Is Scientology a religion or a cult?

I have been really curious about what Scientology actually IS. What is its central belief? What makes something a religion? And if Scientology is actually a cult what makes it so? I understand every religion has good and bad aspects, yet the main ones: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc, have all been classified as “religions”. Scientology has also (in the US) been classified as a religion (tax exempt). I have seen the Scientology promo videos and Tom Cruise’s babbling rants, and those have made me want to research more because I still didn’t get it. But stumbling upon the "sacred scriptures of Xenu made me seriously think these people are brainwashed, but how is that different from other beliefs held by other religions?

The best treatment of Scientology is in this New Yorker article: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology. I highly recommend it. To give briefs answers to your questions:

What is Scientology’s Central Belief: It has no particular central tenets. While ordinary religions typically have a well-defined doctrine, Scientology does not. It was a fraud founded by a guy named L. Ron Hubbard for the purpose of tricking people out of their money. He started with certain teachings, then invented new ones and changed the old ones as time went on, always centered on the purpose of making money. The leaders of the movement try to keep much of the teaching hidden both from outsiders and from most of the actual members. Supposedly new knowledge is given to members as they rise up the levels within the organization. The emphasis is on keeping members loyal to the organization, not on belief is any set creed.

The beginning beliefs of Scientology all centered around physical and mental health, and much of the teaching was actually quite sensible. (For instance: get enough sleep at night.) The science fiction stuff was invented later on, solely so that the Church of Scientology could charge devotees more money to learn it.

What makes something a religion? Good question. It’s hard to find an agreed-upon definition of religion. One attempt would be: “a group of people dedicated to common spiritual practice with the goal of correctly relating themselves to the true nature and purpose of the cosmos.”

If Scientology is actually a cult what makes it so? First, as mentioned, it was founded for the exploitation of members, financial and otherwise. Second, as also mentioned, doctrines and tenets are kept secret and constantly rearranged for the convenience of the leaders. Third, members are urged and sometimes forced to cut off all contact with the world outside the Church of Scientology. Fourth, members are lead to have a total devotion to a single, charismatic leader. This make Scientology a cult, as distinguished from a religion. (Nonetheless if past threads are any guide, certain posters will soon arrive and insist that there’s no meaningful distinction between a religion and a cult.)

To understand Scientology, it’s useful to remember that many members come from Hollywood, where people often addle their brains with alcohol, drugs, constant sex, and other unhealthy decisions.

I believe Operation Clambake is still in existence, go look it up.
And yes, Cult Culty Cult McCult with cultsauce on the side.

That may be true, but the rank and file members (whom I see marching around my neighborhood all the time, because I live close to the headquarters) are better described as would-be Hollywood types. They’re unworldly folks who come from other, less sophisticated places, hoping to make it big. When they find themselves failing at that, they look toward something to help, and Scientology knows that, so its recruitment apparatus has a high profile along Hollywood Blvd. If they’re gullible enough to believe the initial hook, they end up doing the “auditing,” where, among other things, they’re encouraged to “confess” things they’re ashamed of. (This might include things like their sexuality, and once the “Church” has that on file, they can use that knowledge to keep someone from getting out of line–especially if they end up gaining some fame in the entertainment world.)

I think “cult” is a subset of “religion.”

Or a synonym.

I think there is and there isn’t a distinction. Depends on the distinction you want to make I guess.

Religions and cults lie on a continuum. While they all may share some similarities depending where you are on the continuum there can be distinct differences (e.g. humans and apes…similar in many ways but also distinctly different).

I think you could draw such a line for religions with one end being rational and/or reasonable and the other end being batshit insane (the insane side being what we define as cults). Yes, some will define that whole continuum as insane at some level but the point here is to distinguish among the choices and some are clearly worse than others (and Scientology is markedly among the nuttiest of them all).

While there will be disagreement about where on the scale of that line a given religion would fall on I think it is without a doubt that Scientology is way, way, waaaaay off the scale into insane bonkers land making them clearly in cult land.

For example:

I’d say you just can’t make this shit up but…well…not sure how much more made up it gets than that (well, actually it gets even weirder).


I addled my brain aplenty with alcohol, drugs, constant sex, and other unhealthy decisions when I was younger and never in a million years would I have bought into Scientology.

Whatever psychological phenomena allows people to be retarded enough to buy into this is not a result of doing drugs or having sex.

I’m thoroughly amused by the idea that lots of sex somehow addles the brain. Sounds like something your girlfriend tells you when she doesn’t want to put out.

''But honey we already did it once this month. Surely you don’t want to risk insanity. ‘’

Trying to get laid addles the brain. Does that count?

From what I have seen, it is now a cult trying to become a religion. Check in on it again two generations after the death of its founder and see which direction it had taken.
(My rule of thumb is that a cult relies heavily on its founder and those directly influenced by that person - if the belief system can survive or grow after the removal of the initiator, then it just might be a religion. And no, 26 years is not long enough to determine this.)


The little bit I read of Hubbard leads me to believe that he was making a science/religion out of manipulating our own natural chemicals and hormones. If he was the source of manipulation he would be the God. No different than any other form of drug addiction but probably physicaly healthier. Charlatons of all shapes have been manipulating our chemicals for years to suit thier own needs.

No, you really couldn’t. Religion is the abandonment of rationality and reason.

So if there is brainwashing involved in Scientology, what are they using to achieve this? I mean most cults I have read about usually use some sort of mind altering drug to get their followers to comply. Scientology is against any and all psychological drugs and any kind of psychiatry. How then do these people become brainwashed? The e-meter and auditing seems harmless at first, almost like a counseling session. It isn’t until the higher levels (OT 3) that you find out about Xenu and the nuttiness. But how are people sucked in? Is it hypnosis? I mean John Travolta seems like he is walking around in a daze. But Tom Cruise just seems down right nuts. I never actually met a Scientologist so I am basing these observations on the famous ones out there.

The bolded part reminds me of this:

Substitute Scientology for Communist and there you go!

If Scientology is not a cult, then the word has no meaning.

For example…?

E camp, the drugs produced by our body are chemicaly identical to many of the opiates. Just the normal exposure we have on a daily basis will cause us to have small spurts of these drugs. This tells our brain it was pleasurable and we should do it again. It conditions us. If you meet a hot chick for instance, totally out of you rleague and she pays attention to you a major rush may occur. If you are in a group of peers for instance and you would normaly consider them out of your league for whatever reason and they show you a level of acceptance the same thing occurs. First they sell you on themselves how great they are, then they invite you to join them. Once you are hooked the manipulation process becomes much easier. You become a drug whore.

One man’s cult is another man’s religion. Sorry, but the only difference I see between Scientology and Catholicism is the recently of their founding and the number of adherents. The core beliefs of both are equally silly and the leadership of both have a history of doing really awful things. Every Sunday people file into churches around the world and claim to see a wizard turn bread into a long-dead person’s flesh - a person who is alleged to have risen from the dead - and then literally ascended into space - and then the celebrants eat the flesh in a cannibalistic ritual that’s supposed to honr the guy who ascended into space. It’s every bit as nutty as the Xenu thing.

In AD 150, Christianity would have seemed to people to be every bit as preposterous and cult-of-personality-based as Scientology is today, because it was the new kid on the religious block. If Scientology lasts another thousand years it’ll seem just like Christianity does to us today. Its absurdity will be accepted by virtue of its longetivity.