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Scientology: Sect, Science, or Scam?
James R. Lewis

University of Tromso—The Arctic University of Norway
Department of History and Religious Studies
9037 Tromso, Norway
james.lewis@uit.no

Abstract
The present piece surveys different discussions of “religion” — especially in the legal
realm — which have had a bearing on Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard adopted the religion
label for practical reasons; in his mind, Scientology was a science, not a religion.
However, it is clear that Scientology actually is a religion — at least in the sense of functioning as a religion in the lives of participants — parading as science; instead of, as
Hubbard thought, a science parading as religion. This becomes particularly clear upon
examination of individuals participating in the so-called “Free Zone” (ex-CoS members
who continue to identify as Scientologists), for whom Scientology remains their primary religious identity.

Keywords
Dianetics – Scientology – L. Ron Hubbard – Free Zone – religion – New Religious
Movement

In fact, scientology is not a religion. Apart from an occasional reference
to scientology as a religious brotherhood and a claim to have some affinity with Buddhism and other religions, no claim was made at the Inquiry,
except forlornly in the final stages, that scientology as known, carried on,
practised and applied in Victoria was a religion. When the Inquiry began,
the stated attitude of the HASI [Hubbard Association of Scientologists
International] was that scientology was a science and not a religion.
However, towards the end of the Inquiry, when it became apparent to
the HASI that the practice of scientology in Victoria had been revealed
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���5 | doi 10.1163/15685276-12341364

