Scientology and "secret information" religions

I’ve just read a fascinating article on Scientology on the New Yorker’s website:, which probably won’t bring a spate of new information to most of us here (although it does feature new interviews which a lot of people may not have read).

My reason for this thread is to ask if there are “religions” (define religions in any way you please) that are as secret as Scientology. I think we’re all familiar with the secrecy of Scientology (i.e., Xenu), but here’s specifically what I mean from the New Yorker article (it’s close to the end):

Bolding mine.

In mainstream religions, it seems to me that discussion of doctrine is encouraged (via witnessing).

I’m not trying to debate the merits of Scientology, because we (most of us, anyway) know it’s a fraud, etc. but I’m wondering about the secrecy of religions. Are there other religions out there that, if doctrines are discussed, offend those “in the know,” and if so, which ones?

And just for the hell of it, here are a couple of links about Ron DeWolf, aka L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. Some may not be as familiar with these, but I 'spect most posters here are. Still, it’s interesting b.g. info.

The closest thing I can think of in a mainstream religion is the Mormons keeping their temple rituals secret by not allowing non-members inside to witness baptisms or weddings or the like. I don’t think there’s any hidden doctrine though, at least not beyond the content of the rituals themselves.

Maybe not so much nowadays, but what about the Mystery Religions/Cults of the ancient world?

Well, I think Catholic priests like to keep a few of their “rituals” secret… They certainly discourage altar boys from talking about them.

[Moderator Note]

Darth Panda, religious jabs are out of place in GQ. This is not relevant to the OP. Do not do this again.

General Questions Moderator


Without addressing the merits of this assertion, this technically could also violate the “no religious jabs” rule. Those who wish to discuss whether Scientology (or other religions) are fraudulent should open a thread in GD. The discussion here should focus on secrecy in religions.

General Questions Moderator

If mainstream religions had deep dark secrets how would we know?

My guess is that most religions have mystical/sacred elements that are not widely discussed outside of the religion’s hierarchy. Scientology may be a more well known case of this, but as was mentioned the Mormons have private ceremonies and other aspects of their religion that are not well known outside their community.

BTW, writing something like “I’m not trying to debate the merits of Scientology, because we (most of us, anyway) know it’s a fraud, etc.” would certainly be offensive to Scientologists and has no place here. I’m sure we could find something in every organized religion to poke fun at if we really wanted to.

Colibri beat me to it!

Well, we know most of the details of Scientologies hidden doctrines and Mormonisms hidden rituals, and both of those religions are both relatively small and relatively new. And if they’ve been unable to keep their small flocks from spilling the beans in just the short time they’ve been around, I think its safe to say the larger, older religions wouldn’t have been able to either.

The OP brings up one of the biggest objections I’ve always had to Scientology.

Whether you take more mainstream religions seriously or not, I think you can agree that it’s usually pretty easy to find out what they’re all about.

If you wanted to know the basics of Judaism, any rabbi would be happy to tell you the essentials for free, and he could do it in 5 minutes.

If you wanted to know the basics of Catholicism, any priest would tell you the basics, for free, in 5 minutes, and then he’d steer you to the official Catechism of the Church, which would tell you everything you’d ever want to know (indeed, MORE than you ever wanted to know) about the Church’s teachings.

Similarly, there are plenty of Muslim Imams and Hindu holy men who’d be glad to share the basics of their religionsfor free.

And then, you could decide for yourself if these creeds merited further study.
Scientology is one of the only religions I know of that requires a huge commitment of time and money BEFORE you get to know what it’s all about.

In Mormonism, there is a concept called “milk before meat.” Generally, when missionaries are teaching doctrine to potential converts (called "investigators) they gloss over (if not completely omit) some of the stranger, wonkier doctrine. You get the very basics, which all seem pretty reasonable. Then you get “challenged” to read the Book of Mormon and pray to find out if it’s true. When you receive your divine spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of the BoM, then you are “challenged” to baptism.

Ask any newly minted Mormon convert if they have ever heard of women holding the priesthood, or blood atonement, the planet Kolob and its relationship to Mormonism, or find out what they know about the Book of Abraham. Chances are, they won’t have heard of any of it. Could you call that hidden doctrine? I do, because investigators are expected to make a commitment to the church without really having all the facts.

