Is Scientology a Religion?

Since 1955 the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, has claimed the status of religion for his world outlook on life, and the status of church for his organization. Since governmental recognition has been invoked with varying degrees of success, this claim has become real for the representatives of Scientology.

Since then the challenge has been made by theologians to Scientology to confirm the legitimacy of this claim.

In response to this, the asserted religious status of Scientology will receive a critical review in the following paragraphs.

First of all it is surprising to note that Scientology repeatedly compromises its own claim to be a religion.

1. Compromising of Religious Status by Scientology Itself

For outsiders it is extremely irritating that Scientology itself rescinds, in some places, its own disputed validity as a religion:

- Quotes from the mouth of Hubbard prove that motivations of a tax and public relations nature played at least a role in this claim, a fact that for the greater part of the religion's public life, appears to render the church status of Scientology obsolete.

- In street recruitment, religiously critical people are told that the claim of religion is based upon gaining tax advantages. In principle Scientology is said not to a religion, but a science. Any person can easily see for himself in Scientology street recruitment that Scientology recruiters regularly practice the negation of religious intentions in their recruitment.

- In countries where religious status does not include clear advantages, Scientology insists that it is not a religion. For instance Scientology claims the title of philosophy in Greece since philosophical establishments, in contrast to religious establishments, are not obligated to pay fees.

From these compromises of the claim to be a religion, or even a church, one may conclude that tax and recruitment consideration are not the first and foremost reasons for the levying of this claim. But it is clear that non-religious considerations play a large role, a fact that a theological analysis of the religious status of Scientology should grasp with extreme caution and precision.

2. The Reason for the Claim to be a Religion, from Scientology itself

Scientology founds its claim to be a religion on a number of comparisons between their own theory and practices and those of religious traditions and organizations. The arguments of Scientology can be sorted into three main areas:

- Scientology asserts for their world outlook, or at least for a part thereof, validity as religious teachings. This assertion is supported by alleged parallels between the teachings of Scientology and elements from religious, especially eastern, traditions.

- Scientology points to practices in their activities which they see in parallel to the traditions of a religious organization and which they consciously name after the model of religious institutions. The terminology for this application comes for the most part from the Christian tradition.

- Scientology refers to the devotion of people to Scientology being equivalent to the commitment of people in religious traditions and organizations.

The three forms of argument are now discussed individually.

2.1 Scientology: Religion or Pseudo-science?

Scientology stresses religious validity in certain parts of its ideology. In particular in regard to the teachings about the thetan, the immortal human essence of the person, for which teachings of reincarnation are presented in the OT courses so that the person may transgress his natural potential through the application of scientological techniques. Concepts similar to these are also found in religious traditions, which leads Scientology to conclude that it is dealing with characteristics of a religion.

Of note in this argument is that this line of thought is also found in traditions which are not religion, but known science. Of consideration is something which, through anthroposophy, purports to be a "mental science", but for future incarnations likewise promises a considerable expansion of human potential by means of the booming reincarnation therapy. This theme of reincarnation and immortality purports to have illuminated the soul by scientific methodology and by innumerable psycho-course offerings which promise people, through application of their methods, moderate to fantastic new abilities. With that, the teachings, which for Scientology are the typical characteristics of a religion, can also appear in a known scientific and non-religious context.

The significance of these teachings is, in our society, consequently debatable, and not something which is clearly religious, as Scientology assumes.

Now the theories in question from specific fields of science are not acknowledged as scientific in places where the asserted scientific status can not be afforded them. However the belief, held by some of their representatives, of having succeeded with scientific methods, can be taken seriously. It is not fair to these representatives to say that they are falsely attributing religion as Scientology does. Again the concept is brought forward of "para-science", which designates the theoretical concept of science which is presented to be scientifically achieved, but because of a lack of scientific theory (mistakes of inter-subjectivity in regards to the reproducibility), can not be acknowledged as scientific.

The question of the evaluation of the allegedly "religious" teachings of Scientology can be encapsulated as follows: are these teachings religious or para-scientific?

The differences between religion and para-science are worked out in order to resolve this question.

- These differences lie, as shown above, not in content of the teachings. One and the same teaching can produce either a religious or a para-scientific context.

- The essential difference is in how the teaching is achieved: while a religious teaching is supported by disclosure or deliverance, a para-scientific theory is achieved through research.

A further difference is the capability of verification. While religious teachings correspond to beliefs and are not verifiable for the average member, para-science leads us to believe that their results could, at least theoretically, be verified by any person. Para-science says it this way: do not believe, verify it yourself.

