Most new religions, like most new businesses, die a quick crib death. Scientology, however, is not about to disappear. Scholars put the number of adherents in this country at about 25,000—a far cry from the millions of members its leaders claim, but hardly insignificant for a group that was founded about 50 years ago. Despite all its bad press, the allegations that it terrorizes its critics, its cult-like secrecy and hounding of apostates, and its very weird science-fiction cosmogony, it has become a part of the fabric of communities across the country.
If Newton Leroy Gingrich becomes the Republican candidate for president of the United States, then the 2012 election will be a contest between two men who found new religions fairly late in life. Gingrich is on his third religion: He was raised a Lutheran, later became a Southern Baptist, and in 2009 was received into the Roman Catholic church. President Obama, having been raised in an irreligious home, famously found faith as an adult in Chicago, where he was baptized in 1988 by Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.