A really obscure argument

Posted on June 19, 2011


Skepth recently posted about Scientology. I left a 500 word comment dealing with cults in general, and the inherent transience of any particular science cult trying to be a religion. 

Since it’s the first thing of any length I’ve written for a while, I decided I’d get double use of it by posting it here. 

Here’s Skepth’s original post, A Shifting Trance.

And below is my comment. 

(Now I have to get back to the letter I’ve been building up to writing.)


Scientology and Science Cults

Frankly, I don’t see Scientology surviving for more than another 20-25 years, and even then, only as a “gypsy” movement, like The Process after Robert was overthrown. There just isn’t enough “religion” to it. Despite it’s apparent “mystical” trappings, Scientology is just a science cult — and science cults have extremely short half-lives.

Science cults, such as Scientology, Urantia, and others now thankfully forgotten, are created with an in-built self-destruct mechanism: science. Their foundations rest upon some interpretation of a scientific understanding of the world at a particular moment in history — an outlook that is different from the outlook a few years earlier, and which will change a few years hence. As a result, their truths are necessarily provisional and transient. They can succeed only for so long as the scientific underpinnings are remotely valid.

Successful religions provide deep, fundamental assurances: immutable cosmic truths. Ironically, while the goal of science is to provide such truths, its very nature, a cycle of theory, testing, and observation, makes it forever incapable of doing so. Science cults seldom (if ever) are based on a profound understanding of science, but there is always a link to it. Scientology’s cosmic war and alien spiders may be outright laughable, but the underlying theory of engrams was based (however loosely) on “legitimate” psychological understanding.

This isn’t to say that science cults never succeed, only that they never succeed under the banner of religion. To succeed, science cults need to become legitimatised to the scientific community, a tactic that has given surprisingly long life spans to the various psychotherapy cults.

As a religion, though, as something that can point us to unchanging truths, no science cult can survive more than a couple of generations, with its peak occurring midway through the first generation.

With Hubbard gone, what does Scientology have to offer? Past lives? Got those already, and none so ludicrous. Enlightenment? But where are the enlightened Scientologists? Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and maybe even Kabbalists can point to at least one person most of us would recognise as “enlightened” — or at least doing a fine imitation of it.

Scientology has John Travolta and Kirsty Alley.

The “cosmic hopelessness” you mention is a natural reaction to virtually any science cult, because there’s nothing there. They fill no void, the questions they answer are relatively trivial, and they avoid the questions that matter.

I give Scientology 15 more years of occasional public awareness, and then a long slow decline into The Masters of Atlantis.