Scientologists: How Many Of Them Are There, Anyway?

Categories: Scientology

MiscavigeSeaOrg.jpg
David Miscavige and crew in happier times
Happy Independence Day! And to our international readers, Happy Monday!

Here in America, we'll be enjoying cool drinks by the pool or the beach or at the backyard barbecue, and the news cycle should be slow. So we thought we'd take this relaxing time to ruminate about something that tends to come up from time to time with Scientology watchers: just how many Scientologists are there, anyway?

That question came up again this week when the Associated Press, reporting on an interesting development in Russia*, happened to mention that Scientology claims 10 million members worldwide.

If that number were true, Scientology would be a little smaller than Judaism around the world, and well ahead of the Baha'i faith.

And if you think that's true, we have a lovely bridge here in New York City that you might be interested to hear is for sale...

Before we get to the better-documented numbers, let's deal with this incredible figure that the AP repeated in a fairly shocking case of ignorance.

Scientology has claimed millions of members forever. But I'll never forget watching a video deposition of Heber Jentzsch† in 1999 or 2000 -- he was at the time the president of the Church of Scientology International, a figurehead position -- during which he admitted where the inflated number came from.

When Scientology says it has millions of "members," Jentzsch admitted under oath, it is actually talking about the total number of people, since L. Ron Hubbard first came up with Dianetics in 1950, who have ever picked up a Hubbard book, or filled out a "personality test," or taken a course, or otherwise had any interaction with the organization in any way.

As Janet Reitman pointed out in her excellent book Inside Scientology, she herself is a Scientologist by that definition because she began her research on the church by taking a couple of courses.

In other words, the claim that Scientology has millions of active members is a ludicrous notion and no legitimate news organization has any reason to repeat such nonsense, no matter what the church tells them. Associated Press, you blew it.

So if there aren't millions, how many are there?

There are several interesting ways to count Scientologists, and I'll save my personal favorite for later on. But for now, let's look at what official, government surveys tell us.

The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, provides at its website some very interesting data from Trinity College in Hartford, which has been surveying Americans about their religious affiliations for more than 20 years.

In 2008, the school released its latest American Religious Identification Survey, based on talking to 54,000 Americans. (The Census Bureau link will take you to an Excel spreadsheet that breaks down the minor religions individually.)

Go to the ARIS website, and you'll find a number of interesting stories coming out of the survey, such as that Latinos are losing their religion at a surprising rate, and that overall, "None of the above" is among the fastest, er, "religions" in America.

There don't seem to be any stories at the website about Scientology. Apparently, it's just too small to be concerned about. How small? Well, brace yourself. According to the latest survey, the total number of people who identify as Scientologists is just 25,000 in this country of more than 300 million human beings.

That's one Scientologist for about every 12,000 Americans.

In other words, the total number of active U.S. Scientologists is about the size of your run-of-the-mill local credit union.

But there's more. As paltry as that number is, the news is even worse for Scientology, because previous surveys by the same researchers show a steep drop in membership in recent years, reflecting anecdotal evidence that there's been a "mass exodus" (as Reitman calls it) under the leadership of David Miscavige.

In 1990, ARIS had found about 45,000 Scientologists. In 2001, it found 55,000, and in 2008, it found 25,000.

Obviously, these are estimates, but you'd think Miscavige might be concerned to see the number of people willing to tell a researcher that they belong to the church of Scientology drop by more than half over a seven year period.

Let's put those numbers in some further context. I've put the results of the 1990, 2001, and 2008 surveys in some simple graphs to show how Scientology compares to some other minor religious affiliations (numbers in 1,000s):

ScientologyRastafarian.JPG

ScientologySikh.JPG

ScientologyEckankar.JPG

Yes, according to the ARIS survey, fewer Americans identify themselves as Scientologists than Rastafarians, Sikhs, and whatever the heck Eckankar is.

And finally, let's visualize where Scientology stands now with some other faiths in this country (in 1,000s):

ReligionComparison.JPG

Meanwhile, surveys from other countries show similarly paltry numbers. A 2001 census found only 1,525 Scientologists in Canada and 1,781 in England and Wales. A 2003 study in Australia found only 741 members.

One person in a position to know these numbers is Jeff Hawkins, who was once Scientology's PR genius and was largely responsible for the church's biggest growth in the 1980s. We wrote about his excellent book about his life in Scientology, Counterfeit Dreams. He also blogs about leaving the church.

