Scientology claims eight million members worldwide, and says it is the fastest-growing religion in the world, welcoming 4.4 million new members every year. Actually, only 30,000 people are members of the International Association of Scientologists, and only 25,000 Americans call themselves Scientologists.
Despite its miniscule numbers, the organizations holds more than $1 billion in liquid assets, a figure that eclipses most of the world's religions. It owns 12 million square feet of property around the world; it holds 26 properties in Hollywood, valued at $400 million.
What do Scientologists believe? What can we learn from them?
The claims of Scientology
"Scientology" means "the study of truth." The movement was founded in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard, an American fiction writer. He had earlier authored a self-help system called Dianetics. Hubbard later called Scientology an "applied religious philosophy" and the basis for a new religion. Hubbard produced more than 500,000 pages of writings in support of his movement, working from 1952 until his death in January of 1986.
As a young man, Hubbard was highly influenced by Freudian analysis. He later befriended writers who were influenced by the Hindu concept of karma and the theories of Carl Jung. He credited the Tao Te Ching, the Dharma, and Gautama Buddha as forerunners of his movement.
There is no single book which forms the basis for Scientology. Fifteen books, 15,000 pages of writing, and over 3,000 lectures compose the "canon" of the religion. Followers study these books and lectures in chronological order. Dianetics is the founding document of the religion. Its publication in 1950 marks "year one" of Scientology. In their nomenclature, we would be in the year A.D. 63.
The goal of Scientology is "a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights." Hubbard claimed that "the whole agonized future of this planet, every Man, Woman and Child on it, and your own destiny for the next end-less trillions of years depend on what you do here and now with and in Scientology."
There are three levels of membership:
• Public Scientologists—the rank and file.
• Celebrity Scientologists, many of whom are recruited as a result of a specific strategy we'll discuss shortly.
• The "clergy," called the "Sea Organization" or "Sea Orgs." Many have worked for the religion most of their lives, at miniscule wages. They sign contracts for a billion years of service, which is a miniscule moment of time in their minds, since the universe is four quadrillion years old. More of this shortly.
All non-Scientologists are "wogs."
The beliefs of Scientologists
Scientology is "the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life." Followers believe that we are spiritual beings, that our existence spans more than one life, and that we are endowed with abilities beyond our normal experiences. We are basically good, though we err by considering only our own point of view. Nothing is to be accepted on faith; all is to be tested by observation. Scientology provides means by which people can achieve greater spiritual awareness of themselves and their world.
We are immortal spirit beings (thetans) who possess both mind and body. We have lived through many past lives and will continue to live beyond the death of the body. Through "auditing," we can free ourselves of past traumas and bad decisions which restrict us from being "Clear" and becoming an "Operating Thetan." In each state we recover our spiritual abilities and achieve mental and physical benefits. We are good but become "aberrated" by pain and unconsciousness. Psychiatry and psychology are destructive practices which keep us from progressing toward our personal fulfillment.
Humans are Mind, Body, and Spirit. The thetan (spirit/individual being) has no mass or energy; it is the creator of all other things. The Body is a carbon-oxygen machine engineered by the thetan. The Mind is the way our thetan communicates with our environment. We have an "analytical" or conscious mind and a "reactive" or subconscious mind. "Dianetics" is a set of ideas and practices that help us resolve our engrams (bank of traumatic memories) which inhibit our success and happiness. Many of these have been accumulated in past lives, as thetans have lived for tens of trillions of years.
Some of our past traumas resulted from "implants" used by extraterrestrials such as Helatrobus to brainwash and control us. A gigantic Church of Spiritual Technology symbol is carved into the ground at Scientology's Trementina Base so that followers know how to find Hubbard's works in future lives when they travel to Earth from other places in the universe.
We live successfully when we coordinate affinity (emotions), reality, and communication (the exchange of ideas). This is the ARC triangle. When we increase Knowledge, Responsibility, and Control, we improve our lives and take control over our environment. This is the KRC triangle.
The "tone scale" locates our behavior from -40 ("Total Failure") to +40 ("Serenity of Being"). Emotions, physical health, mating behavior, and ability to deal with truth can help identify our place on the tone scale.
Those who have achieved the State of Clear may proceed onto the Upper or OT (Operating Thetan) Levels. These are designated OT I to VIII, and are open only to those who have been invited into the process. OT VIII is granted only at sea, aboard the Freewinds, the Scientology ship. Teachings which lead to these levels have been guarded zealously by the movement, but some elements have been leaked by followers or entered into court records over the years.
One example of these teachings is Hubbard's description of Xenu, an alien ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy." He brought billions of beings to Earth (originally called Teegeeack) 75 million years ago in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes, and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their souls stuck to the bodies of the living; alien souls continue to do this today, creating many of our problems and diseases. They are called "Body Thetans"; advanced Scientologists work hard to remove them and their effects. There can be millions of them inside a person's body. Scientology can "clear the planet" of them, solving all our problems.
