The above image would be the Scientology Cross, the eight points of which represent the eight dynamics of existence. I used this screencap that I took from an episode of South Park instead because the extremely litigious Church of Scientology owns the Scientology Cross. This is the horrifying organization that intimidated and blackmailed the IRS into granting them tax-exempt status.
The Wikipedia article on Scientology is probably as good a place as any to start if you want to learn about it.
When the topic of Scientology is brought up, a lot of people talk about Lord Xenu and thetans and the strange alternate language that Scientologists use. They talk about how the Church of Scientology keeps rigid control over its members, how the Church includes a number of celebrities, how it cheats its members out of a great deal of money, and how it is creepily aggressive in taking down anything that might cast it in a negative life. People may also mention that the Church of Scientology is strongly opposed to psychiatry.
And those are good things to mention. But, let’s just talk about a few of these things.
Any religion is going to have some of its own vocabulary. The further removed from the religion that you are, the weirder that it will sound. Scientology takes this to a new level, with new terminology for everyday conversations. This is, well, deliberate—it helps to drive a wedge between Scientologists and outsiders.
Scientology has some wacky beliefs. By which I mean that Scientology’s beliefs are “out there” even in comparison to literal interpretations of creation narratives from the Abrahamic faiths or the aborigines of Australia or the Epic of Gilgamesh. But this should never be the real focus of criticism of Scientology. It is a subjective argument (again, just about every religion has some wacky beliefs held by at least some of the adherents, if not all). But the beliefs held by Scientologists are the least troubling thing about the Church of Scientology.
Yes, the Church of Scientology exercises a great deal of control over its members. This is not uncommon for organized religions that have a central hierarchy (or for small, fundamentalist groups). The Church of Scientology receiving money from its members in order to continue to be a part of the organization goes beyond tithing and really calls into question the merits of the organization’s tax-exempt status.
Yes, Scientologists are strongly opposed to psychiatry. They believe that it harms the mind and is another “trick” (like religions other than Scientology) that keeps people away from Scientology, which has the answers. And that is more than troubling, because psychiatry helps millions of people and saves lives. But not unique to Scientology—have you ever heard of someone with depression being told by a religious conservative that he or she “needs more Jesus” in his or her life? I have. That’s not the recommendation of mainstream Christians, but it happens.
But before we talk about the things that are easy to bring up—the things that make us laugh—let’s remember that just dismissively saying: “Oh, that’s a cult,” is meaningless (these days, a lot of people use “cult” for any organization that they do not like—and sometimes for things that are not even organizations).
The real problem with Scientology arises when it harms people. My absolute least favorite thing on Earth is the abuse of children (rape being an extremely close second). Scientology does that. I’m not a big fan of anti-gay sentiments, particularly when they come from people and organizations with influence. Scientology does that. No one should be controlled, isolated, or be a victim of violence or brainwashing. Scientology certainly does that.
If you are discussing Scientology, remember that it’s not its newness or its origins that make it a cause for concern. There is more to be said about the Church of Scientology than that Tom Cruise is a crazy, crazy man who says crazy things.
Remember the bad things that the Church of Scientology does that actually matter.