(Note: This article was first published at Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker)
On Wednesday, Tony Ortega wrote that a Tampa federal judge continues to uphold his ruling that a California couple, Louis and Rocio Garcia, must submit their allegations of fraud to Scientology’s internal arbitration scheme — which doesn’t, actually, exist. And part of their frustration, the Garcia’s allege, is that every time they select a Scientologist they want to make an arbitrator in the Orwellian scheme, Scientology finds a way to declare that person “not in good standing.” Even the judge admitted it was pretty impossible to figure out who is and who isn’t in “good standing” in the church.
What is a Scientologist in good standing anyway?
It ought to be easy to decide who a Scientologist in good standing is. After all, there are millions of ’em, right?
For many years, Scientology officials openly claimed that the church had about eight million members.
In the ABC Nightline episode of February 14, 1992 Forest Sawyer was able to get church president Heber Jentzsch to clarify Scientology’s eight-million-member claim — the link is to ABC’s transcript; scroll down to read the following:
Sawyer: How do you get to call them members?
Jentzsch: Because they joined and they came in and they studied Scientology.
Sawyer: They took one course, maybe.
Jentzsch: Well, that’s how valuable the course is. Eight million people, yes, over a period of the last – since 1954.
In 1997, Mike Rinder, then the organization’s spokesman, invoked the same number. Criticizing what defectors from the church were saying, he told a press conference, “If any of the things these people say are true, there would not be eight million Scientologists in the world today.”
And as recently as 2004, the church told the Deseret News that it had eight million members.
In more recent years, as Tony has pointed out, Scientology is a lot less specific about its size. Scientology spokespeople are careful only to refer to “millions.” And here’s what the church’s website today says about Scientology’s growth:
With Scientology, millions know life can be a worthwhile proposition, that Man can live a fulfilled life in harmony with others and that the world can be a happier place. Scientologists work to create such a world every day, joined by others who share this dream. The undeniable relevance of Scientology to the lives of these millions assures its permanence in our society. Millions upon millions more will follow in this quest to create a better world.
Pretty vague, right?
In fact, in 1999 Jentzsch gave a deposition, and under oath he admitted that the “eight million” figure was arrived at not by estimating current active membership, but by adding up all of the people who had ever, in the church’s entire history, ever so much as bought a single book or took a single course.
But even if we take Jentzsch at his word, that eight million people had interacted in some way with Scientology since things began with the publication of ‘Dianetics’ in 1950, it would mean that over the period 1950 to 1999, when Jentzsch made that claim, it would represent about 163,000 new people joining every year. And if you know something about the size and number of Scientology’s “orgs” over the years, you know that number is pure fantasy. (For a more realistic assessment of Scientology’s current size, see the Bunker’s report from recent defector Paul Burkhart.)
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that there are millions of Scientologists, and it’s just some kind of miracle that you never actually bump into any in your daily life. What does Scientology itself say about what defines a Scientologist?
The membership organization for Scientology, known as the International Association of Scientologists (IAS), has a very loose definition of a Scientologist on its website:
A Scientologist is defined as “essentially one who betters the conditions of himself and the conditions of others by using Scientology technology.”
Hey, that sounds easy. As long as we’re using Scientology tech, and we’re bettering ourselves, we’re Scientologists in good standing!
Well, not quite. The IAS isn’t going to make it that easy. In order to be considered in good standing by the IAS, you actually need to be a member of it. Lifetime IAS memberships cost $5,000 and Scientologists are constantly under a lot of pressure to donate even bigger amounts.
It seems pretty clear that to be considered “in good standing” by Scientology’s leaders, you’ll need to be an active donor and participant in the IAS.
But hang on. How big is the IAS?
Not anything close to millions. Former church executives will tell you that IAS numbers are in the tens of thousands, not millions. (And here’s the latest solid estimate for overall membership in this rapidly shrinking movement.)
But OK, let’s say you cut the check and join the IAS. Then that means you’re officially a part of the Church of Scientology, right?
Well, hold on. While the IAS is the “official membership organization” of Scientology, the IAS, legally speaking, isn’t part of the “Church of Scientology” itself…
In fact, according to what Scientology told the IRS in its 1992 application for 501(c)3 tax exemption, there’s actually no single thing known as the “Church of Scientology”….
And to add to the confusion, also according to the IRS application you don’t have to belong to the IAS to be in good standing with “a church of Scientology.”
But see, that’s the beauty of Scientology’s rules for “in good standing.” They can say it’s whatever they want it to be!
Despite L. Ron Hubbard’s millions of words about everything from Scientology baptisms to Scientology funerals and how to clean windows and how to use a vibrator (we’re not kidding), and despite all the books and checksheets and pamphlets and fliers that current leader David Miscavige has killed whole forests to put out, the Church of Scientology really has no definitive policy stating what constitutes a Scientologist in good standing.
Who or what is a Scientologist? The answer is that it all depends on the circumstances, which Scientology uses to its best advantage in court. For decades Scientologists have smugly said to each other, “Everyone is a Scientologist; they just don’t know it yet.”
But for the purposes of arbitration? Scientologists “in good standing” are only whatever handful of people the church can count on to rule precisely the way church wants them to.
My comments over at the Bunker to expand on this article:
As the funnel of “millions of Scientologists” dramatically narrows down to a tiny handful of Scientologists in good standing, here’s how, according to court documents, it works: Mike Ellis, the 315 pound Scientology International Justice Chief with health problems is supposedly the only guy in the world who can decide who is in good standing or not. Here is what Scientology told the court about Scientology IJC Mike Ellis: