Shrinking Scientology?
December 19, 2004 5:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in how long Scientology can survive while Google produces results like this. Does anyone have experience of Scientology within their family, or has anyone seen signs that the organisation is shrinking?
posted by Pretty_Generic to Religion & Philosophy (45 answers total)
It can survive forever. It's a religion. Religions generally don't die when faced with skepticisim. Also, strange it as may seem to many of us here, not everyone in the world does constant google searches.
posted by grumblebee at 5:18 AM on December 19, 2004

It's a cult, albeit an unusual one that survived the death of its leader. It absolutely cannot survive forever, because it is fundamentally dependent on hiding its core beliefs from its followers until they are sufficiently brainwashed. The internet allows people to find those beliefs, and as they become more common knowledge, the organisation is doomed. I'm just interested in how that's progressing, and anyone's personal experiences.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:57 AM on December 19, 2004

PG, to answer your first question: apparently, the number of members is shrinking.

And, not to be snarky, but, as you pointed out, there's a lot of information on Google, and the link above was from the first hit for "Scientology members shrinking".
posted by Bugbread at 6:17 AM on December 19, 2004

On a personal observation level, they've been out on the streets of NYC a lot more lately, plus they just opened a new "center" on 46th St. right near Times Square.

So they're certainly in recruitment mode.
posted by Remy at 6:21 AM on December 19, 2004

Historically speaking, and not pissing on anyone's beliefs, but Christianity is a cult that survived the death of its leader. Heck - Christianity was created after Jesus' death. The Jews of Jesus' time thought he was wacko - if they had the internet, they'd probably post all sorts of crap too.

Religions govern the fundamental manners in which people believe -- and in a way you can't really attack with logic. Hindus believe that you'll reincarnate as a bug if you haven't lived your life properly. Jains sweep the sidewalk as they walk in order to protect the insects from being injured by their steps. As long as people find safety or hope in what they believe, they'll continue believing it. And I'd imagine critique only adds an element of solidarity to the mix.
posted by Hankins at 6:30 AM on December 19, 2004

While a discussion of cults and religions may be interesting, it doesn't really answer PG's two questions:

Does anyone have experience of Scientology within their family?
[H]as anyone seen signs that the organisation is shrinking?

posted by Bugbread at 6:37 AM on December 19, 2004

Hankins - if you go into a church and ask the priest "What's your religion about?", he'll say, "Well, it's all in the Bible, Jesus died for your sins, he was the son of God, he was resurrected...". All the information is put in front of you at the outset. In Scientology, the core beliefs are supposed to be hidden until people are "ready" (i.e. sufficiently dependent on/indebted to the organisation) to receive it. That's what makes it incomparably different to major religions.

Also, it makes a big difference that we have SO much recent documentary evidence, unclouded by 2000 years of history, that it's all just the rantings of a money-making lunatic.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:49 AM on December 19, 2004

I think the disclaimer at the bottom of this search speaks volumes about how the "church" operates.
posted by revgeorge at 7:04 AM on December 19, 2004

I was loosely affiliated to Scientology as a teenager - I got into it through L. Ron Hubbard's (atrocious) sci-fi, which contained an insert for Dianetics. Dianetics, for the those who don't know, is "the modern science of mental health" (or somesuch) and effectively an entrypoint into Scientology which promises to release your true Randian potential through eliminating the power of scarring memories. From this, I visited the local 'org' their term for their 'churches') but it didn't get much beyond that because, during a chatty phone call with one of their recruiters, I mentioned that I had read a pretty damning report in the Pear Cyclopaedia and this guy went ballistic. Truly, off the wall. I could not believe the explosive reaction from a total stranger that my inquiring, albeit naive, comment had produced. I hung up and then spend the next few years reading up on NRMs - "New Religious Movements".

