First of all, Scientology isn’t a religion; it’s more of a cult and a way of life. Why do people join cults? Usually, they are people who feel lost or alone. It has many faults, but scientology offers the basic benefits of a cult and can do it in a safer, more user-friendly way than the garden-variety compounds in California. Scientology is extremely structured, orderly and, because it involves brain-washing to some extent, easily administered to a willing participant. Many of the techniques used during the “audits” (audits are akin a session with a psychologist, except scientologist auditors are not called psychologists and do not have psychology credentials, because they believe that psychologists – and their evil-er twin, psychiatrists – are a part of a dangerous government conspiracy) are actually just basic psychotherapy techniques, with the focus on the individual to discover his problems and solutions on his own, rather than being told what his solutions are by the auditor, or being prescribed medication.
So add it up – regular auditing sessions by a mentally weak – but willing – participant who is constantly given positive reinforcement by his scientology superiors. He moves up in rank (there are countless “ranks” in scientology, though this tends to depend more on how much money you have rather than the success of your auditng sessions) and increases his self esteem and feelings of empowerment. The person sees their life changing positively (order, structure and self-reflection of any sort will likely improve the lives of anybody who felt lost or alone) and learns to attribute all of this to scientology. The person becomes very accepting of scientological explanations (read: “fraudulent explanations”) for the world around him, especially if the person was not particularly smart or knowledgeable before being exposed to the cult. Unless you are member of the quasi-military elite SEA-ORG, you don’t have to live in a scientology compound or anything, but many members choose to. And why not? They believe that the outside world failed them and caused their problems. Scientology improved their lives and taught them all of the “lies” of the outside world.
Scientology holds back the mythology on which the cult is based until the budding scientologist has reached a fairly high level of auditing; the mythology being that humans are inhabited by thetans – the souls of alien creatures destroyed by the galactic leader Xenu via nuclear warheads millions of years ago – and that auditing is actually the process of gradually expelling these spirits until “purification” is reached. Obviously a great deal of trust and suggestion must exist before a person could possibly believe such idiocy.
The Church of Scientology regularly inflates its membership numbers. Current estimates are about 100,000 people worldwide, though the Church boasts a number of over a million.
Since the advent of the internet, this “secret” has been let out of the bag, since documents by L. Ron Hubbard detailing the alleged ancient galactic massacre have been posted by anti-scientology sites; documents that the Church of Scientology implicitly admitted to by suing some of the websites for copyright infringement.