A friend sent me this the other day on the assumption that I would find it funny, which I do:
Other than the fact that Dana Carvey has a humor gene, what makes it funny? I suspect because it is polyvalent and can speak humorously to diverse viewpoints. Atheists will like it because they think all religions are weird. Believers will like it because they think most religions, other than their own, are weird. And everyone other than the world’s 25,000 Scientologists will like it because Scientology is really weird.
But Scientology is weird in a special kind of way. The sociologist Rodney Stark has done a fair amount of work on the factors that account for any given religion’s success or failure. He has found that, “other things being equal” (which as a matter of history, economy, politics, and power they never are), new religious movements succeed to the degree that:
1. They retain cultural continuity with the conventional faiths of the societies within which they seek converts.
2. Their doctrines are non-empirical.
3. They maintain a medium level of tension with their surrounding environment – are strict, but not too strict.
4. They have legitimate leaders with adequate authority to be effective.
(4a) Adequate authority requires clear doctrinal justifications for an effective and legitimate leadership.
(4b) Authority is regarded as more legitimate and gains in effectiveness to the degree that members perceive themselves as participants in the system of authority.
5. They can generate a highly motivated, volunteer, religious labour force, including many willing to proselytize.
6. They maintain a level of fertility sufficient to at least offset member mortality.
7. They compete against weak, local conventional religious organizations within a relatively unregulated religious economy.
8. They sustain strong internal attachments, while remaining an open social network, able to maintain and form ties to outsiders.
9. They continue to maintain sufficient tension with their environment – remain sufficiently strict.
10. They socialize the young sufficiently well as to minimize both defection and the appeal of reduced strictness.
In translation and practice, this means that most new religious movements fail and those few which succeed are nearly always closely-related offshoots of existing traditions. Those who would start a new movement can innovate but they cannot deviate too far from some existing tradition.
Scientology is weird not just because it’s doctrines are really weird, but because it apparently has succeeded despite not meeting many of these criteria. This success, however, is more superficial than real. It has always been a money-making and money-obsessed outfit that targets the gullible rich (i.e., Hollywood stars) and ostentatiously displays wealth. California is probably the only place in the world where such nonsense could have gained any traction, however small. What Scientology lacks in Stark’s criteria for success it attempts to make up for by being loud and visible. But it is not growing and has very few members. It will always be fringe or niche.
By these same criteria the Squatting Monkeys religion would surely fail, but only after some troubled souls had given it an earnest shot. Are you the lemon?