Is truth to be obtained from secret religious texts without a second thought? A Galactic Confederacy populated with exact duplicates of earth dwellers, a tyrannical overlord ridding his planets of overpopulation, trillions of people subjected to illegal tax audits, captured and destined to spend eternity as dreaded body-hugging spirits on a distant planet … and then a mere mortal trips over this mind-blowing historical drama in an out-of-body near-death experience in a dental chair? Please excuse our skeptical side-eye.

Oh wait, that’s not Xenu. It’s Battlefield Earth,
based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard, which is frequently described as one of the worst films of all time.
But I digress.

L. Ron Hubbard in his own words

“Scientology … is not a religion.”

“There is no more ethical group on this planet than ourselves.”

“Arthritis vanishes, myopia gets better, heart illness decreases, asthma disappears, stomachs function properly and the whole catalog of illnesses goes away and stays away.”

“I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form even if all books are destroyed.”

“Scientology is the most vital movement on Earth today.”

“Nothing in Scientology is true for you unless you have observed it and it is true according to your observation.”

“This is the correct procedure: Spot who is attacking us. Start investigating them promptly for felonies or worse using our own professionals, not outside agencies. Double curve our reply by saying we welcome an investigation of them. Start feeding lurid, blood sex crime actual evidence on the attackers to the press. Don’t ever tamely submit to an investigation of us. Make it rough, rough on attackers all the way.”

The current Scientology website provides its own nuanced definitions of the lofty religious enterprise…

Scientology: Scio (Latin) “knowing, in the fullest sense of the word,” logos (Greek) “study of.” Thus Scientology means “knowing how to know.”

Scientology is a twenty-first-century religion. It comprises a vast body of knowledge extending from certain fundamental truths, and prime among those truths: Man is a spiritual being endowed with abilities well beyond those which he normally envisions. He is not only able to solve his own problems, accomplish his goals and gain lasting happiness, but he can achieve new states of awareness he may never have dreamed possible.

Developed by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology is a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one’s true spiritual nature and one’s relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being.

The ultimate goal of Scientology is true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all.

Scientology follows a long tradition of religious practice. Its roots lie in the deepest beliefs and aspirations of all great religions, thus encompassing a religious heritage as old and as varied as Man himself.

Though it draws on the wisdom of some 50,000 years, Scientology is a new religion, one that has isolated fundamental laws of life and, for the first time, developed a workable technology that can be applied to help people achieve a happier and more spiritual existence in the here and now.

That Scientology’s development and rapid promulgation was made possible, in part, by advances in the physical sciences through the first half of the twentieth century is significant. For it bridges Eastern philosophy with Western thought. In that way, Scientology constitutes Man’s first real application of scientific methodology to spiritual questions.

Scientology is something one does, not something one believes in.

Tara Isabella Burton is a Clarendon Scholar at Trinity College, Oxford. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic, among others. In her article, “What is a cult?” she begins with a fascinating statement…

Cults, generally speaking, are a lot like pornography: you know them when you see them.

Burton observes that throughout history culture has often found it difficult to distinguish significant differences between what have been called “cults” versus traditionally organized “religions.” Focusing on religious movements in the 60s and 70s, she mentions several groups…

Historically, our obsession with cults seems to thrive in periods of wider religious uncertainty, with ‘anti-cult’ activism in the United States peaking in the 1960s and ’70s, when the US religious landscape was growing more diverse…

Some of these were Christian in nature, for example the ‘Jesus Movement’; others were heavily influenced by the pop-cultural ubiquity of pseudo-Eastern and New Age thought: the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (aka the Hare Krishna), modern Wicca, Scientology. Plenty of these movements were associated with young people – especially young counter-cultural people with suspicious politics – adding a particular political tenor to the discourse surrounding them.

An interesting conclusion…

Today’s cults might be secular, or they might be theistic. But they arise from the same place of need, and from the failure of other, more ‘mainstream’ cultural institutions to fill it. If God did not exist, as Voltaire said, we would have to invent him. The same is true for cults.

So we have the concept … “Build it and they will come.”

And yes, that is a misquoted line from Field of Dreams starring Kevin Kostner. In the movie, as he is wandering in a cornfield, Ray Kinsella (Kostner) hears a strange whisper: “If you build it, he will come.” Build what? A corn maze? I’ll take Actual Quotes for $500 Alex.

