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The Church of Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1953 in Camden, New Jersey. The church has been at the center of many controversies for many years. L. Ron Hubbard founded the church as the follow-up to his popular self-help book, “Dianetics.” The church grew exponentially in terms of membership over the years and is very popular with celebrities and affluent people.
L. Ron Hubbard founded the church in 1953 after many attempts at becoming a comic book artist. Hubbard always had a passion for science fiction and had written many original comic book series, many of which were not successful and a few that gained popularity after Hubbard became famous for the Scientology religion. Hubbard was always seeking success and after being told the best way to make money was to start a religion, Scientology was founded. While Hubbard would most likely deny the claim that Scientology is all about money, the lack of spiritual history and the focus the money has on collecting money from its members might suggest otherwise.
Scientology has been very vocal and aggressive in response to its critics. Scientology has a tenet called “Fair Game,” which basically says that any member of Scientology has the authority to silence a person they deem a member of the church using any means necessary. (Urban) Hubbard later canceled the policy of “Fair Game” due to the great public outcry about the use of the policy. However, to this day Scientology continues to be very aggressive and litigious toward those they would consider the enemies of Scientology.
One of the most famous examples of Scientology’s extreme response to criticism they received is Operation Freakout. Operation Freakout was a covert mission that took place during the 1970’s. Scientology intended to end the mission with vocal Scientology critic Paulette Cooper, author of The Scandal of Scientology being arrested or committed to a mental asylum. The group harassed Cooper over a period of years, but they were not successful in their attempts to discredit or have Cooper arrested. Scientologists even went so far as to send a threatening letter to an Arab consulate, forging Cooper’s signature at the bottom. Eventually, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, another one of Scientology’s enemies, found evidence of the plot and Cooper settled with the church out-of-court. (Rawitch & Gillette, 1978)
While Operation Freakout seems like an insane plot that would only happen in the movies, Freakout was not the only deranged plot that Scientology attempted to successfully see to fruition. Operation Snow White was a mission intended to purge unfavorable records about the church and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, from a variety of government agencies. This was the largest U.S. government infiltration in history, with up to 5,000 scientologists acting as agents of the mission. (Ortega, 1999) The most valuable target of the infiltration was the Internal Revenue Service, which had long had a vitriolic relationship with Scientology; the IRS had long tried to get rid of the church’s tax-exempt status and these actions had not gone unnoticed by church leaders. Scientology employed tactics such as document theft and wiretapping in order to get the information they sought from these government agencies.
As previously mentioned, the Church of Scientology has long had an adversarial relationship with the Internal Revenue Service. The Church of Scientology has been very protective of their status as a religious institution, as churches in the United States are not required to pay taxes to the government. However, due to the exorbitantly high fees that members are required to pay the church in order to advance up the ladder, or to even remain as a member, the church fell under great scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service, which wanted to tax Scientology as a business. After many months of investigation and arguments, it is rumored that the Church of Scientology obtained compromising material regarding the IRS commissioner and blackmailed the IRS into granting the Church of Scientology non-profit and tax-free status. (Frantz, 1997)
It isn’t conjecture or anti-Scientology rhetoric that the prices of joining and moving up in Scientology are ridiculously high. In the year 2006, it could take a person at least $365,000 – $380,000 to attain the current highest rank in Scientology, OT8 with readiness for OT9. All figures are taken from xenu.net, a site dedicated to exposing Scientology. One lecture (of many lectures) can cost more than two hundred dollars, and once a Scientology member starts getting to higher level courses, they could be paying over a thousand dollars for the courses and testing. If a member wants to take the courses to be able to audit themselves, they will have to pay more than $33,000. The majority of Scientology’s incoming cash flow goes toward “OT Expenses,” and the details of these expenses are classified except to high-ranking church officials, so it is impossible to prove that Scientology’s claims of being a non-profit are true or false. (Operation Clambake)
It is commonly known that lower-level Scientologists are, for the most part, exposed to aspects of Scientology that do not make it appear as a cult with purported mystical properties. Low-level Scientologists are mostly limited to auditing sessions and lectures. While most opponents of Scientology would tell you that these auditing sessions are nothing more than an exploited person sitting in a room with a sociopath and exposing all their secrets for potential blackmail later, the aspects of auditing are not that different from visiting a psychologist or therapist. Though, it is important to note that comparing an auditing session to a therapy session is only accurate in a vacuum. Scientology staff are supposed to help auditees talk through their past issues and get past them, and some of the staffers may even think they are doing a great thing and not taking advantage of the auditee; but, staff are required to take notes on what the auditees reveal, and if the member threatens to leave the church, they might be gently reminded that they may not want their dirty laundry to be aired for all to see.
