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Episode
171

Mormonism vs. Scientology: A Comparison

Jun 29, 2021
Weird World
-
22
minutes
Religion
Eccentric people
19th Century
USA
Science Fiction
Weird history

They are, by some standards, two of the most successful modern world religions.

In this episode we'll try to understand why that is, and what we can learn from Mormonism and Scientology about what it takes to start a successful world religion.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today is part three of our three-part series on Mormonism and Scientology.

[00:00:30] In part one we learned about the history of Mormonism, from its unusual founding story, how Mormons ended up at Salt Lake City to how a Mormon almost became a US president.

[00:00:44] Then in part two it was on to Scientology, from its probably even more bizarre founding story, its eccentric founder, L.Ron Hubbard, how it managed to get a grip on Hollywood and of course, the controversies around it.

[00:01:03] If you haven’t listened to those two yet, I would recommend listening to them first, as a knowledge of both Mormonism and Scientology will be helpful for getting the most out of today’s episode, where we are going to compare and contrast the two, and then leave with some thoughts on what questions both these belief systems raise about religion in general.

[00:01:29] OK then, let’s get started.

[00:01:33] Now, you might be thinking that a comparison between Mormonism and Scientology is artificial, that it is like comparing a dog to a watermelon, and that there is no value in it.

[00:01:46] It certainly isn’t a comparison that either group endorses.

[00:01:52] To a Mormon, a belief in Scientology is wholly incompatible with their belief system.

[00:01:59] And to a Scientologist, Mormonism is equally weird and strange.

[00:02:05] The system of worship is different, the belief in a God is different, the way in which the organisation is structured is different, they are certainly different belief systems.

[00:02:17] But, as we will learn about in today’s episode, they have more in common than either group might like to admit.

[00:02:25] Let’s start with the founding story of the religion, because for both Scientology and Mormonism, they are inseparable from the men who created it.

[00:02:37] For starters, the lives of both founders, Joseph Smith Junior and L.Ron Hubbard have been greatly romanticised by their followers.

[00:02:46] Smith’s story is, as you will remember, of a young boy who is visited by God and Jesus, told where to find these mysterious golden plates, and translates an ancient Egyptian language to create The Book of Mormon.

[00:03:02] And for L.Ron Hubbard, his is the story of a war hero who creates a new self-help system that he turns into a religion and becomes the foundation of Scientology.

[00:03:15] That's the official policy line, of course.

[00:03:19] But to a critic of Mormonism or Scientology, Smith’s story is of a charlatan, a fraudster who exploited the divisions of 19th Century America to draw people into his fraud.

[00:03:34] And for critics of L. Ron Hubbard, he too is a fraudster, an out-of-luck science fiction writer who believes the key to wealth and success is by starting a religion, and he manages to rewrite history to position himself as a hero, when in fact he is nothing of the sort.

[00:03:55] This leads us on to our second point of comparison, that both Mormonism and Scientology have been labelled a cult.

[00:04:04] Now, if you look up the definition of the world “cult” in a dictionary it will tell you that it is something like “a system of religious devotion directed towards a particular figure or object”.

[00:04:19] The implicit suggestion when using the word “cult” is that the belief isn’t a genuine religion, that its followers believe in something that cannot be true because it is so unorthodox and strange, and that they have been somehow tricked into believing in it, because of the power of one extremely charismatic individual.

[00:04:44] We’ll revisit this point later on, but it is an important thing to note that both Mormonism and Scientology have, ever since their founding, been considered to be unorthodox and non-traditional belief systems.

[00:05:00] This is especially true for Scientology. 

[00:05:03] Mormonism has become far more mainstream, more accepted. 

[00:05:08] Mitt Romney, the US Presidential candidate, was a famous practising mormon. 

[00:05:14] The US ambassador to China and then Russia, a man called Jon Huntsman, was also a Mormon.

[00:05:22] But is the reason that Mormonism is now more accepted and mainstream because it is a more attractive, more sensible, more believable religion? 

[00:05:33] Or is it just because it’s had more time to develop?

[00:05:37] Mormonism 100 years ago, when the religion was at a similar stage of development to Scientology today, was considered to be as weird and cult-like as Scientology is in 2021, if not more.

[00:05:53] Scientology has not even existed for 70 years. 

[00:05:57] Mormonism, 70 years into its existence had only just renounced polygamy, or plural marriage, and was still considered to be a cult-like religion by the majority of the US population.

[00:06:12] Indeed, the early days of Mormonism saw great violence against Mormons, with followers of the religion being attacked, and of course its leader, Joseph Smith Junior, being killed by an anti-Mormon mob.

[00:06:27] Scientology came over a hundred years later, in perhaps a slightly more civilised world, so there were fewer mobs attacking its followers, but it too was labelled a dangerous cult.

[00:06:41] The current scepticism and opposition towards both Mormonism and Scientology is thought to be part of the reason that both religions are so secretive, that the inner workings of the church are unknown to non-believers.

[00:06:57] As we heard about in part one, you cannot go into a Mormon temple if you are a non-Mormon.

[00:07:04] And as for Scientology, it is even more secretive, with the inner workings of Scientology only available to those who have continued to progress to higher levels, and paid handsomely for the process.

[00:07:20] This leads us on to our next similarity, or at least our next point of comparison that people have made, and that is to do with the vast wealth that both The Mormon Church and The Church of Scientology have amassed over their relatively short lifespans.

