Most British people say that Scientology is not a real religion – but they do tend to think spiritual enlightenment is possible
Scientologists have been angered recently by a new documentary called Going Clear, which portrays the religion as a blackmailing, physically and psychologically abusive cult. In the film, ex-members claim the church has files containing ‘damaging material’ from auditing sessions with high-profile believer John Travolta, which it is using to stop him them leaving the faith.
Founded in the 1950s by science fiction author L Ron Hubbard, the organisation claims that human beings contain the souls of immortal alien creatures, called Thetans, which have been corrupted, but which can be cleansed with the help of costly therapy programmes.
New YouGov research finds that British people are highly doubtful that Scientology is a real religion. 61% say it is not while only 8% say it is. Few people (25%) know very much about Scientology, but those who do are even more strongly convinced it is not a real religion (79%).
19% of the public say that Scientology is as credible as the beliefs of Christianity, however. 2% say it is more credible and 45% say it is less credible.
Scientologists believe that humans can rehabilitate their souls using a type of counselling called ‘auditing’ – by progressing through the ‘Preclear’, ‘Clear’ and ‘Operating Thetan’ stages, people can achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Most British (54%) people say they are not very spiritual, however a sizeable minority say they are (41%). Women (49%) are more likely than men to be spiritual (33%), and despite overall scepticism, there is still a tendency to say that spiritual enlightenment probably is possible (38% compared to 30% who say it probably is not).
Speaking at the BBC Films 25th Anniversary reception, documentary maker Louis Theroux revealed that he has been working with the BBC to make a Scientology documentary as well. In the 2011 census there were 2,418 Scientologists in England and Wales, fewer than the number of people claiming to be Jedi Knights. In 2008 there were reportedly 25,000 Scientologists in the USA.