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in a very unfavourable light, and that it had no evidence with which to
controvert the impressive body of expert evidence to the effect that it was
dangerous to the mental health of the community, an attempt was belatedly made to present it as a religion. No evidence was tendered to that
effect, but the complaint began to be made that scientologists were being
persecuted because of their religious beliefs, and the suggestion was that
bigotry was rampant. . . . scientology has not been, and is not, a religion.
(Anderson 1965:197–198)
John Sweeney: “Is it a religion, or is it a racket?”
Jason Beghe: “You know, they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, are
they?”
(The Secrets of Scientology, 2010)
Though dramatic incidents involving other non-traditional religions have
attracted more negative media coverage for short periods of time, the Church
of Scientology (CoS) is arguably the most persistently controversial new religious movement (NRM) of modern times. One of the chief criticisms leveled
against CoS is that it is a money-making business — or, more harshly, a moneymaking scam — which has cynically donned the sheep’s clothing of religion as
a way of avoiding taxes and as a way of protecting its pseudoscientific therapy
from being properly examined and regulated by the appropriate state agencies.
Self-appointed “cult” watchdog groups have leveled the accusation of not
really being a religion against a wide variety of alternative religions. However, the
question of whether or not Scientology is a bona fide religion became a pivotal
issue in a series of lawsuits involving the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in the
latter half of the twentieth century. The IRS’s refusal to recognize the Church
of Scientology’s legal status as a religion provided a point of reference for the
governments of a number of other countries — from Germany to Australia —
that similarly denied religious recognition to CoS’s branches in their respective countries. The IRS, however, reversed itself in 1993. This reversal, in turn,
helped solve many (but not all) of Scientology’s problems in other nations.
The present article examines the various discussions of religion — especially
legal conflicts that contested the religious status of CoS — which have had a
bearing on Scientology since the 1970s. The founder, L. Ron Hubbard, adopted
the religion label for pragmatic reasons; he regarded Dianetics/Scientology as
a science rather than as a religion. However, for a number of different reasons,
it is clear that Scientology actually is a religion — in the specific sense of functioning as a religion in the lives of participants — parading as science, rather
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than, as Hubbard imagined, a science parading as religion. This is especially
clear in the case of participants in the so-called “Free Zone” (ex-CoS members
who continue to identify as Scientologists, independently of the CoS organization) for whom Scientology remains their religious self-identity.
Background I: The Church of Scientology
The Church of Scientology, one of the genuinely new religions to originate in
the United States in the twentieth century, was founded by L. Ron Hubbard
(1911–1986). Hubbard grew up mostly in Montana, but as a teenager travelled
throughout Asia and the East. In 1929, he enrolled in George Washington
University, studying mathematics, engineering, and nuclear physics. He subsequently took up a literary career, publishing numerous stories and screenplays
in various genres, including adventure, mystery, and science fiction. Hubbard
served in the United States Navy during World War II.
By 1950, Hubbard had completed enough of his research to write Dianetics:
The Modern Science of Mental Health. This book described techniques designed
to rid the mind of irrational fears and psychosomatic illnesses. Dianetics
quickly became a bestseller, and groups were soon formed so that individuals
could assist each other in the application of Hubbard’s “auditing” techniques.
He lectured extensively, and wrote more books. In 1951, he announced that the
“applied religious philosophy” of Scientology had been born. It was described
as a subject separate from Dianetics, as it dealt not only with the mind of an
individual, but with one’s nature as a spiritual being.
In 1954, the first Church of Scientology was established in Los Angeles,
California. In 1959, Hubbard moved to Saint Hill Manor in Sussex, England,
and the worldwide headquarters of Scientology was relocated there. In 1966,
Hubbard resigned his position as Executive Director of the Church and
formed the Sea Organization, a group of intensively dedicated members of
the Church. In 1975, these activities outgrew the ships, and were moved onto
land in Clearwater, Florida. From this time on until his death in 1986, Hubbard
continuously wrote and published materials on the subjects of Dianetics and
Scientology, as well as a number of works of science fiction.
The Church of Scientology believes that “[m]an is basically good, that he
is seeking to survive, [and] that his survival depends on himself and upon his
fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe” (Hubbard 1954).
This is achieved in Scientology via “auditing” and by other kinds of coursework
and training. Auditing (the counseling of one individual by another) consists
of an “auditor” guiding someone through various mental processes in order to
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first free the individual of the effects of the “reactive mind,” and then to fully
realize the spiritual nature of the person. Electrical devices called E-Meters,
which rely upon the same basic technology as lie detectors, are used to help
the auditor discover emotionally loaded memories. When the individual is
freed from the effects of the reactive mind, he or she is said to have achieved
the state of “Clear.” An individual can then go on to higher levels of counseling dealing with his or her nature as an immortal spiritual being, referred to
in Scientology as a “Thetan,” and eventually achieve the state of “Operating
Thetan” (usually abbreviated “OT”). Scientologists believe in reincarnation —
specifically, that a Thetan has lived many lifetimes in a human body before this
one and will live more lifetimes in the future.
Rather like ancient Gnosticism, Scientology views human beings as pure
spirits (“Thetans”) trapped in MEST (the world of Matter, Energy, Space, and
Time). Humanity’s ultimate goal is to achieve a state of total freedom in which
— rather than being pushed around by external circumstances and by our
own subconscious mind — we are “at cause” over the physical universe. Unlike
traditional Gnosticism, achieving this exalted state of total freedom does not
require that we distance ourselves from everyday life. Instead, the greater our
spiritual freedom, the more successful we will be at the “game of life.”
Perhaps surprisingly for a movement claiming to be a religion, Scientology
leaves open the question of God’s existence, and instead focuses on improving
one’s conditions in this life. As part of this openness to other religious alternatives, Scientologists are simultaneously allowed to be practicing members
of other religions ( for general treatments of Scientology, refer to Wallis 1976;
Whitehead 1987; Lewis 2009; Urban 2011).
Background II: The “Cult” Controversy
The controversy over new religions like Scientology is a complex social issue
that has engendered an emotional and often acrimonious debate. The focus
of this debate is a wide variety of diverse groups that often have little in common. Some embrace belief systems at odds with mainstream religion; others
are quite orthodox. The single characteristic these groups share is that they
have been controversial. Years of social conflict have left their impression on
the term “cult,” which, to the general public, indicates a religious group that is
false, dangerous, or otherwise bad.
The principal arenas in which the controversies over new religions have
been fought are the media and the courts. Perhaps paradoxically, critics of
such religions (often collectively referred to as the anti-cult movement, or
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ACM) have suffered defeat in the courts but been victorious in the media. The
