Is Scientology a cult? | The Tylt

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Scientology is recognized as a religion by the IRS, but its former followers and critics say the religion is better described as a cult. Its detractors point to a widespread abusive culture, questionable beliefs and the fact that it operates more like a for-profit business than a church. But true-believers say Scientology is a modern day religion that helps its followers find spiritual fulfillment. Governments around the world have recognized it as a religion. (Also, they have Tom Cruise.) What do you think?

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Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, talks to Bill Maher about Scientology's abuses and why it should be considered a cult in this video. 

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Scientology's critics say a better word to describe the organization is 'cult.' Leah Remini, a former member of 35 years, launched an eight-part series on A&E called "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,"exploring the damage Scientology causes to its members and those who stand up to it. Remini says Scientology seeks to control people and how they think, and does not really help them along a spiritual journey like a normal religion. 

“It’s a cult,” she said without hesitation. “Everything in Scientology is written down in thousands of pages of policies that you have to follow; you’re not allowed to think for yourself … There’s no questioning.”

Mark Rinder, a former Scientology official, says members are often coerced into staying silent or with the church through blackmail. Members must go through "audits," where people reveal their deepest secrets as part of Scientology's path towards spiritual enlightenment. Rinder says the information revealed in these audits are used against the individual to blackmail and discredit them when they act in ways the Church doesn't like. 

Former Scientology officials, including former spokesman Marty Rathbun, say that every “audit” (where a Scientology member is forced to reveal their deepest, most intimate secrets and fears on the way to attain spiritual and mental clarity) is recorded and filmed. Not to mention the “auditors” take pages of notes. So, when word had it that Travolta was threatening to leave, all the officials had do was go through all the notes from the auditing sessions to find secrets that Travolta had spilled and may not want getting out into the public.
“I know this because I used to do it when I was the head of the office of special affairs,” said former official Mike Rinder. “By exposing [these secrets] or threatening to expose them, they will cower the person into silence.”

A key marker of a cult is the considerable amount of influence and control it seeks to have over its members. The Church of Scientology argues members voluntarily choose to follow its strict policies as part of their spiritual journey, but critics say the Church often acts maliciously and in bad faith. Here are a few reasons why Jeffrey Augustine, an outspoken critic of Scientology, thinks the church is actually a cult. 

  • The hallmark of a cult is that one person — the cult leader — has all the power and complete control of the money. David Miscavige is a cult leader who has all the power and complete control of the money. This was true of founder L. Ron Hubbard when he was alive.
  • There are no internal checks and balances on David Miscavige’s power.The Church of Scientology teaches its members to lie when needed in order to protect the Church.
  • The Church of Scientology puts its own members through brutal interrogations called security checks, or “sec checks.”

  • The Church of Scientology breaks up families and friendships through its brutal policy of Disconnection. (A couple of recent examples — Sara Goldberg and Sylvia DeWall.)

  • The Church of Scientology indoctrinates and controls its own members through a program of isolation, thought-stopping, mind control, milieu control, and propaganda.

Critics single out the Scientology religious order Sea Org as one of the most egregious examples of abuse and cultish behavior. Members looking to sign up with Sea Org sign 1 billion year contracts (which the Church argues is a symbolic pledge), and work extremely long hours for less than minimum wage. The Church says people volunteer for the order. But critics say people are duped into joining and are often left without options once they're inside.

Tracy Ekstrand, a former member of Scientology, spoke to the Washington Post about her experiences in Sea Org:

She was assigned 11 different positions during her 14 years in Scientology, she said. She spent 11 of those 14 years in the Sea Org, which was based on the sea, mostly on the Caribbean, which was like the Marines in its rigorous discipline.
Ekstrand said that while she was in the Sea Org she made $10 a week, plus room and board, and received maybe one day off every two weeks. According to former members, those in the Sea Org cadre are often discouraged from having families because of the potential distraction from their work. If the staff wasn’t producing enough, Ekstrand said, they would receive meals of rice and beans.
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On its website, the Church explains that on the most basic level, Scientology meets the requirements of what's widely seen as a religion. Its ultimate goal is to help people get in touch with their spiritual nature, build spiritual community, and help people get closer to God. The Church says it takes in people who are lost, on drugs or generally at the end of their rope and give them purpose and an alternative path in life. Here's what the website says:

Scientology certainly meets all three criteria generally used by religious scholars around the world to determine religiosity: (1) a belief in some Ultimate Reality, such as the Supreme or eternal truth that transcends the here and now of the secular world; (2) religious practices directed toward understanding, attaining or communing with this Ultimate Reality; and (3) a community of believers who join together in pursuing this Ultimate Reality.
The Scientology view of an Ultimate Reality transcending the material world includes its concepts of the thetan and the dynamics which include the spiritual world (the Seventh Dynamic) and the Supreme Being (the Eighth Dynamic). The second element can be found in Scientology life-rite ceremonies such as naming, marriage and funeral services, but predominantly in the religious services of auditing and training through which Scientologists increase their spiritual awareness and attain an understanding of both the spiritual world and, ultimately, the Supreme Being. As to the third element, a very vital community of believers can be found at any Church of Scientology at almost any time of the day.

Furthermore, governments around the worldwith the notable exception of Germanyrecognize Scientology's religious status. Religion is a difficult thing to pin down, but in broad strokes, Scientology fits the definition. Its beliefs may seem bizarre to the average person, but it's not as though Catholic transubstantiation (the rite where bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ) or Buddhist reincarnation is any more normal. Those traditions just have been around for longer. 

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With regards to the allegations of widespread abuse, the Mayor of Miami Tomás Regalado put it best:

"People criticize the Adventists because they're strict, the Jehovah's Witnesses because they're different, and the Catholics because priests abused children," Regalado says. "I'm a practicing Catholic, and I don't leave because of some abusive priests. They are a legitimate religion."

Religions everywhere are criticized. Religions are made of people and people are not perfect. The actions of a few does not destroy the legitimacy of the entire religion. If that were true, the vast majority of major religions today should not be considered religions. 

Scientology's defenders say the TV shows and exposés present a one-sided perspective. Of course ex-members and critics are going to paint a dark picture of Scientology. In a letter to the Hollywood Reporter, the Church of Scientology said the documentary "Going Clear" featured interviews from ex-members who the Church says have a history of lying. Church officials wrote:

The inclusion of any one of these liars is enough to irrevocably taint the film as biased propaganda. Including all of them is inexcusable. For example:
And you have Mike Rinder, who admitted in a January deposition to the exact opposite of what he says to Mr. Gibney in the film. He’s also a tainted source because he is paid by law firms seeking to score a payday suing the Church. His domestic abuse is documented by his ex-wife, brother, daughter and his ex- wife’s surgeon, and all of this would have been relevant to the film since Gibney shamelessly has Rinder lie about his ex-wife yet he didn’t ask her for comment or to sit for an interview, even when she was in New York to see him. Alex Gibney and HBO cynically repackaged Mike Rinder into the poster boy for their new propaganda film. They flew Rinder around the country in five-star luxury to shill for their religious hatred, never mentioning that Rinder was expelled from his former religion for gross malfeasance. They hid that Mike Rinder can’t hold a job and his only source of income is payment for attacking Scientology. Gibney knew all this but relevant facts would have popped the phony bubble of legitimacy Gibney created around his “star. ”
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FINAL RESULTS
Culture
Is Scientology a cult?
#RespectScientology
A festive crown for the winner
#ScientologyIsACult