Scientology is a religion that has a body of beliefs and related practices created by the science fiction writer which originated in 1952 as a progression from his earlier self help system known as Dianetics. The church itself was incorporated as the Church of Scientology in 1953.
In 2005, the church stated its worldwide membership at 8 million people, although that number included people who took only the introductory course and did not continue on.
In 2007 a Church official claimed 3.5 million members in the United States, but according to a 2001 survey published by the City University of New York, 55,000 people in the United States would, if asked to identify their religion, have stated Scientology.
Many do not accept Scientology as a religion but consider it a cult because it takes control of much of its adherents life.
As stated in Wikipedia, it teaches that people are immortal spiritual beings who have forgotten their true nature. Its method of spiritual rehabilitation is a type of counseling known as auditing, in which practitioners aim to consciously re-experience painful or traumatic events in their past, in order to free themselves of their limiting effects.
Study materials and auditing courses are made available to members in return for specified donations. Scientology is legally recognized as a tax-exempt religion in the United States and some other countries, and the Church of Scientology emphasizes this as proof that it is a bona fide religion.
In other countries such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom, Scientology does not have comparable religious status.
The religion forwards a set of moral guidelines which are outlined in a paper titled The Way To Happiness, an anti-drug program known as the Narconon, a volunteer organization and a business management method.
The church has been surrounded by controversies since its inception. It has often been described as a cult that financially defrauds and abuses its members, charging exorbitant fees for its spiritual services.
The church has consistently used litigation against such critics, and its aggressiveness in pursuing its foes has been condemned as harassment.
Further controversy has focused on Scientology's belief that souls ("thetans") reincarnate and have lived on other planets before living on Earth.
Former members say that some of Hubbard's writings on this remote extraterrestrial past, included in confidential Upper Levels, are not revealed to practitioners until they have paid thousands of dollars to the Church of Scientology.
Another controversial belief held by Scientologists is that the practice of psychiatry is destructive and abusive and must be abolished.
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