Hey Mormon Stories Listeners – I need your help!!!! This Friday (9am mountain time) I will be interviewing Mike Rinder – a former high-level leader of the Church of Scientology. I only have an hour with Mike, so I want to spend at least a few minutes of the hour comparing the Mormon church with the Church of Scientology.

To be clear – I have studied Scientology enough to know that it is deeply problematic….from literally kidnapping/imprisoning members, to having members physically beaten, to militantly suing members, etc. In short, I know that Scientology is a brutal, inhumane, super-harmful cult. Consequently, I am also fully aware that any comparison between the Mormon church and the Church of Scientology is deeply fraught. But hear me out.

I once read in Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that sometimes the less immediately lethal viruses are often the most harmful viruses overall, primarily BECAUSE they are less deadly than their counterparts. In other words, if a virus is so deadly that it immediately kills its hosts, it has a tougher time spreading, and ultimately harms fewer organisms. Conversely, if a virus doesn’t kill its host, but makes its hosts sick enough for a long enough time, the virus can spread much more successfully to a much larger population, and do more harm overall to many more people . Get it?

And so this is where I would like your feedback…and it’s only an intellectual exercise. Here is the question:

If the variables we are measuring include:
1) Total human hours extracted from members without fully informed consent (total hours wasted under false pretenses, in a sense),
2) Total abuse/pain/suffering inflicted on humans under false pretenses, and
3) Total $$$ amount fraudulently extracted from its members over the lifetime of the church….again, under false pretenses and without informed consent….

…could an argument be made that the Mormon church, in aggregate, causes more overall harm than the Church of Scientology…in part BECAUSE it is somewhat less severe overall?

Also, what arguments/points am I missing?

Please make your best case below (one way or the other), and I will do my best to incorporate your input into my discussion with Mike Rinder on Friday.

Also, if you have any questions for Mike, please share them below and I will try my best to incorporate them.


John Dehlin

P.S. Please know that I KNOW that the Mormon Church does a TON of good in the world (particularly for its members). Believe me….I see that, and I believe that. I am talking about the harm that the Mormon Church causes IN SPITE of all the good it does as well.

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  1. Sara Johnson February 24, 2021 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    One thing the mormon church has done better, by my observation, is PR. Mormons are masters of PR. I feel like it more adeptly creates an image of safe, friendly, western Christianity than Scientology. To the outsider, especially one with a Judeo-Christian bent, mormonism feels more mainstream, and safer. It is this insidious mormon PR success that, I believe, has the ability to infiltrate more people and for a longer period. And to foster acceptance by non-mormons.

    • Wendy Perry February 26, 2021 at 2:10 am - Reply

      Just watched Joe Rogen in Netflix comedy special say that Scientology is an example of a bad religious cult and Mormonism is an example of a good religious cult. In a funny way he references Mormon niceness as a positive. (I’m thinking “no social cache!”)
      But to your question, just thoughts: no conclusions:

      It may be a valid question to ask but is it valuable? In other words, does it matter?
      Is there a risk of discounting and minimizing individual pain and trauma by thinking in terms of groups, years and statistics?
      Can we as Mormons or former and transitioning Mormons answer fair and square if we’re still “in the pain”? Are we biased?
      Any analysis should be cost/ benefit. Weighing the good against the bad ?
      My one conclusion is that it’s a tie. I usually go back to systems theory and think of graph that has a two different shapes. Scientology’s volcano vs Mormonism’s longer flatter mound. The area inside the graph is likely very equivalent,

  2. Jeff S February 24, 2021 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    So the theory is that the LDS church is like Covid-19 to Scientology’s Ebola. It will be interesting to see what Mike Rinder thinks of that analogy.

    It may not be only the degree to which the organization requires your time, talents, energy and money but also how much that organization allows or encourages advanced education, successful careers, and general thriving in secular life. In that respect Scientology seems to have some “success”, especially in the entertainment world. But I think an average Sea Org member is basically a lifelong indentured servant (they make a lifetime commitment to Scientology in exchange for free room and board and a small weekly allowance.)

