Marburg Journal of Religion: Volume 8, No. 1 (September 2003)
Scientology: Religion or racket?
The name Scientology (a copyrighted and registered trademark) brings to mind a widearray of claims, observations, impressions, findings, and documents, reflecting acomplex and controversial history. The religion/not religion debate over variousgroups and organizations, prominent in the Western media over the past thirty years,has usually presented the public and politicians with a religion versus "sect" or "cult"dichotomy. The classification issue in this article is framed differently. Hopkins(1969) offered us the terms of the debate in the bluntest and most direct way when heasked in the title of an article in Christianity Today more than thirty years ago"Scientology: Religion or racket?" Read today, the Hopkins article sounds naive andcharitable, but this question still stands before us, and yet deserves an answer.The question of whether any particular organization matches our definition of religionis not raised very often, and this is true for both old and new religions (cf. Beit-Hallahmi, 1989; Beit-Hallahmi, 1998; Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997). That is because there is no shortage of religious behaviors and groups whose authenticity isnever in doubt, but in some rare cases, authenticity and sincerity are put into question.Regarding Scientology, we have two competing claims before us. The first, espoused by most NRM scholars, as well as some legal and administrative decisions, assertsthat Scientology is a religion, perhaps misunderstood and innovative, but a religionnevertheless, thus worthy of our scholarly attention. The second, found in most mediareports, some government documents in various countries, and many legal andadministrative decisions, states that Scientology is a business, often given to criminalacts, and sometimes masquerading as a religion. Let us start our examination of theissue with a piece of recent history, reported in a newspaper article, which isreproduced here in its entirety.'Mental health' hotline a blind lead: The televised blurb offered mental healthassistance dealing with the attacks. Callers reached Scientologists.By Deborah O'Neil (c) St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 20011