However, as a cult, it seems to command a respect which, for example, ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness a.k.a Hare Krishna) does not although Hare Krishna has a larger population (or used to). For example, some personals websites (jeez, I'm letting it all hang out here!) when you register will allow Scientology as a religious choice. Plus it has all that hollywood clout, which I don't think other cult could really claim, although I'm curious to see what the trickle down effect of madonna 'studying' the cabbalah will be. (Not that cabbalists are cultists, they do not share the same socialogical/psychological structure that cults do, but as far as obscure spiritual practices with a world view quite distinct from the dominant paradigm go, its an intriguing one).

In that regard although its numbers do seemed to have shrunk from the late 80's (typical! I was just following a general trend!) now is not the time to be assuming that the hoi polloi is not going to be more 'spiritual'. I'm wondering about bugbread's stats and that the graphs showed peaks mostly during the end of the cold-war, and during a time of economic stress - both of which are not far away once again.

Regarding the New York thing - they are definitely gung-ho at the moment outside times square: racks of tables, e-meters, literature and glassy-eyed enthusiastic recruiters. I'm due to go into the city today, so maybe I'll get myself tested, and maybe they'll ask me their strange questions once again: do you sometimes whistle, just for fun...?
posted by blindsam at 7:22 AM on December 19, 2004

they'll ask me their strange questions once again: do you sometimes whistle, just for fun...?

That's a Scientology question? All of a sudden, I have a followup question for this thread, only tangentially related. I recognize that as a lyric from a Faith No More song, which is related to pop-psychology. I didn't realize it was from anything specific, though. Are there any other lines in these lyrics which you can recall being connected to Scientology? (I quoted the entire song's lyrics to avoid missing a potential reference):

You have a winning way, so keep it
Your future
You are an angel heading for the land of sunshine
And fortune is smiling upon you

Prepare for a series of comfortable miracles
From fasting to feasting
And life to you is a dashing bold adventure
So sing and rejoice
And look for the dream that keeps coming back
Your future
Pat yourself on the back and give yourself a handshake
Cuz everything is not yet lost

Does life seem worthwhile to you?


Yes, hmm hmm, now for the next question
Does emotional music have quite an effect on you?
Do you feel sometimes like age is against you?
Sing and rejoice and sing and rejoice
Yes, hmm hmm, that's interesting.
But tell me, do you often sing or whistle just for fun?
Do you feel sometimes like age is against you?
I, I can help - I can help you - I can help you help yourself!

Does life seem worthwhile to you?



posted by Bugbread at 7:28 AM on December 19, 2004

critique only adds an element of solidarity to the mix.

Yeah, that's a good point. Most cults find strength in the idea that outsiders are jealous haters who want to trample the little earthy paradise you've discovered, haul you off to concentration camps, etc., like the feeling that was exploited in the Jonestown suicides.

But seems like it would cut down on new recruits, if knowledge of Scientology gets out there.
posted by inksyndicate at 7:30 AM on December 19, 2004

Bugbread, I had a similar moment of elation several years ago as a Faith No More fan. Quite a few of the lyrics, as it turns out, come from the Scientology personality test. See if you can find one, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

"Does emotional music have an effect on you?" is definitely one of the questions.
posted by inksyndicate at 7:32 AM on December 19, 2004

the link above was from the first hit for "Scientology members shrinking"

L. Ron's member has undoubtedly shrunk since it became wormfood.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:32 AM on December 19, 2004

I was pondering asking if anyone actually knows a Scientologist personally, so this question is interesting to me. I've never (knowingly) spoken to one and don't seem to know anyone who has. Okay, beyond some knobs who had a table in Borders and were stalking customers.

Scientology has always struck me as a cold religion, and I can't see it being very appealing or comforting in the long term. People seem to prefer their religion to contain more passion and some force looking out for you. Besides that, it seems you really have to work (and pay) to improve yourself with Scientology. Thus I could see why Scientology might not be able to keep many adherents.
posted by picea at 8:00 AM on December 19, 2004

I can't see it being very appealing or comforting in the long term

You don't find OT III comforting? :D
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:07 AM on December 19, 2004

Understanding a religion, even if that religion is solely comprised of sending $19.99 to some P.O. Box in Bumfuck, Nebraska to receive redemption, requires much more than simple logic -- it requires understanding the believers of those religious teachings. There are some crazy-ass people out there who will say and do anything. As long as there are people who identify with those beliefs and follow with gusto, the religion will persist.