Also, what you said about the temple rituals goes a little bit further. Not only are nonworthy nonmembers not allowed in the temples, but active faithful members are forbidden to discuss what goes on inside the temples when they are outside the temple. There is no talking allowed during the temple rituals, so members are effectively silenced about the commitments they make and the obligations they swear to in those rituals. That said, go to any Masonic temple and you’d pretty much find the same basic rituals, complete with “sacred, not secret” handshakes, signs and tokens. And nifty hats.

The phrase I put in quotation marks in the paragraph above sums it up. Many of these sort of hidden doctrines are called “sacred, not secret.” That’s the reason members are given for being admonished to not discuss what goes in in the temples. Before 1990, the temple ritual included swearing that you would never reveal what went on in there or “suffer my life to be taken” and you’d have to mime slashing yourself at the throat to emphasize your commitment to the idea that you’d rather die than tell someone what you just did inside the temple.

I call all that hidden doctrine or secret information. Never-mormons are rarely aware of the weirder stuff and investigators are not offered full disclosure.

:: awaiting flames from current devout mormons ::

Not exactly a religion, maybe in some cases a substitute; Freemasonry has its share of secrecy. AFAIK there’s nothing particularly sinister about it, mostly some private rituals and recognition signs like handshakes. They do expect their members to respect that privacy however.

My stepfather was a former freemason who had withdrawn when he married mother and converted to her church, which prohibited participation in fraternal organizations. I can remember, as a kid, pressuring him to “tell me the mason’s secrets”…I figured since he had abandoned the order he was no longer under any obligation to maintain secrecy. As I recall, he said something like “there’s nothing earth-shattering or meaningful about it, and you wouldn’t understand it anyway.” I never did learn the secrets of freemasonry…years later when given an opportunity to join the order and learn for myself, I declined. The local lodge by that time was mostly just a few ancient duffers who sat around telling war stories and I had better things to do.

Note: Joseph Smith was a freemason. Cite.

Freemasonry came to mind with me also. Cults also by definition are closed societies. Things like a particular southern baptist church sect have often mentioned here many times.

I wouldn’t be surprised that the RCC with it’s many layers have things available at higher levels that are unavailable to the lay person, and I’m sure the pope has access to documents that most of us will never know exist, so I don’t know how far you want to go with this, even the host (body/blood of Christ) in a RCC is supposedly only available to members of the RCC.

Apologies as that was not my intention. But will this do?

So in at least one case, in one country, it’s been legally called a fraud. And the links I provided in the OP certainly can give the impression that others think of it as a fraud, even if the church itself hasn’t been condemned as such everywhere.

You may be right about the layers of the RCC, but the underlying fundamental tenents of it are well known, and are no secret. That’s what I’m talking about, as opposed to the (now well known, but but still officially secret) tale of Xenu. By comparison, the RCC would be keeping Jesus Christ a secret from beginning to end.

I’m not sure the Mormons really apply either, as they’re relatively mysterious in some ways, I believe, but am not certain, their beliefs are relatively open. Same with other groups such as the Amish. Whether or not they’re closed societies (the Shakers for instance), or welcome outsiders in with open arms (most mainstream religions) doesn’t matter. I can’t think of another religion that holds its beliefs as closely as Scientology.

Scientology has been ruled fraudulent in some countries so it’s not speculation unless you want to limit the legal concept to the United States.

What makes Scientology didfferent from LDS is that Scientology sells the secret doctrines for money. That’s the game, that’s the scam. Doctrine is product. It’s doled out in iterminable increments for cash. LDS doesn’t do that. It might have esoteric rituals, but they don’t charge money for it.

Scientology is not the only nominal “religion” that runs this sort of long con. Eckankar does a lot of it too - charging “membership fees,” and selling literature according to the mark’s personal level of “advancement.”

Critics sometimes accuse them of doing so, however, because in order to get a temple recommend and go to the temple, you have to be a current tithe-payer, which means paying 10% of your income to the church. But that’s really expected of everybody, so it’s not really comparable to Scientology’s whole setup, at least as far as I understand it.

Tithing is hardly unique to Mormons.

And as far as the tithing goes, I think the LDS they’ll let you slide for not paying it if they know you’re having financial difficulties (at least for a little while).