L. Ron Hubbard “invented” Scientology.

As for universally accepted characteristics of a “cult” we can call on a variety of sources … both religious and secular. Among the variety of credible observers, there are common themes shared throughout.

Among the best…

What is a Cult?

What is a cult? A cult is a group with a particular and often dangerously fanatical ideology that has certain characteristics. The term ‘cult’ comes from the Latin cultus, meaning ‘worship. This is reasonable: a cult must have a leader who is either worshipped or greatly revered by the cult’s followers. A specific cult definition can be hard to pin down because in order to be a cult, a group must have a number of attributes. People often disagree about what makes a cult, meaning that the definition is fluid. This is true, especially in the context of new religious movements: some of these movements have been called cults, while some people have argued against this for a variety of reasons. It is easier, generally, to get to grips with the characteristics of cults than to create a single, all-encompassing definition.

A charismatic leader: Cults always follow a charismatic leader, living or dead, whose teachings are considered of the highest importance. This leader may be considered a genius, or may be considered a religious figure like a messiah or prophet.

Ideological purity: Members are strongly discouraged from questioning the cult’s doctrine and any doubts are met with shame or punishment.

Conformity and control: Cult leaders often exercise an extreme degree of control over members’ lives, including dictating what they can wear and eat and what kinds of relationships they can have. Conformity is also enforced by group members who police one another.

Mind-altering practices: Sleep deprivation, chanting, meditation, and drugs are often used to break down individuals’ defenses and make them more susceptible to cult ideology. Isolation and love-bombing: It is common for people in cults to be encouraged to cut contact with outsiders, including close family members. Within the cult, new members are often subjected to love-bombing, a practice where new initiates are showered with love and praise to bring them deeper into the cult and foster a sense of belonging.

Us-vs-them mentality: Cult members are often encouraged to see the cult as superior to life on the outside and to feel that those outside the cult lack understanding or insight.

Apocalyptic thinking: Preparation for a supposed apocalypse or cataclysmic event is a major characteristic of many cults, especially cult religions.

Time and energy: Followers are expected to dedicate huge amounts of time and energy (and often money) to the cult to the exclusion of their own lives, interests, jobs, and families. One thing to keep in mind when looking through the traits of a cult is that a cult and a religious movement are not the same thing. Most religious movements do not isolate their practitioners from family, engage in love-bombing, encourage illegal and dangerous behaviors, or attempt to strongly control their members. Some cults position themselves as religious groups, but the distinction is important.


Authoritarian Leadership Authoritarianism involves the acceptance of an authority figure who exercises excessive control on cult members. As prophet or founder, this leader’s word is considered ultimate and final.

Exclusivism: Cults often believe that they alone have the truth. The cult views itself as the single means of salvation on earth; to leave the group is to endanger one’s soul.

Isolationism: Some cults require members to renounce and break off associations with parents and siblings.

Opposition to Independent Thinking: Some cultic groups discourage members from thinking independently. The “thinking,” as it were, has already been done for them by the cult leadership; the proper response is merely to submit.

Fear of Being “Disfellowshiped: ”It is not uncommon in cults that people are urged to remain faithful to avoid being “disfellowshiped,” or disbarred, from the group.

Threats of Satanic Attack: Finally, some cults use fear and intimidation to keep members in line. Members may be told that something awful will happen to them should they choose to leave the group.

Most of these sources do not name Scientology in their articles but characteristics that are presented can be undeniably attached to factually researched information about the “religion.” One such observation is presented by Discover Magazine, which focuses primarily on developments in science, medicine, and technology. Several of their articles mention references to Scientology but none are “deep dive” journalistic endeavors.

Freelance journalist Cari Shane, in her article, “The Psychology Behind Cults,” does not mention Scientology. In fact, an Internet search reveals she has written the word only once throughout her 25-year career.

While each cult may be different, experts say that the methods to pull members in and keep them there resemble a similar playbook of psychological principles.

One element is cognitive dissonance. The theory introduced in the late 1950s suggests that when people are confronted with facts that contradict their beliefs, values and ideas, they will feel psychological discomfort, likely followed by the need to resolve that contradiction and reduce their uneasiness. In a cult setting, the cognitive dissonance often “keeps you trapped as each compromise makes it more painful to admit you’ve been deceived,” Lalich explains in her TED-Ed video. “It uses both formal and informal systems of influence and control to keep members obedient with little tolerance for internal disagreement or external scrutiny.”