current state of affairs is comparable to the situation in which the Civil Rights
Movement found itself during its heyday: while going from victory to victory in
the courts, in popular opinion Blacks were still viewed as second-class citizens,
particularly in the Deep South.
One of the principal reasons why NRMs have tended to enjoy success in the
legal arena is that the courts have been compelled to treat such groups seriously as religions, entitled to all of the rights and privileges normally accorded
mainstream denominations. ACM critics of new religions would like to draw
a sharp line between “real” religions and “cults,” and treat cults as pseudoreligious organizations. The courts, however, are unable to approach such
groups differently as long as group members manifest sincerity in their religious beliefs. Cases involving contemporary minority religions have often been
argued in terms of religious liberty issues. And while anti-cultists have accused
new religions of “hiding behind the First Amendment” (in the U.S.), they have
been largely unsuccessful at persuading the legal system to set aside First
Amendment concerns when dealing with controversial NRMs (Lewis 2012a).
This situation explains why — at least in the United States, Scientology’s
country of birth — none of the legislative efforts to regulate new religious
movements have been successful. In the 1970s, parents concerned about the
religious choices of their adult children lobbied various legislatures. A number
of states established committees and hearings to investigate the cult “menace.”
Some resolutions were passed, but legislative bodies were ultimately unable
to act against new religions because of the church/state separation issue. The
strongest effort ever made by a U.S. legislature was New York State Assembly
Bill AB 9566-A, which would have made “Promoting a Pseudo-Religious Cult” a
felony. It was introduced by Robert C. Wertz on 5 October 1977:
A person is guilty of promoting a pseudo-religious cult when he knowingly organizes or maintains an organization into which other persons
are induced to join or participate in through the use of mind control
methods, hypnosis, brainwashing techniques or other systematic forms
of indoctrination in which the members or participants of such organization engage in soliciting funds primarily for the benefit of such organization or its leaders and are not permitted to travel or communicate with
anyone outside such organization unless another member or participant
of such organization is present. (State of New York 1977)
A number of different groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union,
lobbied heavily against the bill, and it was ultimately defeated. It failed to pass
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because — among other factors — it lacked an objective criterion for distinguishing false from true religions. Without a truly neutral standard, any such
law violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. It is, in fact, the
separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment that has
discouraged legislation in this area. This has left the courts to bear the burden
of adjudicating the controversy.
Prior to the emergence of the modern cult controversy, there was one
important Supreme Court case involving a twentieth-century new religion.
This 1944 case, United States v. Ballard, focused on the belief system of the
“I Am” Activity, a neo-Theosophical group from which a whole family of other
groups traces its roots. The case was built around the charge of mail fraud,
based on the “ridiculous” nature of the group’s beliefs. In the words of Justice
Robert H. Jackson, who wrote the dissenting opinion in United States v. Ballard:
Scores of sects flourish in this country by teaching what to me are queer
notions. It is plain that there is wide variety in American religious taste.
The Ballards are not alone in catering to it with a pretty dubious product.
The chief wrong which false prophets do to their following is not financial. The collections aggregate a tempting total, but individual payments
are not ruinous. I doubt if the vigilance of the law is equal to making
money stick by over-credulous people. But the real harm is on the mental
and spiritual plane. There are those who hunger and thirst after higher
values which they feel wanting in their humdrum lives. They live in mental confusion or moral anarchy and seek vaguely for truth and beauty and
moral support. When they are deluded and then disillusioned, cynicism
and confusion follow. The wrong of these things, as I see it, is not in the
money the victims part with half so much as in the mental and spiritual
poison they get. (United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 95 [1944])
The founder of the movement, Guy Ballard, had long been interested in
occultism and Theosophy. He married Edna Wheeler in 1916, and together
they founded the “I Am” Activity in the 1930s. Ballard’s revelations from Saint
Germain were spread during the lectures of the Ballards, who traveled in the
1930s as “Accredited Messengers” of the Masters. Further messages from the
Ascended Masters, especially from Saint Germain and the Master Jesus, were
sometimes produced in public or private.
Saint Germain and Jesus were considered the mediators between the “I AM
Presence” and humans. The Ascended Masters were at one time all human
beings who were able to transcend the physical world through the purification
of their lives. The goal of human life is represented by ascension. In 1938, the
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“I Am” Activity was said to have been given a dispensation according to which
persons who had devoted themselves so much to the movement that they had
not been able to give adequate time to personal purification, could upon normal death ascend from the after-earth state without re-embodiment.
The ‘I AM’ Activity worked publicly from 1937–1940 to establish a group of
devoted followers numbering over one million. With the death of Guy Ballard
on December 29, 1939, the movement went into decline. Edna Ballard claimed
that her husband had become an Ascended Master. However, the fact that Guy
Ballard had experienced a physical death rather than bodily ascension threatened the movement’s credibility. The following year, a sensational trial of the
leaders of the movement took place after some members of Ballards’ personal
staff accused the Ballards of obtaining money under fraudulent pretenses.
The indictment was voided in 1944 by the Supreme Court with a landmark
decision on religious liberty. The case was finally dismissed. Justice William O.
Douglas, in stating the prevailing opinion, wrote:
Heresy trials are foreign to our Constitution. Men may believe what they
cannot prove. They may not be put to the proof of their religious doctrines or beliefs. Religious experiences which are as real as life to some
may be incomprehensible to others. Yet the fact that they may be beyond
the ken of mortals does not mean that they can be made suspect before
the law . . . If one could be sent to jail because a jury in a hostile environment found one’s teachings false, little indeed would be left of religious
freedom . . . The religious views espoused by respondents might seem
incredible, if not preposterous, to most people. But if those doctrines are
subject to trial before a jury charged with finding their truth or falsity,
then the same can be done with the religious beliefs of any sect. When
the triers of fact undertake that task, they enter a forbidden domain.
Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses before them, the Church of Scientology early on
set up a strong legal wing that litigated for religious rights, as well as for human
rights more generally. As one of the first new religions to be embroiled in controversy, Scientology would prevail in most of its legal suits and eventually play
a major role in eviscerating the Cult Awareness Network, the most important
anti-cult group in the United States.
Trouble began when, rather naively, Hubbard contacted the American
Medical and Psychiatric Associations, explaining the significance of his discoveries for mental and physical health, and asking that the AMA and the
APA investigate his new technique. Instead of taking this offer seriously, these

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associations responded by attacking him. The subsequent popular success of
Dianetics did nothing to improve the image of Hubbard in the minds of the
medical-psychiatric establishment, and was likely instrumental in prompting
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raid against the Church.
On January 4, 1963, the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington,
D.C., was raided by United States marshals and deputized longshoremen, acting on behalf of the FDA. Five thousand volumes of Church scriptures, twenty
thousand booklets, and one hundred E-Meters were seized. It took eight years
of litigation to finally obtain the return of the materials. Finally, in 1971, the
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued the Founding Church of
Scientology v. United States decision. The FDA was ordered to return the books
and E-Meters that had been taken in the 1963 raid. In its decision, the court recognized the Church’s constitutional right to protection from the government’s
excessive entanglement with religion.

U.S. Tax Cases

Churches act as fiduciaries, enter into contracts, purchase property, and otherwise conduct business within the communities where they are located.
Churches expose themselves to tax liability when their conduct is not purely
religious. Scrutiny becomes particularly focused on churches when they are
the recipients of gifts, devices, or other transfers of property, or are otherwise benefitted. There have been a number of Internal Revenue Service cases
involving minority religions in which the IRS has revoked the tax-exempt
status of controversial new religions, often at the prompting of enemies of the
particular religion involved.
In 1985, for example, the Way International’s tax-exempt status was revoked
following allegations of partisan political involvement and certain business
activities at its New Knoxville, Ohio, headquarters. The ruling was reversed by
the Supreme Court in 1990. In 1993, the IRS ceased all litigation and recognized
Scientology as a legitimate religious organization. This followed years of contentious litigation between the agency and the Church of Scientology. Though
the Church has also been compelled to defend itself against civil suits (particularly by former members) and criminal charges, the issue of CoS’s federal taxexempt status has been regarded as especially important as a de facto criterion
of whether or not Scientology is “really” a religion.
In 1957, CoS had actually been able to obtain IRS tax-exempt recognition, but the IRS revoked this status in 1967, declaring that Scientology was a

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commercial enterprise operating for the purpose of benefitting Hubbard.
In response, “hundreds of affiliated entities filed a steady stream of lawsuits
against the IRS to have their tax-exempt status approved. In addition, members of the church began filing thousands of lawsuits against the IRS, claiming
entitlement to tax deductions for auditing and training expenses” (Davis 2004).
Though critics alleged that the decision was suspicious — claiming or at
least implying that the agency had been pressured to reverse its previous
policy — the IRS asserted that CoS had convincingly demonstrated that it had
purged individuals responsible for illegal activities against the agency, that
subsequent to the death of Hubbard no one was obviously getting rich off of
Scientology’s activities, and that the Church’s income was being utilized for
tax-exempt purposes (Frantz 1997). As one might anticipate, CoS was quick
to broadcast this ruling across the globe, and immediately brought the ruling
to bear on its international litigation. It also became part of the basis for U.S.
State Department criticisms of Germany in its reports on the state of religious
freedom during the mid-1990s (Richardson 2009).

