At the end of 2013, in the low-slung, industrial Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, a bevy of officials came to attend the ribbon cutting of a huge former hotel that had undergone a top-to-bottom, multimillion-dollar renovation. Speaking before the throngs of celebrants who blocked the flow of traffic, Taiwan’s deputy director of the Ministry of the Interior praised the group that funded the renovation and presented them, for the 10th year straight, with the national “Excellent Religious Group” award.
“For years you have dedicated your time and lives to anti-drug work and human- rights dissemination,” said the director, echoing praise offered by the mayor’s office and the president’s national-policy adviser.
The name on the award was the same as the one newly blazoned in steel letters across the building’s façade, the same as the one that flanked the building in a gigantic vertical banner, a name that elsewhere might draw stares but in Taiwan has drawn government praise: SCIENTOLOGY.
Scientology around the world is in broad retreat, but to be in Taiwan you would never know that. In an area slightly smaller than the combined size of Delaware and Maryland, with a total population of 23.4 million—roughly the same as that of the New York metropolitan area—Taiwan has 15 Scientology missions and churches. Per capita, it’s one of the most Scientology-friendly countries on earth. The island serves as a major source of donations and new members for the church, which has capitalized on L. Ron Hubbard’s early suggestions that he was a new Buddha. In a sign of Taiwan’s importance to the church, Scientology chief David Miscavige also attended the 2013 Kaohsiung reopening of the hotel as a Scientology megachurch.