After the death of Jett Travolta, son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Beliefnet interviewed Tommy Davis, a representative of the Church of Scientology International. He answered questions about Scientology's beliefs on autism, medical care, and death. Davis spoke only for the church, not for the family. (Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Scientology has been in the news because of the death of John Travolta's son. There have been rumors that Jett Travolta was autistic. I've also heard reports that the Church of Scientology doesn't believe that autism exists or allow for treatment of that condition. Could you clarify?
Sure. First of all, this [idea] that the church has some [position] about autism, that it doesn't exist, is just not true. The church has never made any such statement. The bottom line here is the church does not involve itself in the diagnosis or classification of any medical condition. It's just not something the church does.
We've never stated any such thing, that autism doesn't, you know, [we don't] recognize autism. It's medicine. The church deals with the spirit. If people have a medical problem or a physical ailment, they go to a doctor. It's church policy that they do so and they get that addressed.
Just to clarify--the church doesn't have any prohibition against prescription drugs or medical treatment?
None whatsoever. Scientologists avail themselves of conventional medical treatment for medical conditions. They see doctors. They use prescription drugs prescribed by doctors. That's church policy. If somebody has a physical ailment or difficulty, it's insisted that the person sees a doctor and get that dealt with, treated, and handled.
But that would not apply to a psychiatric condition, if a person is diagnosed with some sort of mental illness?
That's right. That's a psychiatric condition. That's not a medical condition. They're two different things. Medical conditions are scientific. They're based on biological tests and so forth. Psychiatric conditions are subjective. That's not me saying that. Psychiatrists say that. You ask any psychiatrist, do you have any kind of biological test or scientific test to back up your diagnosis? The psychiatrist will tell you no, no there isn't. Psychiatrists don’t have any such thing.
So, the church would not approve of a member seeing a doctor or taking medication for a psychiatric condition?
Scientologists are opposed to mind-altering psychiatric drugs. They're dangerous. They're labeled as such by the Food and Drug Administration. Many of these drugs have black box labels. Their side effects are widely known and they are dangerous side effects.
Now, I want to focus on things that have come up in relation to the death of John Travolta's son. What does Scientology believe happens when a person dies?
Well, in Scientology, we believe that you yourself are an immortal spiritual being that has lived before and will live again. As such, you've lived many lifetimes and, potentially, you have many lifetimes ahead of you. So the spirit, which is you, is immortal. You are not your body.
As an immortal spiritual being, you have past existences. You have future existences. Past existences we simply refer to as past lives.
So, when somebody dies, he or she essentially departs the body. But, the person, the personality, the life force, and everything that makes the person what he is, that's intact. That is not lost with the body. That body is gone, but the person is still very much alive and intact. The person would just carry on into the next lifetime.
So, would the person be reborn eventually into a different body?
Well, the person would inhabit another body. There are other connotations to the concept of being reborn. It can get mixed up: rebirth, reincarnation, these kinds of things. These are different.
You’re an immortal spiritual being; you're not your body and you live lifetime after lifetime. You've lived before and you'll live again.
Yes. There's an important distinction here. You don't have a soul. You don't have a spirit. You are a soul. You are a spirit. You are an immortal spiritual being. You are not your body. You, as an immortal spiritual being, live forever. You are life force. You are the life force that animates that physical shell.
Is there any kind of framework that you are going through in these different lives? Is there a goal? Are you trying to correct past situations?
Not in a karmic sense. Look at it pragmatically. If you're an immortal spiritual being and you know that the world is a world that you're coming back to again in the next lifetime, that would be reason alone to do everything you can to make a better world. You know it's a world that you're going to be living in. You have a stake in its future.
Because Jett Travolta was so young, is there any distinction with what happens to young people after death?
No, not in Scientology, because the being is ageless, immortal, and not bound by time.
Are there Scientology rituals for a funeral?
Really, it's a celebration of the life the person has lived. The person has departed the body, but the person is who he is. A Scientology funeral is an opportunity for family and friends to bid the person goodbye, thank him for everything that he's done in his current lifetime, and wish him well as he moves on to the next lifetime.
While we have the loss of that physical presence with us now--the person's touch, hug, smile, laugh--the individual carries on to another lifetime.
I've heard that John Travolta and Kelly Preston's son was cremated. Is that preferable in Scientology?
No, there's no dogma on that subject. Some Scientologists have been buried and others have been cremated. Cremation is quite common in Scientology, just as a side note, but it's not a requirement and I know Scientologists who've been buried.
Is there a reason that it's common?
There are various things that L. Ron Hubbard has written on the subject, but it's a more involved discussion.
Thinking in terms of funerals versus memorial services, is there any distinction? Would the phrase "Scientology funeral" be accurate?
Yes. The [terms] are interchangeable. I know that the two have different meanings, but both serve the same purpose.