Tonight I saw a program about Scientology on Rock Center with Brian Williams. It included an interview with award-winning screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, who had been a longtime member of the religion. He left the church in 2009 after 35 years, creating an enormously embarrassing PR problem for the church. During the interview Haggis called the religion a “cult” that sought control over the lives of its adherents. Others interviewed during the program told horrifying stories of intimidation and control.

Scientology was the brainchild of author L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). If the basic tenets of the religion – including bodily possession by aliens and planetary conquest by extraterrestrial warlords – seem like science fiction, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Hubbard was a fairly successful pulp fiction writer.

Hubbard’s work in Scientology began with Dianetics, which he claimed to be of equivalent importance to man’s discovery of fire and greater than the discovery of the wheel. Experts who reviewed the book did not agree – they generally found it to be filled with quackery. Nobel laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi, reviewing the book for Scientific American in 1951, said that it “probably contains more promises and less evidence per page than has any publication since the invention of printing.” Other reviewers gave Hubbard’s magnum opus similar reviews.

A variety of sources claim that Hubbard once remarked that the fastest way to make a million dollars was to start a religion. The religion he started wasn’t just a religion, but a cult. As with most cults, control is a primary component. In this we see a vast difference between Scientology and the gospel. Christianity is about liberation; Scientology, about control. Christ calls believers to focus their minds on the non-material; Scientology is consumed with generating revenue, often by exploiting celebrities and public figures. The biblical authors recorded events around them as fact; Hubbard crafted his religion based on science fiction.

Scientology is a religion only in a loose sense and could not be more different from Christianity. Although its symbol is similar to the cross, it fails to celebrate the qualities that Christ prizes most.