"In my opinion," says Rick Ross, who has spent years studying cults and religious groups, "(Tom Cruise's) meltdown is likely attributable to Scientology. He's made some bad career choices lately. He's damaged goods. How do you go from the world's biggest movie star to someone Viacom dumps?"
The New York Times this morning said simply that Cruise has gone "into full Scientology mode."
Indeed, his recent responses to Matt Lauer, inveighing against modern psychiatric care, reflect Scientology's claim that its own methods of "auditing" people to get them "clear" are the only true way to win genuine happiness.
And some non-Scientologists wonder if Cruise's jump up onto Oprah's couch was a demonstration of the self confidence granted when one gets "clear."
Once again, the public spotlight swings to the unusual religion of Scientology. It was started some 50 years ago by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and based (by all accounts) on a story that includes intergalactic tribulations long ago between extraterrestrials and a cruel emperor named Xenu.
Not for the first time, does this notoriety exist. "A hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner ... a depraved, yet thriving enterprise" is how Time magazine's in-depth investigative cover story put it in 1991.
And as recently as this February, an in-depth examination in Rolling Stone laid out details of "America's most controversial religion" -- but religion, nonetheless, which is part of the reason the IRS, after years of examining Scientology's massive and complicated coffers, had to acknowledge tax-exempt status, finally won by the group in the early 1990's on the grounds that it was a charitable organization.
"Scientology made significant inroads into Congress during the Clinton administration," says sociologist Stephen A. Kent at the University of Alberta. "Other governments including the U.K., France and Germany have not given Scientology tax exempt status," he says.
Kent says that, following contacts between Scientologist John Travolta and President Clinton, the U.S. State Department became an advocate in Germany on behalf of Scientology.
Cult expert Ross says the Germans are extremely wary of Scientology, and consider it a fascist organization.
Kent adds that active lobbying on Capitol Hill got prominent Scientologists -- including musicians Isaac Hayes and Chick Correa, as well as actor Travolta -- before congressional committees.
And during the current Bush administration? Professor Kent cites a 4:30 pm meeting listed on the official schedule of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on June 13, 2003 with Tom Cruise and Scientology official Kurt Weiland.
But Scientology's claims that it is growing steadily around the globe -- they sometimes claim as many as 8 million to 10 million members worldwide in dozens of countries -- are derided by its critics.
"If I had to guess, I might say, perhaps, 150,000," says Kent, whose website archives some of his studies of the group.
Both Kent and cult expert Ross believe that Scientology is, in fact, shrinking and falling on relatively hard times.
"The exposure that comes through the Internet," says Kent, "seems to have had a negative impact on Scientology."