- The third difference is shown in the diverse methods of dissemination. While religious teachings are imparted as items of belief, para-science enters with the claim of being able to offer scientific results.

Now the three named points will be checked as to whether Scientology embraces the position of religion or of para-science:

- L. Ron Hubbard asserted that his theories were the results of research. His status as researcher and scientist is also heavily dramatized by the Scientologists. Any publication by Hubbard does not play a role. He makes references to revelations of diverse traditions, but says validation has taken place by research and experiments.

- Scientologists often advise that a person should believe nothing about Scientology, but should verify its doctrines for himself. Consequently Scientology asserts the verification of its results.

- In recruitment, as stated above, the perceptions of Scientology are given scientific status.

Summing up, it can be determined that the teachings of Scientology, which they rate as religious, appear, through their their origin and impartation by Scientology, to be para-scientific teachings. Scientology in the traditional sense is para-science, not religion.

2.2 The "religious" rituals of Scientology

The second argument which Scientology advances in order to shore up its own religious status, alludes to the allegedly religious rituals which are practiced in the framework of Scientology. The cited practices can be divided into two groups::

- To one group belongs the naming of Scientology customs, functions and objects, which have a strictly worldly use, with (second) names which are taken from religious traditions. In this way auditing amounts to a form of "confession", the auditor becomes a "clergyman", the e-meter a "religious artifact." This deals with a purely interpretational plane: valued Scientology concepts have religious labels hung on them. This religious mimicry can not have a great value as far as the foundation of the religious status goes since any association can do the same thing.

Along the same lines, every soccer club could designate it's common practice as "communion," one-on-one talks with the coach as "confession", and the coaches themselves as "ministers", the team's dressing room as "liturgical walls", the shower following practice as a "purification ritual" and league games as "high mass." The ball could just as well as serve as a "religious artifact" as an e-meter does.

Camouflage alone is not foundation enough to make the practice of Scientology a religious one in the ecclesiastical sense. That would be running the risk of having to rate everybody's favorite activity as religious whenever anyone made such a claim.

At this point three lines of thought are clear:

- First the above-named rituals could also appear outside of a religious context, the naming ceremony of the boy scouts comes to mind, as do secular burial rites and talks and speeches given at celebrations of a secular kind. The fact that Scientology has the same rituals at its service is not overwhelming proof of a religious status. The Scientology rituals could also be taken as secular; this meaning would also be the normal sense of the participants.

- Secondly the designation of the rituals in question as religious would not necessarily prove the status of Scientology as a religion nor even as a church. The fact that an evangelical school holds a service during recess does not make this evangelical school a church. That a CVP-Party Convention [1] may begin with a service does not turn the party into a religion. Religious activities to not make a religion out of an organization if these religious activities do not form the main purpose of the institution.

- This ties in with the third argument. In practice the above-named rituals have only a peripheral significance. In the practice of the average Scientologist neither church service nor the name-giving ritual plays any sort of role. Not one one-thousandth of the amassed textbooks of the far-reaching literature of Scientology is dedicated to these rituals. These rituals serve even less of a purpose to Scientology than a corresponding service at an evangelical school. This is not enough to form a foundation of a religious status.

Summing up, it can be determined that the practices which have been rated as religious by Scientology are not the basis of a religious status, since they compare to religious practices in name only or have only a peripheral meaning. Under the most generous interpretation and in a fit of extreme good-will it could be conceded that Scientology is a business which presents para-scientific ideology which coincidentally offers rituals which could be designated as religious.

2.3 The devotion of Scientologists

The third line of argument of Scientology for the foundation of its religious status refers to the degree of devotion and personal involvement which Scientologists give to their organization. This high degree of involvement is, according to the assertion, comparable only to religion.

In their third argument Scientology acts to deceive the guaranteed results of ecclesiastical research. A theological determination that can no longer be disputed is that the degree of devotion and personal involvement between religious and non-religious organizations can not be differentiated, that the extent of participation is therefore not suited as an indication of religious character.

What is apparently left to prove is this fact of a comparison between religious and known irreligious philosophical communities. VPM [2] and Yamagishi [3] do not distinguish themselves as non-religious groupings from explicitly religious organizations such as Jehova's Witnesses or the ICOC [4] in the degree of the involvement of their membership. Pursuing that further, some non-philosophical organizations can also count on a not insignificant emotional and financial involvement, such as fan clubs of sports associations or music groups.