This obedience factor is another key element. It plays off of a human’s natural inclination to follow orders and do what others around them are doing. In cult settings, critical thinking is often frowned upon, while absolute faith is rewarded. Guilt, shame and fear are also constantly wielded to slowly strip away an individual’s identity.

While many religions began as cults, Lalich explains that some integrated into the fabric of the larger society as they grew. In addition, while religions may offer guidelines and support for members to live better lives, a cult separates its members from others and seeks to directly control financial assets and living arrangements.

Some interesting observations from Dr. Anastasia E. Somerville-Wong in her article, “The 25 Signs You’re in a High-Control Group or Cult.

When a group becomes degenerate gradually over a period of years, members can find that by the time they realise something is very wrong, they are already emotionally and materially invested in ways that make it very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to leave.

High-Control Groups have no official forum or channel for critical enquiry or for formally raising concerns, complaints and grievances.

The group dogmas are not backed up by evidence or information cross-referenced from multiple reliable sources.

Outsiders who question or criticise the group are viewed as persecutors and are given labels like “anti,” “apostate,” or “suppressive person.” Doubting members are encouraged to focus solely on the doctrine of the cult and isolate themselves from outside influences.

Members who get sick or suffer other misfortunes are accused of not having enough faith/belief or commitment to the group dogma, leaders or cause, or of not praying hard enough or performing other rituals/duties correctly.

Both cults and religions begin with a charismatic leader who claims some special or supreme knowledge, messages and/or insight from a supernatural, other-worldly source. They may call themselves a prophet, an enlightened teacher, a messenger, a messiah, or even claim to be divine.

The group produces its own propaganda; literature and media, which puts the group and its leader in a glowing light. The group produces or makes use of fake news and inaccurate/fake historical accounts which appear to support its dogma. It has no credible evidence to back up its claims.

You are penalized for leaving. You stand to lose money you invested or other privileges, or you are socially penalised with members saying they can no longer be your friend if you leave. Members who leave are given derogatory names such as “apostate” or “traitor” or “infidel.” They are called foolish, sinful, ‘lost to sin’, worldly, misled or even evil. They are seen to have come under bad influences, are no longer trusted and personal contact is avoided. Former followers are always wrong in leaving. The group perpetuates a false narrative that former members were deceived, proud, immoral, or lazy.

If former members speak out, they are dismissed as bitter, angry, dishonest or evil.

You are shunned by members you were once very close to, including close family and friends.

Members develop uncharacteristically stilted mannerisms and seemingly programmed conversation, and there is cloning among the group (or of the leader) in personal behaviour. There is a dramatic loss of spontaneity, individuality and sense of humour in those who have become members.

If there are secret teachings or ceremonies you did not discover until after you joined, you are probably in a cult. Cults use secret rituals as rites of passage that solidify a member’s loyalty to the group. Initiation into these rites usually only comes after a member has undergone certain tests or made adequate financial contributions.

There is zealous commitment to the leader, whether he or she is living or dead, which goes far beyond mere admiration or fondness. Members revere the leader with absolute devotion. His or her thoughts, opinions, and belief system are considered to be the absolute truth. If anything comes to light about the leader, which is not wholly praiseworthy, they will perform any amount of mental gymnastics, using any argument however convoluted and implausible to justify the behaviour and claim is wasn’t as it seemed.

The group has a preoccupation with money. No matter how much money the group brings in, it is never considered enough by the leader. Cult leaders will make increasingly more desperate demands for members to contribute money, perhaps promising that they will eventually get their money back or even get it back with interest when they will not. Cult leaders tend to live opulently while their followers are required to make financial sacrifices.

The group’s dogma and mission is considered so important and so urgent that even the strict morality or rules of how members should behave can sometimes be bent.

To conclude, these authors have all focused on an agreed set of characteristics that are the hallmark of groups considered to be cults. There can be little doubt that an application of most of these identifying aspects can be applied to the Church of Scientology. The church authorities would vehemently deny this analysis, but there is strong evidence that this is the case.

Any definition of a cult can be judged as a mere opinion. But when authoritative observers all focus on similar characteristics, we must assign a considerable measure of credibility to their analysis. As the famous Mr. Hubbard once said, “What is true for you is what you have observed yourself. And when you lose that, you have lost everything.” A variety of individuals have offered what they have observed … it is now possible to draw a legitimate conclusion…