International Cases

Among Scientology’s numerous international cases, the 1983 decision by the
High Court of Australia is particularly significant for the way in which it set out
to determine appropriate criteria for determining whether any given group’s
claim to be a religion was legitimate. The case involved an effort to obtain taxexempt status in Victoria (the Church had been successful in gaining such
status in other Australian states) in response to the government of Victoria’s
efforts to collect payroll taxes on salaries paid to Scientology workers.
Dismissed in both the trial court and the Supreme Court of Victoria, the
Church finally appealed to the High Court of Australia. The lengthy decision,
citing a variety of theorists from Clifford Geertz to Bryan Wilson, set out to
define religion and to establish criteria for determining whether an organization was or was not a religion. The Court then definitively concluded that
Scientology was a religion and that it should therefore be granted tax-exempt
status. As part of its judgment,
[t]he Court went on to state that a religion did not have to be theistic,
and that a religion involved both belief and behavior, thus avoiding the
crude dichotomy promulgated by the famous polygamy case in America
in 1897. This case is still the leading case in Australia defining religion,
and is cited in other courts and countries as well. (Richardson 2009:286)
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The Church of Scientology has had mixed success in obtaining recognition as a religion in Europe. It has been successful in Austria, Sweden, Spain,
Portugal, Slovenia, and Croatia. In certain other countries, it has tax-exempt
status but is not recognized as a religion. In Germany, where the Church has
been highly controversial, it has been recognized as a religion in a few German
states (Länder), but not others. It was initially quite controversial in the United
Kingdom where it was headquartered for many years, but now seems to function well enough in that country, despite not being recognized as a religion.
Scientology has also been extremely controversial in France, where the government seems intent on destroying the organization (Palmer 2009, 2011).
The most significant case involving registration as a religion has been in
Russia. In the early post-Soviet system, Scientology was able to register as a religious body by 2004. However, aligning themselves with conservative Russian
politicians, a newly empowered Russian Orthodox Church was able to overturn the initially liberal registration law (Shterin and Richardson 1998, 2000).
Eventually a new law was passed in 1997 which required religions to reregister, but only groups that could show they had been operating in Russia legally
for fifteen years were allowed to do so — a law clearly intended to deregister
groups like the Church of Scientology. After many attempts to register failed,
Scientology finally brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights
(ECHR). In 2007, the Court ruled in favor of the Church and required Moscow
to register the group. Despite the Russian government’s subsequent appeal,
the case was not overturned. The potential importance of this decision is significant as it provides a precedent for Scientology’s status as a religion in other
European countries as well.

Science Posing as Religion or Religion Posing as Science?

If, for the moment, we set aside questions about tax-exempt status and government registration, there are a number of different ways of asking the question
of whether or not Scientology should be regarded as a religion. One way in
which this question has been approached is in terms of the intentions of the
founder (Willms 2009). Any honest assessment of the Dianetics/Scientology
movement on this basis has to conclude that Hubbard transformed his movement into a religion for purely pragmatic reasons:
In the early phase of Dianetics, Hubbard made no attempt to define
his new science of the mind as anything having to do with religion. Yet
throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, in response to a variety of internal and
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external pressures, Hubbard began to increasingly pursue what he called
the “religion angle.” Foremost among these were Hubbard’s wars with the
FDA, over his claims to heal physical illness, and his intense battles with
the IRS, over his claims to tax-exempt status.1
That Hubbard never seriously regarded his movement as a religion explains
why, as mentioned earlier, Scientologists were permitted to be members of
other religious organizations.
Rather than a religion, Dianetics/Scientology was, from Hubbard’s perspective, an empirical science. As he asserted in one of his earlier works, The
Fundamentals of Thought, “[t]here are no tenets in Scientology which cannot
be demonstrated with entirely scientific procedures.”2 While critics might
regard Hubbard’s ascription of scientific status to Scientology as just another
cynical ploy — what one might perhaps call the “science angle” — it is clear
that Hubbard really did regard his creation as a science. Had he not regarded
Dianetics/Scientology therapy as having legitimate scientific status, he would
never have invited the American Psychiatric Association and the American
Medical Association to investigate his findings (Melton 2000:12).
In order to grasp his perspective on this point, one must understand that
Hubbard’s frame of reference was not the mainstream science of universities and research institutes but, rather, the broader cultural understanding of
science found in what Colin Campbell influentially referred to as the “cultic
milieu” (2002). It is within this alternative dimension of modern culture where
one finds such fields of study as astrology, ufology, cryptozoology, pyramidology, etc., all regarded (within this milieu) as empirical “sciences” on par with
academic biology, chemistry, physics and the like (Hammer 2004). As part of
this milieu, Hubbard had inherited a more general cultural understanding
which regarded any enterprise that was empirical in the broadest sense —
even religious or quasi-religious enterprises — as “scientific” (Hazen 2000;
Rapport 2011).
Despite the Church’s later efforts to portray Scientology as being similar to
Buddhism, in point of fact the early Dianetics movement’s closest religious
family member is the New Thought movement. Certainly the power to change
(to be “at cause” over) external conditions that Hubbard attributed to the
1  Urban 2011:19. Refer, in this regard, to the discussion in Chapter 15 of Atack 2013 (2nd ed.). The
same basic discussion, with a few less details, can be found in Chapter 5 of Section III of the
first edition from 1990.
2  Hubbard 1956:79. In later editions of this book — editions that were issued only after
Hubbard’s death — this statement was deleted. I briefly discuss this and similar edits below.