The reference to the undoubtedly large involvement of many Scientologists cannot, therefore, be used to pass the test of religious status.

3. Scientology from the critic's viewpoint

Since the arguments of Scientology to make themselves sound plausible as a religion have been so dignified, the essential arguments of critical experts against the religious status of Scientology should be brought into the scope of this discussion.

On the one side this has to do with the organizational structure of Scientology, on the other side with its evaluation as an ideology.

3.1 Scientology as a business.

In the eyes of its critics Scientology appears as a private commercial company, as a business, and not as a religious institution.

An examination of Scientology yields that this organization actually has some striking parallels to the organizational structure of a business:

- The works of L. Ron Hubbard, along with decisive points of the teachings of Hubbard are copyright protected. The rights are held by RTC under the leadership of David Miscavige. Scientology organizations must pay RTC copyright fees for the usage of the Scientology teachings. As a result it can be surmised that Scientology sells its philosophical tradition.

Religious institutions donate their services. Work and goods are paid for, but in no case is there a charge for the participation in the service itself (one envisions the pope holding the rights to the concepts of "Mass", "Eucharistic celebration", "Mary", or the "Trinity" and charging licensing fees for the use of services.)

This financial exchange of its own services places Scientology on the side of private commerce, not with religious institutions.

Scientology charges fixed prices for their services without taking into consideration the financial capabilities of participant.

Religious institutions recognize a socially layered arrangement for payment, dependent on either income or in the size of the voluntary donations.

The setting of fixed prices places Scientology with private commerce. It clearly sets it apart from religious institutions.

- In Scientology the financial income is used internally as a measure of success; it is the chief factor in a set of intensively emphasized statistics. "Make money, make more money", reads L. Ron Hubbard's instructions to his co-combatants.

Regular religious institutions do not acknowledge financial income as a measure of success. Radical religious organization such as the ICOC can include financial income in the balance of its success, but it clearly holds a second position internally to the missionary success.

Their orientation to sales places Scientology as a private business.

- A difference between Scientology and a private business is demonstrated in the final goal of public enrichment. While private business distributes its profits among the stockholders, Scientology throws their profits into dissemination and expansion. Speaking in terms of business Scientology applies its entire profit to its budget for promotion.

In their organizational structure Scientology can finally be afforded a few rights as a business, though certainly not for personal enrichment, but for ever-increasing sales.

3.2 Scientology as Ideology

Scientology represents (this is really not disputed by anyone) a concept of transformation of society, that takes into consideration each area of human life. The claim of Scientology is a total one.

For this reason Scientology is compared by critics structurally with classic ideologies such as communism or fascism, which also encompass the totality of human life. Scientology could be designated as an ideology with good reason.

A religion would limit itself to an area of society and ignore the regulation of other areas.

This argument pertains to all post-reformation religions. Religions prior to that time, such as the protestant or Islamic fundamentalism, or those not influenced by these, such as traditional Catholicism, could take into consideration all horizons of perception into the social question. Consequently a religion can appear as an ideology.

The fact that Scientology can be designated a few rights as ideology does not add to the claim of their religious status.


Scientology is intensively concerned with places where it would appear to be advantageous to be recognized as religion. The type of achievement and impartation of their teaching, the easily transparent organizational structure does make it, from a theological view, advisable to grant Scientology this status; theology will not run the risk of having to undertake the claim of anybody's favorite organization to be a religion, sight unseen.

The claim of Scientology to be a religion is hereby rejected from a theological perspective.

Theologically speaking, Scientology is categorized more as a business with a para-scientific ideology.

Georg Otto Schmid, 1998

Translator's Notes:

[1] CVP Party - 'Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei' - a primarily Catholic oriented party in Switzerland.

[2] VPM - 'Verein zur Foerderung der Psychologischen Menschenkenntnis' - a genuine psycho-sect which operates on pseudo-scientific principles, operates in Germany and in Switzerland.

[3] Yamagishi Union: Yamagishi, also called Yamagishism, originated in Japan; founded 1953 by rice farmer Miyozo Yamagishi (died 1961). Main goal of Yamgishism is a better, calmer life for individuals as well as for society.

[4] ICoC, International Church of Christ, or 'Internationale Gemeinden Christi', International Community of Christ, a fast-growing, highly controversial community association, which, since 1993, is also represented in the largest city of Switzerland under the name 'Gemeinde Christi Zuerich', Community of Christ Zurich.