Mind Over Matter

How Scientology's founder science-fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, created a religion of individualism and personal power.

Actress Katie Holmes' engagement to Scientologist Tom Cruise and her conversion to the Church of Scientology once again turned the media spotlight on this secretive group. To gain insight into Scientology's roots and its growth as an American religious movement, Beliefnet senior editor Alice Chasan spoke with Hugh B. Urban, professor of religious studies in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. Prof. Urban, who studies secrecy in religion and contemporary new religious movements, is author most recently of 'Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religions.'


What are the central tenets of Scientology?

The tenets evolved over time. The movement started in 1950 as Dianetics, when [L. Ron] Hubbard published his book "Dianetics," originally in a science-fiction magazine, "Astounding Science Fiction."

Dianetics was originally more a self-help therapy, superficially pretty similar to psychoanalysis--basically an understanding of how the mind works and how to remove problematic memory traces from the mind.

Then by 1954, it had grown into a more recognizable religious movement as the Church of Scientology. And that's when Hubbard introduced more clearly religious kinds of beliefs, such as the idea of the Thetan, which is your spiritual self, or immortal soul-like entity. He introduced the idea of the Infinite, which is basically like God, and an idea of reincarnation because Thetans are reincarnated over and over again. But the basic principles of how the mind works stayed the same from Dianetics to Scientology.

And Hubbard's basic idea is that human beings have two kinds of mind: what he calls the analytic mind, which he describes as a flawless computer, and the reactive mind, which is sort of like Freud's model of the unconscious, even though Hubbard didn't like Freud much.

The reactive mind is the repository for what Hubbard calls "engrams," which are memory traces, specifically moments of pain that get sort of burned in the reactive mind and then cause us problems in the future, both physical problems and psychological problems. And the idea is that through a process called "auditing," you can go back and pinpoint where those engrams are and relive them and thereby clear them from your reactive mind.

The ultimate goal is to clear all of those problematic engrams. And that's the state called "clear," when you're completely free from all those negative memory experiences.

Dianetics really focused on dealing with the engrams of this particular life--going all the way back to childhood, even in the prenatal state. But in Scientology, Hubbard introduced the idea of reincarnation, so that you have engrams not just from this lifetime but previous lifetimes. And so Scientologists describe experiences like being killed in the Civil War or even more incredible sorts of things like being on other planets and experiences in previous lifetimes.

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Interview with Prof. Hugh B. Urban, by Alice Chasan
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