While the legitimacy of Scientology can be debated by both followers and non, the fact remains that it is the fastest growing religion in the western world. From covering devout Scientologist Tom Cruise's bizarre behavior on "Oprah" to reports of the ruthlessness behind the Church's pursuit of nay-saying journalists, the media have recently been focusing on this bizarre but ever-present set of beliefs.
But strange or not, there are signs that indicate that the Church of Scientology will one day be treated to the equal degree of legitimacy that any other mainstream faith is granted in our current society.
As the Church's recruitment levels skyrocket and their bankbook continues to boom, it becomes clear that they are a force to be reckoned with. We would be wise to understand how the Church has brought about its unusual expansion and what methods it has employed to facilitate this growth.
Given the Church's aggressive scrutiny of its critics, the only real means of accurately gathering information regarding its recruitment tactics was under the guise of a potential recruit.
The first observation upon arriving at the Boston branch of the Church of Scientology on Beacon Street is the vanity in the architectural design of their centers. This historical Boston brownstone, with its modern granite flooring, is incredibly impressive.
Once inside, the potential recruit is bombarded with photographs of the Church's most elaborate worship sites, including the Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles and SeaOrg, the most sacred of their churches. SeaOrg is a large cruise ship that travels the Caribbean while teaching Scientology's highest-ranking members the most intensive and secretive material ever to be uncovered by founder L. Ron Hubbard.
To actively practice as a Scientologist and engage in the practices that allow one to rise within the ranks costs an extraordinary amount of money that no outsider has ever been accurately capable of calculating. Many of Scientology's critics have attributed these fees to goals of greed and argue that this makes the Church illegitimate. However, the Church does not have the centuries of wealth the Catholic Church has had to facilitate itself, and the money their followers contribute is what sustains Scientology.
However, visitors to the Church do get a free introduction. This trial includes the viewing of several films that explain the Church's history, ideas on the mind and body, and a vague understanding of Dianetics, the pseudoscience that drives Scientology. Dianetics is the so-called scientific process that helps to purify and control one's "thetan," or, roughly, Scientology's version of a soul.
First the thetan must be examined. This is done through productive auditing by an experienced Scientologist who administers an E-meter, a machine that supposedly provides understanding to your Thetan's many distresses. This understanding is key to freeing oneself of problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and any physical ailment.
All in all, to argue that the Church of Scientology is a cult based on falsehoods is probably a fair statement. However, this is also what the Catholic Church was perceived to be in its early days. The truth of the matter is, the Church of Scientology is picking up where the three main monotheistic faiths leave off.
As the western world moves into the 21st century, former believers are abandoning their faiths in record numbers. Noting an inability to identify with ancient scripture and its relevance to the modern world, former Catholics, Jews and Muslims are turning toward the wonders of modernity.
Scientology has found the perfect niche in the market by offering answers to the same old existential questions, but answering them under the guise of science. Human beings will always be curious about who we are, where we come from and what we are supposed to do on this earth, but now a modern faith is being offered to fill this void.
This modern answer is the brilliance behind Scientology's marketing. Its followers do not have to be conflicted when analyzing their spiritual beliefs as Scientologists because they are not revolving around a "god" or "afterlife" but rather focusing on Dianetics and E-meter readings.
Whether or not this will ever provide accurate spiritual fulfillment is debatable, and many of Scientology's practices are indeed troublesome. But in an increasingly scientific and modern world, as the relevance of the older and outdated faiths declines, the Church of Scientology will become more and more important in providing new answers to age-old questions.