[00:07:39] As a Mormon, you are encouraged, or perhaps I should say required, to pay 10% of your income to the church, which has led the church to have a reported $100 billion pile of assets.

[00:07:54] And even though there are far fewer Scientologists than Mormons, progressing through the levels of Scientology can be very expensive, costing followers hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

[00:08:09] This has meant that the Church of Scientology certainly isn’t short of cash either - it has an estimated $2 billion worth of assets, including large houses, boats, and other property all over the world. 

[00:08:25] Its leader, David Miscavige, also reportedly travels everywhere on a private jet and only wears custom-made leather shoes from London. 

[00:08:36] Yet another similarity is about what a tight grip both religions hold on their followers, and how hard it is to actually leave the church once you are in.

[00:08:47] There are countless internet groups and forums of ex-Mormons and ex-Scientologists, where experiences are shared with others who have gone through a similar thing.

[00:08:59] Let’s start with Mormonism.

[00:09:01] Mormons place a lot of importance on the family unit, and there are countless stories of heartbreak when one family member decides to leave. 

[00:09:13] Naturally, this isn’t unique to Mormonism, and there are just as many stories of devout Catholics, Protestants, Muslims or Jews who have experienced similar family breakups when a child or sibling decides to leave the religion.

[00:09:31] When it comes to Scientology though, leaving is even harder. 

[00:09:36] If someone looks like they are going to leave the church of Scientology, they are labelled a Suppressive Person, and the church will reportedly force other Scientologists to break off all contact with them.

[00:09:50] Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, there are tales of families being torn apart because one person wants to stop being a Scientologist.

[00:10:01] As we heard about in the last episode, the Church of Scientology keeps detailed records on all of the personal confessions of its members during their auditing sessions, during their therapy-type sessions, and it is believed to use this material as blackmail to stop people leaving the church.

[00:10:23] So, once you’re in, it’s not so easy to get out.

[00:10:28] Now, while it is possible to debate some of the similarities that we have mentioned, there is one similarity between the two that is undeniable.

[00:10:37] They are two of the most successful modern religions, if by modern we define this as being created in the past 200 years, and if by successful we define it as global influence and number of followers.

[00:10:52] No other actual religion comes close. 

[00:10:56] There are, of course, other branches of religions, such as Pentecostalism and evangelical Anglicanism, but these are both branches of Christianity, they aren’t unique religions.

[00:11:11] Why is this then? What factors have allowed Mormonism and Scientology to flourish

[00:11:17] We’ve discussed some of the factors, but there is one important one we haven’t yet covered in detail, and that is to do with where they were founded.

[00:11:29] They were both founded in The United States of America.

[00:11:33] For Mormonism, one of the reasons it is thought to have been adopted so enthusiastically by its early supporters is that it placed the Americas at the heart of its religion.

[00:11:47] To remind you, The Book of Mormon, the religious text at the heart of the religion, says that the United States is the Promised Land, that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri, and that early Jewish settlers had moved to the Americas in 600 BC.

[00:12:07] Naturally, in a country with such a strong sense that it is the best country in the world, this message found a receptive audience.

[00:12:17] And when it comes to Scientology, there is certainly something uniquely American about the story of a science fiction writer who becomes an amateur, self-taught, psychotherapist, and later the head of an incredibly profitable church, with a religion based on aliens dropping people into volcanoes and blowing them up with atomic bombs.

[00:12:43] By uniquely American I certainly don’t mean gullible, or likely to believe improbable stories.

[00:12:50] But rather The United States of America as a country was only 50 years old when Mormonism was founded, and 175 years old when Scientology arrived on the scene.

[00:13:03] It was, and you could certainly argue still is, a land of opportunity, where people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, however unorthodox and unusual that might have sounded to people at the time.

[00:13:18] It was a country where a man could say he had found some gold plates, or a man could say that he had developed a new psychiatric treatment and turn it into a religion. 

[00:13:29] In more developed, older, countries when people comparable to Joseph Smith Junior or L.Ron Hubbard had tried to start their own religions, they were quickly shut down.

[00:13:42] In 19th century China, just as Mormonism was getting started, a man called Hong Xiuquan had claimed to be the Heavenly King and that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. 

[00:13:55] Although he did manage to amass around 30,000 followers, he was captured by the authorities and killed while in custody. If you’re interested in learning more about this, the name for it is the Taiping Rebellion.

[00:14:11] Meanwhile in Europe of the 19th century, proclaiming that you had divine visions, or you were Jesus reincarnated was likely to mean being locked up in a mental asylum, being thrown in prison, or being executed.

[00:14:28] So, what does this tell us? 

[00:14:31] What can we learn from the comparative success of these two new religions? What can we take from all of this?

[00:14:38] And how does it make us think about our own religions, if indeed you are a religious person?

[00:14:46] The first thing to note is that, when you step back for a minute and think about the details of what any religion believes, it is hard to objectively say that one is more probable than the other. 

[00:14:59] You might hear about the story of Joseph Smith Junior and the golden plates, and learn about the inconsistencies in The Book of Mormon and think, well how could anyone actually believe that?

[00:15:11] Or perhaps you might hear the founding story of Scientology, and of the galactic lord Xenu who blows up humans with atomic bombs, and think, well that’s obviously not true.

