How Scientology Works

Scientology's Future
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.

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