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Is Scientology a Real Religion, a Dangerous Cult, or Simply a Scam?

Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and English.

Scientology's corporate headquarters—er, I mean church.

Scientology's corporate headquarters—er, I mean church.

Is Scientology a Scam?

Scientology has captured the attention of the media for many years and has a vast celebrity following. As with any Hollywood fad and nontraditional belief system, it has faced harsh criticism, yet it still maintains a loyal base. Some of the somewhat outlandish ideas presented by Scientology really make you wonder if people will believe anything and where the line of what constitutes a religion should be drawn. Is Scientology an actual religion, or is it, in fact, nothing more than a cult and a complicated get-rich-quick scheme devised by an unscrupulous con artist?

Despite being widely recognized as a cult in most countries, Scientology has a presence all over the world.

Despite being widely recognized as a cult in most countries, Scientology has a presence all over the world.

What Is Scientology?

Scientology is “an applied religious philosophy” (Hubbard, 9) based on the writings of science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. The word “Scientology” means literally “knowing how to know” and derives from the Latin word “scio,” which means “knowing in the fullest sense of the word,” and the Greek word “logos,” which means “the study of” (Hubbard, 9). The belief system of Scientology can be broken down into several basic ideas.

In Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought, L. Ron Hubbard described the most fundamental idea of Scientology as the “cycle of action.” In this idea, “cycle” refers to the span of time with a beginning and an end, and “action” refers to “motion or movement.” L. Ron Hubbard describes the “cycle of action” as a cycle of creation, survival, and destruction. “First there is creation. Then this is followed by survival. Then this is followed by destruction” (20).

The “cycle of action” idea says that destruction is actually nothing more than “a creation of something against a creation of something else,” and the idea of “actuality” says that there is no such thing as destruction, “only creation against creation” (23). In the “cycle of action,” reality is nothing more than “the way things appear. Reality is apparency” (23). The idea of the “cycle of action” simply means that whatever conditions a person “creates” for their life through their actions determine what will ultimately happen to them.

Conditions of Existence

The next idea presented in Fundamentals of Thought is “the conditions of existence.” According to Scientology, there are three conditions of existence: being, doing, and having. The first condition, the condition of being, is “the assumption of a category of identity,” which can refer to anything that defines a person, from one’s career to their name. The second condition, doing, refers to “action, function, accomplishment, the attainment of goals, the fulfilling of purpose or any change of position in space” (31). The third and final condition of existence is having, which refers to anything that a person could own, possess, or command. “The essential definition of having is to be able to touch or permeate or to direct the disposition of” (32).

In the Scientology belief system, being is more important than doing, and doing is more important than having. For a successful existence, it is important that these conditions of existence be in balance, according to Scientology.

The Dynamics of Existence

Another key idea of Scientology is the dynamics of existence, which constitute “the basic command followed by all life” ("Church of Scientology"). In Scientology, there are eight dynamics, which could also be thought of as urges, in life (Hubbard 45). The eighth dynamic is Infinity, which is also commonly referred to as God. The seventh dynamic is the spiritual dynamic, which refers to “anything spiritual with or without identity.” The physical universe, “with its four components of matter, energy, space and time,” is the sixth dynamic.

The fifth dynamic is life forms, which includes all plants and animals. Mankind “as a species” is the fourth dynamic. Group survival is the third dynamic and refers to groups such as friends, nations, races, or any other group that a person could be a part of. The second dynamic is family “and children and all other creativity.” The first dynamic is the self, or the individual person and their body, mind, and possessions ("Church of Scientology"). Each of these dynamics is equally important (Hubbard, 45).

The ARC Triangle

Another important idea of Scientology is the ARC triangle, which is, as described in L. Ron Hubbard’s book Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought, “the keystone of living associations” (53). The first corner of this triangle is affinity, which is “the ability to occupy the same space as something else” (53). The second corner of the ARC triangle is reality, which means “that which appears to be” or that what everyone agrees to be real is real (54). The third and final corner is communication, which “is more important than the other two corners” in relationships (54). For Scientologists, the ARC triangle is an extremely important tool for understanding human relationships.

