Scientology drawing new city adherents

Copenhagen Post/December 3, 2004

Scientology is attracting more Copenhageners than ever before, with more and more buildings in the capital being commandeered as meeting places. But the Bishop of Copenhagen has issued a stern caveat - warning Scientology is more business than religion

Copenhageners are flocking to Scientology churches in such numbers that the self-styled new age religious movement is expanding its activities and commandeering more meeting rooms in the capital city. In just five years, the number of Copenhageners introduced to the movement through informational films or lectures has more than quadrupled, according to new figures from the Church of Scientology. In November 2004, 560 people a week on average were introduced to the sect's programmes at Copenhagen Scientology centers. The same weekly figure in 1999 was about 130 people.

"Growth is largest in Copenhagen because most of our activities are based here, and there are more workers on hand to introduce Scientology. But the increase is general across the entire country," said Scientology spokeswoman Anette Refstrup, speaking with daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The rise in activity is also apparent in the group's figures for so-called "auditing," a form of concentrated spiritual counseling for Scientology members. In 1999, 58,000 hours of auditing were performed at Scientology centers in Copenhagen. Not including final figures for December, the figure for 2004 has already topped 70,500 hours.

Next year, the Church of Scientology plans to open a 3,000 square-meter church on Nytorv, in central Copenhagen, and additional expansion plans are already underway. Refstrup told Jyllands-Posten that the group had just leased new conference facilities on Dronningens Tværgade due to space constraints at its headquarters on Store Kongensgade.

"Our growth is due to the fact that we've taken the offensive in telling people who we are. Three of our churches in Copenhagen have daily open houses, and we send people to the streets to invite anyone who's curious in. We use advertisements in newspapers and online, and we're gearing up for a new ad campaign," said Refstrup.

According to Anette Refstrup, Scientology currently has about 4,000 active members in Denmark, and its monthly newsletter is sent to 20,000 nationwide. Internationally, Scientology is planning new churches in South Africa, Spain and major US cities including San Francisco and New York.

Mikael Rothstein, a lecturer at Copenhagen University's Institute for Religious History, has noted a general rise in interest in religion.

"The broader interest is benefiting the (Lutheran) Church of Denmark. But Scientology has also taken its little share of the national religious awakening. Most interested people are just 'passing through' Scientology, and because Copenhagen serves as the movement's European headquarters, a lot of foreigners come to the city. The figures are just as indicative of an international interest that's being channeled to Copenhagen," said Rothstein.

Speaking with Jyllands-Posten about the development, Copenhagen Bishop Erik Norman Svendsen recalled the mass disavowal of Christian traditions during the 1970's and 1980's - a trend that Svendsen says led to a feeling of religious "void" during the 1990's.

"Scientology and a number of other new age religious groups operate within that void. If the figures are correct, then they should only encourage us to make an extra effort with people. We must acknowledge that the Lutheran Church's old monopoly on tending to people's spiritual inquisitiveness has been broken," said Svendsen.

The Copenhagen Bishop is extremely critical of Scientology as a movement.

"Their entire mythology is so absurd that even a bishop has to object. You can debate whether Scientology is a religion or a business - but it's the latter, in any event. This sect has resisted all attempts to submit to any regulation or control, which is the very reason why it has not been formally recognised (in Denmark) as a religious denomination. So for that reason, I'm highly sceptical of their new numbers," said Erik Norman Svendsen.

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