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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scientology: Why "Religion"?

Recently, I was asked to look at why Scientology characterizes itself as a religion.

Anyone who pays any attention to the various controversies surrounding David Miscavige's Church of Scientology knows that there is a lot of information available about this "religion" angle. It is obvious that the Church of Scientology was set up and is run like a business, and that the whole "religion" thing was tacked on as an afterthought, so the question is, "Why?"

Why does Scientology call itself a religion? And why is it important?

We'll look at "why" in a bit. First, let's look at who says it is a religion. The answer may surprise you.

Did Hubbard call Scientology a religion? Well... no. And yes. Originally, Hubbard was quite emphatic -- Scientology is not a religion:
Scientology has opened the gates to a better world. It is not a psycho-therapy nor a religion.
L. Ron Hubbard
Page 251, Creation of Human Ability 1954

(Statement removed from later editions, for obvious reasons)
Later, Hubbard changed his mind and declared that Scientology actually was a religion. Hubbard's decision to start claiming Scientology as a religion was highly unpopular with many Dianeticists and Scientologists at that time and many did, in fact, leave because of it.

OK, who else says Scientology is a religion?

Does the Church of Scientology itself call Scientology a religion? Well... yes -- and very emphatically, NO!

Surprised? It's very, very true.

The Church of Scientology is "recognized as a religion" in only a small handful of countries. It is difficult to get an exact count, but it appears to be officially recognized in only eight or nine countries. Period. In case you were wondering, there are almost 200 countries in the world.

Now, you would think that the Church of Scientology would be fighting for religious recognition in all the rest of the countries, but, in most places in the world, Scientology itself insists that it is not a religion!

Check out Scientology's official presentation of itself in Israel. Check out Scientology's official presentation of itself in any predominantly Catholic country (like Mexico or even Spain where "church" and "religion" are in English only). Check out Scientology's official presentation of itself in any predominantly Muslim country. Check it out. See what Scientology says about whether it is a religion or not. The Church of Scientology says it is not a religion in most countries. In most areas of the world, Scientology's organizations are called "centers" or "associations" or something, but the words "religion" and "church" are not included.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi in the Marburg Journal of Religion: Volume 8, No. 1 (September 2003) writes about Scientology:
6. Self-Presentation as a Secular Movement.
Some Scientology representatives state that the so-called church is not a religion. When a Scientology branch opened in Japan in 1985, it was careful to present itself as a 'philosophy' and not a religion (Kent, 1999). In the United States, an article in a Maine newspaper that solicited thoughts about the "new millennium" from local church leaders reports that "Barbara Fisco, mission holder of the Church of Scientology in Brunswick, said that Scientology is not a religion and therefore not subject to the religious implications of the Year 2000" (Smith, 1999\

The case of Scientology in Israel is quite instructive. In various organizational forms, Scientology has been active among Israelis for more than thirty years, but those in charge not only never claimed the religion label, but resisted any such suggestion or implication. It has always presented itself as a secular, self-improvement, tax-paying business. Otherwise, they offered the familiar products and deceptions, from the Oxford Capacity Analysis to Dianetics and Purification. The current Israeli franchise holder told me rather proudly that he pays all required taxes. In its history as a commercial venture, the organization still got into legal trouble, and was charged with tax evasion at least once.
Now isn't that so odd? A "religion" that, well, if that interferes with the business operation, just casually drops the whole "church" fa├žade in an instant. When it interferes with business, it turns out the "religion angle" isn't important at all.

It could be argued that the organization that is most vocal and most insistent, around the world, that Scientology is "not a religion" is ... the Church of Scientology.

So, finally and inevitably we come to the question, "Why?" Why does Scientology characterize itself as "a religion"?

Well, we have to reword the question now, don't we? In context of the above, it no longer is a correct question. In most of the world Scientology vehemently insists that it is not a religion. So the question is incorrect. The accurate question is:
Why does Scientology only call itself "a religion" in a few, selected countries, but insists on calling itself a "self-improvement business", a "philosophy", a "community group" or something else equally non-religious, in the rest of the world?
Worded correctly, the answer now becomes much more obvious.

