Scientology is a new religious movement based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard (1911 – 1986), a science fiction author, who founded the Church of Scientology in 1953. As with many new religious movements, Scientology has attracted much controversy and criticism, and it has been described as a “cult” by its critics. Ironically, the critical media attention that Scientology has received has helped to fuel the publicity of the movement.
The organization presents itself as a fully integrated system of religious technology dedicated to the rehabilitation of the human spirit. Its teachings have allegedly saved followers from various afflictions including addictions, arthritis, clinical depression, learning disabilities, and mental illnesses.
The Founder: L. Ron Hubbard
The Church of Scientology was founded by Lafayette Ron Hubbard in 1953. Hubbard is a controversial figure and many details of his life are subjects of debate. The Church of Scientology has produced numerous official biographies that present Hubbard’s character and his multi-faceted accomplishments in an exalted light. Conversely, biographies of Hubbard by independent journalists, and accounts by former Scientologists, paint a much darker picture of Hubbard and in many cases contradict the material presented by the church.
Born in Nebraska in 1911, Hubbard was raised in a military family and traveled extensively throughout his youth, making two trips to Asia where he came into contact with the religious traditions of the East. After graduating from Woodward School for Boys in 1930, he enrolled at George Washington University, where he took a course in civil engineering. However, his university records show that he attended for only two years and dropped out in 1931.
Hubbard next pursued a writing career, publishing many stories in pulp magazines during the 1930s. He became a well-known author in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and also published westerns and adventure stories. His 1938 manuscript “Excalibur” contained many concepts and ideas that later turned up in Scientology.
His writing career was temporarily interrupted in June 1941 when, with World War II looming, Hubbard joined the United States Navy. He stayed in the Navy working in several posts until 1950 when he resigned his commission.
Beginning in the 1950s, Hubbard began publishing literature concerning the practices and doctrines of Scientology. His most famous work was Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950), a system of self-improvement techniques. According to Dianetics, incidents involving pain and loss were recorded on what he called the subconscious or “reactive mind,” which manifest themselves as fear, irrational emotion, addiction, and illness. Dianetics was the process by which the reactive mind is uncovered and erased, leaving only the “analytical mind.” In Dianetics literature the analytical mind is the portion of the mind that is logical and problem-solving. By the mid-1950s, Dianetics was considered a system of therapy within the context of the religion of Scientology.
In mid-1952, Hubbard expanded Dianetics into a secular philosophy that he called Scientology. Hubbard also married his third wife that year, Mary Sue Whipp, to whom he remained married for the rest of his life.
In December 1953, Hubbard founded the first Church of Scientology in Camden, New Jersey. He moved to England at about the same time and during the remainder of the 1950s he supervised the growing organization from an office in London. In 1959, he bought Saint Hill Manor near the Sussex town of East Grinstead, a Georgian manor house owned by the Maharajah of Jaipur. This became the world headquarters of Scientology.
Hubbard died on January 24, 1986. In May 1987, David Miscavige, one of L. Ron Hubbard’s former personal assistants, assumed the position of Chairman of the Religious Technology Center (RTC), a corporation that owns the trademarked names and symbols of Dianetics and Scientology. Although Religious Technology Center is a separate corporation from the Church of Scientology International, Miscavige became the effective leader of the religion.
In May 1950, Hubbard published a book titled Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. With Dianetics, Hubbard introduced the concept of “auditing,” a two-person question-and-answer therapy that focused on painful memories. According to Hubbard, dianetic auditing could eliminate emotional problems, cure physical illnesses, and increase intelligence. In his introduction to Dianetics, Hubbard declared that “the creation of dianetics is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and arch.”
Unable to elicit interest from mainstream publishers or medical professionals, Hubbard turned to the legendary science fiction editor John W. Campbell, who had for years published Hubbard’s science fiction stories. Beginning in late 1949, Campbell publicized Dianetics in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction. The science fiction community was divided about the merits of Hubbard’s claims. Campbell’s star author Isaac Asimov criticized Dianetics’ unscientific aspects, and veteran author Jack Williamson described Dianetics as “a lunatic revision of Freudian psychology” that “had the look of a wonderfully rewarding scam.” But Campbell and novelist A. E. van Vogt enthusiastically embraced Dianetics: Campbell became Hubbard’s treasurer and van Vogt, convinced his wife’s health had been transformed for the better by auditing, interrupted his writing career to run the first Los Angeles Dianetics center.
Dianetics was a hit, selling 150,000 copies within a year of publication. With success, Dianetics became an object of critical scrutiny by the press and the medical establishment. In September 1950, the the American Psychological Association published a cautionary statement on the topic that read in part, “the association calls attention to the fact that these claims are not supported by empirical evidence,” and went on to recommend against use of “the techniques peculiar to Dianetics” until such time it had been validated by scientific testing.
On the heels of the book’s first wave of popularity, the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation was incorporated in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Branch offices were opened in five other U.S. cities before the end of 1950 (though most folded within a year). Hubbard soon abandoned the foundation, denouncing a number of his former associates as communists.
Other Scientology Writings
The scriptures of the Church of Scientology were written exclusively by L. Ron Hubbard, beginning in the early 1950s and continuing until his death in 1986. Hubbard was an unusually prolific author and his total published works are more than 50 feet of shelf space. The canonical library of Scientology’s scriptures includes hundreds of volumes, many being philosophical works or procedural guides for Scientologists. Important works are: Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health, Science of Survival, Scientology: a New Slant on Life, Scientology: the Fundamentals of Thought, and The Creation of Human Ability. Near the end of his life, Hubbard returned to writing fiction and published the science fiction works Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth. The Church of Scientology founded its own companies to publish his work, Bridge Publications for the U.S. market and New Era Publications based in Denmark for the rest of the world. A selection of Hubbard’s best-known Scientology titles are below:
- Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, New York, 1950, ISBN 0884044165
- Child Dianetics: Dianetic Processing for Children, Wichita, Kansas, 1951, ISBN 0884044211
- Scientology 8–80, Phoenix, Arizona, 1952, ISBN 0884044289
- Dianetics 55! Phoenix, Arizona, 1954, ISBN 0884044173
- Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science, Phoenix, Arizona, 1955, ISBN 1403105383
- Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought, Washington, DC, 1956, ISBN 088404503X
- The Problems of Work, Washington, DC, 1956, ISBN 0884043770
- Have You Lived Before This Life? East Grinstead, Sussex, 1960, ISBN 0884044475
- Scientology: A New Slant on Life, East Grinstead, Sussex, 1965, ISBN 1573180378
- The Volunteer Minister’s Handbook, Los Angeles, 1976, ISBN 0884040399
- Research and Discovery Series, a chronological series collecting Hubbard’s lectures. Vol. 1, Copenhagen, 1980, ISBN 0884040739
- The Way to Happiness, Los Angeles, 1981, ISBN 0884044114
During the 1980s, Hubbard returned to science fiction, publishing Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth, the latter being an enormous book published as a ten-volume series. He also wrote an unpublished screenplay called Revolt in the Stars, which dramatizes Scientology’s “Advanced Level” teachings. Hubbard’s later science fiction sold well and received mixed reviews. There were reports describing how sales of Hubbard’s books were artificially inflated by Scientologists purchasing large numbers of copies in order to manipulate the bestseller charts.
Beliefs and Practices
The doctrines of Scientology are called “technology” (or “tech” in member’s jargon). Followers believe that Hubbard’s “technology” gives them access to their past lives, the traumas of which can lead to failures in the present life unless they are audited. Hubbard claimed to have conducted years of intensive research into the nature of human existence and he developed an elaborate vocabulary with many newly coined terms to describe his findings.
The creeds of Scientology were formulated entirely by L. Ron Hubbard. The two major creed formulae are “The Factors” and “The Axioms.” They are similar in structure and message and comprise the basic beliefs of the Church of Scientology, condensed into short points. The Factors were first published in 1953 and the Axioms disseminated the following year.