It's somewhat (go with me on this :) like the "cult" of painter Thomas Kinkade. (For those overseas, Kinkade is an American artist who creates happy little paintings of happy little contrived scenes that appeal to much of the Wal*Mart demographic.) The best quote from this special was when the interviewer asked a gentleman if he'd "ever consider buying something a little edgier, or challenging, like a Picasso print?" To which the man responded, "The problem I always have with Picassos is there's always an art critic trying to explain what it means. And I don't need people to explain what it means. If I like it, I like it. If I don't, I don't."

That's precisely the same thing! People tend to believe in things that appeal to them (and generally are easy for them to believe in). And while *I* might think that Kinkade is a mediocre-talent hack, he has more followers than I could ever logically reason.
posted by Hankins at 8:15 AM on December 19, 2004

Scientology has always struck me as a cold religion,

well, as the name suggests, the idea was apparently always to be a more 'rational' religion - ie, not a question of faith, but of self-improvement via psychoanalytic methods. Of course, it has the whole sci-fi/ fantasy angle, too - aliens and volcanos and stuff like that.

I don't know, I can imagine it dying away or not. Their site comes up first and paints the religion as rational & empirical but also based on immortal souls, which is just what some percentage of folks want... Psuedo-philosophy is annoying, the latin/greek coinage bugs me (and the fact that l ron apparently didn't realize there was already a word that means the study of knowledge), but apparently people like to think they're thinking without actually having to do much thinking. When I tell strangers I'm studying philosophy, the two most common responses I get are regarding the tao te ching and ayn rand. (I'm not saying you could never find something interesting in those - emerson had a nice metaphor for man's intellectual hunger, that if need be we will live off 'boiled grass and the broth of shoes'... - but, well, there are much much better meals)

Anyway. People will believe weird stuff or use what makes them happy or otherwise live in semi-delusion so long as they find something positive in it, regardless of its actual relation to truth. It's interesting to ask whether scientology is well established enough to fight all the 'cult' claims, or not, but any religion starting out has to get through the 'cult' phase. A religion is just a cult that makes it, basically.
posted by mdn at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

Everyone should do themselves a favour and read A Piece of Blue Sky by John Atak. (Atack?) A most-excellent insiders documentary of the cult.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:27 AM on December 19, 2004

For what it's worth, I work right across the street from a major Scientology recruitment center. It's got big plate glass windows so you can see inside, and I've never seen anyone in there apart from bored-looking staff.
posted by squidlarkin at 9:29 AM on December 19, 2004

I talked to a Scientologist outside a Barnes & Noble for like 6 hours. To skip to the scientology-related parts: he claimed it's the fastest-growing religion in the world, shows what he knows ;). Despite being deeply into the religion (lives in Clearwater, got married on the boat and everything) he said he was vaguely uncomfortable with what exactly what was in the OT 3 document and had intentionally never gotten it straight because he was afraid it said L. Ron Hubbard was a mass-murderer or something.

When he cautiously agreed to have me tell him the story ("I'll stop you if there's anything I don't want to hear") I told him the Xenu story, he said he'd more or less picked that up, and said it's meaningless to him because OTs process on a whole different level than everyone else and for all he knows it's allegory, or true on some other level, or something else entirely.

