How many Scientologists are there in the world?

Scientology is legally recognized as a tax-exempt religion in many countries, including the U.S., according to History. Then again, so is "Raelianism," which Time reports was founded by a former French race car driver who claimed "to have been taken up in a spaceship by a 4-foot-tall, green-skinned, long-haired, oval-eyed alien who directed him to write a book revealing the identities of the aliens as the creators of human beings. The aliens reportedly called him Rael." Scientology's background and beliefs aren't vastly different, and are taken with a grain of salt by most people. However, unlike Raelianism, Scientology has managed to incise its way into the minds of many through a mix of celebrity endorsement, media manipulation, and heavy litigation.

The exact numbers of Scientology's members are shrouded in the same cloud of obfuscation that surrounds most of the organization's endeavors, but according to History, worldwide counts are in the "hundreds of thousands," a far cry from the 4.4 million members the Church of Scientology reports it welcomes every year on its own website, spread across 184 of the world's 195 countries. Rolling Stone cited reports of between 100,000 and 200,000 worldwide in a 2011 article, at odds with the 10 million followers Scientology then claimed to have.

Some believe Scientology is decreasing in popularity, a sentiment echoed in the popular documentary Going Clear, which puts the organization's ranks below 50,000, according to The Atlantic. Considering that a 2011 census of England and Wales found there to be only 2,418 self-proclaimed Scientologists, while almost 177,000 identified as Jedi Knights according to The Guardian, it sounds like Scientology might be trumping its numbers up. One possible answer for the discrepancy might be found in the fine print of the contract signed when you become an elite member. According to the church, if you join the Sea Org — the really special branch of the religion — you're in it for exactly one billion years. So much like that anti-virus software you've been trying to cancel, Scientology is designed to lock you in for good like a Sarlac pit of religiosity.