According to a theological reference work published by the Church of Scientology in 1998, “The Aims of Scientology” are stated clearly as follows:
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, are the aims of Scientology.
The central practice of Scientology is auditing (from the Latin word audire, “to listen”), which is one-on-one communication with a trained Scientology counselor or “auditor.” Auditing first appeared in Hubbard’s work on Dianetics. The practitioner undertaking the procedure is referred to as a “preclear.” Most auditing uses an E-meter (Electropsychometer), a device that measures galvanic skin response. The E-meter has two terminals that are held in both hands of the preclear and a display with which the auditor can monitor the progress of the individual. Hubbard introduced a biofeedback device to the auditing process, which he called a “Hubbard Electropsychometer” or “E-meter.” It was invented in the 1940s by a chiropractor and Dianetics enthusiast named Volney Mathison. This machine, related to the electronic lie detectors of the time, is used by Scientologists in auditing to evaluate “mental masses” surrounding the thetan. These “masses” are claimed to impede the thetan from realizing its full potential.
The auditing process is intended to help the preclear unburden him- or herself of specific traumatic incidents, prior ethical transgressions, and bad decisions, which are said to collectively restrict the preclear from achieving his or her goals. The auditor asks the preclear to respond to a list of questions which are designed for specific purposes and given to the preclear in a strictly regulated way. Auditing requires that the preclear be a willing and interested participant who understands the questions, and the process goes more smoothly when he or she understands what is going on. The E-meter is used to help locate an area of concern.
Scientologists have claimed benefits from auditing such as improved I.Q., improved ability to communicate, enhanced memory, alleviated dyslexia and attention deficit problems, and improved relaxation; however, no scientific studies have verified these claims. The Church of Scientology now publishes disclaimers in its books and publications declaring that the E-meter is used specifically for spiritual purposes.
The concept of the Thetan grew out of L. Ron Hubbard’s observation of the results of Dianetics practice. Participation in Dianetics resolved the mental anguish of practitioners in the present, but also allegedly uncovered anguish from preceding lives. Hubbard postulated the existence of an eternal element, separate from the mind and body of the human being. Wary of the connotative baggage associated with the word “soul” he called this element the “thetan” (adapted from the Greek letter “theta”). The Church of Scientology affirms that each individual is at the most basic level a thetan, possessing a mind and body. Thetans are believed to have existed since the beginning of time, formed at the moment of creation. These spiritual essences were entangled with matter, energy, space, and time (MEST) to produce beings that are both spiritual and physical. The bulk of Scientology focuses on the “rehabilitation” of the thetan.
The progression of the individual in the Church of Scientology is measured against a church document entitled “The Bridge to Total Freedom.” This includes levels from preclear through to “Operating Thetan” or OT. The Operating Thetan in Scientology is one who through dedication and practice in the church has relieved his or herself of the aberrations in the reactive mind gained in this life and others, and begun to operate independently of the reactive mind.
As one progresses along the Bridge to Total Freedom, one delves deeper into the teachings of Scientology, and accordingly the information revealed at these levels is kept under stricter confidence. Though very little information about these teachings are published for the public at large through official channels, it is believed that those initiated into higher OT levels learn of the arrival of Thetans on Earth and an epic history of the universe, described by L. Ron Hubbard as a “space opera.” Though official church literature makes frequent allusions to extraterrestrial life–often with reference to the lives of thetans and alien civilizations on other planets outside our solar system—Scientologists do not officially confirm or deny the existence of an elaborate “space opera” history told only in the highest echelons of the church hierarchy. These histories have been put forth by non-Scientologists as a secret belief system of the Church of Scientology, picked from a variety of sources, including court testimony of ex-Scientologists and the more esoteric writings of L. Ron Hubbard. Regardless of their authenticity, the space opera doctrines of Scientology do not have any immediate impact on the day to day activities of lay Scientologists.
