Is Scientology a cult? | The Tylt
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1953. The movement originally centered on a subject known as "Dianetics," or founder L. Ron Hubbard's perception of mental health and therapy for the mind. The IRS recognizes Scientology as a religion, and followers believe they are a part of a religious body just like any other (plus, they have Tom Cruise). But critics and former followers say Scientology is a manipulative body run only by self-interest, claiming it's a business at best and a cult at worse. What do you think?
Is Scientology a cult?
It's no secret that Scientology has gained some high-profile members over the years. Tom Cruise is just one of many; John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Elizabeth Moss all claim the religion as well.
Among these celebrities is Leah Remini, who has since left the Church of Scientology. The former "The King of Queens" star has become an anti-Scientology activist and has created an entire docuseries on A&E Network aimed at exposing the so-called religion for what it is—a cult.
According to Entertainment Weekly, the show, "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath," takes a deep dive into the truth of Scientology. In its latest season, Remini partnered with a former Scientology executive to expose the inner-workings of the group:
The show featured dozens of interviews with reformed parishioners, who spoke candidly about what they claim to be harmful practices carried out by the church, including allegedly coerced abortions, cover-ups of sexual assault, and policies that lead to the separation of families.
In an interview with Chelsea Handler on the Netflix show "Chelsea," Remini calls out the IRS as being partially responsible for the manipulation and abuse rampant within Scientology. According to Remini, by granting Scientology tax-exempt status, the IRS is abetting the organization's questionable practices. Remini tells Handler:
'It is the job of the IRS now to look at this and not use the excuse of, well, church and state. If your doctrine calls for people to be destroyed, that's something you need to look into and step in and do something.'
According to Remini, when a member leaves the church, they are labeled an "enemy." She points out that those who come on her show have no financial motivation to expose how Scientology has abused them (citing molestation and forced abortions). Their only aim is to expose the organization for what it is.
Scientologists hold firm to their religiosity, saying that claims otherwise are a reflection of prejudice. According to the Scientology website, the religion fulfills the most basic and widely-acknowledged requirements for being defined as a "religion."
(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.
Scientology claims to help its members become more aware of their own spiritual nature–becoming more aware of God as a default. The group believes that man's salvation is dependent upon himself and claims its ultimate goal is freedom for all.
Scientology holds in common with all great religions the dream of peace on Earth and salvation for Man. What is new about Scientology is that it offers a precise path for bringing about spiritual improvement in the here and now and a way to accomplish it with absolute certainty.
The Church of Scientology is recognized as a religion by countries around the world. Although outsiders might see certain Scientology practices and beliefs as bizarre, there is no questioning the pervasiveness of its views. Other religions have had millennia for people to become accustomed to their own spiritual practices, and Scientology might earn the same respect with time.
According to a CBS News expert, cults have a number of factors in common, including things like secrecy, closed membership, pressure to make quick decisions, financial exploitation, deceptive means of recruitment and threats upon exiting. Scientology falls in line with most, if not all, of these criteria. Jeffrey Augustine, an outspoken critic of Scientology, details the ways in which the organization qualifies as 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 runs an intelligence-gathering and Fair Game operation called the Office of Special Affairs (OSA). The purpose of OSA is to attack perceived Church enemies and engage in character assassination, smears, and to get people fired from their jobs. Because OSA is funded with tax exempt dollars it is a fraud upon the governments and taxpayers of all nations where OSA operates.
• The Church of Scientology indoctrinates and controls its own members through a program of isolation, thought-stopping, mind control, milieu control, and propaganda.
• The Church of Scientology makes its members sign an unconscionable contract which allows the Church to kidnap them and hold them against their will if they are deemed “Type III” (psychotic) by the Church.
• The Church of Scientology breaks up families and friendships through its brutal policy of Disconnection.
Furthermore, one of Scientology's biggest question marks is the existence of the Sea Organization. The Sea Org is described on the Scientology website as a "fraternal religious order" tasked with "spearheading the Church's social mission." Yet, according to one former Sea Org member, "volunteers" sign a 1 billion-year contract as a symbol of their dedication–something most would agree is far from the definition of a true volunteer.
The church itself is also worth $1.2 billion, according to Business Insider. In addition to real estate holdings and high-profile donations, Scientology also makes money from it's "auditing" sessions, where members are encouraged to reveal pieces of their private lives in order to reach greater spiritual awareness. The sessions cost $500 per hour.
But allegations of abuse do not turn a religion into a cult. Unfortunately, abuse exists in religious organizations across the world. As Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado puts it to the Miami New Times:
'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. [Scientology is] a legitimate religion.'
The church does not hold back against its critics and will vehemently defend its doctrine. In response to Leah Remini's anti-Scientology activism, the church writes:
Leah Remini knows the truth she conveniently rewrites in her revisionist history. The real story is that she desperately tried to remain a Scientologist in 2013, knowing full well she was on the verge of being expelled for refusing to abide by the high level of ethics and decency Scientologists are expected to maintain.
Scientology is the only major religion to be founded in the 20th century and emerge as a major religion in the 21st century. The Church has grown more in the past decade than in its first 50 years combined under the ecclesiastical leadership of Mr. Miscavige, a visionary parishioners and Church staff hold in the highest regard for carrying out the legacy of the Scientology Founder through the renaissance the religion is now experiencing.
Again, isolated incidents of corruption and abuse should not always characterize an entire body. Similarly, uncertainty about or disregard for another beliefs do not qualify a religion as a cult.