Man's Three Parts: The Thetan, the Mind and the Body

Another key idea of Scientology is the idea that man consists of three parts. The first of these parts is the thetan, which is what Scientologists call the soul. The word thetan derives from the Greek letter theta, meaning “spirit” or “thought.” The thetan is the individual himself and is the most important part. The second part of man is the mind, which is used as a communication and control system between the thetan (or “soul”) and its environment. The third part is the body, which is not seen by Scientologists as being an actual part of the individual ("Church of Scientology").

A Scientology recruiter uses an e-meter to measure thetan levels.

A Scientology recruiter uses an e-meter to measure thetan levels.

What Is Wrong With This Belief System?

While some of these beliefs may seem plausible, the controversy surrounding Scientology arises from the fact that the church charges members substantial amounts of money for “audit counseling” and that members don’t get to learn the creation myth of Scientology until they go through (and pay for) years of this counseling (Reitman).

After a year or two of audit counseling, depending on how much time they spend on auditing a week, a person becomes a “clear.” When a person becomes “clear,” they lose their “reactive mind,” or negativity, and no longer suffer from the ill effects of this negativity. The next “spiritual state of beingness” is the “operating thetan,” of which there are numerous levels ("Church of Scientology"). Young people at lower “operating thetan”—or OT—levels may pay between $1,000 and $1,500 a year for audit counseling, while people at higher levels easily spend tens of thousands of dollars a year for these services, which has caused critics to accuse Scientology of being “less a religion than a commercial enterprise” (Bentayou).

Auditing Process

Furthermore, in order for members to learn the creation myth of Scientology, they must reach OT III. In order to reach this operating thetan level, members are forced to undergo an intensive auditing process to verify that they are ready for OT III. Prior to this auditing, they must sign a waiver to promise the Church that they will never reveal the secrets of OT III and will not hold Scientology responsible for any trauma or damage they might endure at this stage of auditing. Once the process is complete, they are given a manila folder and taken to a private, locked room to read the materials contained within it (Reitman).

Scientology in the Media

Even though the Church of Scientology has taken such extreme measures to never let their secrets be revealed to the public, the story was leaked in 1995 by an ex-church member and has since been revealed in mainstream media such as The New York Times and an episode of Comedy Central’s South Park (Reitman). But why would the Church of Scientology be so worried about their creation myth reaching the public? Perhaps because, for such a story to be believable, one would need the hours of brainwashing “audit counseling,” or perhaps it’s simply because the church feels that only those who pay for their services should be entitled to hear it.

A depiction of Xenu with an E-meter

A depiction of Xenu with an E-meter

Scientology’s Creation Myth

The creation myth of the Church of Scientology begins 75 million years ago when Xenu, an evil galactic warlord, was in control of 76 planets, all of which were overpopulated. In an effort to put an end to the overpopulation, Xenu sent 13.5 trillion beings to Earth, where they were dumped into volcanoes and vaporized with bombs, which scattered the beings’ thetans, or souls. The thetans were captured in electronic traps and then had false ideas about religion implanted into them. Many of these thetans, Scientologists believe, attached themselves to human beings, which is the cause of all the emotional and physical pain people go through around the world (Bentayou).

It’s hard to say what is more incredible—the story itself or the fact that there are people who actually believe it. It makes you wonder what kind of person could have devised such an idea, to begin with.

L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles, California, 1950

L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles, California, 1950

L. Ron Hubbard: Prophet or Dangerous Con Artist?

Scientology was founded by science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. According to the official accounts of Hubbard’s life from the Church of Scientology, “L. Ron Hubbard dedicated his life to helping others. He saw that this world had to change drastically, and he created a workable technology so that needed changes could occur” ("Church of Scientology"). It was also said that he “lived a life of heroic acts and great scientific and spiritual accomplishment until his death” (Reitman).

Hubbard and Hypnotism

Before starting his work on Dianetics, the book and self-help system that would eventually develop into Scientology, Hubbard had been an experienced practitioner of hypnotism. During the 30s and 40s, he “had an obsessive interest in hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and unconscious states in general. Hubbard’s son, L. Ron Hubbard Jr, AKA Ron DeWolf, claims that his father practiced drug hypnosis on him and his mother (Corydon 262). “An essential idea in Dianetics is that people, as a result of the travails of living, become, in effect, partially hypnotized,” and Dianetics was a way to “de-hypnotize” them (Corydon 263).