[00:15:24] But is this because the actual details of what Scientologists or Mormons believe are so hard to fathom, so hard to believe, or is it because we know the founding story, because it is so comparatively recent, and therefore we are more cynical about it?

[00:15:44] If the Bible, the Quran, or the Torah had been written 50 years ago and we knew the author, or the person who uncovered it, might we feel slightly differently about the actual content of these books?

[00:16:01] What an understanding of Mormonism and Scientology do help us with, I think, is an understanding of human nature.

[00:16:10] As humans, we want to belong, we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and we want to be part of something that we believe will make our lives better.

[00:16:22] For many people, exactly what that thing is isn’t the most important factor, the most important thing is to be part of something bigger than yourself.

[00:16:33] And even if you believe something that might, to the outside world, seem mad and defy all logic, even if someone sits you down and says, look, does it really seem probable that there were golden plates dug up from the earth, or that an intergalactic warlord threw humans into a volcano and blew them up with nuclear weapons, this doesn’t matter because you want to believe it.

[00:17:01] Indeed, one could draw parallels with the number of people who believe in certain conspiracy theories even when there is so much evidence that suggests that they are not true.

[00:17:14] For many of us, believing in something and feeling a sense of attachment to that is almost more important than what that thing actually is.

[00:17:24] And coming back to Mormonism and Scientology, even though the religion - like any religion - isn’t without its criticisms, there is a lot about the religion that does appear to help its followers lead happier lives.

[00:17:39] If you meet a Mormon on the street they almost always appear to be incredibly friendly people. 

[00:17:46] Perhaps eerily friendly, especially to an antisocial Brit such as myself, but they do tend to come across as nice and friendly.

[00:17:55] The emphasis on the family unit, and emphasis on helping others, is certainly a positive aspect, and the growth in the number of Mormons, and the relatively low level of people who leave the church, suggests that it does provide meaning for millions of people around the world.

[00:18:17] And when it comes to Scientology, for certain people it does appear to have helped them with their lives. 

[00:18:25] For some Hollywood actors they credit it with helping them get off drugs, or helping them be better friends or parents, and helping them live better, more fulfilled lives.

[00:18:39] And this, of course, isn’t unique to Mormonism or Scientology. 

[00:18:43] Whether you are a practising Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or whatever other religion, perhaps your faith has helped you find meaning in your life.

[00:18:53] And if you are not a religious person, it is easy to look at the belief systems of other religions, including Mormonism and Scientology, and think “what a load of rubbish”, but they have clearly brought happiness and meaning to many of their followers.

[00:19:10] There are evidently some people for whom their religious upbringing, or religious experiences, have caused great harm, but is this any greater for Mormonism and Scientology than it is for any of the other, more established religions? 

[00:19:26] I’m not so sure.

[00:19:28] So, to conclude this little exploration, what can we learn from Mormonism and Scientology?

[00:19:36] Firstly, if you are a charismatic leader with an interesting story, people will follow you, especially if you are in the USA.

[00:19:46] Secondly, these followers can be incredibly profitable, and your religion might turn into a mega business.

[00:19:54] Thirdly, you will not be short of critics, of those who say that your religion is a load of rubbish. But you shouldn’t worry too much about that, because the more you are criticised, the more strongly people will believe in you.

[00:20:11] And finally, if more established religions are any example, it might take time, thousands of years even for your religion to become more widely accepted.

[00:20:22] So, who knows what religions, if any, people will be following in thousands of years from now.

[00:20:32] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Mormonism vs. Scientology, and with that comes the end of this little mini-series on these two new but increasingly influential religions

[00:20:46] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this series in general.

[00:20:52] Are you a Mormon or a Scientologist, or do you have any Mormon or Scientologist friends, family members or colleagues? 

[00:21:00] What do you think we can learn, if anything, from these two new religions?

[00:21:06] I would love to know.

[00:21:07] You can head straight into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:17] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:22] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today is part three of our three-part series on Mormonism and Scientology.

[00:00:30] In part one we learned about the history of Mormonism, from its unusual founding story, how Mormons ended up at Salt Lake City to how a Mormon almost became a US president.

[00:00:44] Then in part two it was on to Scientology, from its probably even more bizarre founding story, its eccentric founder, L.Ron Hubbard, how it managed to get a grip on Hollywood and of course, the controversies around it.

[00:01:03] If you haven’t listened to those two yet, I would recommend listening to them first, as a knowledge of both Mormonism and Scientology will be helpful for getting the most out of today’s episode, where we are going to compare and contrast the two, and then leave with some thoughts on what questions both these belief systems raise about religion in general.

[00:01:29] OK then, let’s get started.

[00:01:33] Now, you might be thinking that a comparison between Mormonism and Scientology is artificial, that it is like comparing a dog to a watermelon, and that there is no value in it.

[00:01:46] It certainly isn’t a comparison that either group endorses.

[00:01:52] To a Mormon, a belief in Scientology is wholly incompatible with their belief system.

[00:01:59] And to a Scientologist, Mormonism is equally weird and strange.

[00:02:05] The system of worship is different, the belief in a God is different, the way in which the organisation is structured is different, they are certainly different belief systems.

[00:02:17] But, as we will learn about in today’s episode, they have more in common than either group might like to admit.

[00:02:25] Let’s start with the founding story of the religion, because for both Scientology and Mormonism, they are inseparable from the men who created it.

