A: Thank you for writing to us with this important question about religion. As you observe, the world is full of religions—all claiming to be "the way..." to God, to enlightenment, to happiness, to salvation. So, how can we tell if a religion is authentic?
To discover the true meaning of authentic religion, we need go no further than the teachings of Jesus, as revealed in The Urantia Book When Jesus was on this earth, he revealed the essence of the religious experience of religion in his personal and public life. It was revolutionary in his day, and remains revolutionary even today. I invite you to read Jesus' Discourse on True Religion HERE
In this inspiring speech, Jesus tells of the three kinds of religious experience. Said Jesus:
"While the religions of the world have a double origin—natural and revelatory—at any one time and among any one people there are to be found three distinct forms of religious devotion. And these three manifestations of the religious urge are:
1. Primitive religion. The seminatural and instinctive urge to fear mysterious energies and worship superior forces, chiefly a religion of the physical nature, the religion of fear.
2. The religion of civilization. The advancing religious concepts and practices of the civilizing races—the religion of the mind—the intellectual theology of the authority of established religious tradition.
3. True religion—the religion of revelation. The revelation of supernatural values, a partial insight into eternal realities, a glimpse of the goodness and beauty of the infinite character of the Father in heaven—the religion of the spirit as demonstrated in human experience."
The religions that you cite in your question are those of the second kind—the religions of the mind. These religions—including Scientology—are man-made, and require of their followers loyalty to various dogmas and theologies in order for the religionist to succeed. These religions are the religions of authority. While many are well-meaning in their attempt to help people to find God, they are, in the end, spiritually stagnating for the individual. This is easily seen today, as even the most traditional institutionalized religions fall by the wayside due to human scandal and disaffection of the congregations.
In the end, the only religion that is ultimately satisfying to the truth-seeker is the third kind of religion—the religion of revelation. This is the religion that Jesus followed, and which he taught his followers to cultivate in themselves. This religion is truly designed to set all spiritual captives free.
In this discourse, Jesus went on to say:
"...the great difference between the religion of the mind and the religion of the spirit is that, while the former is upheld by ecclesiastical authority, the latter is wholly based on human experience."
The religion of the spirit is a religion that is enjoyed strictly between man and God—it is an experience of reaching up to God, while God reciprocates by reaching down to grasp man's outstretched hand. This is possible because of the presence in the mind of man of an actual fragment—a "spark"—of God himself. This good spirit lives within man and experiences with him the daily life. And when an individual makes the effort to seek out the counsel and guidance of this inner spirit, that individual will enjoy the true inner authority of the religion of personal spiritual experience, just as Jesus did. Jesus lived a life dedicated to the finding and the doing of the will of God. He accomplished this goal through cultivating personal experience with the heavenly Father. And we can do the same. He showed us the way...
Jesus belonged to no man-made church. He was raised in the Jewish religion, but as his ministry progressed, he actively rejected the mindless practices of that religion in favor of the more dynamic and fulfilling practice of personal communion, and personal experience, with God. "