Lawrence Wright, who wrote the excellent and definitive account of the September 11 attacks, THE LOOMING TOWER, has written a new expose about Scientology, which was excerpted recently in The New Yorker. It's worth reading.
In this week's issue, there are two letters in response to Wright's piece. Here they are:
Lawrence Wright, in his Profile of Paul Haggis and his thirty-five-year relationship with the Church of Scientology, asks why the Church counts so many successful Hollywood celebrities among its followers (“The Apostate,” February 14th & 21st). One factor not considered is that these successful, talented, and creative people tend to be undereducated. Some celebrities dropped out of high school, and may sincerely wish for a formal education. Some have revealed that they suffer from dyslexia, attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity, or restlessness. Some may show impatience; many are known to be highly imaginative. A lack of education, coupled with great imaginative powers, leaves people open to suggestion and yearning for a better grasp of truth. The promise that Scientology offers—that knowledge can be acquired without traditional study—is appealing, and seems authentic. But knowledge is a form of power that takes time and effort to acquire. It’s not easy, and no one book, person, or theory can bestow it upon us.
Cults are distinguished from religions only by the number of believers that they attract. The most depressing feature of Wright’s article was that any of the other ten thousand or so religions that the human ego has invented could have been substituted for Scientology. Only the names, dates, and places would need to be changed. In reading Wright’s piece, I am reminded of Edward Gibbon, who wrote, in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” “So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition.”
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/letters/2011/03/28/110328mama_mai...
Is reader Ross Taylor right? What, if anything, does distinguish a religion from a cult? Sometimes a distinction may be imposed by law or decree.* What does that tell us about a culture's inclination to tolerate, or to reject, a body of beliefs?
Look at Scientology - considered a cult, but it has millions of members. Some countries have banned it, mainly because stories of abuse, and how much money is involved, are coming from people who have left the cult. They don't even bother to mention god or jesus - it's all about the money. Ron. L. Hubbard claimed to be a religion, purely to evade paying tax.
I think ALL religions are cults. I think the word cult is loved by the bigger cults, like the catholic church, to try to differentiate and create distance, to make their 'cult' look legitimate.
Right, Suzanne. As Jerry Coyne wrote a while back:
>>> Most of us probably consider Scientology a cult rather than a religion, but that’s only because it has relatively few followers compared to, say, Mormonism, and because its official dogma is so bizarre.
But is it? As The Los Angeles Times reported, here’s the “theology” of Scientology, a theology that has been deeply hidden by the Church and emerged only during lawsuits:
“A major cause of mankind’s problems began 75 million years ago,” the Times wrote, when the planet Earth, then called Teegeeack, was part of a confederation of ninety planets under the leadership of a despotic ruler named Xenu. “Then, as now, the materials state, the chief problem was overpopulation.” Xenu decided “to take radical measures.” The documents explained that surplus beings were transported to volcanoes on Earth. “The documents state that H-bombs far more powerful than any in existence today were dropped on these volcanoes, destroying the people but freeing their spirits—called thetans—which attached themselves to one another in clusters.” Those spirits were “trapped in a compound of frozen alcohol and glycol,” then “implanted” with “the seed of aberrant behavior.” The Times account concluded, “When people die, these clusters attach to other humans and keep perpetuating themselves.”
Okay, that sounds really crazy, but is it any crazier than the Christian myths? As actress Anne Archer (another celebrity Scientologist) points out in the article, one of the reasons Scientology is despised is simply because it’s new. When we’re around to see how a faith is really formed—L. Ron Hubbard popping pills and writing science fiction, Joseph Smith pretending to find golden plates, Mary Baker Eddy’s recovery from a back injury—we see the chicanery, duplicity, and credulousness that attends the whole enterprise. But as a faith ages, it gains more and more respectability, so we rarely think of how crazy theological doctrine really is. If Scientology survives another 200 years (and I’m not sure it will), it will be a respectable faith.
It depends. The word cult originally just meant a system of ritual practices, its only more recently that it came to be associated with negative practices like brain-washing and small authoritarian groups with odd beliefs. In Sociology, the term cult is usually used to describe any group with new religious beliefs, so under that definition all religions started off as cults and then grew to be larger and more socially accepted. A lot of religious people use it as a slur against any religion that is too different from their own, like when christian fundamentalists call Islam or neo-paganism cults. I think most people nowadays use the word cult in reference to fringe groups, like Scientology, the FLDS, and groups like the Heaven's-Gate cult. Some people I've heard say that cults are any group that brain-wash and condition people to control them, but under that definition I think you could make the argument that all religions are cults since they all involve indoctrination to some extent. Just watch "Jesus Camp".
It's true enough that nowadays the use of the word "cult" to refer to longstanding mainstream religions (as opposed to Scientology, say) seems to many ears a denigration or an insult---and that says something about how the connotations of the word have evolved.
But, in fact, the enduring, primary definition of "cult" (from the redoubtable Webster's Third Unabridged) is: "(1) religious practice; worship (2) a system of beliefs and ritual connected with the worship of a deity, a spirit, or a group of deities or spirits." With this definition in mind, it seems plain that, to an objective observer, ALL religions are properly described as cults.