"Auditing" is one-on-one communication with a trained Scientology counselor ("auditor"). An E-meter (electropsychometer) is used to measure small changes in electrical resistance. The follower (a "preclear" or PC) unburdens himself of specific traumas and bad decisions, often by answering specific questions. The E-meter helps locate areas of concern. Auditing is said to lead to improved IQ, enhanced memory, and general happiness.
At "Clear," the thetan is able to recall every moment of its life, including its own conception. As a result, the thetan can be freed of its body ("exteriorization"). It can then roam the universe, stroll on Mars, and even create new universes. In this way, it recovers its immortality.
Followers progress from "Scientology Zero" to "Scientology Five." They learn how to deal with their environment; then find ways to live better; then engage in specific Scientology training; then begin OT levels; then reach the highest echelons. Hubbard claimed to have reached OT VIII, as have many Scientologists since. According to Hubbard, Jesus was "just a shade" above Clear, but he did not reach even OT I.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, known as L. Ron Hubbard or LRH, was born in Tilden, Nebraska in 1911. His family was Methodist. Scientologists call him "Source."
He claimed to have obtained a college degree in civil engineering, but his transcript shows two years of school and no degree. In 1938, during a dental operation, he received a gas anesthetic which he says caused his heart to stop and his spirit to understand the secrets of existence.
In 1941 he volunteered for service in the Navy, but was found unfit for duty and returned to the U.S. In Miami, he contracted gonorrhea. Later he was given a ship to command, but was soon relieved for firing on an ally. The church claims that he won a Purple Heart with a Palm, but the military states that the Purple Heart has no palm, and has no record of the wounds he supposedly received in the service.
Hubbard had seven children by three women; he was married to his second wife without divorcing his first, making him a bigamist. He had sexual relationships with a large number of women over the years, many of whom were his subordinates in the church. Several women, including his wives, claimed that he beat them physically and berated them emotionally. At one point he abducted his daughter from his second marriage and fled to Cuba.
His oldest son claimed that Hubbard founded Scientology on "black magic." Several who knew him questioned his sanity; one disputed document, apparently written by Hubbard himself, states that he was inspired by a spirit-being he called his "Guardian" whom he named the "Empress." He claimed that she dictated Dianetics to him.
At one point he became convinced that the evil organization SMERSH, described in James Bond novels, actually exists, and that it was attacking Scientology. In 1973 he was convinced in absentia for fraud in France and sentenced to four years in prison. By 1980, Hubbard was the subject of subpoenas from three grand juries and 48 lawsuits. So he fled from public view and lived as a recluse in an RV called the Blue Bird.
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.
Scientology was born at the same time "postmodernism" began to arise in American culture. In previous generations, its complete lack of evidence would lead to its rejection. But today, most people believe that if the religion "works" for its followers, who are we to judge?
Hubbard embraced this relativism: "What is true is what is true for you. No one has any right to force data on you and command you to believe it or else. If it is not true for you, it isn't true. Think your own way through things, accept what is true for you, discard the rest."
But it does matter what we believe. Scientology rejects the biblical doctrines of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. It teaches that we are all immortal thetans, so there is no need for salvation. If Scientology is right, Christianity is wrong. If Jesus is right, Scientologists are in danger of an eternity separated from God in hell.
Second, Scientology demonstrates the "will to power." According to Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher, this is the basic drive in human nature. He was right: the first temptation to "be like God" (Genesis 3:5) is the basic temptation today. This lure is central to Scientology's appeal.
Hubbard's oldest son said that his father's goal was "to be the most powerful being in the universe." Hubbard claimed that using the E-meter could raise people's IQ one point for every hour of "auditing." He once told the Saturday Evening Post, "Our most spectacular feat was raising a boy from 83 IQ to 212." By offering us a pathway to achievement and immortality, Scientology appeals to our most basic drive and temptation.
Third, Scientology proves the urgency of relevance. It grows through a four-part strategy: make contact with others, build relationships to lessen resistance to Scientology, find the person's need, and show how Scientology meets it.
While the church clearly offers a deceiving answer, its method is worthy of consideration. Jesus called us to "go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:19), taking his love to the lost rather than waiting for the lost to find us. We are to connect with others through relationships based on compassion. When we find a need we can meet with God's love, we demonstrate the relevance of his grace.
If Scientologists will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and devote years of their lives to taking their message to the world, what price will we pay to advance God's kingdom today?
Note: Sources for this essay include L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (Commerce, California: Bridge Publications, 2007 ); Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, rev. ed. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1997); Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Understanding the Cults (San Bernardino, California: Here's Life Publishers, 1982); and especially Lawrence Wright, whose masterful Going Clear was published January 2013.
Attribution: Jim Denison, Ph.D., is founder of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a non-sectarian "think tank" designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth. He is the author of seven books, including Radical Islam: What You Need to Know. For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum.