Scientologists prominently dissed

There are two very encouraging facts about this article on scientology in the NY Times.

One is that it got published. Once upon a time, newspapers and magazines hesitated to criticize scientology at all, because they’d immediately sic an army of lawyers on the publication, and any journalists involved face some fierce harassment. They probably still do that, but their triumphantly oppressive days are over.

The other is this fascinating disclosure.

The church is vague about its membership numbers. In 11 hours with a reporter over two days, Mr. Davis, the church’s spokesman, gave the numbers of Sea Org members (8,000), of Scientologists in the Tampa-Clearwater area (12,000) and of L. Ron Hubbard’s books printed in the last two and a half years (67 million). But asked about the church’s membership, Mr. Davis said, “I couldn’t tell you an exact figure, but it’s certainly, it’s most definitely in the millions in the U.S. and millions abroad.”

He said he did not know how to account for the findings in the American Religious Identification Survey that the number of Scientologists in the United States fell from 55,000 in 2001 to 25,000 in 2008.

That’s a rather precipitous fall. If they can keep shedding believers at that rate, this will be scientology’s last decade.


  1. Zeno says

    Of course, each Scientologist signed up for a billion years, so it’ll take quite a while for the remnants to go away.

  2. LMR says

    I wonder how much the drop has to do with the downturn in the economy – since Scientology requires large monetary commitments. I’d like to think that when/if the economy improves, we won’t find people with more money than sense that start to increase the numbers again.

  3. Opisthokont says

    PZ, is there any particular reason why you consistently write ‘scientology’ in lowercase? I cannot think of any other religious or cult groups for which you have done that.

  4. Akiko says

    I think they will just change their tactics to keep their membership up. They already use the “we can cure you of drug addiction and homosexuality” techniques to reel in young people in the entertainment industry. They will find another way to make impressionable, lost people looking for a parent entity be forever grateful to them. Religion is about blind devotion and that is certainly true of the followers of L. Ron and his funny stories.

  5. erpease says

    Given the low numbers, 25,000 – 55,00, I wonder what the error bar is? In other words is the apparent drop a fluke?

  6. Andreas Johansson says

    @#3: It seems unlikely the present economic woes are responsible for a fall in numbers that occured in ’01-08.

  7. NewEnglandBob says

    Well, it is obvious why they are losing members. They don’t have magic underpants.

  8. JonF says

    @#5: Project Chanology started in early ’08, so it’s unlikely they’re responsible for the drop in membership over the ’01 – ’08 period. That said, that Anon was able to launch Chanology with such success in terms of forcing more media coverage on CoS was definitely due to an increase in awareness of the “tenets” of Scientology in the previous years. I think the number of people who knew what a Body Thetan was in 2008 compared to 2001 was much higher.

    I’d be interested to see what their membership hangs around at these days. I’m betting its even lower than the ’08 figures, though I’m sure they claim otherwise.

  9. says

    @erpease: yes, you are correct about the ARIS figures. The 95% error spread is over 100%.
    It would be safe to say that there were less than 50,000 Scientologists in the USA in 2008, but the actual results are too inaccurate to quote.
    More statistics on my demographics webpage:
    It is generally supposed that about half of Scientologists worldwide are US citizens, so ‘no more than 100,000’ would be a reasonable estimate in my view for 2008.
    According to the Scientology Press Office, the Church had ten million members in 2006 and it has been expanding fast since that date.

  10. Koldito says

    Let’s compare Scientology with… oh, let’s say the Chicago Cubs.

    * Membership: Scientology, ca 25.000; Cubs, I don’t know the figure, but Wrigley Field has a sitting capacity of 41.000.
    * Foundation: Scientology: 1953; Cubs: 1902 (not counting previous incarnations).
    * Level of devotion of followers: Scientology, respectable; Cubs, off the f*****g charts.

    So, if a baseball team manages to outdo you guys in all these three respects, maybe you should not overestimating your importance.

