own determinism. If you are not then you won't be allowed onto the service.

who engage in ... brainwashing and other mind control techniques - this whole idea of "brainwashing and other mind control techniques" has been completely debunked in the USA. The use of such terms as "Magnetic attraction, compulsion, captivity, enslavement, kidnapping" first began in the 19th century when the Mormons were attacked by mainstream Christian bigots. This vile tradition has continued and was given a fresh coat of "scientific" paint in the 1970's by such disgraced "experts" as Margaret Singer and the old "Cult Awareness Network". You can read a very thorough academic analysis of this in the article: "Brainwashing": Career of a Myth in the United States and Europe

Another article which examines these ideas is: Conversion and "Brainwashing" in New Religious Movements. It's a long article so you have to be seriously interested in the truth to spend the time to read it.

Another article which sums up and links to a huge amount of evidence is: "Liar, Liar": Brainwashing, CESNUR and APA

So according to the experts there is no "brainwashing and other mind control techniques".

Finally, the "cult" word also has the connotation that the target of the word is not a religion. There are innumerable religions experts who have written papers on the religious nature of Scientology: More Research on Scientology.

Heck, even the IRS has recognized Scientology as a religion. You may not like the IRS, but one thing you can't fault them on is sticking to the rules they create. They make a rule, they enforce it. They examined the Church of Scientology and they gave it a clean bill of health.

Also, governments and courts of law all over the world have recognized the religious nature of Scientology: Governments and courts of countries worldwide recognize the religious character of the Church of Scientology

So, that's my answer. What do you think?


C.D said...


There are several points I'd like to address that you made:

-Yes some definitions claim that a group must be small to be a cult. Such definitions conjure the imagery of secretive meetings in dark rooms with skulls, candles, and secretive chants. But in reality, any destructive and inclusive force or group can grow quite large and even mainstream. In the medieval Europe, while the plague was spreading massively across the continent, a rather large sect of people (in seperate groups across the continent) became what are known as the "flagellants" people who beat themselves to gain the forgiveness of god and end their suffering. These people had, what would amount to probably a million or more followers by todays population proportions, spread out in various groups across Europe. They were by no means small, but they were a group that today many would view as being destructive, seeing as how many followers beat themselves to death. Now obviously Scientology likely doesn't encourage self mutilation, but size by no means determines ones destructive power and intent.

Another example would be the Nazi regime, a movement that had supporters in the millions, all dedicated to a cause that, in their eyes, was benevolent and the epitome of good. They worked hard, were healthy and prosperous, quite mainstream, and very open about their beliefs. But just because they were a public, mainstream, and industrious group, didn't mean they weren't destructive (though again in their own eyes they were indeed not destructive.)

On another note, the size statistics of the Church probably aren't the most unbiased. I would suggest other sources if possible, as an organization is unlikely to report their own success in mild terms, nor admit failures.

If 7,500 organizations did indeed exist, and currently still exist, how many members belong to each?
3 parishoners each?

or 10,000 parishoners each?


Yes, a charismatic leader can be a good thing. It is however the ability to a charismatic leader, singular and all knowing, to use such a position as the "only means of salvation" to make outlandish statements, rules, or orders. Afterall, who would deny their salvation over something they don't quite agree with (especially as such leaders often explain the lack of agreement stems from lack of understanding.)

Also, just as a side note, Jesus may have been the founder of Christianity, but his apostles and modern interpreations have played a great part in the advancement and evolution of Christianity. SO he wasn't quite so singular.

Also, many musical groups don't have singular leaders, and even those that do, it really isn't an adequate analogy. Art and music scarcely compare with slavation and gaining the knowledge of ones soul, (just don't tell a dead head), so leadership positions in such efforts vary greatly in ability and importance.

Again, only going to 1 source that claims they are right isn't the best way to find out who's telling the truth. You could go to a Baptist church, a Mormon temple, a Hindu temple, a Taoist meditation meeting etc. and they would all claim the path (most likely an exclusive one) to enlightenment. Doubtful indeed is it that when consulting a Mormon missionary would the reply be: "Well actually, we don't quite have things figured out. Better try Scientology instead."

And while oustide claims may vary from hostile to ignorant, one can usually get a good perception of a group by consulting individuals who claim to know the pros and cons of group. Afterall, a car dealer isn't going to admit his used car has a transmission ready to blow, that's why services such as carfax exist. But again, groups will often claim that any negativity stems from ignorance or ill meaning, which is at times and at other times not the case.

As for the methods of so called "brain washing", most people I'm sure find the idea of being strapped to a chair to watch reels of film for hours on end ridiculous. No, brainwashing in reality is a term for ones acceptance of a new reality or paradigm that to many is viewed as being a negative and destructive one.

For example, if someone were to be convinced that the sun is in fact an evil being projecting death rays that enslave human minds, and that the only way to avoid these deathj rays was to wear a rain coat and gas mask at all times, one would certainly do so. After all it is the most sane decision regarding that the sun was indeed an evil being. They just had a paradigm shift that they believed was absolutely in their own best interest. But to outsiders who don't share such a belief, it looks rather bizarre, even harmful. After all, wearing a heavy raincoat in 100 degree weather is not healthy for most individuals. But this paradigm shift is suppossed to be for the best, so the individual will follow it.

Of course there ae less ridiculous demonstrations, the shifting of republican to democrat, carnivore to vegetarian, etc. But when accepts something to be the truth that is in fact harmful to them, it is regarded as brainwashing.

On the note of the IRS, yes the IRS accepts Scientology as a religion, but it should be noted that it was an epic legal battle to insure such recogntion, so such claims as them "sticking to the rules they create" isn't quite so clean cut.

Also, while many countries recognize Scientology (US, Australia, South Africa) it is my indication that mnay do not, such as Canada, Britain, France, Germany, and others. So again, that argument isn't quite as clean cut as you seem to indicate.


SomethingNice said...

I looked up websites on Anti- Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian (Catholic and Protestant) and Athiest. I found something they all had in common:

No matter WHAT you believe, someone else thinks you're in a cult.

Grahame said...

G Allen Pettingill said

Hey! I agree with many of the things you say here. Religion cannot be forced on people. It is up to the individual to decide for themselves what they think a religion is and what is not. No government agency, no believer, no judicial system or system of belief can dictate to anyone what a religion is.

I said:
Your comment seems to be about the definition of religion rather than about the right to believe what you want to believe. Did I misunderstand?

Here is what I operate off: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
ARTICLE 18... Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

What is a religion? Religious Scholars define it in various ways which are summed up here: The Diversity of Religions and the Problems of Definition. One of the scourges of this world for thousands of years has been religious intolerance. It has caused immeasurable suffering and hardship. That's why, to me, Article 18 is so important.

Grahame said...

Lawtears said:Interesting, but not quite the stuff I wanted. I want your fire/passion/spirit.

Think of it this way. A guy once said "I think therefore I am." I want YOU, the thing that does the thinking in your case, to tell me about X,Y,Z that's happened in YOUR life. The joys and well as (non-financial) cost.

In your own brevity, of course. No doubt you could write for months about yourself, as anyone could.

It's not about the semantics. It's the person behind that I'm wanting.


See if this is the answer you were looking for: Scientology - My Story

Grahame said...

Thanks for your comment CD, (this one)

I have responded to it here: Scientology and Brainwashing

Grahame said...

G Allen Pettingill Said:

(Quote from my earlier post)"Your comment seems to be about the definition of religion rather than about the right to believe what you want to believe. Did I misunderstand?"

With respect, In a manner of speaking , yes.

Some people would like to (for example) label me a religious bigot because I reserve the right to judge for myself what is and is not a religion. Others label people like me prejudicial because we research and discover both sides of an issue, if we happen to reach the "wrong" conclusions? Then we must be telling lies or we must be criminals.

Bottom line, there is no right and wrong religion just as there is no right and wrong person or right and wrong belief. Each must be determined by the individual, not dictated by some authority and certainly not imposed by one group onto another.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a wonderful document, but unless it is followed, it is a meaningless document, suitable only for papering a wall somewhere.

Additionally, manifesting a belief only insofar is that it does not harm others.

Thanks for your comment.

What is or is not a religion is a tough question even for religious scholars. The sections "Defining Religion" and "Conclusions" in this article, "Brainwashing": Career of a Myth in the United States and Europe, go into the difficulty and even avoidance of defining what is a religion. You may find it an interesting read.

I agree with you that if we don't follow and apply documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights then they are just so much wallpaper. So it is important that we do apply them and insist that others apply them.

Regarding your last comment, if something truly harms others then the law must come into play. Whether an act is religious or not, if it harms someone then the laws of the land must be applied. When I say "the laws of the land must be applied," I mean completely applied, and that include due process. Accusations must be backed up by proof that will stand up in a court of law and if they are not then the charges and accusations must be thrown out. And if the accusations do stand up to legal scrutiny then the normal process of the law must take place.

Personally I believe that we should follow the laws of the land and not take things into our own hands, we should not bypass the legal process and not act upon accusations that wouldn't stand up in a court. Ignoring due process and the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" leads to lynchings and other terrible acts.

vana said...

Hi, where exactly does that definition of a cult come from? Which "anti-cult movement" are you talking about, could you please provide the source? I find it interesting that you chose that definition over the dictionary definitions which would have been more accurate.


American Heritage® Dictionary:



1. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
2. The followers of such a religion or sect.
2. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
3. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
4. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
1. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
2. The object of such devotion.
6. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.

Grahame said...

Hey Vana,

I said in the article where the definition of "Cult" came from by linking to the source. If you click on that link and follow the instructions about scrolling down, then you will find the answers to your questions.

I chose that definition because it is the nastiest definition I could find and is the one I think most people associate with the word. The standard dictionary definition is a lot less negative and it is much easier to show how Scientology doesn't fit the "bad" cult definitions given there. Of course all religions fit the "system or community of religious worship and ritual" definition.