He explained that at death, the thetan is taken to a "between-lives" area, usually the planet Mars. It is given an implant to forget its past lives, then sent back to Earth to pick up a baby as soon as it's born. Sometimes a thetan follows a pregnant woman, waiting for birth so it can inhabit the body. On January 24, 1986, Hubbard died from a stroke he experienced eight days earlier.
Hubbard published more books than any other author in modern history, with 1,084 titles to his credit. To this day, every church or mission maintains an office for the day Hubbard returns to Earth. A pen and yellow legal pad are waiting for him at each of his desks; his personal bathrooms have toothbrushes and sandals. A full-time staff attends his residence in California, where his clothes are regularly laundered. His cars are in the garage, gassed up, with keys in the ignition. A dining table is set for one.
Since his death in 1986, the church has been led by David Miscavige; he has frequently been accused of physically abusing his subordinates, even locking them in a trailer called "the Hole." The church denies these allegations.
Over the years, a number of Scientology practices have been criticized. Among them:
"Silent birth": the delivery room should be silent lest the newborn associate words with the trauma of the birth experience and thus induce engrams in the baby. "Barley Formula" (which Hubbard claims to have learned "in Roman days") is a suitable substitute for breast feeding (though it has been much criticized by health professionals for lacking important vitamins).
Ceremonies for marriage, birth, and death are performed by an ordained Scientology minister. Most are found in Ceremonies of the Church of Scientology. At a funeral, the minister speaks specifically to the thetan and grants forgiveness for anything the deceased has done.
Followers are encouraged to practice "disassociation" from antagonistic family members or friends. They are not allowed to participate in the activities of other religions (though Scientology claims to be compatible with all religions).
The first Church of Scientology was incorporated in Camden, New Jersey in 1953. When a Scientology Mission reaches the size required to administer all courses and auditing to reach the State of Clear, it is considered a church. There are 142 Churches in 28 countries around the world, and over 300 missions in 50 countries. Advanced Organizations are located in Los Angeles; Clearwater, Florida; the United Kingdom; Sydney, Australia; Copenhagen, Denmark; and the cruise ship Freewinds. Organizations such as Narconon (to deal with drug rehabilitation) are associated with Scientology.
Celebrities are especially central to Scientology's popularity. Hubbard helped form a special Church of Scientology for artists, politicians, industry leaders, and sports figures. Eight throughout the world are called Celebrity Centers; the largest is in Hollywood.
Among the best-known celebrity Scientologists are John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Jason Lee, Isaac Hayes, Tom Cruise, Anne Archer, and Greta van Susteren. James Packer (Australia's richest man) is a Scientologist. David Miscavige has been best-man for two of Cruise's weddings. The church targeted celebrities from its inception, seeing them as a short-cut to social standing and significance. It offered classes on acting and promised connections that would promote an actor's career.
Germany considers Scientology a business; many other European countries do not recognize it as a religion. The church's practice of "disassociation" has been much criticized. The "Fair Game" policy which encourages the abuse of critics has been exposed. And L. Ron Hubbard's reported intent to start a religion for profit has been critiqued.
Attempts have been made to force Google and other search engines to omit any articles which are negative toward Scientology. Auditing confidentiality has been much criticized. And Scientology's rejection of psychology has been blamed for numerous suicides and other violence within the church.
Conclusion: What can we learn from Scientology?
What does the existence and popularity of Scientology say about our culture?
First, it highlights the danger of "postmodernism." Our society believes that there is no such thing as absolute truth (which is an absolute truth claim, by the way). "All roads lead up the same mountain," we're told. "It doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you're sincere and tolerant." If this were true, any key would start your car; any road would lead to your home; any medicine would cure your ailments.