Scientology a religion or a cult?

Most of the broadcast and print stories about the breakup of Tom Cruse and whomever (who cares?) refer to Scientology as a religion.

From what Ive read about L. Ron Hubbard, and the organization, it sure sounds like a cult to me.

I Googled to get some definitions, and most of the hits I read list the attributes that define a cult, and most sound like a fit for Scientology.


If your cult has enough lawyers, you can make the media call it a religion.

What’s the difference?

It seems to me a cult is just a religion that’s either relatively new or has relatively few adherents/brain-washed drones.

So, the answer is “yes.”

Let’s be generous. It’s a philosophy, and an organization of those who believe in and try to promote that philosophy.

It’s not a cult because it is only mildly coercive and doesn’t depend on a charismatic leader to attract followers.

It’s not a religion because it doesn’t have a mythical deity or construct a scenario for the afterlife.

It is undeniably a totally batshit, wack-job attempt by someone who was either a loony (if he believed in it himself) or a con artist (if he didn’t) to offer weak-minded people the illusion of control over their lives.

Tom Cruise getting one of the hottest young women on the planet and then driving her away with this absurd philosophy shows both its compelling attraction and the fact that he is about as smart as a gumball machine.

To which religions does the above not apply?

You were OK until the bolded part. They are highly coercive (just try to leave) and recruit celebrities so they can use them.

Cult they are and cult they shall remain until society wises up and exterminates them root and branch.

required link:

I resent that!

signed: A. Gumball Machine

I did forget to mention in my OP that the title of the thing is the Church of Scientology, so of course it is a religion. :smiley: I bet they get tax-free status on their property.

I do remember back in the 50s some time, reading Dianatics that somebody lent me. They asked for my opinion and I opined it was rubbish. However, old L. Ron is probably considered a Messiah now by his adherents.

Legally it’s a religion, as least as far as the U.S. government is concerned. In fact, I’m pretty sure that circumventing the tax laws was the original reason that they fought to be recognized as a religion in the first place.

There’s at least one important difference. There’s a level of secrecy in Scientology that does not exist in most other mainstream religions. I can go to my nearest mosque and ask the imam to explain Muslim beliefs to me and get some answers. He might even offer me a copy of the Qur’an and other literature detailing Muslim beliefs and practices. I could ask a rabbi, a priest and even a pagan priestess about their respective religions and I will get answers. Not so with Scientologist. The amount of information I get about Scientology is dependent on the amount of money I have invested with the church.


It’s an organization devoted to extracting money from gullible people based on confidence schemes and extortion. It’s a racket, as used in the expression “federal anti-racketeering task force”.

Oh, wait, “neither” is not the correct answer after all. The correct answer is “both”.

“Cult” is a word that doesn’t have a real precise meaning, and isn’t used by people who study religions and the psychology of religion for a living. They use the term New Religious Movement to describe, well, new(ish) religious movements.

That being said, laypeople use the word cult all the time, but they mostly use it to mean, “this group that believes weird shit that’s different than the weird shit I believe.” So, sure, it’s a cult if you’re not a Scientologist.

If you’re asking if they’re secretive (“occult” in religious studies terms), then yes, sort of. There are lots of ex-Scientologists who are perfectly happy to share their “secrets,” but in order to get much official information out of the actual group, you’ve got to become a member.

If you’re asking if they’re coercive, then yes, again, sort of. If you have money, or have means of making money, and they think they can get you to give it to them, then they do make it difficult to leave, with a combination of blaming the apostate (“If you worked through your concerns using our methods, you’d reach a new level of understanding. If you leave, you’re a filthy stinking quitter!”) and, supposedly, working to destroy their careers by badmouthing them to other Scientologists in their field.

If you’re asking if they force members to cut off all ties with non-Scientologists, then no. They do encourage members to recruit their friends and family as new members, but you’re still allowed to go to Mom’s house for Christmas dinner, talk to reporters, have friends who aren’t Scientologists… There are some New Religious Movements which control their members’ lives so much that you just don’t do that. Scientology is not one of them.

If you’re asking if they brainwash people, then no. But since “brainwashing” as we were scared of it during the Satanic Panic of the '80s doesn’t actually exist, then it’s arguable that no New Religious Movement/Cult brainwashes.

That’s a valid point.


The attitude of this perception is

“If youre not my religion, yours is a cult”

Depends on the pagan priestess. I know a couple who like to answer in riddles.

But, basically, yes, very good point. Scientology is trying to act like a “mystery” and that’s really hard to do in the information age. Hell, even the Masons have stopped trying to maintain their rituals as secrets. I remember when the Scientologists tried to sue to prevent the publication of their innermost secrets: Xenu and the spaceship and the volcano and the alien homeworld and all that guff. The courts told 'em to go to blazes: secrets are not protected, whereas speech and publication is.

Very eeenter-ehs-stink!


Well, riddles *are *a 12th level secret, you know.

(I find that 90% of pagan priestesses who answer in riddles do so because they don’t have a particularly well thought out or internally consistent theology. And I say that as a pagan priestess.)

It most certainly is not a philosophy. A philosophy is a belief system that is (at least by intent) based upon reason rather than on some special revelation. Nobody can reason their way to a set of beliefs involving ancient galactic wars and mass murders of aliens by dropping them into volcanoes.

It is quite coercive, by all accounts, once you are in, and it did originally have a charismatic leader. Anyway, who says either of these are essential to something being a cult.

Depending on how you construe these criteria, either Scientology does have these things, or there are major established religions (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism) that do not have one or other or either.

The fact that he has long been considered one of the hottest men on the planet, not to mention hugely rich, probably had a lot to do with his ability to attract hot women and his confidence that he will be able to find himself more of them. His brains, and even his loony beliefs, have little to do with it.

As far as the difference between a cult and a religion go, I agree with Knorf: a cult is just a new or small religion; a religion is just a large, long-running cult. There is no fundamental difference in kind. In another half century or so, Scientology will either have died out, or will be as socially accepted respectable as, say, Mormonism is now. (Fingers crossed for the former, but who would have guessed that something as loopy as Mormonism would have survived and prospered?)

It’s more of an ideology than a religion, and manifests itself in a cult-like fashion.

Here’s some more required reading. Bare-Faced Messiah.