Scientology offers a vast and highly elaborated system of thought that interprets and explains various aspects of human experience. In its bookish, study-oriented approach to its work, it is the new scholasticism, attractive to people who like to organize, conceptualize, systemize, and intellectualize their experience. It does not teach a specific concept of "God" or the "Supreme Being," though it refers rather grandly--and vaguely--to an "Eighth Dynamic," the highest in a hierarchy of eight relationships in which persons can invest their energies, but it gives little guidance or explanation of how one should proceed in relation to that "dynamic" or what one may expect to find there.

But Scientology does teach very clearly and explicitly--or enables its adherents to discover--that they are "spiritual beings" who have a continuing existence beyond death in successive mortal bodies. This central teaching or discovery, referred to by almost all respondents as their own conviction, is alone a significant differentiation from non-religious philosophies and psychologies. It is a concept characteristic of several religions and of virtually no system of thought that is non-religious.

More to the point, this view of reality and its attendant implications seem to satisfy most adherents' hunger for ultimate meaning. Several respondents characterized themselves as "seekers" who had sampled one religion after another and found them all unsatisfying until they encountered Scientology, and found continuing satisfaction in it. As one of them put it, "Those kinds of questions don't bother me any more."

Though Scientology does not have a specific answer ready for every conceivable theological question (any more than some acknowledged religions do), it seems to have been able to instill in its devotees a confidence that existence takes place in a basically meaningful and reliable framework in which purposive human activity is possible and effectual.

In the sense that it effectively assuages (if not explicitly answers) its adherents' anxieties about the ultimate meaning of life, Scientology is a religion and functionally a very effective one. Given the analysis in Section IV above, this is the single necessary and sufficient quality of a religion, of all religion, and of no other form of human endeavor. Not all adherents have come to Scientology in search of this product or service, and not all have attained this level of insight, but that is true of all religions. Of the respondents interviewed, none who had previously felt religious perplexities reported that those perplexities continued in Scientology. There may have been some who continued to be perplexed, but did not admit it; more probably, persons who were still dissatisfied drifted away from Scientology--as some do--and are still seeking elsewhere. That does not impugn the fact that Scientology may perform the function of religion for those who remain.

In addition to the foregoing conclusive finding about Scientology, there are others that, while not in themselves dispositive, help to reinforce the conclusion that Scientology is a religion:

1. The "confessional" character of "auditing";

2. The teaching (whether objectively true or not) that human beings are essentially good;

3. The emphasis on ethics in human relationships;

4. The ability to recover persons from drug addiction;

5. The solemnizing of marriages by Church personnel;

6. The focus on "helping others" resulting in Church programs for the aging, opposition to electroshock therapy and lobotomy as mental hygiene techniques, etc.

Dean M. Kelley
Updated June 1996

Note: The author was executive for religious liberty of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (1960-1990) and Counselor on Religious Liberty (1990- ). The author takes full and sole responsibility for this study and its findings. They are not to be attributed to the NCC or any of its member denominations.

1. Much more authentic to its own history is the nautical symbolism that pervades the organization, reportedly a survival from L. Ron Hubbard's years at sea with his closest disciples. This shipboard nostalgia is perpetuated in the elite affiliation called the "Sea Org," whose members wear quasi-nautical uniforms as they go about their work and who occupy the highest echelons of leadership in the Church (continued on next page) (somewhat like the monastic orders did at some periods in the Roman Catholic Church). Each member of the "Sea Org" has signed a "billion year" contract to serve Scientology through successive lives. That may be only a symbolic statement, but it is unique to Scientology and lends a trans-temporal dimension not found in non-religious organizations. Even other religious traditions that envision some form of reincarnation and cultivate full-time, lifetime commitments from their most devoted elites do not project that commitment across the millennia.

2. The Act of Congress of 1887 disincorporating the Mormon Church and forfeiting its property to the United States contained a proviso "that no building . . . which is held and occupied exclusively for the purposes of worship of God . . . shall be forfeited." Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. U.S., 136 U.S. 1, 7 (1890).

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