It’s difficult to tell what direction Scientology is heading in. While census data suggests that their numbers are dwindling, you would never know this judging by the money the church leaders spend, or from the calls for legal suppression coming from other religious groups who fear for the souls of their children.
Multiple censuses across the world are finding that scientologists are on the decline. In a Swiss report, there has been a 65 percent decline in Scientology membership over 20 years, while Australians claim a 13.5 percent decline in the last five years. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found a strong decline from 55,000 to 45,000 members between 1990 and 2001, but mysteriously their survey fails to report its findings on minor religions in its 2008 survey.
These figures do indicate that Scientology is probably on the decline. The issue becomes more difficult when you consider that some countries, namely Germany, fear Scientology as a threat to the state because it sees its ideas as totalitarian and fascistic. Scientologists and the German government both see each other as oppressive extremists to a degree.
The rest of the world, which consists of mostly Christian countries where Scientology has expanded, does not pretend to have American ideals regarding the pursuit of religious goals through political means. They usually call it “cultural assimilation,” which is an important political goal that is near and dear to the hearts of many conservatives all over the world. Nobody in power wants to be associated with the rise of cultural disharmony. For this reason, it is a legitimate worry that the numbers may be fudged downward by detractors, just as they are skewed upward by supporters. Given the vast financial resources in Scientology, it is hard to imagine that the organization is truly significantly smaller than Rastafarians, Eckists, and Pagans.
The CEO of Scientology, David Miscavige, referred to as the Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center by Scientologists, is launching a major global expansion effort. Scientologists claim to have opened over 20 “Ideal Orgs” last year and are planning to open more this year. Their new Scientology centers are basically missions. They provide whatever regular services are provided to parishioners and are optimized for outreach and “social betterment programs.” Major investments from the organization have provided these centers with all the multimedia tools to teach pretty much everything L. Ron Hubbard ever wrote or said in multiple languages.
Scientology has always been very controversial. According to Australian officials there are more self-proclaimed Jedis in their country than Scientologists, so maybe this is the future of faith. Russia’s Duma is dealing with protests by Russian Orthodox Christians in Moscow who are upset that a new Scientology center has been opened near the Pokrovsky Convent. Earlier this month, protesters demanded new laws to ban the activities by the Church of Scientology. The leader of one group, Andrei Kormukhin said: “…we need 1,600 new churches – ‘forty times forty,’ – and very soon as well, as at least minimal compensation for the damage done to the church by the theomachists.”
While the Russians have never been known for ideological diversity, one would think that Switzerland might have a different position regarding Scientology, but it doesn’t appear so. A few days before the Russian incident, Switzerland pulled, “The History of Human Rights” because it was discovered that Scientologists produced it. The content did not endorse Scientology. According to the Swiss officials the video was pulled from the curriculum because it was harmful. “The members of Youth for Human Rights present themselves young, socially oriented, and engaged citizens.”
The fear is that young people may become inspired to engage in human rights activism and come into contact with Scientologists through this organization. However, Switzerland generally allows Protestant, Catholic, and sometimes Islamic clergy to teach their religion as fact in public schools.
Governments, major religions, and the public are concerned about Scientology. There isn’t much hand wringing about restraining the Rastafarians, Jedis, or even the Wiccans because they are not taken seriously by the general public. Scientology even gets its own taskforce in the German version of the FBI. It is difficult to interpret what this means.
Christianity was seen as a dangerous cult in ancient Judaism. More recently Mormonism began similarly in America, with a great deal of fear and persecution. The original unedited teachings of Joseph Smith, especially regarding women and brown people, would be just as terrifying and “culty” to a modern audience as anything Scientology teaches today.
It took a while, but these “cults” grew into large, mainstream institutions. So maybe Scientology will as well. However, with spokespersons like Tom Cruise and in particular Kirstie Alley, who expressed embarrassingly public fury at actress Leah Remini for leaving Scientology, it might take some time for people to accept some of its adherents, let alone the basic tenants of its faith.