Pay close attention here. This is key. The factor that determines whether Scientology claims to be a religion is not what Scientologists believe. This doesn't change from country to country. The factor that determines this is not what Scientologists do. This also doesn't change. The deciding factor that determines whether Scientology claims to be a religion or not is the balance between the benefits and liabilities of doing so. That's a business consideration.

When Hubbard implemented this "religion" angle he wrote:
Scientology 1970 is being planned on a religious organization basis throughout the world. This will not upset in any way the usual activities of any organization. It is entirely a matter for accountants and solicitors.
L. Ron Hubbard
Policy Letter 29 Oct. 1962, "Religion"
Get it? "Accountants and solicitors". It was then, and is today, solely a business matter. What are the benefits? What are the liabilities? In the United States, there is considerable legal protection and there are vast tax benefits for being a religion. The liabilities are relatively small. Sure, that "religion angle" has caused problems, like Albuquerque where Scientology wanted to move into a business location which was deemed "inappropriate for a church". Oh, Scientology sure wanted a variance then. They wanted to be treated like a business.

Their front groups are the Church of Scientology's attempt to have their cake and eat it too. The front groups are supposed to allow the church into areas barred from churches -- like attempts to get Scientology's children recruitment group, the Drug Free Marshals, into New Mexico schools. Unfortunately for Scientology, the group was linked back to the church, and then appropriately barred from the schools.

But all in all, the benefits in the U.S. outweigh the liabilities, so "it's a religion!"

In other countries, the balance is different. And, as is often the case, when the liabilities of calling itself a religion are too great, "it's a business!"

And that's the answer to "Why 'Religion'?" It's just a "good business decision". As some of the less ethical business executives might say, "If you can get away with it, why not?"

How pragmatic! How practical!

How hypocritical!


  1. Once again, David Miscavidge, gnashes his little teeth and wails!
    Good one, Bill!

  2. Wow - this article needs to find its way to every major newspaper and magazine.

  3. Quite an interesting point. I knew that in many countries than Scn was outright non-religious, whereas in the US and UK they've been playing the religious-protection card.
    I've read the LRH "accountants and solicitors" quote.

    It never struck me this clearly how ludicrous that is to shout "religious persecution!" in one country, and (I'd assume) a different "persecution" in another county. Constant self-victimization, but not constant cause.

    I'd be interested to know why specifically they choose to not claim religious status in some specific countries - another thing to add to my research pile for a future date...

    Thanks Bill - as always, good stuff.

  4. Thanks.

    The bottom line for Miscavige's Church of Scientology is, how to get more people and more money. While it is easy to rope in, let's say, a Christian, by claiming the Scientology "religion" is "open to all faiths", you absolutely cannot pull that on a Catholic or Muslim. When you say "religion" those faiths do not allow members to participate. Period.

    So, Scientology must proclaim themselves not a religion to get anyone in the door in those societies.

    And there you have it. Money is more important than being a religion.

    The huge problem with such hypocrisy is that the Catholic/Muslim countries hear about the "Church" of Scientology, and will avoid it, and the other countries hear about Scientology's non-religious insistence, and stop considering them a religion. A double footbullet, methinks.

  5. Scientology can be used both as a secular philosophy and as a religion. You don't have to adopt Scientology as your religion in order to use the Scientology principles in LRH's books. This is why some get confused when Scientology is sometimes presented as religious and sometimes as not - because they're both true depending on an individual's choice.

    The Eight Dynamics of Scientology comprise the first four which are worldly and secular in nature (self/family/groups/humanity) and the second half of them which are religious in nature (life/universe/spirituality/infinity).

    Scientology itself is a philosophy. It is closely related to, but not precisely the same thing as, the Scientology Religion as practiced in the Churches of Scientology.

    It's no great mystery nor great conspiracy, and it's been openly stated all along.

  6. It's also a great desert topping!

    Come on! That's pure BS and you (should) know it very well.

    It's not a church because the Scientology says so, all over the world!