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human mind goes well beyond the realm of anything resembling empirical (in
the mainstream, scientific sense) psychology. Thus, while Hubbard thought he
was doing science while pretending to be the leader of a religion, from the very
beginning he was actually doing religion while imagining that he was doing
hard science.
Additionally, after ceasing to seek recognition as a science and adopting the
“religion angle,” the notion of reincarnation was fully and explicitly embraced
by the Church. The doctrine was even touted as solid evidence that, in fact,
Scientology really was a religion — though reincarnation was framed as
one of Hubbard’s scientific “discoveries” made during the development of the
Dianetics movement. Dianetics was, interestingly enough, the immediate precursor to what later became known as past-life therapy (Lucas 1993:5–6).
Hubbard also picked up on the notion of “astral projection,” the notion that
one can project one’s own consciousness out of the physical body at will, which
was popular in “occult” circles in the mid-twentieth century. Astral projection
was later referred to as “out-of-body experiences” (OBEs or OOBEs) in the wake
of a popular book on the subject, originally published in 1971 (Monroe 1977).
Hubbard, who seemed compelled to invent new terms for everything, referred
to astral projection/OOBE with the neologism exteriorization, defined as:
The state of the thetan [Hubbard’s term for the soul], the individual himself, being outside his body. When this is done, the person achieves a certainty that he is himself and not his body. (1965:151)
Like the doctrine of reincarnation, exteriorization is clearly a religious rather
than a purely psychological notion.
However, the Scientology organization’s efforts to remake its image into a
religion came at the cost of deemphasizing its status as a science, particularly
after Hubbard had passed from the scene. Thus, for example, the statement
I cited earlier from Hubbard’s Fundamentals of Thought, namely that “[t]here
are no tenets in Scientology which cannot be demonstrated with entirely
scientific procedures,” had disappeared by the 2007 edition. In this regard,
compare page 76 of the 1956 edition (or even page 70 of the 1973 edition) with
page 80 of the 2007 edition. Furthermore, as discussed in the “Fundamentals of
Thought — Alterations” entry in the online Scientolipedia,3 at least four other

3  “Fundamentals of Thought — Alterations.” http://scientolipedia.org/info/Fundamentals_
of_Thought_-_Alterations (accessed 11 August 2014). In this and other new editions of
Hubbard’s works, CoS’s claim that no alterations have been made to the founder’s writings is

