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How Scientology Works

Scientology's Future

The headquarters for the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, Florida. Getty Images
The headquarters for the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, Florida. Getty Images


When Xenu banished that horde of miscreants to a distant volcanic planet all those eons ago, he couldn't have foreseen (or could he?) that one day L. Ron Hubbard would discover the true origins of humanity and, in doing so unveil the means of righting all the wrongs we daily experience. The story of Xenu and the Galactic Confederation and those thetan souls that survived annihilation only to be incarnated as hapless pre-clear bipeds, is said to be the secret origin story of humanity transmitted only to Scientologists who reach the highest levels of spiritual insight in the church's hierarchy.

The fact that this story contains many of the tropes of 1950s science fiction doesn't automatically render it the most absurd religious origin story. As many people have pointed out, the mythic tales of most spiritual belief systems are equally, if not more, fantastical. And, as has also been argued, few institutional religions can claim a history unsullied by reports of abuse and corruption.

The real critique of Scientology asks whether or not the various negative actions ascribed to the Church of Scientology are the inevitable byproducts of any religious organization's growth or are they the outcome of the belief system's founding doctrines and practices.

Many of the investigations into Hubbard's past, his reported tendencies toward mendacity and self-aggrandizement, and his allegedly calculating efforts to create Scientology as a means of remuneration and gain, point to the latter proposition. Scientology, claim many of its detractors, is rotten at its core [source: Douthat].

Whether this is true, the religion is currently experiencing difficulties and its future does not look bright. While the church claims that Scientology boasts millions of adherents across the globe, "Going Clear" puts the number at fewer than 50,000. And although Tom Cruise and John Travolta remain faithful Scientologists, they have become less vocal about their religion, and the church has had difficulty recruiting new, younger celebrities to be its public face.

At the root of Scientology's apparent decline is the defining factor of our age — the internet. In the past, when controversies arose, the church would use aggressive legal action to control the narrative. But while it remains possible to sue a media outlet into silence, the internet with all its blogs and tweets, is much harder to rein in [source: Gilbert].

It's hard not to believe that L. Ron Hubbard in his heyday would have found a way to use the internet to his advantage and turn things around for his beleaguered church. Perhaps his reincarnated thetan is out there somewhere, already plotting a comeback.

Author's Note: How Scientology Works

Most religions have a foundation story and I have no beef with Scientology looking to sci-fi for its background tale. In fact, I think we should be founding more religions on the backs of good storylines. A cult of Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse," for instance, which would require a yearly pilgrimage to the Shetland Islands, or a doctrine based on "The Lord of the Rings" in which adherents must cast a gold ring into an active volcano. The possibilities are endless...

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More Great Links


  • Douthat, Ross. "What's The Matter With Scientology? (II)." The Atlantic. Aug. 6, 2007. (July 1, 2017)
  • Frantz, Douglas. "Scientology's Puzzling Journey From Tax Rebel to Tax Exempt." New York Times. March 9, 1997. (June 30, 2017)
  • Gilbert, Sophie. "In 'Scientology and the Aftermath,' Leah Remini Strikes Back." The Atlantic. Nov. 29, 2016. (June 22, 2017)
  • Gilbert, Sophie. "It's Not Easy Being Scientology." The Atlantic. March 26, 2015. (June 22, 2017)
  • Guerrasio, Jason. "The chilling story of how Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard rose to power." Business Insider. March 31, 2015. (June 26, 2017)
  • Harry Harrison. "Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!" Macmillan. 2014. (June 26, 2017) - v=onepage&q=hydra club sci-f
  • Rinder, Mike. "More Scientology Lies about Disconnection." Mike Rinder's Blog. Feb. 28, 2017. (July 14, 2017)
  • Sappell, Joel and Robert W. Welkos. "The Mind Behind the Religion: Chapter Two: Creating the Mystique: Hubbard's image was crafted of truth, distorted by myth." Los Angeles Times. June 24, 1990. (June 27, 2017)
  • "What Is Dianetics?" (June 29, 2017)
  • "What is the E-Meter and How Does It Work?" (July 13, 2017)
  • Shermer, Michael. "The Real Science behind Scientology." Scientific American. Nov. 1, 2011. (June 26, 2017)