You can begin involvement in Scientology with very little commitment. Inexpensive courses in communication or study habits are part of the introductory levels. Many Scientologists continue their schooling or work while being a member. Others join staff, or eventually the Sea Org. These Scientologists quit outside activities to concentrate on Scientology. They devote themselves to delivering courses to others, in exchange for little or no pay. Hours are long, and staff frequently suffer from lack of sleep.
After the first few courses, the price of Scientology goes up dramatically. At high levels, the cost is $1,000 per hour in blocks of 12.5 hours, called an "intensive". The course work alone can cost over $350,000 to reach the ultimate goal of Operating Thetan 8, or OT8. Members also donate large sums to Scientology through one of the various front groups, the International Association of Scientologists, Citizen's Commission on Human Rights or Narconon. Some wealthy Scientologists have paid millions of dollars to the organization. The cost of courses and donations forces some members to sell their homes, their cars, all their possessions. Scientology claims that the benefits of who you become in Scientology and your new potential to earn high salaries will more than compensate for the cost, but many former members report complete bankruptcy from their involvement in Scientology.
Family and friends who oppose Scientology fall under a Scientology policy which directs members to "handle or disconnect", meaning the opposition to Scientology must end, or all contact with these individuals must be dropped. A "disconnection letter" is written, formally ending all communication with the family member. Families can be ripped apart when one spouse joins but the other does not. In the Sea Org, even if the entire family is in Scientology, contact with children is minimal. One hour per day of "family time" is all that is allowed.
Why does Scientology cost so much? What does it say about the group if they charge fixed amounts to achieve spiritual goals? Why does Scientology discourage communication with family members who are critical of the group? Are they afraid of members hearing another viewpoint?