Scientology Bizarre, but Not a Cult

Mark Oppenheimer at Slate has an article about Scientology where he writes that while it’s strange beyond belief, it’s not very different from other faiths:

And everything of which Scientology is accused is an exaggerated form of what more “normal” religions do. Does Scientology charge money for services? Yes—but the average Mormon, tithing 10 percent annually, pays more money to his church than all but the most committed Scientologists pay to theirs. Jews buying “tickets” to high-holiday services can easily part with thousands of dollars a year per family. Is Scientology authoritarian and cultlike? Yes—but mainly at the higher levels, which is true of many religions. There may be pressure for members of Scientology’s elite “Sea Organization” not to drop out, but pressure is also placed on Catholics who may want to leave some cloistered orders. Does Scientology embrace pseudoscience? Absolutely—but its “engrams” and “E-meter” are no worse than what’s propagated by your average Intelligent Design enthusiast. In fact, its very silliness makes it less pernicious.

But good taste, as art critic Dave Hickey says, is just the residue of someone else’s privilege. Catholicism has its Gothic cathedrals, Judaism its timeless Torah scrolls. Scientology is brand-new, but it has played an impressive game of catch-up. In its drive to be a major world religion, it will inevitably go through a period when its absurdities and missteps are glaringly apparent. But someday it will be old and prosaic, and there may still be Scientologists. And when some of those Scientologists embezzle, lie, and steal—as they surely will—they’ll seem no worse than Christians, Jews, or Muslims who have done the same.



[tags]atheism, atheist, Mark Oppenheimer, Scientology, Slate[/tags]

  • http://tomesnyder.com/ Tom E. Snyder

    “And when some of those Scientologists embezzle, lie, and steal—as they surely will—they’ll seem no worse than Christians, Jews, or Muslims who have done the same.”

    Or atheists, for that matter.

  • Serrac

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Scientology was considered a cult partially because many of the organization’s central tenents only become known at higher levels. I.e.- the average recruit off the street doesn’t find out about Xenu till at sufficiently high level.

  • http://www.blakeclan.org/jon/greenoasis/ Jonathan Blake

    I would define a cult by the way that it controls its members. I see cultishness as being a spectrum. Most churches that I’m familiar with fall somewhere in the middle of that scale. Scientology definitely sounds like it is pretty far on the cult end of the spectrum.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Interesting. I’m not sure I agree… but I can’t help but be reminded of Kent Hovind’s conversations with God. Everyone was talking about what a nut-job Hovind sounded like… but to me, his chat didn’t really sound that much crazier than the basic tenets of the fundamentalist Christian faith. It just sounded crazier when it was spelled out like that.

    To some extent, I think we do judge the craziness/ cultiness of a religion, at least in part, on how many followers it has, and how long it’s been around. I’m not sure that, evaluated objectively, Catholicism is really less crazy than Mormonism or Scientology. It’s just acquired gravitas (and had some of the rougher edges worn off) with time and popularity.

  • Lesley

    Hey, I just stumbled on your blog and I have a question: you seem to lump Catholicism and Christianity into one category. why? Do you think Catholicism is representative of the Christian religion? If so, why? Just curious what your thoughts are.

  • http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~ludtke/prof/index.htm cautious

    Well, thank goodness Scientology is not a cult. I guess these peoples’ families can now get back to their lives.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Hey, I just stumbled on your blog and I have a question: you seem to lump Catholicism and Christianity into one category. why? Do you think Catholicism is representative of the Christian religion? If so, why? Just curious what your thoughts are.

    In this case, it was the article’s author who lumped them together.

    But to me, both religions believe in things based on faith instead of evidence, so they’re not much different from each other in that respect.

  • http://bannons.blogspot.com Elizabeth

    Does Scientology charge money for services? Yes—but the average Mormon, tithing 10 percent annually, pays more money to his church than all but the most committed Scientologists pay to theirs.

    Scientology demands money up front, keeping people from participating if they don’t have the funds and encouraging people to go into debt to raise the money to be indoctrinated. I don’t see how that compares to voluntary, and often anonymous, tithing.

  • Maria

    interesting observations……..

  • Dave2

    That article is stupid. It never sets out a working account of what is and what is not a cult.

    I mean, it’s a matter of degree what counts as a cult. There are a lot of different factors of different weights. But — sweet Jesus! — Scientology passes every test with flying colors. If it’s not a cult, we might as well retire the word.

  • Darryl

    Duh. This is obvious to anyone with a brain. My only objection is to the part about good taste being the residue of someone’s privilege. That’s a stupid Marxist critique. The rich can afford nicer things than the mass of humanity–the tastier things are nicer–another ‘duh’ moment. You don’t have to be privileged to understand this.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    Hear, hear!!

    I’ve made some similar points about the oft-repeated charge that Mormonism is a cult: Cults vs. cult-like behavior.

