This is the first in a two-part series on the Church of Scientology.
A recent HBO documentary on the Church of Scientology has brought the religion L. Ron Hubbard founded 61 years ago back into the headlines. “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” profiles eight former Scientologists and is based on a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright.
The film highlights the church’s origins and traces its meteoric rise in popularity, largely through the embrace of A-list Hollywood celebrities. It also shines a light on how the church cultivates true believers, detailing their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion.
But what, exactly, is Scientology? This column provides a brief overview of the Church of Scientology. The next column compares the beliefs of Scientology with the biblical doctrines of Christianity.
The Church of Scientology draws from Eastern philosophy, modern psychology, occult practices and science fiction. Founder L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) defined Scientology as “the Western anglicized continuance of many earlier forms of wisdom” including the Vedas, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Gnosticism, early Greek civilization and the teachings of Jesus, Nietzsche and Freud. According to Hubbard, “Scientology has accomplished the goal of religion expressed in all Man’s written history, the freeing of the soul by wisdom.”
According to the organization’s official Web site (Scientology.org), “The word Scientology literally means ‘the study of truth.’ It comes from the Latin word ‘scio’ meaning ‘knowing in the fullest sense of the word’ and the Greek word ‘logos’ meaning ‘study of.’ Scientology is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life.”
Scientology proclaims certain fundamental truths. Among them: “Man is an immortal, spiritual being. His experience extends well beyond a single lifetime. His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized – and those capabilities can be realized. He is able to not only solve his own problems, accomplish his goals and gain lasting happiness, but also achieve new, higher states of awareness and ability” (Scientology.org).
Scientology does not claim to be a Christian organization, so it doesn’t fit into our definition of a cult (a religious organization whose members claim to be Christians, and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity). Still, Scientologists would say their religion is compatible with Christianity. The church has no clear definition of the nature or person of God. Scientology literature rarely refers to a supreme being but occasionally uses the terms “Eighth Dynamic” or “infinity” and vaguely embraces pantheism (God is all; all is God).
Scientology seeks to release human potential, free the soul and restore people to their original state as pure, immortal spirits. Within every human being is a thetan, an eternal spirit in bondage to matter. Through Scientology, thetans may be freed, returning to the glorious spiritual beings they once were.
Source of authority
L. Ron Hubbard is the founder of Scientology. A prolific writer, he described his beliefs in more than 5,000 writings, including dozens of books and roughly 3,000 recorded lectures. The organization officially dubs his writings “scripture” and claims they are the only source for solving mankind’s problems. Among his best-known works are Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health; Dianetics Today; and The Church of Scientology.
How Scientology works
Scientology claims that its counseling procedure, called “auditing,” offers the only ultimate solution to mankind’s problems. Auditing locates and solves engrams, or past traumatic experiences that inhibit true spiritual enlightenment. Scientology claims it can eventually free the human spirit from its bondage to the material world. Scientology stresses the development of psychic powers, out-of-body experiences and other occult practices.
Practice and teachings
Scientology uses “auditing” to unleash human potential. Auditing is an extensive examination of a follower’s present life as well as past lives. Experiences of extreme shock, pain or unconsciousness cause engrams, or sensory impressions, to be recorded in the unconscious mind. These mental pictures produce physical and emotional problems today and can be dislodged only through Scientology’s procedures. Scientology teaches that people are three-part beings: thetan (spirit), mind (analytical/conscious and reactive/subconscious), and body.
While engrams are recorded in the brain, they lay dormant until a similar incident stimulates them once again, causing conditioned behavior that is counterproductive to the person’s well being. For example, if a boy falls off his red bicycle while learning to ride, he may fear all red bikes, or even all things red. In this way, claims Scientology, all people essentially are conditioned machines responding to the reactive/subconscious part of their minds. The church claims that through Dianetics or Scientology therapy we may expose our engrams and erase them, thus becoming “clear” and in control of our behavior.
“Dianetics could be said to be what the soul is doing to the body,” says Scientology.org. “It provides answers to the fundamental riddles of the mind with a thoroughly validated method that increases sanity, intelligence, confidence and well-being. It gets rid of the unwanted sensations, unpleasant emotions and psychosomatic ills that block one’s life and happiness.”
Scientology also teaches that through reincarnation people have been accumulating engrams for trillions of years. Each time a body dies, for example, the thetan must enter another body, but in so doing brings with him trillions of years of accumulated engrams. Thetans, therefore, are no longer free; they are in bondage to the material universe. In order to resolve this problem, people must be whisked back mentally to experience again the damaging events of their past lives.
As Scientologists explain it, trillions of years ago thetans became bored, so they emanated mental universes in which to play. Soon they became so entranced by their own creation and were so conditioned by the manifestations of their thought processes that they lost all awareness of their true identity. In other words, thetans became trapped in MEST (matter, energy, space and time). To make matters worse, thetans accumulated countless engrams throughout trillions of years of existence. The final result was materially enslaved entities existing as mere stimulus-response machines. Scientology claims that it seeks to restore thetans to their original state as rulers of the heavens.
The aims of Scientology, according to the church, are a “civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and the honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights” (Scientology.org). L. Ron Hubbard beckons: “We welcome you to Scientology … the most vital movement on Earth today…. Man suspects all offers of help. He has often been betrayed, his confidence shattered. Too frequently he has given his trust and been betrayed. We may err, for we build a world with broken straws. But we will never betray your faith in us so long as you are one of us. The sun never sets on Scientology.” The sun did set on Hubbard, however; he died in 1986.
Auditing – Scientology’s counseling method used to locate and erase engrams, or harmful impressions from the past, including former lives.
Clear – The state of a person who has completed auditing, liberated from all engrams.
Dianetics – L. Ron Hubbard’s method of erasing engrams and their negative effects on the mind.
E-Meter – An instrument developed by Hubbard and used in auditing sessions.
Engram – Unconscious mental image that has a negative effect on a person’s life.
MEST – Acronym for matter, energy, space and time, all of which make up the physical universe and hold the thetan captive.
Thetan – The immortal soul or spiritual being; the true identity of a person.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips