Scientology: Faith or fiction?

The Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, USA.PHOTO: Unsplash
The Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, USA.PHOTO: Unsplash

Dear Father, in driving around the city, I have come across buildings with signs reading Scientology, or Church of Scientology. Is this a religion? When did it start and what do its members believe and practise?

The Church of Scientology, as its name suggests, calls itself a church, or religion, but its teachings are very different from those of Christianity or, indeed, from those of any other major religion.

The organisation is of recent origin, having been founded in 1953 in the US by L. Ron Hubbard, along with his wife Mary Sue and John Galusha.

The Hubbard Association of Scientologists International had already been operating since the previous year, selling Scientology books and technologies. In 1953 Mr Hubbard asked Helen O’Brien, who was managing the organisation, to investigate the “religious angle.”

Soon after, despite Mrs O’Brien’s misgivings and subsequent resignation, Mr Hubbard announced the religious nature of Scientology in a bulletin to Scientologists. He stressed its relation to the Indian concept of Dharma, meaning something like righteousness, or right living.

Mr Hubbard wrote of his goals: “A civilisation 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, are the aims of Scientology.” A utopian dream, to be sure.

After the formation of the Church of Scientology, Mr Hubbard composed its creed, which emphasises three key points: freedom to enjoy religious expression, the idea that mental healing is inherently religious, and that healing of the physical body is in the spiritual domain.

Scientology holds man to be basically good, and that his spiritual salvation depends upon himself, his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe.

L. Ron Hubbard, American author and founder of the Scientology movement. Photo: Doma
L. Ron Hubbard, American author and founder of the Scientology movement. Photo: Domain

One of the key ideas of Scientology is that of Dianetics, from the Greek word dia, meaning “through”, and nous, or “mind.”  It is a set of ideas and practices regarding the metaphysical relationship between the mind and the body. Dianetics was rejected by psychologists and psychiatrists from the outset and it is not supported by any credible evidence.

Scientology teaches that people are immortal spiritual beings who have forgotten their true nature. It’s central teaching developed around the notion of the thetan, understood as the individual expression of theta, “the cosmic source and life force”.

The thetan is the true human identity, considering humans as pure spirit and godlike. Scientology believes that in the primordial past, thetans applied their creative abilities to form the physical universe.

One of the major tenets of Scientology is that a human is an immortal alien spiritual being, a thetan, that is presently trapped on planet Earth in a physical body. Thetans have had innumerable past lives, and it is accepted in Scientology that prior to their arrival on earth, they lived in an extra-terrestrial world. Mr Hubbard is known as a science-fiction writer, and one can see much of science fiction in this explanation.

Scientology’s method of spiritual rehabilitation is a type of counselling known as “auditing”, in which practitioners aim consciously to re-experience painful or traumatic events in their past in order to free themselves of their limiting effects.

According to the Encyclopedia of American Religions, Scientology is “concerned with the isolation, description, handling and rehabilitation of the human spirit.”

The Church of Scientology states that one of its aims is to help its members become certain of their spiritual existence and their relationship with God, the “Supreme Being”.

Scientology is legally recognised as a tax-exempt religion in the US and Australia and the organisation emphasises that this is proof that it is a bona fide religion.

Nonetheless, when their belief is that the world was created by thetans and not by God, one wonders what sort of supreme being this god might be, and how this “church” can be called a proper religion.

In many countries Scientology is treated legally as a commercial enterprise, not as a religious or charitable organisation. To be sure, it does not have any form of worship of God, and it is dedicated rather to helping individuals develop their full potential.

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