The news article presents the exclusive captured photos of some of the Church of Scientology’s buildings, churches, and real estate properties it has built around the world—a multi billion dollar investment. Moreover, the journalist emphasizes how the city of Florida in America has been dominated with the influence and impact by the Scientology due to their expansive projects in their establishment of buildings associated with the movement ranging from churches, communities of homes, and many more buildings. The article demonstrates massive spending made by this group from the ‘donations’ (i.e. fees) obtained from their members.
During the mid-1900s, there rose new religious movements (NRMs). Particularily around 1950s, Scientology grew out from Dianetics—also the creation of L. Ron Hubard— which was a popular therapy movement. The church emphasizes that humanity’s ultimate goal is to achieve a state of total freedom, rather than being pushed around by external circumstances and by our own subconscious mind. The Church of Scientology appears to be incredibly powerful with the enormous amounts financial ‘donations’ it gets. Moreover, they are well armed with professionals such as lawyers and accountants that will effectively and productively accumulate their finances and defend any legal suits filed against them. With the large sums of money they acquire, and with their possession of intelligent individuals, professionals who have top knowledge in legal and financial fields, and through the establishment of massively expensive churches; they were able to expand rapidly around the world and especially in America— attracting more individuals and gradually creating solidarity of their movement. The cherry-on-top to their expansion is the kind of support they get from famous Hollywood celebrities; such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
As introduced by Dr. Hexham, NRMs are relatively small movements that have been controversial since late 1960s in America. The more NRMs spread around the Western world and into other countries, the more countries became infested with problematic issues. Controversies revolved around scrutinizing the true purposes and motives of these new religion movements, particularly in their recruitment methods specifically on psychological techniques, and how NRM raised and used funds. Scientology is well known for charging its members large sums of money for courses they can to reach enlightenment to attain freedom. Modules offer different levels of enlightenment and freedom one can attain, while the amount of money—‘donations’— needed to attend these classes increase incrementally as you go up the ladder to attain a state of total freedom.
Like some, as mentioned above, this journalist subtly implies that the types of technique used to recruit prospective Scientology members are of a brainwashing technique. Although I am aware from attending RELS 341 class that some scholars oppose the brainwashing thesis as their main argument is that these new members who join because of their own free will and with their abilities to autonomously decide for themselves. In this light, in my opinion, when someone who is emotionally and mentally unstable and vulnerable, the methods used to lure these individuals is a form of manipulating their minds—which is part of, or a form of, brainwashing. This debate of brainwashing then raises another question: whether Scientology is a cult or not. In RELS 341 class, we have been well informed that one must be careful in labeling religious group or new religious movement as a cult. This is because in labeling a religious group as a cult is extremely offensive and insulting. With keeping this in mind, I nevertheless introduce James T. Richardson’s definition of cult quoted in Dr. Hexham and Dr. Poewe’s book: a group that has beliefs and/or practices that are counter to those of the dominant culture and/or to those of the dominant subculture. In this sense, the Church of Scientology received major criticisms throughout the media, it indicates the conflict raised by the people who reside in various countries. What is Scientology then, according to Richardson’s definition?
The concerns I have about NRM is that, even if the public to their respective governments raises the concerns, issues, problems, and conflicts, it is highly unlikely to settle for a solution. In most democratic countries, protecting individual(s) and group(s) rights and freedoms include rights and freedom associated with religion. Furthermore, it is not only in the field of religious studies that intellectuals scholars have debates on what the criteria are for defining NRM cults, this problem translates into the laws of democratic countries and these laws have trouble proving psychological effects of religion on individuals. In addition, groups like Scientology, they are such a powerful NRM that are equipped with large financial reserves and they have abundance of intelligent human agencies that guard the church. For all these reasons, it is hard to bring certain NRMs who are criticized by the public to justice in the legal system, and there appears to be no hope for alternative ways for people to voice their concerns. NRMs, once they snowball into a massive movement, can prove to be detrimental for the rest of society.