Ran across one of the best non-rant explanations of what Scientology is really about in a comment section at blog.beliefnet, by Janie.
The Scientology cult has been trying for decades to achieve legitimacy as a "religion." They have a pretty good PR machine, so by this point in time many people think that Scientology is just a weird & wacky but ultimately harmless fringe religion.
The "Church" of Scientology is in reality a vicious and dangerous cult and criminal racket that only masquerades as a religion. Its purpose is to make money. It practices a variety of mind-control techniques on people lured into its midst to gain control over their money and their lives. It was started in the 1950s by a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in fulfillment to his declared aim to start a religion to make money.
Scientology is a confused concoction of crackpot, dangerously applied psychotherapy, oversimplified, idiotic and inapplicable rules and ideas and science-fiction drivel that is presented to its members (at the "advanced" levels) as profound spiritual truth.
The results of applying their crackpot psychotherapy (called "auditing") is to weaken the mind. The mind goes from a rational state to an irrational one as the delusional contents of the subconscious mind are brought to the surface and are assumed to be valid. It also makes a person more susceptible to suggestion since it submerges the critical thinking faculties of the mind into a partial subconscious state.
It results in a permanent light hypnotic trance, and thenceforth that person can be more easily controlled. The person will, to a much greater extent, believe and do whatever they are told. And of course this is used to the full in persuading them to hand over further money and dedicating themselves further to the cult.
The results of applying their oversimplified and inapplicable rules in life is to lose the ability to think rationally and logically. A person loses the ability to think for themselves and so they lose the ability to challenge incorrect ideas. This makes them easier to control. It also isolates and alienates the person from society so that they withdraw from normal society and into their "Scientology" society.
This further increases their susceptibility to the influence of their group. They end up being afraid of society, believing all society to be controlled by a group of drug companies, psychiatrists and financiers all of whom report to more remote masters. In other words they are in a state of mass paranoia. They therefore avoid reading newspapers and the like since they fear it will disturb their safe Scientology world. It is a downward spiral into madness.
The science fiction content of Scientology is revealed to them after they have reached the state they call "Clear", meaning freed from the aberrations of the mind. However, perhaps "brainwashed" would be a more applicable word to describe the mental state of someone who has survived the near entire delusional contents of their subconscious mind brought to the surface and presented to them as "truth". On the "advanced" levels (called OT levels) above the state of "Clear" they encounter the story of Xenu.
Xenu was supposed to have gathered up all the overpopulation in this sector of the galaxy, brought them to Earth and then exterminated them using hydrogen bombs. The souls of these murdered people are then supposed to infest the body of everyone. They are called "body thetans". On the advanced levels of Scientology a person "audits out" these body thetans telepathically by getting them to re-experience their being exterminated by hydrogen bombs. So people on these levels assume all their bad thoughts and faulty memories are due to these body thetans infesting every part of their body and influencing them mentally. Many Scientologists go raving mad at this point if they have not done so already.
On a very superficial level, Scientology seems reasonable. The insane content of it is only revealed to a person when the early stuff has done its work and made them more susceptible. After a short while a person "believes" that Scientology is doing them good. They are then persuaded to help their new-found group further by donating money and/or working for the organization for almost no money. Many people do exactly that.
"Ethics" is used to good effect to trap a person. A person's natural tendency to do good is worked upon. Yes - they want to be more ethical, but what is ethical? This is where a clever trick is pulled! "Ethics" is redefined by Scientology in such a way that to be ethical is to be a better Scientologist and obey the "church". Young people, not yet made cynical through the machinations of life and politics, are very keen to contribute to the world and to be ethical. So the "ethics" trick works easily into persuading them to join the "church".
Many of them join an elite group called the "Sea Org" where they become brainwashed slaves. There they work a hundred hour week for almost no pay. There they are subject to every cruel whim of their masters. It is a living hell that they endure because of the conditioning they have received and this now perverted sense of ethics that they have accepted.
The "Sea Org" is the ultimate in brainwashed slavery. They are expected to work harder and harder to achieve ever higher targets of production. If they fail to meet their targets there are various penalties. One of them is to be put onto a diet of beans and rice and to miss sleep. Another is to be sentenced to a period on the RPF (Rehabilitation Project Force). This is the equivalent to "hard labour". Such is the extent of their brainwashing that they actually write "success stories" when they complete their sentences.
There is no doubt at all that L. Ron Hubbard incorporated brainwashing techniques into Scientology to put people under his control. He even wrote a "brainwashing manual" which is still in existence today. However there was a cruel twist in his scheme. He fell victim of it himself. In creating his devoted slaves, the Sea Org, he created an audience that believed every word he said.
Now L. Ron Hubbard had an over-active imagination plus delusions of grandeur. The negative feedback he would obtain by being part of normal society was replaced by the positive feedback from his devoted followers. Through this his imagination got the better of him and combined with his delusions of grandeur, his thinking became increasingly bizarre which, on acceptance, led on to more bizarre thinking and the idea that he and Scientology had the job of saving the entire universe.
He wanted to take over the world in order to further Scientology's aims to save the universe and so branches of Scientology were set up to try to influence governments and gain positions where they could influence to world to a high degree.
So, what started out as a mass confidence trick backed up with brainwashing became a monstrous and insane organization with fantastic, fanatical ideals. Because of this change, Scientology survived the death of their founder. It is like a runaway monster machine that tramples on society and people's lives that is very difficult to stop.