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occurrences of the term “science” were deleted in later editions. Even more
interesting, the term “science” was replaced by “religion” at least twice.
If sincerely held beliefs are the core criterion in the legal arena, then perhaps the strongest evidence for the religious status of Scientology comes from
the Free Zone. The Free Zone refers to the large but loosely organized community of people who consider themselves Scientologists but who are not members of the Church of Scientology. Across the course of the sixty years of the
Church’s existence, tens of thousands of Scientologists have left the fold. Many
of these former members left for personal or for organizational reasons, and
continue to believe in the efficacy of Scientology practices and in Scientology
as a religious philosophy.
In a recently published study, Elisabeth Tuxen Rubin administered a
standardized questionnaire to forty-three former CoS Scientologists in the
Copenhagen area. She then conducted in-depth interviews with sixteen of
these. The interviewees were participants in two different groups of Free Zone
Scientologists — one group had left CoS in 1982 and the other in 2004 — that
were unaware of each other’s existence. Rubin found that none of the interviewees had “lost or renounced the belief system of Scientology. Their religious attitudes and behaviour were remarkably consistent with those of core
members of Scientology” (2011:219). She also found that all forty-three ex-CoS
members affirmed such core religious beliefs as “[m]an is a spiritual being”
and the process of “[r]eincarnation (i.e., that the soul/spirit gets a new life in
another body)” (2011:211). One of the more interesting findings was that these
Free Zone Scientologists “have a more profound belief in Scientology than the
Church-Scientologists,” or at least more profound than the CoS members studied by Peter B. Andersen and Rie Wellendorf (Rubin 2011:211; Andersen and
Wellendorf 2009).
What these findings mean for this discussion is that, while a critic of the
Church might plausibly claim that the explicitly affirmed beliefs of current
CoS members might have been made insincerely, the same cannot be said of
former members. This is especially the case with ex-members of the Church
of Scientology, who are ruthlessly cut off from family and friends remaining
in the Church because of CoS’s ill-conceived disconnection policy (Lewis
2012b:140–141). Thus, and not a little ironically, it is the sincerely-held beliefs
of Free Zone Scientologists who offer the best evidence that Scientology is a
religion in the legal sense of that contested term.

problematic, to say the least. In this regard, refer to the discussion in Rothstein 2007. For a
more popular treatment, refer to Kin 1991:64.

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Conclusion
Within academic religious studies circles, far from the clash of opinions that
constitute the bread and butter of mass media narratives, the question of what
does and what does not constitute religion has been quietly debated since at
least the nineteenth century. One of the currently popular positions within this
rarified realm is that there is nothing essential to religion that sets it apart from
other cultural phenomena. Furthermore, many scholars accept the notion that
the category of “religion” is a peculiarly Western invention, without parallel in
most traditional societies. Whatever merit this line of thought might have, it
seems to disqualify academia from making any kind of judgment call regarding the religious status of the Church of Scientology that would be acceptable
to the rest of society. There are, nevertheless, several issues with the connotations “religion” has acquired that have been usefully analyzed by academic
researchers.
In the first place, many people unreflectively assume that religion is always
something good (Grünschloß 2009:227–228). If, therefore, a given religious
body such as Scientology does something bad, then ipso facto it must not be
“real” religion. Instead, it must be a false religion. This attitude is, however,
naïve. The ancient Mayans (as well as many other aboriginal American groups)
sacrificed human beings as an integral part of their religious rites. These practices were, in fact, central to Mayan religion. However, no contemporary person would defend these rites as good.
Another popular idea for people raised in one of the Abrahamic traditions is
that religion is always about the worship of divinities. Against the background
of this naïve assumption, Scientology cannot, by definition, be a religion. Yet
another association the term has come to have is that “religion” refers to traditional dogmatic church bodies — bodies that long ago lost their originally
authentic “spiritual” impulses. We could examine yet other issues, but even this
brief discussion should be enough to demonstrate that religion has become a
contested term that can mean a variety of different things depending on the
context.
In the legal realm that has been the focus of the present article, the question
usually boils down to the sincerity of adherents. However, even this criterion
is less than clear-cut in the specific case of the Church of Scientology. In terms
of the founder, at a conscious level, Hubbard was completely insincere in
his transformation of Dianetics from a popular self-help movement into a religion — though one can argue, as I have argued above, that Hubbard’s movement was never a purely secular enterprise. In any case, when we shift our
attention away from the founder, it is evident that the great majority of ordinary
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members are sincerely committed to Scientology as a religion. Furthermore,
it is the ex-CoS Free Zone Scientologists who provide the clearest evidence
that Scientology is a genuine (in the specific sense of a sincerely appropriated)
religion.
If I study to be a doctor and know the techniques a doctor uses, then
I would be a doctor. But I have studied Scientology, which I regard as a
science and a religion. So I consider myself a Scientologist. But it is no
longer an assumed identity. I am a Scientologist because it is a part of me.
(Erik, ex-CoS member, cited in Rubin 2011:210)
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