Is Scientology a cult?
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Is Scientology a cult?

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

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

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 toward 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. 

On its website, the Church of Scientology 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. 

Furthermore, governments around the world—with the notable exception of Germany—recognize 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 rational. Those traditions just have been around for longer. Scientologists say the world is unfairly biased against them.

Critics say it is a dangerous cult that does serious harm to its members.

Others say it's just as legit as any other religion. Plenty of religions have abuse scandals and bad actors. Why aren't they called cults?

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