"I have an advantage here because I used to work for Scientology's Central Marketing Unit, and had access to all of the actual lists and statistics," he wrote at his blog last year. And he explained how he came up with an overall number of worldwide members:

I know that event attendance internationally was somewhere in the region of 25,000 to 35,000. The International "Bodies in the Shop" (people actually in the orgs that week for service) was 16,000 to 18,000. IAS was struggling to get 40,000 members. Based on this and a lot of other information I was privy to, I estimate the actual number of Scientologists at a maximum of 40,000. That's on the high side.

So, 40,000 total worldwide members. As others have pointed out, that wouldn't even fill Citi Field for a Mets-Yankees showdown.

But there's more. My favorite single piece of data for how to measure the number of active Scientologists -- at least the ones leader David Miscavige could count on to shell out significant amounts of cash -- comes from Marc Headley, whose exciting escape narrative, "Blown For Good," we've written about before.

In the book, Headley describes his experiences working for Miscavige at Scientology's secretive headquarters in the California desert, where he at one point was overseeing the fabrication of "e-meters," the devices that measure skin galvanization and whose fluctuations Scientologists believe can help identify a past-life trauma while a subject talks about his or her memories.

Scientologists take the devices very seriously, and are willing to pay amazing prices for them. Reitman, in her book, describes a former Scientologist who hasn't been able to part with his $20,000 gold-plated e-meter!

Anyway, Headley writes that some years ago, a new line of e-meters was about to be released, and Miscavige told him that he wanted enough of them manufactured so that every Scientologist in the world could buy two of the devices. (Headley explained that members are supposed to have a backup machine, just in case.)

And in order to have that many on hand, Miscavige asked Headley to make sure 30,000 of them were made.

I told Headley that his story implied that Miscavige himself knew there were only about 15,000 Scientologists around the world with the money or desire to pay for the machines.

"The actual number is more like 10,000," he told me.

As Reitman and others have pointed out, Scientology seems to be dwindling at the same time that it's buying up or developing property like crazy. Hunter Walker at The Daily did the math, and figured that today, the church owns 484 square feet of property for every active Scientologist in the world.

That's a lot of empty buildings.

So the next time the AP or some other news organization feels obliged to mention Scientology's bogus claims to millions of members, please keep in mind that it's just an unfortunate result of the mainstream media's misplaced dedication to he-said-she-said ignorance it mistakenly refers to as "balance."

Meanwhile, with an increasing number of longtime members leaving to join the Independence movement that Marty Rathbun writes about at his blog, such a drain is bound to be significant when it comes to Scientology's bottom line.

And so we've managed to bring things full circle on this Independence Day. So stop reading about Scientology and go light a sparkler or something. Happy Fourth!

Update: And right on time, here's a story from Switzerland which says that Scientology is rapidly dwindling there. [h/t: Rick Ross]

-----

*If you're not a fan of Scientology, this is how NOT to do something about it. In suburban Moscow, the AP reported, Scientology's writings by founder L. Ron Hubbard were banned by a local court that found them "extremist." Miscavige LOVES this kind of persecution and will try to milk it for everything it is worth. In fact, the more Scientology's policies and philosophies are examined and written about, the harder it is for the church to reach normal, sane human beings.

†Heber Jentzsch was once a fairly public face for Scientology, sparing the church's real leader, David Miscavige, from having to face the press. But in recent years, Heber has been nowhere to be seen. Ex-Scientologists assume that Jentzsch has lost favor with Miscavige and is being kept out of view. Jeff Hawkins has a good piece about Jentzsch's career.


tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO

Click here to see all recent Scientology coverage at the Voice

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard's organization:

The Larry Wollersheim Saga -- Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story -- How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection -- A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Robert Cipriano Case -- A Hellacious Example of Fair Game
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum -- The 'Crash' Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape -- 'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle'
The Aaron Saxton Accusation -- Australia turns up the heat on Scientology
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation -- Scientology's former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross -- Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked -- Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back -- Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack -- The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated -- The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation -- Investigating a reporter's divorce to shut him up
The Hugh Urban Investigation -- An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology's past
Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh -- A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link
Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology -- A masterful telling of Scientology's history
The Western Spy Network Revealed? -- Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige
Scientology's Enemies List -- Are You On It?
Inside Inside Scientology -- An interview with author Janet Reitman
Scientology and the Nation of Islam -- Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman!



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88 comments
happyclammod
happyclammod

Here are the flaws:

1) Many "scientologists" don't consider it to be their religion, and would identify themselves as Jewish, Christian, or otherwise when asked "What is your religion?" 

2) The question itself is culturalist, assuming that all religions are exclusionary in policy and therefore any person could have only ONE religion. Simply put, that question makes no sense to (for example) many Indian people, and it does not make sense to many Scientologists - particularly those who don't consider it to be their religion, or their primary religion, or simply do not care to identify their religion at all.

3) When I walk into a Church of Scientology and someone says "Are you a Scientologist?", I answer "I'm not sure - probably, I'm here". Then the matter is forgotten because in Scientology, there simply is no requirement nor criterion to identify yourself as such to receive services. It's not like you have to receive L Ron Hubbard as your personal Lord and Savior to be welcome there.

4) An e-meter (two in fact) is only purchased by a trained user - certainly not every person who has ever looked at the cover of a Dianetics book. Here the word "Scientologist" is used in a different manner, describing a person who is trained and certified in the delivery of Scientological services. Those people buy the machines in the hopes of putting them to use helping other people (who may or may not be Scientologists). Many of them are making a living at it and take it very seriously.


This article compounds ignorance with ignorance, then further enjoys the attention of more ignorants congratulating one another on their cleverness. There is nothing contributory or insightful here.

fileclerk
fileclerk

Tony,  I was not able to confirm the ARIS numbers.

 

-  They are not in the Census Bureau Excel file you cite.  There is only a lumped sum that includes an unspecificed number of small religions.  The reason they give is "to minimize sampling errors."

 

-  They are not on the ARIS website.

 

-  I tried to check them with Dr. Barry Kosmin, who did the study.  He would only respond "It's not our policy to publish estimates for small groups of under 75,000 adults."

 

If you have any documentaion on those numbers, maybe you could add a link?

Guest
Guest

Dear, To whom it may concern. I am not a human being. I donot need money. I do not want to start a new religion to get that money. My newreligion is not the Church of Science-fiction-ology (Social Chronology IncludesEveryone, Neanderthals, Cannibals, Everyone & FluorescenceImmunophonotyping and Interphase Cytogenetics as Tool for Investigation ofNeoplasma-ology). My new religion is not a tax exempt non-profit.

Its first tenant; All of the true things I am about to tellyou are shameless lies.

For free info or a no-obligation free anxiety test pleasecall (800) 285-2727 that’s (800) bul-crap

JustCallMeMary
JustCallMeMary

"Show me the stats!" Yup.... you sure did. One of the best articles on Scientology!

David Anson
David Anson

I relish the thought of Janet Reitman being a Scientology apostate.

Ron
Ron

The Heber Jentzsch story is just another layer of their onion of lies. According to Robert Vaughn Young, who was a former spokesman, the number was based on nothing, except that it had to be a % higher than the previous number. They've been doing that for decades now, and interest has ballooned the claim to its laughable size.

To put Scientology's real numbers in perspective, the 2001 Census listed 1,525 Scientologists in all of Canada. It listed around 20,000 Jedi Knights.

Djacob
Djacob

The numbers of those attending these heavily enforced, mandatory, events speak volumes.  Don't forget that these numbers include all of the staff/clergy  within Scientology. 

WendyT
WendyT

Tony, you said "So stop reading about Scientology and go light a sparkler or something."NOOOOOOO!!!    It's too intriguing and your insightful articles are exposing all the layers of the creepy, criminal cult.It's almost like you're saying, the cult is almost dead.  Time to move on.....  I'm not going anywhere until the cult is dead, dead, dead.

subgenius
subgenius

"the mainstream media's misplaced dedication to he-said-she-said ignorance it mistakenly refers to as "balance."Nail on the head Tony....big problem ....media has lost its duty to fact-check....really not hard to do in this case.....just ask for proof of the claim....then report "when asked for documentation of the claim, none was forthcoming"-----ta-da!

Nonoleclown
Nonoleclown

you have to count and add body thetans so we can be up to 12 millions altogether

Jessi Slaughter
Jessi Slaughter

DEAR TONY, I urge you go google 'Emma Brumpton Scientology'. She's a London-based Associated Press employee, who has been enjoying their hospitality!!!

[Direct link to article: http://www.scientology-london.... ] @stopthecult tells me she has been frantic in her efforts, trying to get the page removed! She even wrote to Google!)

dagobarbz
dagobarbz

I'm not a Scientologist, but...according to Heber I am! (talk about instant suppressive, eh?)I started looking at the Scilon freak show around 1997. Back then, they were "expanding" and the number was 8 million. And every year, it's 8 million until we started seeing it expanding to 10 million...no, eight million...nope, 11 million. The number hovers around 8-10 million these days. With all that expansion, there should be 20 million, 30 million.

Yet, at the fair today, at their Free Stress Test booth, surrounded by milling hordes of people just dying to squander their money on dumb fair stuff...there were two glum looking Scientologists in an empty booth, surrounded by copies of Dianetics.

I almost felt sorry for them. They have to sit there til midnight. I went to hear REO Speedwagon.Who's upstat now, baby?

KeepOnLearning
KeepOnLearning

Most of the Scientologists I know simply "declined to state" religion when the intrusive govt forms  and pollsters came around. 

lazyboy12398
lazyboy12398

  I am a 35 years old CEO, rich and strong.but still single ... now I am seeking a nice woman who can give me true love so i got a username marryme11 on---www.H O t t I E o n LY.CoM--- it is the first and best club for wealthy people and their admirers. e…you don’t have to be rich ,but you can meet one there ,maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends !

Hollywood223
Hollywood223

Hi Tony, Don't you have something else to do like instead of staying stick on this subject forever?!I don't know?! Just be happy and enjoy your life!!

MarkStark
MarkStark

I just want to say that it was great to see a well-written, well thought out article by a journalist about this topic of Scilon numbers. I hope it will inform other journalists and media people. Also, the title of the article is perfect.

Guest
Guest

Considering the rapid collapse of scientology, the economy of scale is an important concept.  If the IRS would simply re-acknowledge (with the FBIs assistance) that the cult is a for-profit corporation, then all its massive empty buildings would be subject to property tax.  That would crush the UFO cult almost overnight.

Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet
Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet

Mind Control? That's not a difficult thing to pull off. While they're doing your e reading, you're telling them everything. A few listen ups and spy ware devices and they can pull off effects that mirror Cameron Diaz in The Box.  This is beginning to look hoaxier and hoaxier.  I get the feeling that somewhere, someone shared an e meter with the one time head of En Ron.

Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet

William
William

I'd like to point out that a vast majority of the people who leave the Church of Scientology do NOT join Marty's "Independence movement".  A few do, which is fine, but most are leaving Scientology entirely.

I've seen people listed by Marty as "Independent Scientologists" who, I know for a fact, have no interest in Scientology at all.  It appears that Marty has adopted the Scientology policy of exaggeration and "always claim expansion".

Hartley Patterson
Hartley Patterson

The ARIS figures are indeed estimates - the standard error is close to 100% as it was not designed to be accurate for groups as small as Scientology. 'No more than 50,000' in the USA is a better way of expressing the 2008 result. About half of Scientology branches are in the USA, that suggests no more than 100,000 worldwide. Also some of those would have been disaffected ex-members no longer contributing to Church funds.

Fredric L. Rice
Fredric L. Rice

At best the Scientology crime syndicate as at most some 40,000 remaining customers world wide. The crime bosses are left having to try to find customers with enough money worth swindling among the third world where Internet access is non-existent or greatly reduced.

Every day more Scientology criminals get arrested -- such as the rape-defending accessory Scientology ringleader recently dragged off to jail -- and fewer and fewer people who are so stupid as to give these insane criminals their money.

happyclammod
happyclammod

Finally, a person can both "join" Marty's "organization" (which is primarily opposed to practices at the highest levels of Scientology's sprawling enterprise) AND continue to be "active" at their very own local Scientology org (aka "Church") where no such practices are going on. I personally saw more than 1000 people show up at the last Golden Age re-play event at a single org, and the stadium in the video was packed, so yeah I'm sure there are more than 40,000 total.


If anyone wants to see it, the first Golden age event is on the COS website - again, featuring a PACKED stadium - I'm  not good with estimating crowds, but yeah there were at least 40k in there I think. It is 2h 40m long

Lulzy1
Lulzy1

And hired actors as well such as what occurred at one of the Saint Hill events (last year I believe).

TonyOrtega
TonyOrtega

Don't worry, WendyT. Another day, another Scientology story. Just be patient.

Guest
Guest

 Nonsense, OSA, you'd be telling the census taker that everyone in the neighborhood is a scientologist.

Old OT7
Old OT7

LOL!  You could do 15 minutes of stand-up on that thread alone!

subgenius
subgenius

You just happened to ask them how they filled out the form? And you all then discussed why you all did that? So tell us, why did you do that? Dauntless, defiant and resolute? Proud? (sarcasm) Ashamed? Or are you just making stuff up? 

johnny d
johnny d

nice try K O L, but most of the $cientologists you know went ahead and answered the remaining questions on the "intrusive govt forms"?  and the ONLY thing they didn't want the "intrusive govt" to know was that they belong to the "greatest and fastest growing religion on the planet" ?  yea right, brilliant.