  11. Andreas Johansson says

    Defending “disconnection” of defectors, Mr Davis said:

    “These are common religious tenets,” he said. “The very survival of a religion is contingent on its protecting itself.”

    Which, if it were true, would be another reason we’d be better off without religion.

  12. mmelliott01 says

    Koldito: You left out a key point of similarity. Like scientologists, Cub fans will still be waiting for vindication in a billion years.

  13. elliotthauge says

    How is Mr. Davis getting a figure of “most definitely in the millions” while the American Religious Identification Survey gets at most 55,000? That’s quite a discrepancy.

  14. blf says

    How is Mr. Davis getting a figure of “most definitely in the millions” while the American Religious Identification Survey gets at most 55,000?

    Forgot to clean his e-meter. Or maybe it’s still stuck in his arse.

  15. Bunkie says

    Number of world series wins since 1953:

    Scientology – 0
    Chicago Cubs – 0

    Proof that L. Ron works miracles.

  16. timgueguen says

    I think it’s telling that Scientology isn’t what it used to be that TV and movie writer Paul Haggis jumped ship from the organisation last year over its stance on homosexuality. Here’s a guy with two Academy Awards, the kind of guy that Scientology loves to show off, and he actually got away from them. And he’d been a member for 35 years.

  17. Glenn Davey says

    Can we go after Jehovah’s Witnesses next? PLEASE?

    The faith is poor at transmitting their meme downward through generations (only 37% of all those born into the faith actually stay into adulthood). Without the constant evangelising efforts, they too would suffer precipitous losses in membership. As it is they are becoming a revolving door sect.

    Scientology evangelises too, with those rediculous tests they give people on the street.

    It’s all about the numbers game. Anyone in sales will acknowledge that the more people you talk to, the more sales you’ll make. Or, the more people you will convert.

    But if Scientology – which is obviously crap, to most people – can be dissed into oblivion, then can we do the same for Jehovah’s Witnesses, too?

    Having researched them for 2 years, I’m convinced that the JW “Society” is as harmful and as full of shit as Catholicism, but almost more so because they fly under the radar.

    This I REALLY want to see changed.

  18. titmouse says

    Given that the NYT piece comes on the heels of the story about the CoS’s bogus “investigation” of the St Petersburg Times –a “fair game” trick meant to intimidate the authors of the “Truth Rundown” expose— there’s potentially a bigger story here about America’s whipped journalists finally finding their balls and making use of them.

    Journalists, you could rally. You know you’d love to.

    It would feel good.



  19. titmouse says

    Glenn Davey,

    I like the witnesses about 100 times more that the Scientologists, who seek to “obliterate” me and my colleagues who work with the mentally ill.

    Got a hang up call yesterday from a Clearwater PI. All I do is blog and comment, so WTF.

  20. Andreas Johansson says

    elliotthauge wrote:

    How is Mr. Davis getting a figure of “most definitely in the millions” while the American Religious Identification Survey gets at most 55,000?

    By a highly sophistic method known as “mendacity”.

  21. Larry says

    So Davis claims membership in the millions while an independent organization says its only in the tens of thousands.

    It would appear that Davis is using the same counting methods used by fox news when counting teabaggers rallying at the DC mall.

  22. applescrapple says

    Depressing that we have to wait a decade. But, then again, hopefully the same thing will happen to the Mormons (even crazier). Jehovah’s Crapioli, and the rest of the religious crazies.

  23. Cycle Ninja says

    This might be the last decade for the CHURCH of Sci, but the belief system itself still has adherents independent of Miscavige and company. They operate in what’s known as the FreeZone, and are claiming to practice the original “tech” of LRH before it was corrupted and perverted by Miscavige. Never mind that it’s all bunk; the point is that the belief system is going to be around for a while. But let’s hope the evil of the formal organization that spawned it does, indeed go gently into that good night. There’s an excellent blog called “Ask the Scientologist” that has terrific information on the cult and its current situation from a former Sea Org member’s perspective.

  24. titmouse says

    I’ll take the Mormons over the Scientologists any day of the week. I can say critical things about Mormons without being fair gamed.

    Google “Operation Sore Throat.” It hasn’t stopped (“integrative medicine”), nor has Operation Snow White.

    I want a RICO investigation. Someday, maybe.

  25. trog69 says

    Well, it is obvious why they are losing members. They don’t have magic underpants.

    That’s a selling point you would think they’d promote more often.

  26. David Marjanović says

    Accompanying an article on MSNBC’s site about creationisim in homeschooling textbooks, the poll asks: “Is it OK for home-school textbooks to dismiss the theory of evolution?”

    36.3% Yes 3,294 votes
    62.9% No 5,697 votes
    0.8% Not sure 73 votes

  27. clockkingfl says

    After the St. Petersburg Times piece, COS mailed a large and very expensive to produce rebuttal to every household in the St. Pete Times circulation area. If I remember correctly, there were also one or two smaller pieces COS blanket mailed after that, all of it whining about their coverage in the newspaper, questioning everyones’ integrity, etc. They’re basically pestering the public instead of litigating.

  28. Grewgills says

    I credit South Park for the drop.

    I’m off to get my personality test while I still can.

  29. arachnophilia says

    when your religious leader was a (bad) sci-fi author who once proposed starting a religion to make money, and then started a religion, you sort of have to wonder about that religion’s validity. you know, even apart from the wacky shit they “actually believe”. which, btw, you guys know they don’t even tell you until you advance high enough in their ranks and are already firmly monetarily and emotionally invested.

    @Glenn Davey: (#22)

    Having researched them for 2 years, I’m convinced that the JW “Society” is as harmful and as full of shit as Catholicism, but almost more so because they fly under the radar.

    hey glenn, i’m quite interested in why you say this. i’m the kind of guy that invites missionaries in, and has a spirited discussion with them over religious texts. i’ve been talking to the JW’s recently, and they seem relatively reasonable. all organized religion is really kind of full of shit and maybe harmful to some degree, but what specifically are you issues with the JW’s?

    i ask because i enjoy bringing these kinds of issues up to the missionaries. for instance, we’ve already discussed the blood thing. i even partially managed to convince them, using a very moving argument.

  30. davem says

    Odd thing reading
    – There’s loads of comments from ex-Scientologists, detailing how they were royally screwed by the ‘church’, but they still believe in L Ron Hubbard’s nonsense. What part of ‘Multi-level-marketing scheme’ do they not understand? Even if the official Scientology ‘church’ was disbanded, there’d still be loads of people with their delusions intact.

  31. Randomfactor says

    Scientology counts as a member everyone who ever took one of their courses–even those who took courses only because their Scientologist bosses insisted.

  32. DominEditrix says

    And it does help that celebrity S’olgist Tom Cruise is simply batshit crazy and it shows.

  33. Pareidolius says

    This article was published because of the actions of Anonymous. And Anonymous stands on the shoulders of giants who actually put themselves in harms way. There are three distinct generations of Scientology Critics:

    Generation 1
    Criticism began in earnest in the late 60s and ealy 70s. Emblematic of this era is the story of Paulette Cooper. She was a journalist who was harassed for her book The Scandal Of Scientology. See Operation Freakout to find out what the “church” did to her. Then there was a BBC documentary that was very skeptical right around the time the now ex-pat Hubbard fled England for life aboard the Apollo, his fake navy’s flagship.

    There were other critics who were met with similar Mafia-like intimidation tactics in this period. This was also the era of Operation Snow White, the largest infiltration of the US Government in its history. Generation one ended in the early 90s with the publication of Time’s excellent “Cult of Greed” issue and the birth of the internet.

    Generation 2
    The birth of the usenets gave disgruntled former members and critics a safer venue to tell their stories. It was just after the mysterious death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson in 1995 and the subsequent attempts to shut down alt.religion.scientology that the second generation really got its groove on.

    Arnie Lerma was a former member who’s home was raided and computer’s confiscated by the FBI at the Scilon’s behest. He best represents the semi-paranoid, ex-member web presence (see There were critical sites popping up all over the place but it was Andreas Heldal-Lund’s sprawling Operation Clambake site at that really set the standard. This highly ethical Norwegian’s battles with Scilon lawyers are the stuff of legend.

    Meanwhile, in meatspace, the man who made the biggest difference was the late Bob Minton. A retired investment banker who bankrolled the Lisa McPherson Trust and helped translate the thrust of criticism online into action in the real world. The Scilons practically broke him through litigation over the years. Read his story at

    The closing salvo of the second generation and the beginning of the first is marked by two little words: “sue me”. These words were spoken on November 16th, 2005 by a foul mouthed little boy made of construction paper, but it was the first time any mainstream entity had publicly mocked Scientology . . . and there was no response. No lawyers. No statement. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Thanks to South Park, it was now officially open season on Xenu.

    Generation 3
    This current generation is marked by the birth of 4Chan’s Anonymous movement. Ironically, this wound was entirely self-inflicted, and it came from the church’s own poster boy Tom Cruise.

    The summer of 2005 had TC bouncing on Oprah’s couch, proselytizing all over the place and generally being a complete kook. That laid the groundwork for the leaking of an in-house video where Cruise basically acts like a complete maniac. When the church tried to get it pulled from the internet, Gawker refused to take it down and this chapped 4Chan’s ass so much that they created Anonymous. They launched a DOS attach on the church’s servers and the war was on.

    Fearing that Anonymous would end up being as bad as the church itself, noted second generation hero Mark Bunker (aka Wise Beard Man of admonished Anonymous: Stay legal and take the high road. For the most part they listened and the rest is history.

    The cascade of epic wins has been coming so fast and furious in the last year that it’s hard to keep track of it all. So (in a very long nutshell) that’s why the Gray Lady had the stones to print this story. Standing on the shoulders of an angry, courageous, sometimes foolish, rag-tag army that never gave up exposing this ridiculous con.

    Too much darjeeling . . .

  34. Alan B says

    #35 arachnophilia

    “for instance, we’ve already discussed the blood thing. i even partially managed to convince them, using a very moving argument.”

    With all due respect, I doubt whether you did. In our area, at least, they come out in pairs: a more experienced with a less experienced person. They are required to visit a quota of houses and they then go through a debriefing when they report back to a more senior member. In particular, any questions are dealt with to ensure they are staying in line with the JW teachings. I suspect they will have been re-established in their belief in the JW teachings.

    In the past I have had JWs round and usually they are polite and non-pushy with only rare exceptions.

  35. Michelle R says

    They opened a store… I mean, CHURCH, in our Quebec City area recently. The city closed the street for them to do their little party. They raised walls in the middle of the street to keep out protesters. There were cops, rentacops, and plenty of scientology peddlers…

    I gotta say their ice sculptures didn’t last one night against vandals.

  36. welshsceptic says

    i could be wrong about this but i seem to remember an ex scientologist saying on sky news that when the church say they have millions of members they are including EVERYONE who as ever joined scientology (regardless of wether their still a member) and everyone who has ever officially taken an E-meter test and consultation. Basically the millions of members aren’t actually members.

  37. SmartLX says

    The main reason for the disparity between the census figures and the CoS official figures is that anyone who has ever so much as taken a single course offered by Scientology is counted as a member forever thereafter. This emerged in a Nightline interview.

    Sawyer: “How do you get to call them members?”
    Jentzsch: “Because they joined and they came in and they studied Scientology.”
    Sawyer: “They took one course, maybe.”
    Jentzsch: “Well, that’s how valuable the course is. Eight million people, yes, over a period of the last – since 1954.”

