The Church of Scientology – An Appraisal

[Originally printed in The Presbyterian Banner, September 2007]

Scientology has attracted some high profile names, and received attention in the press over recent months. It makes extraordinary claims for itself. We need to be aware of its beliefs. We’re grateful to Dr.Ward for providing this summary of its teachings.

Scientology claims to be ‘the only religion that offers mankind a proven and practical path to freedom from the travails of the past and attainment of spiritual freedom beyond imagination. It is the only religion that offers personal immortality – now, in this lifetime. Because Scientology is the only religion that can answer such questions as who we are, why we are here, and what happens when we die, more people than ever are embracing it as their religion.’ []

Unlike Buddhism Scientology affirms belief in a Supreme Being. However, it does not describe the attributes of that Being, and so does not require one to worship such or to address that Being in prayer. Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Scientology believes in past lives but explains this differently from reincarnation doctrine. One returns not as another life form but as oneself but in a different body. Like Christian Science it addresses the negative in human experience but proposes to use a scientific technology to deal with it rather than deny its reality. Like Gnosticism it emphasises salvation through knowledge and supposes an essential hostility between the spirit and the material. It fits into the American emphasis on self-development.  On the more esoteric side it employs a story of intergalactic relationships that critics label pure mythology.

The first Church of Scientology was established in 1954 in Los Angeles, California, USA. Its founder was science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (1911-86). He had previously outlined his philosophy in a best-selling book published in 1950 under the title Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard ultimately wrote over 200 science fiction novels and 31 church related books. It is said that over 20 million copies of Dianetics have been distributed by the church. The imprint is New Era Publications or Bridge Publications.

Core beliefs
Scientology is defined as the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, universes and other life. Through its activities and studies one may find the truth for himself, it is maintained. The term ‘scientology’ is explained as ‘knowing how to know’.

The church asserts that man is an immortal spiritual being or ‘thetan’ who has had many past lives (going back billions of years) in extra-terrestrial civilisations but is now trapped on Earth in a physical body and has lost his true spiritual identity. His capabilities are unlimited, but are at present greatly under-utilised. While it is held that man is basically good, he needs to escape from the impact of experiences in this or past lives that cause him to be unhappy, to act irrationally or with evil intent even though inherently he is good and highly ethical. As these experiences accumulate over time, they cause the thetan to become enmeshed with the material universe. He needs to become ‘clear’.

A Clear is a person who no longer has his own ‘reactive mind’ (that part of the mind which works on a totally stimulus-response basis, is not under a person’s volitional control, and is the source of man’s misery), and therefore suffers none of the ill effects that the reactive mind can cause. The Clear has no ‘engrams’ (false mental pictures) which, when restimulated, throw out false data. When a person becomes Clear, he loses all the fears, anxieties and irrational thoughts that were held down by pain in the reactive mind and, in short, regains himself. It is a stable state not subject to relapse.

A pre-Clear is a person who is on the way to being a Clear by means of receiving ‘auditing’. Auditing is a central practice of Scientology, and it is delivered by an auditor (‘one who listens’). Auditing is a special form of personal counselling by successive steps which helps an individual look at his own existence and improves his ability to confront what he is and where he is. In this process, auditors employ an electro-psychometer, or E-Meter, which could be thought of as a primitive lie detector. Through its usage, it is claimed, auditors help isolate areas of spiritual trouble or upset that exist below a person’s current awareness. Once brought to light, such areas can then be examined by the individual student. Until an individual is ‘cleared’, no matter how able he has become by virtue of earlier auditing, it is inevitable that he will sooner or later sink back into the re-active mind. That is why clearing is vital. Clear is total eradication of the individual’s own reactive mind.

While one can become free through auditing, this must be augmented by knowledge of how to stay free; knowing the mechanisms by which spiritual freedom can be lost is itself a freedom and places one outside their influence, Scientologists believe. Accordingly, members undertake an on-going study of Scientology principles, with the aim of improving conditions in every area of one’s life.

From this point one proceeds up ‘the Bridge to Total Freedom’ (as it is called) but by successive steps. One aims to be an Operating Thetan (OT). An OT is a person in a state of being above Clear, in which the Clear has become re-familiarized with his native capabilities. Basically one is oneself, and can handle things and exist without physical support and assistance. As man is basically good, a being who is Clear becomes willing to trust himself with greater and greater abilities. At the Operating Thetan III (OT III) level, one is introduced to details of some of the movement’s more esoteric teachings which underpin its philosophy but are withheld from those on lower levels and are commonly downplayed or dismissed by spokespersons. It is taught that 75 million years ago the Earth was known as Teegeeack, part of an interplanetary federation ruled over by the evil overlord Xenu, who was responsible for bringing thetans to Earth, putting then in volcanoes (this is the source of the volcano picture on Dianetics front cover since 1968) and blowing them up with hydrogen bombs. Their essences surround people and cause harm to them today.