[00:02:37] For starters, the lives of both founders, Joseph Smith Junior and L.Ron Hubbard have been greatly romanticised by their followers.

[00:02:46] Smith’s story is, as you will remember, of a young boy who is visited by God and Jesus, told where to find these mysterious golden plates, and translates an ancient Egyptian language to create The Book of Mormon.

[00:03:02] And for L.Ron Hubbard, his is the story of a war hero who creates a new self-help system that he turns into a religion and becomes the foundation of Scientology.

[00:03:15] That's the official policy line, of course.

[00:03:19] But to a critic of Mormonism or Scientology, Smith’s story is of a charlatan, a fraudster who exploited the divisions of 19th Century America to draw people into his fraud.

[00:03:34] And for critics of L. Ron Hubbard, he too is a fraudster, an out-of-luck science fiction writer who believes the key to wealth and success is by starting a religion, and he manages to rewrite history to position himself as a hero, when in fact he is nothing of the sort.

[00:03:55] This leads us on to our second point of comparison, that both Mormonism and Scientology have been labelled a cult.

[00:04:04] Now, if you look up the definition of the world “cult” in a dictionary it will tell you that it is something like “a system of religious devotion directed towards a particular figure or object”.

[00:04:19] The implicit suggestion when using the word “cult” is that the belief isn’t a genuine religion, that its followers believe in something that cannot be true because it is so unorthodox and strange, and that they have been somehow tricked into believing in it, because of the power of one extremely charismatic individual.

[00:04:44] We’ll revisit this point later on, but it is an important thing to note that both Mormonism and Scientology have, ever since their founding, been considered to be unorthodox and non-traditional belief systems.

[00:05:00] This is especially true for Scientology. 

[00:05:03] Mormonism has become far more mainstream, more accepted. 

[00:05:08] Mitt Romney, the US Presidential candidate, was a famous practising mormon. 

[00:05:14] The US ambassador to China and then Russia, a man called Jon Huntsman, was also a Mormon.

[00:05:22] But is the reason that Mormonism is now more accepted and mainstream because it is a more attractive, more sensible, more believable religion? 

[00:05:33] Or is it just because it’s had more time to develop?

[00:05:37] Mormonism 100 years ago, when the religion was at a similar stage of development to Scientology today, was considered to be as weird and cult-like as Scientology is in 2021, if not more.

[00:05:53] Scientology has not even existed for 70 years. 

[00:05:57] Mormonism, 70 years into its existence had only just renounced polygamy, or plural marriage, and was still considered to be a cult-like religion by the majority of the US population.

[00:06:12] Indeed, the early days of Mormonism saw great violence against Mormons, with followers of the religion being attacked, and of course its leader, Joseph Smith Junior, being killed by an anti-Mormon mob.

[00:06:27] Scientology came over a hundred years later, in perhaps a slightly more civilised world, so there were fewer mobs attacking its followers, but it too was labelled a dangerous cult.

[00:06:41] The current scepticism and opposition towards both Mormonism and Scientology is thought to be part of the reason that both religions are so secretive, that the inner workings of the church are unknown to non-believers.

[00:06:57] As we heard about in part one, you cannot go into a Mormon temple if you are a non-Mormon.

[00:07:04] And as for Scientology, it is even more secretive, with the inner workings of Scientology only available to those who have continued to progress to higher levels, and paid handsomely for the process.

[00:07:20] This leads us on to our next similarity, or at least our next point of comparison that people have made, and that is to do with the vast wealth that both The Mormon Church and The Church of Scientology have amassed over their relatively short lifespans.

[00:07:39] As a Mormon, you are encouraged, or perhaps I should say required, to pay 10% of your income to the church, which has led the church to have a reported $100 billion pile of assets.

[00:07:54] And even though there are far fewer Scientologists than Mormons, progressing through the levels of Scientology can be very expensive, costing followers hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

[00:08:09] This has meant that the Church of Scientology certainly isn’t short of cash either - it has an estimated $2 billion worth of assets, including large houses, boats, and other property all over the world. 

[00:08:25] Its leader, David Miscavige, also reportedly travels everywhere on a private jet and only wears custom-made leather shoes from London. 

[00:08:36] Yet another similarity is about what a tight grip both religions hold on their followers, and how hard it is to actually leave the church once you are in.

[00:08:47] There are countless internet groups and forums of ex-Mormons and ex-Scientologists, where experiences are shared with others who have gone through a similar thing.

[00:08:59] Let’s start with Mormonism.

[00:09:01] Mormons place a lot of importance on the family unit, and there are countless stories of heartbreak when one family member decides to leave. 

[00:09:13] Naturally, this isn’t unique to Mormonism, and there are just as many stories of devout Catholics, Protestants, Muslims or Jews who have experienced similar family breakups when a child or sibling decides to leave the religion.

[00:09:31] When it comes to Scientology though, leaving is even harder. 

[00:09:36] If someone looks like they are going to leave the church of Scientology, they are labelled a Suppressive Person, and the church will reportedly force other Scientologists to break off all contact with them.

[00:09:50] Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, there are tales of families being torn apart because one person wants to stop being a Scientologist.

[00:10:01] As we heard about in the last episode, the Church of Scientology keeps detailed records on all of the personal confessions of its members during their auditing sessions, during their therapy-type sessions, and it is believed to use this material as blackmail to stop people leaving the church.

[00:10:23] So, once you’re in, it’s not so easy to get out.

