What is scientology?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 20, 2024

Introduction to Scientology

Scientology is a set of religious beliefs and practices created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Established in the early 1950s, Scientology is underpinned by a blend of Eastern philosophy, Western psychology, and Hubbard’s own theories. The Church of Scientology, which oversees the practice and dissemination of these beliefs, has established itself in countries worldwide, making it a subject of both fascination and controversy.

The Origins of Scientology

L. Ron Hubbard first introduced his ideas in a 1950 book titled "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health." The book proposed a form of psychotherapy called "Dianetics" that aimed to clear individuals of negative mental images, referred to as "engrams." According to Hubbard, these engrams are the root of all human suffering and addressing them can lead to a state of "Clear," where an individual is free of such mental burdens.

In 1953, Hubbard transitioned his Dianetics movement into a religion, naming it Scientology. He added spiritual dimensions and concepts such as "thetans," which are essentially immortal spiritual beings that inhabit human bodies. The aim of Scientology is to help individuals realize their true spiritual nature and achieve a higher state of existence.

Core Beliefs and Practices

The Thetan

The concept of the thetan is central to Scientology. According to Hubbard, thetans are eternal, omnipotent beings who have forgotten their true nature. The goal of Scientology practices is to help the thetan recover its abilities and realize its potential. This journey often involves various levels of spiritual enlightenment, known as the "Bridge to Total Freedom."

The Auditing Process

One of the primary practices in Scientology is "auditing," a one-on-one counseling session where an auditor helps the individual confront and resolve past traumatic experiences. The auditor uses a device called an E-meter, which purportedly measures the electrical resistance of the individual’s skin to determine the presence of engrams. Through a series of questions and discussions, the auditor aims to help the individual release these negative memories.

The Bridge to Total Freedom

The spiritual journey in Scientology is often visualized as a bridge, formally known as the "Bridge to Total Freedom." This bridge consists of several levels, each progressively leading to higher states of spiritual awareness and capability. The initial stages focus on achieving the state of Clear, while the advanced levels, known as Operating Thetan (OT) levels, aim to unlock deeper spiritual insights and abilities.

Organizational Structure

The Church of Scientology

The Church of Scientology is the central organization that manages and disseminates Scientology practices and beliefs. Headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, the church operates through a network of local churches, missions, and organizations worldwide. The church also runs various social programs and initiatives, including drug rehabilitation and human rights advocacy.

The Sea Organization

The Sea Organization, or Sea Org, is a highly dedicated group within Scientology, often likened to a monastic order. Members of the Sea Org commit to a lifetime of service to the church, often signing billion-year contracts as a symbol of their dedication. They undergo rigorous training and are responsible for managing the church’s day-to-day operations and advanced courses.

Controversies and Criticisms

Scientology has been the subject of extensive controversy and criticism since its inception. Critics often point to the church’s aggressive legal tactics, alleged financial exploitation, and claims of psychological manipulation. Former members and investigative journalists have reported instances of abuse, forced labor, and other unethical practices within the organization. The church, however, vehemently denies these allegations and argues that it is the target of religious persecution.

Legal Battles and Tax Exemption

One of the most notable controversies surrounding Scientology revolves around its tax-exempt status. In the United States, the church fought a prolonged legal battle with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to be recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization. After years of litigation, the IRS granted Scientology tax-exempt status in 1993, a decision that remains contentious to this day.

High-Profile Defectors

Several high-profile former members have publicly criticized Scientology, further fueling controversy. Notable defectors include actor Leah Remini, who has produced a documentary series exposing alleged abuses within the church, and former high-ranking official Mike Rinder, who has spoken out about the organization’s practices.

Scientology and Popular Culture

Celebrity Involvement

Scientology has a significant presence in Hollywood, with several high-profile celebrities among its members. Figures such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley have publicly supported the church and its initiatives. The church operates Celebrity Centres, which cater specifically to the needs of its famous members and aim to promote Scientology within the entertainment industry.

Media Representation

Scientology has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, and television shows, often portraying the church in a controversial light. Works such as "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" by Lawrence Wright and the HBO documentary of the same name have provided in-depth examinations of the church’s history, beliefs, and alleged misconduct.

Global Reach and Expansion

Despite its controversies, Scientology has managed to expand its reach globally. The church claims to have millions of members worldwide, although these figures are often disputed. Scientology has established churches, missions, and outreach programs in numerous countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa. The church also engages in various humanitarian efforts, such as disaster relief and education initiatives, to bolster its public image and gain acceptance in different communities.

Scientology remains a complex and multifaceted organization, eliciting both fervent support and vehement opposition. Its blend of religious, psychological, and spiritual elements, coupled with its controversial practices and high-profile membership, continues to captivate and polarize public opinion. As with any belief system, understanding Scientology requires a nuanced exploration of its doctrines, practices, and the experiences of those who have embraced or rejected it.