Gary Lee-Nova
Gary Lee-Nova

Any idea what most of the scientologists you know were so ashamed of admitting to the pollsters?

candace6
candace6

@ Hollywood:  Hubbard study tech grad, amirite?

Guest
Guest

 Hi Louanne!

dagobarbz
dagobarbz

I have been writing about Scientology for years. It's really enjoyable, particularly in light of the false sense of superiority these dwerps have while screwing up left and right.

You should thank Tony. I'm very glad we have his ear in things Scientological instead of him writing about furries or World of Warcraft.

Scientology has elements of a wide variety of amusing societal dysfunction. Indeed, it embodies inefficiency and incompetence.

It's a very interesting topic, if you're not a Scientologist. If you are, maybe you should like, read his articles and rethink your position.

Old OT7
Old OT7

And you know he's NOT enjoying his life, how?  He's a terrific writer and has a great job!  Why are you getting off topic?

subgenius
subgenius

Tony seems to be having a lot of fun to me and johnny d, at least. How about you? Could you be projecting some of your doubts about whether you are brainwashed and don't want to admit you were duped? Just asking.

johnny d
johnny d

What gives you the idea that Tony isn't "happy" and is not "enjoying" his life ?

Ex$cnAnon
Ex$cnAnon

I think it should be spelled El Ron. :o)

EyesOnYou
EyesOnYou

Marty doesn't "list" independent Scientologists. People contribute to his blog. There are those who continue to call themselves Scientologists, there are those who did and now don't, and there those who were never in the church. So get your facts before you run off at the mouth.

TonyOrtega
TonyOrtega

The reason I said that Scientologists leaving to join the Indy movement hits the church on the bottom line is not because they're leaving in huge numbers, but that these are people who still find something valuable in Hubbard's tech. When people who still adhere to the central principles are leaving, that seems to me a particularly difficult situation for "corporate Scientology" as Marty refers to it. It's one thing to lose people who lose faith in the tech, it's another to lose people who still have faith in it and, given a different situation, might still be willing to pay serious money for it.

TonyOrtega
TonyOrtega

Hartley, thanks for that perspective. But in a way, it's even worse for Scientology. Think of it -- in a survey of America's religions, the entire population of Scientology is within the margin of error! Ouch.

mirele
mirele

This is why $cn was so willing to make a deal with the odious Nation of "Islam." Bodies in the shop, bodies in the shop.

dagobarbz
dagobarbz

It's true. Thousands of people at the fair, not one stopped to get a Free Stress Test. I dragged my friend past their booth several times just to check. Last time we went through, the Scilons were engaged in convo with their neighbors at the next booth.

Somebody either got a Free Stress Test, or went home with a Miracle Mop!

Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet
Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet

En Ron goes with World Com, what is now referred to as Worldscum, two of the most fraudulent companies prosecuted by the SEC.

Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet

Gmail.com
Gmail.com

Right, and outside of the brainwashing, in a free market, I'm OK with that. But it does go back to a fundamental...  is the low-voltage e-meter "confessional" brainwashing?  Some have said the structure puts the confessing individual into trance...

Old OT7
Old OT7

REALLY LOL!!!  Ouch, indeed!

cmoses0971
cmoses0971

@Old OT7  Lying comes easy to religious types, including Scientologists, Christians, Muslims and those that worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Religion is a way for people to extract money and blind obedience from fools! (Kindof like the governments of the world extract statism out of the ignorant sectors of their societies!) Sad... People that don't use their brain for anything constructive. What is wrong with people?

Old OT7
Old OT7

That's actually 100% spot on!  They  just make this up as they go along.  When I was on staff in the mid 70s in Hawaii, the ED (Executive Director) showed me a book or encyclopedia that said there were 15 MILLION members of scientology!  This was long before Heber said they had 8 million!  Lying comes as easily to scientologist as breathing comes to the rest of us. 

dagobarbz
dagobarbz

Have you ever had a boring class right after lunch in school? And struggled to stay awake because your brain wanted to take a nap? That is the mental condition they work for with all the mind-numbing twaddle members are subjected to. It is a hypnotic condition that seems to work with a measure of success. When you can convince a mother to turn her child over to the Sea Org, or disconnect from them, you know it's working.

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