[00:10:28] Now, while it is possible to debate some of the similarities that we have mentioned, there is one similarity between the two that is undeniable.

[00:10:37] They are two of the most successful modern religions, if by modern we define this as being created in the past 200 years, and if by successful we define it as global influence and number of followers.

[00:10:52] No other actual religion comes close. 

[00:10:56] There are, of course, other branches of religions, such as Pentecostalism and evangelical Anglicanism, but these are both branches of Christianity, they aren’t unique religions.

[00:11:11] Why is this then? What factors have allowed Mormonism and Scientology to flourish

[00:11:17] We’ve discussed some of the factors, but there is one important one we haven’t yet covered in detail, and that is to do with where they were founded.

[00:11:29] They were both founded in The United States of America.

[00:11:33] For Mormonism, one of the reasons it is thought to have been adopted so enthusiastically by its early supporters is that it placed the Americas at the heart of its religion.

[00:11:47] To remind you, The Book of Mormon, the religious text at the heart of the religion, says that the United States is the Promised Land, that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri, and that early Jewish settlers had moved to the Americas in 600 BC.

[00:12:07] Naturally, in a country with such a strong sense that it is the best country in the world, this message found a receptive audience.

[00:12:17] And when it comes to Scientology, there is certainly something uniquely American about the story of a science fiction writer who becomes an amateur, self-taught, psychotherapist, and later the head of an incredibly profitable church, with a religion based on aliens dropping people into volcanoes and blowing them up with atomic bombs.

[00:12:43] By uniquely American I certainly don’t mean gullible, or likely to believe improbable stories.

[00:12:50] But rather The United States of America as a country was only 50 years old when Mormonism was founded, and 175 years old when Scientology arrived on the scene.

[00:13:03] It was, and you could certainly argue still is, a land of opportunity, where people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, however unorthodox and unusual that might have sounded to people at the time.

[00:13:18] It was a country where a man could say he had found some gold plates, or a man could say that he had developed a new psychiatric treatment and turn it into a religion. 

[00:13:29] In more developed, older, countries when people comparable to Joseph Smith Junior or L.Ron Hubbard had tried to start their own religions, they were quickly shut down.

[00:13:42] In 19th century China, just as Mormonism was getting started, a man called Hong Xiuquan had claimed to be the Heavenly King and that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. 

[00:13:55] Although he did manage to amass around 30,000 followers, he was captured by the authorities and killed while in custody. If you’re interested in learning more about this, the name for it is the Taiping Rebellion.

[00:14:11] Meanwhile in Europe of the 19th century, proclaiming that you had divine visions, or you were Jesus reincarnated was likely to mean being locked up in a mental asylum, being thrown in prison, or being executed.

[00:14:28] So, what does this tell us? 

[00:14:31] What can we learn from the comparative success of these two new religions? What can we take from all of this?

[00:14:38] And how does it make us think about our own religions, if indeed you are a religious person?

[00:14:46] The first thing to note is that, when you step back for a minute and think about the details of what any religion believes, it is hard to objectively say that one is more probable than the other. 

[00:14:59] You might hear about the story of Joseph Smith Junior and the golden plates, and learn about the inconsistencies in The Book of Mormon and think, well how could anyone actually believe that?

[00:15:11] Or perhaps you might hear the founding story of Scientology, and of the galactic lord Xenu who blows up humans with atomic bombs, and think, well that’s obviously not true.

[00:15:24] But is this because the actual details of what Scientologists or Mormons believe are so hard to fathom, so hard to believe, or is it because we know the founding story, because it is so comparatively recent, and therefore we are more cynical about it?

[00:15:44] If the Bible, the Quran, or the Torah had been written 50 years ago and we knew the author, or the person who uncovered it, might we feel slightly differently about the actual content of these books?

[00:16:01] What an understanding of Mormonism and Scientology do help us with, I think, is an understanding of human nature.

[00:16:10] As humans, we want to belong, we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and we want to be part of something that we believe will make our lives better.

[00:16:22] For many people, exactly what that thing is isn’t the most important factor, the most important thing is to be part of something bigger than yourself.

[00:16:33] And even if you believe something that might, to the outside world, seem mad and defy all logic, even if someone sits you down and says, look, does it really seem probable that there were golden plates dug up from the earth, or that an intergalactic warlord threw humans into a volcano and blew them up with nuclear weapons, this doesn’t matter because you want to believe it.

[00:17:01] Indeed, one could draw parallels with the number of people who believe in certain conspiracy theories even when there is so much evidence that suggests that they are not true.

[00:17:14] For many of us, believing in something and feeling a sense of attachment to that is almost more important than what that thing actually is.

[00:17:24] And coming back to Mormonism and Scientology, even though the religion - like any religion - isn’t without its criticisms, there is a lot about the religion that does appear to help its followers lead happier lives.

[00:17:39] If you meet a Mormon on the street they almost always appear to be incredibly friendly people. 

[00:17:46] Perhaps eerily friendly, especially to an antisocial Brit such as myself, but they do tend to come across as nice and friendly.

[00:17:55] The emphasis on the family unit, and emphasis on helping others, is certainly a positive aspect, and the growth in the number of Mormons, and the relatively low level of people who leave the church, suggests that it does provide meaning for millions of people around the world.

[00:18:17] And when it comes to Scientology, for certain people it does appear to have helped them with their lives. 

