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Scientology: 10 million strong

waroftheworldsWe've commented before on the caustic treatment that Scientology true believer Tom Cruise has received from media outlets. The Los Angeles Times, which has been reporting on Scientology for decades, ran a lengthy business pages look inside the Church of Scientology's Gilman Hot Springs resort on Sunday. The package included 30 photos of the compound and focused on business and spiritual relationship of Tom Cruise and current church head David Miscavige, although the article also provides a bit of information about the religious beliefs of Scientologists:

Scientologists learn Hubbard's secret theory of human suffering, which he traces to a galactic battle waged 75 million years ago by an evil tyrant named Xenu.

According to court documents made public by The Times in the 1980s, Hubbard espoused the belief that Xenu captured the souls, or thetans, of enemies and electronically implanted false concepts in them to keep them confused about his dirty work. The goal of these advanced courses is to become aware of the trauma and free of its effects.

One of the difficulties of covering the Church is the group's reticence to open up to accusations from ex-members or the prying public. Both Cruise and Miscavige declined interviews. So the article is driven by the testimony of ex-members who are then contradicted by church officials. After one ex-member says she was forced to spend all night planting a field of wildflowers for Cruise and his new love Kidman to romp through, a spokesman denounces the charge as a fabrication from apostates.

Well, there you go. The Times reporters break through a bit of this frustrating pattern of shocking accusations and pat denials when they use outside verification, as they did following the series of claims that Cruise spent much time at the Gilman Springs center where he was doted on by Miscavige:

Cruise has made no extended visits to the complex since the early 1990s and has done 95% of his religious training elsewhere, Rinder said. Miscavige, he said, spends only a fraction of his time there and divides the rest of his time among offices in Los Angeles, Clearwater and Britain. He also stays aboard the Freewinds, Scientology's 440-foot ship based in Curacao in the Caribbean, Rinder said.

However, voter registration records list the Gilman Hot Springs complex as Miscavige's residence since the early 1990s and as recently as the 2004 general election. Rinder said the church leader simply had not updated his registration. Miscavige's wife, father, stepmother and siblings also have resided at the complex, according to voting records and interviews.

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I have a few friends who are former Scientologists. They were heavy into it while they were working in Hollywood in the 1960s and 1970s but when they left the church, they decided it was best to leave the region, ending up in Colorado where I met them. I also am acquainted with a few current Scientologists -- in Hollywood, of course. And I guess what I'm trying to say is that claims like this are interesting:

More than any other celebrity, Cruise has helped fuel the growth of the church, which claims a worldwide membership of 10 million and in the last two years has opened major centers in South Africa, Russia, Britain and Venezuela. Cruise joined Miscavige last year for the opening of a church in Madrid.

It is completely true that Scientologists claim a worldwide membership of 10 million. It's also true that, well, they don't have much support for the claim. In the same manner the reporters checked out the voter records, they should have provided the reader with context or trusted religious data. Mormons claim a worldwide membership of about 12 million, to put the number in context. Even understanding that religious adherence data is not terribly reliable, perhaps another source would have been helpful.

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