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Jon Atack: Why I call Scientology a cult and not a church

DallasChapelJon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and on Saturdays he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.

Jon continues to examine some of the most basic assumptions about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. And this week, Jon takes the grand view. Take it away, maestro…

JON: I have long objected to the Scientology cult being called “the church” by both adherents and opponents. As I understand it, the term “church” originally meant a Christian organization. Despite his statements to the contrary, it was actually L. Ron Hubbard who registered the first “church” of Scientology, in Camden, New Jersey, in December 1953. I have copies of the registrations of this and two other “churches,” the Church of Spiritual Engineering and the Church of American Science, which sheds light on the choice of the term “church.” This definition was given by Hubbard in a 1954 lecture (5410C04) and is repeated in Modern Management Technology Defined:

CHURCH OF AMERICAN SCIENCE, there is a difference between the Church of American Science and the Church of Scientology. The Church of American Science is a Christian religion. It believes in the Holy Bible, Jesus is the Savior of man and everything that’s necessary to be a Christian religion. People who belong to that church are expected to be Christians. These two churches fit together. We take somebody in as a Church of American Science. It doesn’t disagree with his baptism or other things like that, and he could gradually slide over into some sort of better, wider activity such as the Church of Scientology and a little more wisdom and come a little more close to optimum. Then if he was good and one of the people that we would like to have around he would eventually slide into the HASI [Hubbard Association of Scientologists International]. So we have provided stepping stones to Scientology with these organizations.

There is a dreadful cynicism contained in this definition. Scientology is “sort of better” than Christianity, and this “church” exists solely to recruit Christians and move them over into Scientology. As Hubbard taught that Christ was merely an “implant” in the R6 Bank (the reactive mind, implanted by Xenu some 75 million years ago, we are told), Hubbard’s assertions that Scientology is eclectic are palpably untrue.

I argue with sociologists, who insist that we call all post-WWII belief systems “new religious movements.” That therapy groups, such as Landmark Trust and the Sullivanians are listed as “nrms,” although they have no pretensions to religion, is bizarre and inaccurate. My suggestion that we simply use the tried and tested word “cult” for such groups is met with horror and disbelief. So, let’s have a look at the dictionary (as Hubbard suggested we should):

1. Worship 1683 2. A particular form of religious worship; esp. in reference to its external rites and ceremonies 1679 3. transferative Devotion to a particular person or thing, now especially as paid by a body of professed adherents 1711.

This is the full definition as given in the Shorter Oxford. The dates show the first recorded usage in English, showing that the word has been around for a long time. In fact, it derives from a Latin word, so has been in use for centuries, and our particular usage — definition three — has been with us for three hundred years. The pejorative tabloid redefinition of the word, which so upsets sociologists and Scientologists, is nowhere to be seen. To use Scientology’s own term, it is a “misunderstood word.”

Of course, Hubbard wanted us to adopt his use of the word “church” to legitimise his cult as a religion, and whenever you do call the cult a “church” that is precisely what you do. So, let us be accurate: Scientology is not a church, but an attempt to overthrow all churches and the Christian religion. It is a cult, and let’s call a cult a cult.

THE BUNKER: Thank you, Jon. As usual, your research is impeccable, and you make a persuasive point.

At the Bunker, we’re going to continue to avoid using the word “cult.” (We do quote other people using it, but we stay away from it ourselves.) Mainly, that’s because we find arguments about whether Scientology is a cult or not a big waste of time. Scientology calls itself a church, so we use that term — but if it’s a church, doesn’t that make its behavior even more questionable? Why is a church coercing young women to have abortions. Why is a church locking up its executives in a bizarre office-prison for years at a time? You see what we’re getting at.

We try to put the focus on what Scientology does, not what it calls itself. We’re more interested in reporting the facts than getting bogged down in philosophical skirmishes. But that’s just us. Jon, you call Scientology whatever you want. You earned it. And we’ll give you the last word.

JON: The definition is taken from the Shorter Oxford, which is authoritative. But you might want to suggest that rather than calling it a “church,” people use a neutral term, such as “Scientology” or “the Scientology organization.” If it called itself “the only hope for mankind” would you use that expression? We should not be misled and we should not mislead others. Hubbard knew well enough what he was doing and to use a “purr” word does have an impact upon thinking, as brain imaging has shown. It really does! (About half the population have an automatic reaction to swear words, for instance. They cannot help but be negatively aroused.) My use of “cult” is per the dictionary. Their use of “church” is not and has a hypnotic intent.


Posted by Tony Ortega on March 22, 2014 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer


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