    Any number given by the CoS is a cumulative total of participants since its founding. As long as there’s a CoS at all, these numbers will only ever increase, and they mean nothing.

  38. Paul Macgowan says

    Good riddance to bad rubbish … now how long is it before we see the same for “mainstream” religions?

  39. arachnophilia says

    @Alan B: (#41)

    With all due respect, I doubt whether you did. In our area, at least, they come out in pairs: a more experienced with a less experienced person. They are required to visit a quota of houses and they then go through a debriefing when they report back to a more senior member. In particular, any questions are dealt with to ensure they are staying in line with the JW teachings. I suspect they will have been re-established in their belief in the JW teachings.

    my arguments are sinister and pernicious, you have no idea. :P you can’t really ever convince the staunchly religious of anything outside their dogma. but when i get them down to “that’s a really good point, and i don’t why i still disagree” i generally count that as a win.

    they originally came with a whole troupe, like 5 people. they’ve since changed that up a bit — i’m sorta used to that. every time the missionaries of any group come around, i get handed off to the more experienced people pretty quickly, because i start bringing up challenging points and persuasive counter arguments. and it quickly becomes apparent that i’ve actually studied the bible generally better than most of the people leading the church.

    i’m letting these guys talk a little more. the mormons kind of buggered off when it became apparent that, even compared to the bible, there very little they could do to make the book of mormon seem like anything other than a completely anachronistic fiction to me. i went to extent of printing (from their website) the text of one chapter in the BoM and the corresponding passage in the old testament, and asked them, “if this passage is translated directly from hebrew into 17th century english, and this passage is translated from hebrew into ‘reformed egyptian’ (whatever that is) and then (magically) into 19th century english, how do you explain the fact that it matches down to the punctuation and capitalization, both which are absent in the original hebrew?”

  40. Tronzu says

    I don’t see how scientology is less legitimate than catholicism or mormonism…

    When will we see such article about them?

  41. Calculon says

    The tax exempt status for the CoS is the final straw that will end the cult’s power as it exists now. They can buy property with reduced or no tax liability, their followers can claim the thousands of dollars for courses, auditing and private schools on their taxes, and scientology can import via Religious Worker Visas people from all over the world to be in the Sea Org as it is harder and harder to maintain their numbers from current scientologists. And these Sea Org members call themselves volunteers…so the cult can pay them far less than minimum wage for 100 hours a week. They can do all this because according to U.S. tax law, they are a religion. If the cult had to pay people properly, and pay taxes on their (mostly) empty buildings…that would be a game-changer.

    How they were allowed to gain tax-exempt status after infiltrating the IRS in the early 1970’s really needs to be investigated.

    For extra fun, when several ex-Sea Org members spoke at a press conference in Hollywood at CFI West on Feb 12, 2010, a press pack was handed out. Here are the contents including sample Sea Org and staff contacts. Excellent reading.

  42. TJ Hanlon says

    I had a Scientologist proposition me to join their club at a mall in Albany NY last year. I told him that if I wanted to join a cult, I’d join one that was fun.

  43. ermine says

    Marvelous summation at #39.

    I’m one of Generation 2 that you mentioned, and I’m proud to say that my name is one of the names in the filter list of the ‘Net-Nanny’-style trojan that they attempted to force or trick all their members into installing.

    They hid the Scieno-Sitter in a free CD of Scientology-based ‘Get a free web page on our Scn website!’ software and sent it to every member on record, loading it onto their computers without warning or permission, and with no way to remove or even FIND the filter once it was running.

    Nasty stuff, and I’m PROUD, damned proud to have been considered enough of a threat to them that they had to ban all members from so much as seeing my name.

    Watching the back-and-forth on a.r.s was where I learned critical thinking and learned to watch for all of their dishonest tactics, online or off. Watching their blatant, hypocritical antics was very helpful in getting myself out of religion entirely, and still helps me to recognize weaseling and blatant misuses of logic when it comes from creationists and AGW deniers today.

