Let's face it - starting a new religion is not easy, as far too many cults and communes can testify. So it's no surprise that Scientology has received a fair amount of bad press, even though it's really no more ridiculous than most religions.
There are three public perceptions of Scientology (and by public, I mean those people who don't follow Scientology at all). One is that the whole thing is a loopy cult; one is that the whole thing is a dangerous and evil cult; the third is that the whole thing is a money-making racket. Some may hold that all three are true.
Regardless, it is clear that Scientology has an image problem. Celebrity endorsements have not helped; rather than raise the profile of the religion, they have been brought into disrepute by it. Tom Cruise is now a figure of fun for his beliefs, rather than his acting. Isaac Hayes is ridiculed and forced out of a cushy acting job he could do sitting down.
But relax, Hubbardites. This is all normal for a fledgling religion. Early Christians were hunted down and brutally slaughtered. A young Islam, just starting to make a name for itself, was villified and attacked by the Pope of the time. Even modern offshoots suffer their slings and arrows - even now, not many people take Mormons seriously, though the murder rate has so far been minimal.
Work on that image. Celebrity endorsement is all very well, but you need to get out there and make people realise you're not evil. Start some charities, help the homeless, feed the starving. Get lots of press attention. The public will still think you're a loopy cult, but they'll find it endearing rather than threatening.
There's a story out there about an alien called Xenu and a race of beings known as Thetans that reads like bad science fiction. If you actually believe this story is true, you are clearly wrong - the Flying Spaghetti Monster told us himself that he created the universe and all things in it.
But seriously, you're welcome to believe in any old nonsense you like - you're not the only ones. Look at Christianity - a belief that a being with a magical touch, that could bring healing to the sick and even reverse death, came to us. He was persecuted, and he died, but he then came back to life and then ascended into the heavens. If this sounds familiar, it's because this is the plot to ET: The Extra Terrestrial.
So don't worry about the plot. Hollywood seldom does. Instead, focus on the delivery - a lot of people don't go for the religion, but for the songs and the wine and biscuits. Give them that. Give them the sense they're part of something special and good, and let Xenu take care of himself.
There's been a lot of upset recently in another religion. Scandal! Sleaze! Cover-ups! It's become so bad, they're almost indistinguishable from government. Do you think your religion is somehow special? That, because it's the "right" one, it is too sacred to fall?
It's inevitable. What religion hasn't had its share of corruption and megalomania? Whether your orchestrators are priests, imams, rabbis, brothers or senators, they're still human beings. You're putting them in charge of a huge temptation - the control of a vast number of willing, fervent believers. Want your house painting? Declare it the will of the almighty one, and they'll rise up with brushes and rollers. Like cakes? Offer your blessing and you'll be drowning in homebaked goodies. Who wouldn't crack under such pressure?
So be prepared. Don't sit there thinking it'll never happen - have a system in place for when it does, and ensure that the guilty parties are punished (or at least put on cake-free diets).