[00:18:25] For some Hollywood actors they credit it with helping them get off drugs, or helping them be better friends or parents, and helping them live better, more fulfilled lives.

[00:18:39] And this, of course, isn’t unique to Mormonism or Scientology. 

[00:18:43] Whether you are a practising Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or whatever other religion, perhaps your faith has helped you find meaning in your life.

[00:18:53] And if you are not a religious person, it is easy to look at the belief systems of other religions, including Mormonism and Scientology, and think “what a load of rubbish”, but they have clearly brought happiness and meaning to many of their followers.

[00:19:10] There are evidently some people for whom their religious upbringing, or religious experiences, have caused great harm, but is this any greater for Mormonism and Scientology than it is for any of the other, more established religions? 

[00:19:26] I’m not so sure.

[00:19:28] So, to conclude this little exploration, what can we learn from Mormonism and Scientology?

[00:19:36] Firstly, if you are a charismatic leader with an interesting story, people will follow you, especially if you are in the USA.

[00:19:46] Secondly, these followers can be incredibly profitable, and your religion might turn into a mega business.

[00:19:54] Thirdly, you will not be short of critics, of those who say that your religion is a load of rubbish. But you shouldn’t worry too much about that, because the more you are criticised, the more strongly people will believe in you.

[00:20:11] And finally, if more established religions are any example, it might take time, thousands of years even for your religion to become more widely accepted.

[00:20:22] So, who knows what religions, if any, people will be following in thousands of years from now.

[00:20:32] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Mormonism vs. Scientology, and with that comes the end of this little mini-series on these two new but increasingly influential religions

[00:20:46] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this series in general.

[00:20:52] Are you a Mormon or a Scientologist, or do you have any Mormon or Scientologist friends, family members or colleagues? 

[00:21:00] What do you think we can learn, if anything, from these two new religions?

[00:21:06] I would love to know.

[00:21:07] You can head straight into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:17] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:22] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today is part three of our three-part series on Mormonism and Scientology.

[00:00:30] In part one we learned about the history of Mormonism, from its unusual founding story, how Mormons ended up at Salt Lake City to how a Mormon almost became a US president.

[00:00:44] Then in part two it was on to Scientology, from its probably even more bizarre founding story, its eccentric founder, L.Ron Hubbard, how it managed to get a grip on Hollywood and of course, the controversies around it.

[00:01:03] If you haven’t listened to those two yet, I would recommend listening to them first, as a knowledge of both Mormonism and Scientology will be helpful for getting the most out of today’s episode, where we are going to compare and contrast the two, and then leave with some thoughts on what questions both these belief systems raise about religion in general.

[00:01:29] OK then, let’s get started.

[00:01:33] Now, you might be thinking that a comparison between Mormonism and Scientology is artificial, that it is like comparing a dog to a watermelon, and that there is no value in it.

[00:01:46] It certainly isn’t a comparison that either group endorses.

[00:01:52] To a Mormon, a belief in Scientology is wholly incompatible with their belief system.

[00:01:59] And to a Scientologist, Mormonism is equally weird and strange.

[00:02:05] The system of worship is different, the belief in a God is different, the way in which the organisation is structured is different, they are certainly different belief systems.

[00:02:17] But, as we will learn about in today’s episode, they have more in common than either group might like to admit.

[00:02:25] Let’s start with the founding story of the religion, because for both Scientology and Mormonism, they are inseparable from the men who created it.

[00:02:37] For starters, the lives of both founders, Joseph Smith Junior and L.Ron Hubbard have been greatly romanticised by their followers.

[00:02:46] Smith’s story is, as you will remember, of a young boy who is visited by God and Jesus, told where to find these mysterious golden plates, and translates an ancient Egyptian language to create The Book of Mormon.

[00:03:02] And for L.Ron Hubbard, his is the story of a war hero who creates a new self-help system that he turns into a religion and becomes the foundation of Scientology.

[00:03:15] That's the official policy line, of course.

[00:03:19] But to a critic of Mormonism or Scientology, Smith’s story is of a charlatan, a fraudster who exploited the divisions of 19th Century America to draw people into his fraud.

[00:03:34] And for critics of L. Ron Hubbard, he too is a fraudster, an out-of-luck science fiction writer who believes the key to wealth and success is by starting a religion, and he manages to rewrite history to position himself as a hero, when in fact he is nothing of the sort.

[00:03:55] This leads us on to our second point of comparison, that both Mormonism and Scientology have been labelled a cult.

[00:04:04] Now, if you look up the definition of the world “cult” in a dictionary it will tell you that it is something like “a system of religious devotion directed towards a particular figure or object”.

[00:04:19] The implicit suggestion when using the word “cult” is that the belief isn’t a genuine religion, that its followers believe in something that cannot be true because it is so unorthodox and strange, and that they have been somehow tricked into believing in it, because of the power of one extremely charismatic individual.

[00:04:44] We’ll revisit this point later on, but it is an important thing to note that both Mormonism and Scientology have, ever since their founding, been considered to be unorthodox and non-traditional belief systems.

[00:05:00] This is especially true for Scientology. 

[00:05:03] Mormonism has become far more mainstream, more accepted. 

[00:05:08] Mitt Romney, the US Presidential candidate, was a famous practising mormon. 

[00:05:14] The US ambassador to China and then Russia, a man called Jon Huntsman, was also a Mormon.