    Questions for Mike:
    1) How hard is it for a Sea Org member to drop out ?
    2) What does the general membership believe is the good that Scientology does in the world?
    3) What is the narrative of the general faithful Scientology member that keeps them active in the church? (For the general Mormon it might be that the church is the one true restored original Christian church with Christ at its head, and the it has authority in the form of the Priesthood keys, etc.)

    • Matt Johnson February 25, 2021 at 9:31 am - Reply


      I was trying to figure out an analogy for this and I think you got it!

  3. Mark Ewing February 24, 2021 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    Here’s an “order-of-magnitude” analysis using dollars as the basis of comparison and the idea that waste (in time and money) is a measure of harm. It’s based on the assumption that people’s time is valued at on-the-order of $10/hr and $10,000/year. It suggests that Mormonism is 10 times more harmful than Scientology, primarily due to the much higher membership in the less aggressive virus of Mormonism.

    * The average Mormon “wastes” on-the-order of 100 hrs per year in church activities, so on-the-order of $1000 worth of time per year
    * The average Mormon “wastes” on-the-order of $1000/yr on tithing that serves nothing but the church
    * So the average Mormon “wastes” on-the-order of $1000/yr in resources (time and money)
    * There are on-the-order of 1,000,000 active Mormons, so the total “waste” is on-the-order of 1,000,000 x $1,000/yr = $1,000,000,000/yr (one-billion dollars per year)
    * There are on the order of 10,000 new missionaries per year who will “waste” on-the-order of 1 year of life on a mission, so, on-the-order of $10,000 worth of life per missionary. For 10,000 new missionaries per year that’s valued at 10,000/yr x $10,000 = $100,000,000/yr (a hundred million dollars per year in wasted lives)
    * So, total waste in Mormonism is valued to be on-the-order of $1 billion/yr

    * The average Scientologist “wastes” on-the-order of 100 hrs per year in church activities, so on-the-order of $1000 worth of time per year
    * The average Scientologist “wastes” on-the-order of $10,000/yr on material and services toward “going clear”
    * So, the average Scientologist “wastes” on-the-order of $10,000/yr in resources (time and money)
    * There are on-the-order of 10,000 active Scientologists, so the total “waste” is on-the-order of 10,000 x $10,000/yr = $100,000,000 (a hundred million dollars per year)
    * There are on the order of 100 new Sea Org members per year who will “waste” on-the-order of 10 years of life in the Sea Org, so, on-the-order of $100,000 worth of life per Sea Org member. For 100 new Set Org members per year, that’s valued at 100 x $100,000 = $10,000,000 (10 million dollars per year)
    * So, total waste in Scientology is valued to be on-the-order of $100 million/yr (an order-of-magnitude less than Mormonism)

    Of course this is a first-cut simple estimate that doesn’t include considerations of pain and suffering, stunted growth, suicides, broken families, ostracized family-members, missed life experiences, living inauthentically, the value of truth, etc. But, I think it’s kind of meaningful.

  4. The Last Goonie February 24, 2021 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Mormonism is WAAAY worse!

    Similarities between Mormonism and scientology (If Mike uses any of these as examples, they are shared in common and thus irrelevant):
    1. Occult practices of Founders
    2. Charismatic con men with embellished reputations
    3. Early organizations embroiled in struggle with govt
    4. Unique founding scripture
    5. Financial hardship followed by extreme wealth at the organizational level
    6. Tax evasion and asset hoarding
    7. Annual general conferences-delusions of grandeur
    8. Celebrity/athlete exploitation
    9. Seeks to infiltrate govt/positions of power
    10. High demand/bubbled communities
    11. Excommunication/ Disconnection…broken families
    12. Spies/harassment of ex members
    13. Southpark cannon fodder
    14. Distortion between (and outright denial of) doctrines and policies
    15. Discourages outside investigation by members
    16. Peer auditing
    17. Sensational secrets for most dedicated participants
    18. Expensive financial burden to membership
    19. Voluntary full time service workers without pay
    20. Record numbers renouncing membership