    Besides that, the "Church" of Scientology is run strictly and only as a business. The "religion" part was tacked on as a hasty afterthought.

    That whole spiel you just excreted was an after-the-fact creation to make it seem legitimate. But you all forgot one important, very important, thing. To be universally recognized as a church, you must stop operating solely as a business. You must do more than just wear the dog-collar uniform.

    But no, your greed got the best of you. It's all about money-money-money. And that's why no one will ever believe your "church" lies.

    By the way, no one is calling this a "conspiracy." It's just a scam, and yes, it is very much openly stated as such from almost the beginning.

  7. Brilliant article, Bill. Thank you very much. I hope some bright lawyer uses this to trash the "church's" religious status in the USA and the few other countries that have made the mistake of recognizing scientology as a religion.

  8. To our "Anonymous" Scientologist:

    "8. It was determined that the only way to handle many of the legal matters in front of us
    and still apply Hubbard’s policies that had to do with staff, ethics, sales of services,
    money, delivery of services and the like was to develop and use a religious cloaking
    saying scientology was a religion, its services religious, its staff members of religious
    orders and the like. I can state without doubt that the overwhelming main reason that
    organized scientology developed and pushed its religious cloaking was to avoid a myriad
    of real or potential legal problems that would exist by following Hubbard’s policies if it
    were not considered a religion."

    -Former top insider Larry Brennan, from sworn affidavit

    Red Pill on Topix

  9. Addition to my response to the Scientologist,

    The whole point of the discussion is not whether Scientology could be a religion or not.

    The whole point is that the Church of Scientology demands that they be considered a "religion" when it is profitable to do so and demands that they are "not a religion" when that is the profitable line.

    And, mostly, around the world, the Church of Scientology insists that they are not a religion.

    It is high time governments and cultures recognized the Church of Scientology for the cynical hypocrites that they are, and treat them the way they should be treated. (That is, the exact opposite of the way they are demanding in that environment!)

  10. Is there a list anywhere where that lists which nations they claim to be a business rather than a religion in?

  11. I don't know of such a list. I'll bet there is some internal document about it, but you can bet that's confidential.

  12. Guess I'll have to check wikileaks then...

  13. Hey, if you can find such a list, let me know.

  14. Direct from Wikipedia:
    "In January 1997, during a freezing winter in Germany in which many homeless people died, the Church of Scientology launched a special project to help them.[citation needed][neutrality disputed] Volunteer Ministers provided the needy with tea and hot soup, clothing and shelter.[citation needed][neutrality disputed] On January 29, in Stuttgart, the German authorities issued a decree forbidding the Church from helping the needy under penalty of a fine of 1,000 DM. The decree was later cancelled and revised after a public protest.[173]"

    Bill, you're an idiot. Sit down- stop calling yourself an Investigative reporter. You're nothing more then a bitter hack who wants someone to give you some ass kissing because they cant go and find out things for themselves. A Shepard leading his sheep off the cliff. Your intolerance stands with the same vapid lack of vision that Hitler and Stalin had- and lets not forget... Germany Sent Lenin to Russia on a blacked out train.

  15. Dear Anonymous Scientologist,

    "[citation needed]" means there is no evidence of what is claimed.

    Did you miss that?

    And, dear anonymous Scientologist, when did I ever claim to be an "investigative reporter"?

    I love the fact that Scientologists only have lies to back up their lies. They just make crap up and then claim that others said this or others did that.

    Dear anonymous Scientologist, more lying does not prove that earlier lies were "true". It only confirms that Scientologists lie.

    And that's what you've done.

  16. "Direct from Wikipedia"

    I'm still laughing!


    I know this is Wikipedia, however it does provide guidance on where to check on the official status

  18. I love this post. Have you ever thought of submitting to The New Yorker? They did a 30 page article recently "The Apostate" and this issue seems apropo. Maybe they would even print it as a Letter to the Editor. I would so love to see some of your posts published in widely recognized mags, newpapers, etc.
    You are not only a good writer, but nailing the slippery, weasely PR hype from the Church is an art form and you excel at it.


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