[00:05:22] But is the reason that Mormonism is now more accepted and mainstream because it is a more attractive, more sensible, more believable religion? 

[00:05:33] Or is it just because it’s had more time to develop?

[00:05:37] Mormonism 100 years ago, when the religion was at a similar stage of development to Scientology today, was considered to be as weird and cult-like as Scientology is in 2021, if not more.

[00:05:53] Scientology has not even existed for 70 years. 

[00:05:57] Mormonism, 70 years into its existence had only just renounced polygamy, or plural marriage, and was still considered to be a cult-like religion by the majority of the US population.

[00:06:12] Indeed, the early days of Mormonism saw great violence against Mormons, with followers of the religion being attacked, and of course its leader, Joseph Smith Junior, being killed by an anti-Mormon mob.

[00:06:27] Scientology came over a hundred years later, in perhaps a slightly more civilised world, so there were fewer mobs attacking its followers, but it too was labelled a dangerous cult.

[00:06:41] The current scepticism and opposition towards both Mormonism and Scientology is thought to be part of the reason that both religions are so secretive, that the inner workings of the church are unknown to non-believers.

[00:06:57] As we heard about in part one, you cannot go into a Mormon temple if you are a non-Mormon.

[00:07:04] And as for Scientology, it is even more secretive, with the inner workings of Scientology only available to those who have continued to progress to higher levels, and paid handsomely for the process.

[00:07:20] This leads us on to our next similarity, or at least our next point of comparison that people have made, and that is to do with the vast wealth that both The Mormon Church and The Church of Scientology have amassed over their relatively short lifespans.

[00:07:39] As a Mormon, you are encouraged, or perhaps I should say required, to pay 10% of your income to the church, which has led the church to have a reported $100 billion pile of assets.

[00:07:54] And even though there are far fewer Scientologists than Mormons, progressing through the levels of Scientology can be very expensive, costing followers hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

[00:08:09] This has meant that the Church of Scientology certainly isn’t short of cash either - it has an estimated $2 billion worth of assets, including large houses, boats, and other property all over the world. 

[00:08:25] Its leader, David Miscavige, also reportedly travels everywhere on a private jet and only wears custom-made leather shoes from London. 

[00:08:36] Yet another similarity is about what a tight grip both religions hold on their followers, and how hard it is to actually leave the church once you are in.

[00:08:47] There are countless internet groups and forums of ex-Mormons and ex-Scientologists, where experiences are shared with others who have gone through a similar thing.

[00:08:59] Let’s start with Mormonism.

[00:09:01] Mormons place a lot of importance on the family unit, and there are countless stories of heartbreak when one family member decides to leave. 

[00:09:13] Naturally, this isn’t unique to Mormonism, and there are just as many stories of devout Catholics, Protestants, Muslims or Jews who have experienced similar family breakups when a child or sibling decides to leave the religion.

[00:09:31] When it comes to Scientology though, leaving is even harder. 

[00:09:36] If someone looks like they are going to leave the church of Scientology, they are labelled a Suppressive Person, and the church will reportedly force other Scientologists to break off all contact with them.

[00:09:50] Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, there are tales of families being torn apart because one person wants to stop being a Scientologist.

[00:10:01] As we heard about in the last episode, the Church of Scientology keeps detailed records on all of the personal confessions of its members during their auditing sessions, during their therapy-type sessions, and it is believed to use this material as blackmail to stop people leaving the church.

[00:10:23] So, once you’re in, it’s not so easy to get out.

[00:10:28] Now, while it is possible to debate some of the similarities that we have mentioned, there is one similarity between the two that is undeniable.

[00:10:37] They are two of the most successful modern religions, if by modern we define this as being created in the past 200 years, and if by successful we define it as global influence and number of followers.

[00:10:52] No other actual religion comes close. 

[00:10:56] There are, of course, other branches of religions, such as Pentecostalism and evangelical Anglicanism, but these are both branches of Christianity, they aren’t unique religions.

[00:11:11] Why is this then? What factors have allowed Mormonism and Scientology to flourish

[00:11:17] We’ve discussed some of the factors, but there is one important one we haven’t yet covered in detail, and that is to do with where they were founded.

[00:11:29] They were both founded in The United States of America.

[00:11:33] For Mormonism, one of the reasons it is thought to have been adopted so enthusiastically by its early supporters is that it placed the Americas at the heart of its religion.

[00:11:47] To remind you, The Book of Mormon, the religious text at the heart of the religion, says that the United States is the Promised Land, that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri, and that early Jewish settlers had moved to the Americas in 600 BC.

[00:12:07] Naturally, in a country with such a strong sense that it is the best country in the world, this message found a receptive audience.

[00:12:17] And when it comes to Scientology, there is certainly something uniquely American about the story of a science fiction writer who becomes an amateur, self-taught, psychotherapist, and later the head of an incredibly profitable church, with a religion based on aliens dropping people into volcanoes and blowing them up with atomic bombs.

[00:12:43] By uniquely American I certainly don’t mean gullible, or likely to believe improbable stories.

[00:12:50] But rather The United States of America as a country was only 50 years old when Mormonism was founded, and 175 years old when Scientology arrived on the scene.

[00:13:03] It was, and you could certainly argue still is, a land of opportunity, where people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, however unorthodox and unusual that might have sounded to people at the time.