Personally, I suspect that might be true in a sense - maybe by OT 3, people have that New Age hazy "everything is true in a way" mentality and they believe it to whatever degree they're willing.
posted by abcde at 9:48 AM on December 19, 2004

A few months back, I visited my brother for Rosh Hashanah, and we went to a lovely holiday dinner at the house of my mother's second cousin and his wife (who we were meeting for the first time). After a half hour or so, their son and his wife joined us, with their adorable five year old boy. We made the sort of small talk one makes at those moments, including the "so what do you do" sort of thing, and the son tells us that he is an executive in his church. And as we're all part of a large Jewish family celebrating Rosh Hashanah, it's a struggle to keep my eyebrows from raising, and more of a struggle when he says "the church of Scientology".

I spent the rest of the evening trying to understand how exactly this sort of thing happens, where a liberal upper-middle-class Jewish guy decides "hey! Scientology!", trying to understand how his parents dealt with that, and trying to figure out how to kidnap the adorable five year old from his homeschooled Scientologist house... it still makes me sad.
posted by judith at 10:18 AM on December 19, 2004

I think that people are drawn to Scientology by the promise that it will help them rid themselves of aspects of their personality with which they are uncomfortable (from phobias to, er, homosexuality).

I had a student who was a Scientologist, and he said that, for him, it was an alternative to traditional religion and psychotherapy, both of which he had tried and found lacking. He felt that it gave him a sense of community and a place in which to explore his questions with like-minded others.

Pretty_Generic, I'm a little uncomfortable with the tone of your responses in this thread; if someone who was a Scientologist wanted to respond, it seems to me that they would be put off by your persistent heckling.

I have no brief for Scientology, but I'm not crazy about people asking rhetorical questions in AskMe as a way into airing their opinions about something.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:23 AM on December 19, 2004

Oh, and I think that Scientology is bound to follow the same trajectory as Christian Science, which is pretty close to the end of its useful life and will probably, by the 2030s, be as sparsely followed as Swedenborgianism and Theosophy are today.

So, by 2100, Scientology should have declined to a few thousand old people meeting in shabby rooms or mortgaged-to-the-hilt buildings they share with immigrant Christian congregations.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:32 AM on December 19, 2004


Not to cast any undue aspersions on P_G's motives, but I'm not really sure if he's interested in answers to his questions, seeing as how the second question was incredibly easily googled, and he seems more interested in discussing Scientology in general than eliciting answers from people with Scientologist (?) relatives.
posted by Bugbread at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2004

Pretty_Generic, I'm a little uncomfortable with the tone of your responses in this thread; if someone who was a Scientologist wanted to respond, it seems to me that they would be put off by your persistent heckling.

If I think something evil, I say so. I'm interested in the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts.

I have no brief for Scientology, but I'm not crazy about people asking rhetorical questions in AskMe as a way into airing their opinions about something.

A rhetorical question is one asked solely to produce an effect (especially to make an assertion) rather than to elicit a reply - I'm interested in replies. The question was a way for other people to air their opinions. That's why people ask questions, after all.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2004

Er, PG, to clarify: what questions do you want answers to?

And, uh, since when do people ask questions for others to air their opinions?
posted by Bugbread at 10:58 AM on December 19, 2004

If I think something evil, I say so. I'm interested in the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts.

sure, but christianity and hinduism and psychoanalysis and countless other weird systems of beliefs have followers... I don't see why you think scientology is in a different category.

Different individuals will hold to the belief systems with various levels of confidence or to varying degrees of literalness. I don't think that's gonna be drastically changed by the internet. Actually, I bet the biggest factor is reproduction. Theosophy and christian science probably breed less than mormons or jehovah's witnesses and so will probably die out sooner, despite their beliefs probably being less weird.
posted by mdn at 10:59 AM on December 19, 2004

The Centre in Toronto, on Yonge south of Bloor, has had an awful lot of events lately. I walked by a few weeks ago, and they had set up a stage with some girl singing an awful cover of X-Tina's "Beautiful."
posted by maledictory at 11:09 AM on December 19, 2004

sure, but christianity and hinduism and psychoanalysis and countless other weird systems of beliefs have followers... I don't see why you think scientology is in a different category.

I don't, I've frequently condemned all religions on this site.

what questions do you want answers to?

Does anyone have experience of Scientology within their family, or has anyone seen signs that the organisation is shrinking?

since when do people ask questions for others to air their opinions?

Do you want my opinion on the answer to your question?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:15 AM on December 19, 2004

P_G, if you really want others' opinions, why do you keep posting your opinions into the thread?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:19 AM on December 19, 2004

To elicit more opinions in response and have greater understanding of them. I call this "conversation".
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:28 AM on December 19, 2004

To those of you defending scientology on the grounds that any belief system is weird: it's not the belief system one should be concerned about with scientology, it's the aspects that make people call it a cult. I suspect it is these that P_G is referring to when he calls scientology "evil". These aspects include brainwashing, forcing members to "disconnect" themselves from any friends and family who are opposed to scientology, the way (similar to some other "religions" that have come up here) it encourages members to believe in a pseudo-science form of medical treatment which can cause more harm than good, and so on. read up. I particularly recommend some of the personal accounts. While P_Gs showing of personal opinion may bias the question, I don't believe any outsider who has ever looked at scientology in any detail could be surprised at a condemnation of this kind.

As to P_G's question, has an article about the number of scientology members right here. In summary: CoS says they have 8 million members worldwide, but outside estimates based on public statements, scientology practices, etc. give about 50,000 people. It seems the 8 million figure must include at least everyone who has ever taken any scientology auditing course since scientology began.
posted by advil at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2004


Ok, fairly put. I think the statistics speak for question 2, so what's left is the "family of Scientology members" question.

And my question about opinions was rhetorical. Sorry, I realize that doesn't really help the discussion, and definitely doesn't answer your questions. I suppose I should just say that I don't believe that AskMe is really intended for eliciting general opinions so much as opinions about the answers to the questions, so most of the opinions about Scientology in this thread (including my own) are off-topic. You don't seem too bothered by that, but as the AskMe purist that I am, it bothers me more. Still, insofar as this thread goes, you are king, and I'm being a hypocrite by even posting this, so I'll bow out now. Sorry for the off-topicness, and I can only hope that my stats link has partly redeemed me.
posted by Bugbread at 11:39 AM on December 19, 2004

So, judith, what did you come up with in the way of answers to your questions regarding your cousin? Or did you come away with no answers?
posted by picea at 11:43 AM on December 19, 2004

I agree with bugbread--it's AskMeFi, not "ConverseMeFi" or "DebateMeFi".

This link strikes me as an unusually thoughtful ex-Scientologist's perspective.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:07 PM on December 19, 2004

I was getting close (in a friendship/romantic way) to a woman a few years back. She was a pretty electric, outgoing type and from Australia, all good things in my book. Her visa had actually expired when she asked me to take her by the local Org one morning she was at my place visiting, her Mom was involved back home and she'd done a little work in Sydney herself, and before we'd left the head of the Org had asked her to come work for them.

After being sent to Florida for training at HQ, she came back as the Org's ethics officer. Her explanation of the job's responsibility was to make sure the members behaved in accordance with CoS standards. Apparently this also meant that, despite my support for her choice, we could not continue getting closer nor did she have to repay the loan I gave her so she could manage during the training period. Interesting ethics, I'd say. Not to mention that she ignores me on the few times we run into each other.

OTOH, since her return the Org has moved it's main office to a very nice much newer building than it had and added a second space in a premium location in downtown Mountain View.
posted by billsaysthis at 1:10 PM on December 19, 2004

bugbread, that's fine. And don't worry, I only get one question a week. :D
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:43 PM on December 19, 2004

I definitely came away with no answers. As a person who very much values what my religious practices offer me (separate, perhaps, from all of the "is there a god" stuff) it is hard for me to say that this is ok for me but not ok for someone else. Still, it ooks me out.
posted by judith at 5:03 PM on December 19, 2004

Scientology should more than "ook you out." It is a thoroughly vile cult. I repeat, anyone who harbours any potentially positive feelings for this organization needs to do some research. What you discover should horrify you.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on December 19, 2004

Sidhedevil, I've got to chime in for P_G on this one. Much to my chagrin. I'm usually (nearly always) of a mind that tolerance and mutual respect are called for when discussing matters of religious belief and practice.

Scientology, though, is well documented as an exploitative and abusive cult. A quick survey of will pull up some pretty harrowing stories. A search through the logs of some of the IRC discussions centered on Scientology will buttress this impression. And when you take into consideration the manner in which officials in the Church of Scientology have used First Amendment and copyright laws (and their equivalents abroad) to shut down websites which host discussions of the religion...well...

To my mind, if you've got a good track record of actively exploiting, dominating and abusing people, invoking a higher power should buy you exactly no consideration. I'd say the same to a Catholic priest who was defending the church's handling of pedophilia cases on the grounds of ecclesiastical privilege.
posted by felix betachat at 8:19 PM on December 19, 2004

Scientology is simply evil. I am so disgusted by what I've learned about this cult, I wouldn't even watch a Tom Cruise movie, because I couldn't bear the thought of contributing even one cent to this organization.

A friend of mine is a scientologist. It really tears me up, what they've done to him. He got involved at a really low point in his life, and they just wrecked him. I originally was open minded about it, but the more I've learned the more disgusted I've become. Nowhere have I seen the metaphor of religion as virus more perfectly realized. The entire goal of scientology seems to be convert the host into a proselytizing automaton. Like a particularly virulent disease, they don't care what is left after they've maxed out your credit cards and spread the contagion to all within reach.

I've helped get him somewhat extricated, moved him out of the group home, and at times I think he understands what its about, but they are after him constantly to come back and at times it seems like our conversations need to start at square one again.
posted by Manjusri at 12:41 AM on December 20, 2004

Manjusri: Best not watch Pulp Fiction (John Travolta), buy The Simpsons (Nancy Cartwright) or South Park (Isaac Hayes) DVDs, etc.

Trust me, there's plenty of evil you're doing just by living in the west unless you're living a hippie, granola, sustainable lifestyle ;)
posted by abcde at 9:47 AM on December 20, 2004

I understand people's antagonism to Scientology. Frankly, I share it, personally, and contributed to the Dennis Erlich Defense Fund back in the day.

I just don't think that AskMeFi is the place to air it, and I don't like the structure of "asking a question" as a way into airing one's views.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:33 AM on December 20, 2004

billsaysthis, are you a scientologist? Or what do you mean by "the ORg" and "done a little work"?

I didn't realize scientology was such a source of vitriol for so many, actually. I mean, I'm not convinced it's really more sinister than other weird belief systems. The problem is when people take one thing as an answer and follow it unquestioningly. Christian scientists who won't use medical practices, or jehovah's witnesses who spend their days knocking on doors and convincing people they're going to hell, or hare krishnas who think they'll learn to levitate, or even just folks who spend $400/mo on their therapist and basically only make their problems worse... there are so many ways you can make stupid choices at the behest of an organization or system that thinks it's got things figured out. Maybe scientology is more aggressive, but then it will just die out more quickly... from the outside, it doesn't look like it's so radically different.

I'm not saying any belief system is bad, by the way. I think the problem is always fundamentalism vs. utilitarianism. If christianity or therapy or scientology or whatever help you live a more balanced, happy life, go for it; when a belief system becomes the focus of your entire life, then I think it's a problem.
posted by mdn at 9:18 AM on December 21, 2004

mdn, no, perhaps my comment was not clear enough but I was referring to a former friend of mine and she referred to what one might consider as the local church or office as an Org (short for organization, I suppose). Another thing I hold as a negative is that Scientology uses laws for freedom of religion (and similar) to their favor but when the talk about what Scientology is they reject the label of church and religion; so another example of hypocrisy in the name of extracting $$$ from wallets.
posted by billsaysthis at 12:24 PM on December 21, 2004

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