According to Hubbard’s son, he had many psychological problems, and it has been suggested that by developing Dianetics to address the problems of the human race, he could resolve his own issues (Corydon 262). Perhaps this is also why Scientology is adamant about rejecting psychiatry.

Scientologists promote their own brand of pseudo-scientific self-help methods and audit counseling over psychiatry.

Scientologists promote their own brand of pseudo-scientific self-help methods and audit counseling over psychiatry.

Scientology vs. Psychiatry

Scientology members claim that “prescribing drugs for mental illness is spurious, even dangerous, and only enriches doctors and drug companies” while referring to mental health physicians as “pseudoscientists” (Bentayou). The Church of Scientology believes that psychiatric treatments cause “irreparable physical, mental and spiritual harm.” “Psychiatric treatments reflect a brutality Scientologists cannot tolerate” ("Church of Scientology").

Somehow, Scientology gained tax status as a legitimate religion.

Somehow, Scientology gained tax status as a legitimate religion.

Scientology’s Status as a Religion

It should come as no surprise that many countries do not recognize Scientology as a legitimate church. The United States only granted it tax-exempt status after a long series of court battles between the International Revenue System and the Church of Scientology (Bentayou). Before the court settlement and gaining tax-exempt status as a church, Scientologists heavily promoted a proposal to replace all federal income taxes with a national retail sales tax.

Since the IRS refused to recognize the Church of Scientology as a church, “a fact that seemed to enshrine their popular reputation as a ‘cult,’” Scientologists “waged war” against the IRS. The Church even resorted to hiring private investigators to examine the private lives of IRS officials. When the Church of Scientology was finally granted tax-exempt status, the “war” came to an end (Barlett).

Xenu, as depicted in the season-nine "South Park" episode, "Trapped in the Closet"

Xenu, as depicted in the season-nine "South Park" episode, "Trapped in the Closet"

With all the controversy surrounding Scientology, it remains a popular subject of popular culture. One of the most notable examples is the episode of Comedy Central’s South Park, “Trapped in the Closet,” which aired in November 2005. The episode focuses on Tom Cruise, one of the most prominent celebrity Scientologists and Scientology’s creation myth.

When recounting the story of Xenu, a banner is displayed across the screen warning viewers that “this is what Scientologists actually believe,” satirizing the unbelievability of the story (“Trapped in the Closet”). The episode was actually banned in Britain after Tom Cruise complained (Sheffield).

A Scientology protest in 2007

A Scientology protest in 2007

The Verdict

The fundamental ideas of Scientology appear to be good on the surface. They are just like any other self-help program to help people improve their lives. Scientology does have a lot in common with the more mainstream religions as well, such as having a creation myth and a set of rules to live by. “It’s a religion built on Gnostic myth. The spirit falls into a material world and runs into trouble because it forgets who it is” (Bentayou).

Taking Advantage of the Vulnerable

The belief system is designed to attract people who are feeling lost and want to get in touch with their spirituality. But members don’t seem to realize that the so-called church is taking advantage of them. The Church of Scientology requires its members to spend thousands of dollars on audit counseling, which is little more than brainwashing hypnosis. Scientology won’t even let its members know the full story of their religion until they’ve already spent thousands of dollars on audit counseling, and it still makes them sign a waiver beforehand. Scientology is nothing more than a false religion created by a con artist.

Scientology Is a Cult

Even though it attracts Hollywood celebrities and has been recognized as a religion by the IRS, Scientology is nothing more than a cult. It puts together a few good ideas to attract new members, then takes advantage of their vulnerabilities through “audit counseling.” Once they have been brainwashed enough through audit counseling, Scientology is able to make them believe anything, and only then are members allowed to know the “secret” creation myth. People need to stop being so quick to believe anything.


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  • Bentayou, Frank. "Scientology: More than a Celebrity Cruise?" Christian Century 9 Aug. 2005: 16. Religion and Philosophy Collection. EBSCO. Bowling Green State U, Bowling Green, OH. 24 Oct. 2007 <>.
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  • Sheffield, Matthew. "Scientology 'South Park' Banned in Britain." NewsBusters. 24 May 2006. 25 Nov. 2007 <>.
  • "Trapped in the Closet." South Park. Comedy Central. 16 Nov. 2005.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2018 Jennifer Wilber