  44. Steve says

    The ABC network in Australia is featuring Scientology on its Four Corners program tonight. Should be worth a watch. I don’t believe it will be very flattering.

  45. says

    There is a young woman who hands out Scientology literature at the Civic Bus Interchange most afternoons. I always make a point of politely, but loudly, refusing on the grounds that I have no interest in joining a cult, in the hope that other commuters will realise what she is handing out.

  46. Lotharsson says

    According to the Scientology Press Office, the Church had ten million members in 2006 and it has been expanding fast since that date.

    So, they seem to be secret followers of Julian Simon who said there was enough bullsh…er natural resources (subject to human ingenuity) to feed an ever-growing population for the next seven billion years – a suitably Scientological timespan? ;-)

    One wonders when the first claim will be made that there are more Scientologists than people on Earth.

  47. Ye Olde Blacksmith says

    I’m quite confident that it will die out. Unlike the mainstream religions, this one is new thus, does not have significant multi-generational indoctrination. (Nor does it have followers willing to kill millions to enforce it’s viewpoints.)

  48. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    (Nor does it have followers willing to kill millions to enforce it’s viewpoints.

    Oh it doesn’t have millions, but don’t put that past the CoS.

  49. scooterKPFT says

    I’ve followed these clowns since the USENET vs Scientology wars when the paint wasn’t even dry on the Internet.

    The floodgates opened recently when the Tom Cruise video went viral. $cientology could not put it back in the bag with their usual litigious counter-attacks. In a matter of weeks, the subject was addressed on so many media outlets, there were just too many to sue, and they’ve been fair game ever since.

    $cientology is dead man walking, their whole existence relies on secrecy and enforcing it. They have lost that ability, so it’s just a matter of time.

  50. Pierce R. Butler says

    Calculon @ # 49 – The third link in your comment is foo – pls re-post!

  51. defides says

    Can there be anything more astonishing than someone who has left Scientology because they’ve discovered everone at the top is lying and bullying – but who still believes the nonsense about auditing and billion-year contracts?

    The idea of ex-Scientologists gathering together to audit each other and so forth makes your brain hurt.

  52. God says

    I don’t understand how anyone could fall for Scientology. Their texts contain physically impossible stories, self-contradictory claims, outright silliness and instructions to commit morally repugnant acts. They even claim that some galactic overlord Xenu had billions of people brought to Earth and murdered here with H-bombs millions of years ago, while I make it clear in My Word that I created everything just a few thousand years ago.

  53. MetzO'Magic says

    defides @ #63

    Agreed. Especially if they’ve made it all the way to OT VIII, and read the Xenu codswallop. Surely then it must register that L Ron was a sci-fi writer who started his own religion?! Are they so brainwashed at that stage that they can’t even put 2 and 2 together?

  54. scooterKPFT says

    I think the Jason Beghe nail into $cientology is the most visceral and easily understandable to the average person.

    I found it spell-binding, but these kooks have always fascinated/horrified me.

  55. Die Anyway says

    Scientology HQ is just a couple miles up Clearwater-Largo Road from my house. We drive right past it whenever going to Dunedin or Palm Harbor. As we drive through that section of downtown Clearwater we always see groups of mostly young adults in khaki pants and dress shirts, usually with books or notebooks in hand. They have this sort of ‘Stepford Wives’ look about them. Kinda creepy. The main HQ building is an old hotel but about 8 – 10 years ago they began construction on a huge, elaborate building across the street. There’s a 3rd floor flyover from building to building. In the begining the construction took off like gangbusters but several years ago it halted with about 80% of the facade completed and the interior mostly empty. Only recently has some construction restarted. My guess is that the church (cough) has seen some lean financial years. That has to be a good thing. It’s my impression that most of the citizens of Clearwater would like their city back.