  • Kilty Monroe

    I’m sorry, but Scientology cannot be lumped in with other religions, they are very much a cult. If the first word you associate with Scientology is ‘silly’, ‘wacky’, or synonyms thereof, instead of ‘dangerous’, PLEASE READ THIS POST, and spread the word.

    True, the story of Xenu is no more ridiculous or silly than the story of Genesis, but it’s not the beliefs that make them a cult, it’s how they act, and how they control their members. How they act is terrifying and merciless, and how they control is destructive, and sometimes fatal. The craziness of the Church of Scientology’s beliefs only distracts from their capability to wreak havoc on peoples’ lives.

    No other religion has any doctrine as evil as the Church of Scientology’s policy of Fair Game, which declares that any “Suppressive Person” (a critic of the Church) “may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed”. The most infamous application of this policy was when the Guardian’s Office successfully framed and indicted anti-Scientologist author Paulette Cooper for making bomb threats against the Church by forging threats on paper stolen from her apartment, as part of a grand scheme to silence her forever titled, “Operation Freakout“. Fair Game, while ‘officially’ canceled in the 1980′s, is still practiced today.

    Fair Game is also practiced through legal channels. The Church of Scientology is notoriously litigious, but they don’t file lawsuits in hopes of winning damages. Instead, their tactic is to prolong legal proceedings until their target is bankrupted by legal fees.

    The Church of Scientology primarily controls their members through the practices of “Dead Agenting“, where they slander and discredit anyone that leaves the Church that might divulge their secrets, and Disconnection, where a Scientologist is ordered to sever all contact with friends or family that try to get the Scientologist to leave the Church. Disconnection has ended marriages and seperated children from their parents forever. Sometimes, however, the Church controls their members through much more direct methods, as documented on the website whyaretheydead.net.

    Enumerating all the unethical and criminal practices of the Church of Scientology would make this post far too lengthy, but they are well-documented at the websites Operation CLAMBAKE, the Scientology Controversy Wikipedia article, and LermaNET. The latter is owned by Arnaldo Lerma, a former OT7 (the same level within the Church that Tom Cruise is currently at) that escaped the madness alive and has seen first-hand what they’re capable of.

    You can also see videos of how Scientologists react to someone they recognize as having been labeled a “Suppressive Person” by the Church at xenutv.com. The brainwashing these people go through is quite visible in their behavior in these videos, as rabid Scientologists scream at the “suppressive” cameraman, demanding to know, “WHAT ARE YOUR CRIMES?!” (Scientologists are taught that the Church only does good, and therefore those motivated to act against the church must have secret criminal pasts. This is typical of Scientologist logic) and accusing him of rape, murder, pedophilia and whatever else they can think of.

    Thank you for your time invested in reading this post.

  • JeraldR

    Cult, not a cult. That’s always going to be open for debate. It’s the very evil actions of scienotlogy most people speak out against. Why not check out xenu.net and xenutv.com and see for yourself?

    I don’t care if they belive in space people or not. Its the fact that they dream of a scientology world and if the rest of us don’t fit in they will ” dispose of quiety and without sorrow” those who won’t fit in. Google the qoute and learn about the sick scientology tone scale.

  • tc

    You do realize that Scientology was created by a fairly decent SciFi writer who basically bet his publisher that he could create a religion.

  • stogoe

    I would think that, in many people’s minds, the fact that we have records of the founder saying, in essence, “I’m going to make up a religion and rake in the dough” establish it firmly in the ‘cult’ category (along with Elizabeth’s ‘pay up front’ comment and the explicit, zealous isolation of recruits from their former life). It’s not fair to mark one as wrong and the other as right simply because of familiarity and age, when they do similar things to people. But that’s what happens.

    No, the Sci-Fi origin stories of Scientology aren’t any more odd than the origin stories of the neolithic nomads of the middle east. Especially since UFO abduction stories are startlingly similar to ancient fae abduction stories. Only the culture in which they are told has changed.

    By the way, the ‘Catholicism and Christianity are different’ theme in many evangelical protestant communities is creepy; I mean, they’re the splitters.

  • valhar2000

    A religion is a cult with more followers.

    I don’t remember were I read that, but it is quite to the point. As Jonathan Blake said, a religion can incorporate many cultic elements, or few. Classifying some things as cults and others as non-cults is setting up a false dichotomy.

    The fact is that most religions use cult-like tactics to some degree, in order to gain and keep members, and to ensure cooperation. Some just do so more than others, and some take these tactics to their logical extremes.

    The fact that some cults are more pernicious than Scientology does not in any way let it off the hook. The same goes for the other expanded cults.

  • Dave2

    tc, there’s no reason to think there was a bet. I don’t know why you seem so sure of what you’re claiming.

    Hubbard did apparently say the thing about making money by starting a religion, and he must have said it several times. But the bet thing is a myth.

  • llewelly

    Mark Oppenheimer makes a good argument that all other religions are cults too.


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