One of the popular theories behind the popularity of Scientology among celebrities is that these celebrities have revealed information to Scientology that could ruin their career that very much takes place in the public eye. Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two of the most visible celebrity Scientologists. Many have speculated that these two celebrities could be closeted gay men and that the threat of Scientology outing them is what keeps them in the church. There are many celebrities that are devoted members, such as Nancy Cartwright (Bart from “The Simpsons”), Isaac Hayes (formerly Chef from “South Park”), Laura Prepon (“That 70’s Show,” “Orange is the New Black”), and the late Sonny Bono. It is no surprise that when Paul Haggis, screenwriter and producer of films “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” left the Church of Scientology in October of 2009 that the church started a massive smear campaign against him. Haggis says his reason for leaving was Scientology’s decision to support Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California. Scientology created a website, www.whoispaulhaggis.com, which paints him as being a liar, hypocrite, and media attention seeker. Haggis also recently spoke out against Scientology in the Home Box Office documentary, “Going Clear,” based upon the book of the same name. HBO hired over 100 lawyers in order to vet the documentary for broadcast. (The silence of Cruise’s ‘sinister’ Cult, 2008)
According to academic definitions, Scientology would definitely qualify as a cult. According to Bruce Campbell, there are three types of “ideal cults.” They are: a mystically-oriented illumination type, an instrumental type, in which inner experience is sought solely for its effects, and a service-oriented type that is focused on aiding others. Of these three types, one could easily assign Scientology to fit into all three stereotypes.
From the mystically-oriented illumination angle, Scientology definitely fits the bill. While scientology seems rather secular and vanilla from a perspective that knows nothing of Scientology’s upper levels and its mythos, the church actually does have a mystical origin story. The abridged version, which has aspects of intergalactic space battles, is basically that an alien overlord named Xenu brought billions of disembodied souls, known as “thetans,” to earth. They attached themselves to our ancient ancestors, and are still present today and that they are what cause all our suffering and anxiety. (Lippard, 2008) This is, without a doubt, a mystical origin story filled with magic and fantastical elements. This information is only revealed to upper-level members of the church, but it has since been leaked and spoofed by shows such as “South Park.”
Scientology also fits into the typology of an instrumental type, in which inner experience is sought solely for its effects. The main draw of Scientology, as with many cults, for uninformed potential members is helping oneself get past whatever emotional or physical barriers that may be holding them back. Auditing is a huge part of Scientology. As explained earlier, an auditing session is basically a therapy session, though L. Ron Hubbard despised comparing Scientology to psychology, which is somewhat ironic. The purpose of auditing is for the auditee to expel negative thetans from their bodies, allowing them to move past whatever negative experience they had in the past that is holding them back. Though, auditing also has a sinister hidden agenda, which is to catalog incriminating or potentially humiliating information about Scientology members, in order to keep them as members of the church.
As for the third classification, a service-oriented type that is focused on aiding others, it is hard for an objective person to say that this applies to Scientology. While many members of Scientology truly believe that they are doing a great thing and helping others improve, this is simply not true for many others, who see Scientology as a cult that destroys not only the life of the member, but the lives of family and friends of the member, who may be intimidated by the church if they attempt to get them to stop attending. Since Scientology is technically a non-profit and they provide a type of counseling service to people, they could very well easily think of themselves as a group that provides service and aid to others.
Overall, I personally think that Scientology is a very dangerous cult. They have so much political and financial influence at this point that it is hard to see where it will stop. New celebrities join all the time, and these are people that the youth of America look to for role models. I surely hope that the journalists of the world continue to expose Scientology for the profit-seeking fraud that it is. Not only do they imprison members who may be unsatisfied in places like their Gold Base in California, they also trick members into indentured servitude for a billion years in their Sea Organization. Members are treated like human garbage in both these places; being forced to work for hours on end with no break and barely feeding them. Overall, I one day hope to see the dangerous Cult of Scientology dismantled once and for all.
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