Organisation and Finance
There is a bureaucratic structure with different levels. Some courses on the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’ can only be taken at certain centres. Payment is made for courses and these run into many thousands of dollars at higher levels. In Australia the major series of 16 courses to ‘clear’ stage cost almost A$22,000 even ten years ago. Those who pay an annual membership ($500) in the International Association of Scientologists are able to complete the courses for about $16,000, while those who also undertake training over two years to become an auditor are required to make fixed donations of about $11,000. Scientology seems to attract the rich and famous. John Travolta joined in 1972. Media tycoon James Packer, through the influence of his friend Tom Cruise, a scientologist since about 1990, joined in 2002. Kate Ceberano, the singer, is actually a third generation Scientologist, as her grandmother had association with L. Ron Hubbard. Staff are paid a basic allowance plus a percentage from course fees, and in many cases need the supplement provided by extra part-time work in other occupations.

The Board of Religious Technology Center (RTC), was formed in 1982 as a non-profit organization to preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion and holds the trademarks and copyright of Scientology and Dianetics. RTC is not part of the management structure of the Church, nor is it involved in the Church’s day-to-day affairs.  Those who leave the Church of Scientology are generally monitored to prevent them becoming a ‘supressive’ for publicly criticising it.

A number of innocuous sounding groups are arms of Scientology. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) formed in 1969 is an arm of the church that seeks to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights primarily because of what is regarded as its unscientific diagnostic system. Without decrying some useful activities of CCHR, critics suggest that this not only appeals to the deep distrust of psychiatry in parts of the population but also serves to give the impression that the Church of Scientology is not itself engaged in what many would regard as unscientific diagnosis and psychological manipulation.

Various groups, loosely called ‘Free Zone’ groups, practise Scientology outside the Church of Scientology, some claiming to predate the official founding of the Church, and all regarding the Church of Scientology has having deviated from Hubbard’s teachings. FANZA is the Freezone Association of Australia & New Zealand set up for the benefit of Australian and New Zealand’s independent scientologists and students of Hubbard’s philosophy.

The church and some of its leaders have faced government prosecutions as well as private lawsuits in some countries on charges of fraud, tax evasion, financial mismanagement, and conspiring to steal government documents. In response to these attacks, the church has insisted that it is a bona-fide religious organisation and that it has been the subject of government persecution and opposition by certain parts of the medical profession. A 1983 ruling of the High Court of Australia, and a 1993 report by the US Internal Revenue Service are pointed to by Scientologists as confirming their status as a genuine religious organisation. It currently has charitable status only in the USA and the UK. Critics think of it as a money-making organization, with reference to the Supreme Being having only a social function not a religious one. On the other hand there are many devotees who certainly regard it as a religion. Time Magazine May 6, 1991 had a highly critical cover story on Scientology.

In the mid 1970’s the Church claimed a world-wide following of 3 million, 20% of these in the USA, but a more objective estimate of active membership at that point is 50,000. By 1994, church officials reported that there were 13,000 church staff members ministering Scientology to some 8 million members through 2,318 churches, missions and related organisations in 107 countries. In 2006 the claim is 9 million in over 3,000 churches, missions and related organizations. We doubt the active membership is more than 150,000/200,000 worldwide, perhaps only half that. The number in England appears to be about the same as in Australia and 55-60,000 seems a likely figure for the USA. Considerable expansion is claimed in Eastern Europe and more recently in Africa.

The Hubbard Association of Scientologists International was established in Australia in 1952. Incorporation as the Church of the New Faith occurred in Adelaide in 1969. In 1972 its ministers were registered as marriage celebrants by the Australian Government and so it was able to operate as a church. In the late 1970s, the church in Australia claimed a national membership of 30,000, a gross over-estimate in my view (possibly a mailing-list figure). It is thought that the committed following was about 2,000 in 1986 and perhaps 4,000 in 1995 allowing for those enrolled in courses but who might not identify as Scientologists. The Census counted 1,490 affiliates in 1996, 2,032 in 2001 and 2,507 in 2006. I suspect the current core following is no more than 2,000 with up to 3,000 more in a
quite interested but looser relationship.

The Australian Scientology headquarters adjoin St George’s PCEA, Castlereagh Street, Sydney. They may be next door geographically but are poles apart theologically. Scientology is all about my essential goodness and saving oneself by knowledge and pseudo-scientific techniques according to the word of L. Ron Hubbard. Christianity is about God saving rebellious sinners by the giving of his Son according to the Holy Scriptures.