    Rationale for Mormonism being worse:
    1) Mormonism is two CENTURIES of deception/oppression. Sci is from what… the 70s?
    2) Scientology boasts a total membership of 20k. C’mon… Mormonism has 10M+
    3) Sea Org is tiny. Full time LDS missionaries outnumber the entire Sci membership by a factor of 3.
    4) The early LDS church was every bit as abusive as Scientology ever was. Blood Atonement anyone?
    5) The untaxed LDS used church resources to bail out over-leveraged, private insurance corporations–without the knowledge of their members.
    6) LDS (like catholic) isn’t even subject to 501c3
    7) LDS is ruled by a cabal of organized corruption that protects itself while Scientology hinges on a single man who can be brought down.
    8) Mormonism has infiltrated politics and wields power at the state/county/city levels with impunity. Sci can’t do that.
    9) Sci doesn’t profess to be anything else. LDS masquerades as Christianity.
    10) LDS have many splinter groups [like FLDS] who are even worse than the mainstream LDS. Sci doesn’t have any but Mormonism created the FLDS abuse.

    I love Leah Remini, but LDS takes the trophy WITH EASE if we’re talking overall impact/numbers?

  5. Perspective February 24, 2021 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    The subject title seems worn out and myopic to the little world of Mormonism and Scientology, in the context of all religions, and other pursuits and obsessions in life. One could mix and match and find harm, “wasted time and money” in so many aspects of life. These two organizations are safe subjects to pick on, compared to the bigger players that Christopher Hitchen’s stood up to.

    Fortunately, most people move on, when the negatives outweigh the positives, and they take with them the good memories, experiences, and friendships…there are many good books to keep, on the “collapsed” shelf, and a new freedom to really live the 13th Article of Faith.

    Perhaps consider a different subject title with a hint of some good message that may be revealed, rather than a Which Hurts More, like some game of One Upmanship, or rather, One Downmanship.

  6. J. Snow February 25, 2021 at 7:38 am - Reply

    One issue I’d be curious to learn about is the extent to which Scientology inserts itself into mainstream life. We’ve seen Scientology has/had influence in Hollywood circles, but Mormonism seems to be more influential in politics, academics (3 universities and a small business college), media (KSL, Deseret News, Bonneville etc.), and business (both through influential members leading corporate America and the LDS Church’s own holdings). This even gets into cultural influence like BYU sports were a big connection to the church for me as a kid. Others liked the Osmonds, Saturday’s Warrior, etc. I think this relates to the discussion with Steven Hassan about cult-like group’s attempts to discredit mainstream expertise. The LDS Church is able to undermine real expertise by creating parallel institutions with respectability. That’s an unfortunate thing, because the shaky apologetics from the FARMS types can hide behind the reputation of credible research done at BYU on subjects unrelated to Mormonism. Their control of prominent local media in Utah shapes the thinking of ordinary people and lends respectability to radical ideas with no evidentiary support (Native Americans are descendants of Israelites, Joseph Smith translated ancient records, being LGBT is a choice, etc.).

    The extent to which the LDS Church has made itself respectable in mainstream life (at least in the U.S.) makes it seem far less threatening to the outside world unless someone digs into it a bit and starts talking to former members. I’d be curious to know what Scientology does to mainstream itself or create parallel expertise or cultural authority.

  7. Matt Johnson February 25, 2021 at 9:24 am - Reply

    First off, even if you don’t want to use this observation, please express my humble thanks to Mr. Rinder.

    His show with Leah Remini happened to air while my wife and I were going through our faith transition. Because it wasn’t “anti-Mormon” it felt “safe” to watch but quickly we realized it acted as a metaphor for what we were going through personally. We’d DVR each hour-long episode but it would take easily a couple hours to watch as we’d continually pause the show in shock, needing to talk to each other about how we were feeling so much like those people you interviewed. Knowing that our sense of loss, fear, sorrow, and isolation wasn’t unique to Mormonism helped us grow closer together during that time and continue with our new lives as Mormon apostates (a title I, for one, wear with pride).