[00:13:18] It was a country where a man could say he had found some gold plates, or a man could say that he had developed a new psychiatric treatment and turn it into a religion. 

[00:13:29] In more developed, older, countries when people comparable to Joseph Smith Junior or L.Ron Hubbard had tried to start their own religions, they were quickly shut down.

[00:13:42] In 19th century China, just as Mormonism was getting started, a man called Hong Xiuquan had claimed to be the Heavenly King and that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. 

[00:13:55] Although he did manage to amass around 30,000 followers, he was captured by the authorities and killed while in custody. If you’re interested in learning more about this, the name for it is the Taiping Rebellion.

[00:14:11] Meanwhile in Europe of the 19th century, proclaiming that you had divine visions, or you were Jesus reincarnated was likely to mean being locked up in a mental asylum, being thrown in prison, or being executed.

[00:14:28] So, what does this tell us? 

[00:14:31] What can we learn from the comparative success of these two new religions? What can we take from all of this?

[00:14:38] And how does it make us think about our own religions, if indeed you are a religious person?

[00:14:46] The first thing to note is that, when you step back for a minute and think about the details of what any religion believes, it is hard to objectively say that one is more probable than the other. 

[00:14:59] You might hear about the story of Joseph Smith Junior and the golden plates, and learn about the inconsistencies in The Book of Mormon and think, well how could anyone actually believe that?

[00:15:11] Or perhaps you might hear the founding story of Scientology, and of the galactic lord Xenu who blows up humans with atomic bombs, and think, well that’s obviously not true.

[00:15:24] But is this because the actual details of what Scientologists or Mormons believe are so hard to fathom, so hard to believe, or is it because we know the founding story, because it is so comparatively recent, and therefore we are more cynical about it?

[00:15:44] If the Bible, the Quran, or the Torah had been written 50 years ago and we knew the author, or the person who uncovered it, might we feel slightly differently about the actual content of these books?

[00:16:01] What an understanding of Mormonism and Scientology do help us with, I think, is an understanding of human nature.

[00:16:10] As humans, we want to belong, we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and we want to be part of something that we believe will make our lives better.

[00:16:22] For many people, exactly what that thing is isn’t the most important factor, the most important thing is to be part of something bigger than yourself.

[00:16:33] And even if you believe something that might, to the outside world, seem mad and defy all logic, even if someone sits you down and says, look, does it really seem probable that there were golden plates dug up from the earth, or that an intergalactic warlord threw humans into a volcano and blew them up with nuclear weapons, this doesn’t matter because you want to believe it.

[00:17:01] Indeed, one could draw parallels with the number of people who believe in certain conspiracy theories even when there is so much evidence that suggests that they are not true.

[00:17:14] For many of us, believing in something and feeling a sense of attachment to that is almost more important than what that thing actually is.

[00:17:24] And coming back to Mormonism and Scientology, even though the religion - like any religion - isn’t without its criticisms, there is a lot about the religion that does appear to help its followers lead happier lives.

[00:17:39] If you meet a Mormon on the street they almost always appear to be incredibly friendly people. 

[00:17:46] Perhaps eerily friendly, especially to an antisocial Brit such as myself, but they do tend to come across as nice and friendly.

[00:17:55] The emphasis on the family unit, and emphasis on helping others, is certainly a positive aspect, and the growth in the number of Mormons, and the relatively low level of people who leave the church, suggests that it does provide meaning for millions of people around the world.

[00:18:17] And when it comes to Scientology, for certain people it does appear to have helped them with their lives. 

[00:18:25] For some Hollywood actors they credit it with helping them get off drugs, or helping them be better friends or parents, and helping them live better, more fulfilled lives.

[00:18:39] And this, of course, isn’t unique to Mormonism or Scientology. 

[00:18:43] Whether you are a practising Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or whatever other religion, perhaps your faith has helped you find meaning in your life.

[00:18:53] And if you are not a religious person, it is easy to look at the belief systems of other religions, including Mormonism and Scientology, and think “what a load of rubbish”, but they have clearly brought happiness and meaning to many of their followers.

[00:19:10] There are evidently some people for whom their religious upbringing, or religious experiences, have caused great harm, but is this any greater for Mormonism and Scientology than it is for any of the other, more established religions? 

[00:19:26] I’m not so sure.

[00:19:28] So, to conclude this little exploration, what can we learn from Mormonism and Scientology?

[00:19:36] Firstly, if you are a charismatic leader with an interesting story, people will follow you, especially if you are in the USA.

[00:19:46] Secondly, these followers can be incredibly profitable, and your religion might turn into a mega business.

[00:19:54] Thirdly, you will not be short of critics, of those who say that your religion is a load of rubbish. But you shouldn’t worry too much about that, because the more you are criticised, the more strongly people will believe in you.

[00:20:11] And finally, if more established religions are any example, it might take time, thousands of years even for your religion to become more widely accepted.

[00:20:22] So, who knows what religions, if any, people will be following in thousands of years from now.

[00:20:32] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Mormonism vs. Scientology, and with that comes the end of this little mini-series on these two new but increasingly influential religions

[00:20:46] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this series in general.

[00:20:52] Are you a Mormon or a Scientologist, or do you have any Mormon or Scientologist friends, family members or colleagues? 

[00:21:00] What do you think we can learn, if anything, from these two new religions?

[00:21:06] I would love to know.

[00:21:07] You can head straight into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:17] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:22] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]