    Now for my needlessly long-winded response (you can jump to the bottom paragraph and get the gist of it though–I won’t be mad).

    Scientology seems to take more direct action against suppressive persons: Orders are issued, private investigators are retained, and lawsuits are filed. In addition to formal rules relating to shunning SP’s, a high-profile suppressive person should expect the church to publish an expose denouncing them on its website, replete with information developed during supposedly private auditing sessions. SP’s working in areas with a lot of Scientologists should expect to see their work opportunities flounder as active Scientologists suddenly see them as hampering their progress on the bridge.

    These are not accidents. These are the direct result of specific orders and policies originating from Scientology leadership.

    Mormon apostates also experience shunning and ostracization. Spouses may seek divorce. Grown children may begin to distance themselves. Apostates may see former business partners suddenly hesitant or promotions suddenly become sparse. They can expect rumors and gossip in ward about their reasons for leaving and, in cases of popular apostates like John Dehlin or Jeremy Runnels, there may even be websites and articles published about them–But never by the church on an institutional level.

    So to respond to the question, does the Mormon church, in aggregate, cause more overall harm than the Church of Scientology: I believe an SP typically has it worse in the measurable sense. The suppressive person, however, can also point to concrete orders and policies that make their estrangement from Scientology so painful. This seems like a minor thing, but the SP at least understands that the alienation they feel is intentional, real, and not their fault.

    The apostate, however, cannot point to any policy that explains their suffering. There’s no policy requiring true-believing spouses to divorce apostates; yet it happens frequently. There’s nothing that says we shouldn’t be invited to the neighborhood party; but no invitation shows up this year. There’s no policy that says my child’s friends can’t come to my house because of my coffee maker; yet there it is. That look of distain from my boss when he sees the coffee at my desk isn’t a priesthood requirement; but there it is–will this impact my career? Meanwhile, the whole time, Salt Lake just looks on and pretends it’s above the fray.

    And there’s the rub: SP’s know why their isolated and ostracized–they can put a name to their pain. SP’s can point to specific and clear policies that require that they be quarantined from other Scientologists. For Mormon apostates, however, there’s no such solace. They can’t even complain about their feelings of isolation and depression without being told it’s either all in their head because they are still loved or being gaslit with some pseudo-spiritual pap about the darkness in their countenance pushing valiant Mormons away or some such codswallop. In that sense, I think Mormonism has the potential to harm the individual worse than Scientology as Mormonism makes an apostate question their own reality, emotions, and experiences.

    Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk…inthenameofjesuschirstamen.

  8. marlbey February 25, 2021 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Unpopular opinion, but the Mormon church offers more upside. Both organizations suck your money and your time, but the Mormon church also offers up bustling, engaged, interconnected communities. An elderly widow who needs chemotherapy has a community of people to drive her to the doctor, bringing her meals, mowing her lawn, and joyfully celebrate or mourn depending on the prognosis. And frankly, the elderly widow wouldn’t even have to be that great of a Mormon to avail herself to those services. She could be the sort of person who only occasionally goes to church, never cleans the chapel, holds no calling nor pays tithing, and the ward will still look out for her if she welcomed the church into her life in even a limited way.

    For me, the trade off is not worth it and it doesn’t justify the Church’s behavior. But I’m affluent enough and have enough social capital that I can uber to my doctor’s appointment, order my own meals in, and pay someone to mow my lawn, all in exchange for living my own life free of superstition and judgment. But I’m not going to pretend that the aren’t positive aspects of the Mormon community. From what I know about Scientology, it doesn’t even offer much of a community.

  9. Tonto February 26, 2021 at 7:40 am - Reply

    “Church of Scientology: Making the Mormon Church look better since 1953.”

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