Hubbard claimed a good deal of physical disease was psychosomatic, and one who, like himself, had attained the enlightened state of “clear” and became an “Operating Thetan” would be relatively disease free. Hubbard insisted humanity was imperiled by forces, which were the results of negative memories (or “engrams”) stored in the unconscious or “reactive” mind, some carried by the immortal thetans for billions of years. Hubbard claimed the only possibility for spiritual salvation was a concerted effort to “clear the planet,” that is, to bring the benefits of Scientology to all people everywhere, and attack all forces, social and spiritual, hostile to the interests of the movement.
The Eight Dynamics and the ARC Triangle
According to Scientology, the concept of the Eight Dynamics is a graduated way of understanding the universe and one’s relation to it. These dynamics are the basis for the cosmology of the Church of Scientology. A set of concentric circles radiating outward from the Self (the first dynamic) to the Infinite (the eighth dynamic), perhaps identified with a supreme being. The complete list of dynamics is as follows:
- the Self
- the Family
- the Group (including community, state, etc.)
- the Species
- the Life Form (life in all its varieties)
- the Physical Universe (MEST)
- the Spirits (the Thetan)
- the Infinite (the deity or ground of being) (Scientology: Theology and Practice of a Contemporary Religion, 1998)
Another basic tenet of Scientology is the three interrelated components that lead to perfect understanding: affinity (emotional responses), reality (an agreement on what is real), and communication (the exchange of ideas). Hubbard called this the “ARC Triangle,” and the triangle is one of the many symbols adopted by the Church of Scientology. Communication is recognized as the paramount amongst the three points of the ARC Triangle, though all three points must be practiced across the Eight Dynamics.
Scientology and Society
A Church of Scientology was first incorporated in Camden, New Jersey as a non-profit organization in 1953. Ceremony in the Church of Scientology serves to foster a sense of community and mark important events in the lives of adherents. Important ceremonies are the naming ceremony for newborn children, weddings, and funerary services. These ceremonies include readings from the works of Hubbard, and in their liturgical formulae make much reference to Scientologist principles such as the ARC Triangle and centrality of the thetan in the thetan-mind-body construction. L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings evolved into a complex worldwide network of corporations dedicated to the promotion of Scientology in all areas of life. Such corporations include:
- Drug treatment centers (Narconon)
- Criminal rehab programs (Criminon)
- Activities to reform the field of mental health (Citizens Commission on Human Rights)
- Projects to implement Hubbard’s educational methods in schools (Applied Scholastics)
- A “moral values” campaign (The Way to Happiness)
- World Institute of Scientology Enterprises, or WISE, which licenses Hubbard’s management techniques for use in businesses
- A campaign directed to world leaders, as well as the general public, to implement the 1948 United Nations document “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (with particular emphasis on the religious freedom elements).
Independent Scientology Groups
Although “Scientology” is most often used as shorthand for the Church of Scientology, a number of groups practice Scientology and Dianetics outside of the official church. Such groups are invariably breakaways from the original movement, and usually argue that it has corrupted L. Ron Hubbard’s principles or become overly domineering. The church takes an extremely hard line on breakaway groups, labeling them “apostates” (or “squirrels” in Scientology jargon), and often subjecting them to considerable legal and social pressure. Breakaway groups avoid the name “Scientology” so as to keep from infringing that copyright, instead referring to themselves collectively as the “Free Zone.”
Scientology and the Media
Since its inception, the Church of Scientology has made use of mass media to spread its message. Originally this was done through printed materials, primarily books, but eventually a collection of periodicals was brought into circulation, such as Freedom Mag Videos were also made available to those interested. As the Internet became more popular and accessible, the Church of Scientology expanded its presence there, maintaining over a dozen different domains by 2006.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has been associated (both officially and in the popular consciousness) with celebrities, especially in the fields of film and music. High profile members of the faith have brought much attention to the church. The church recognizes the potential for growth due to its celebrity members, and maintains an elaborate “Celebrity Center” in Los Angeles, California, in addition to its many other church buildings throughout the world.
Official Status as a Religion
The church pursues an extensive public relations campaign supporting Scientology as a bona fide religion. The organization cites numerous scholarly sources supporting its position, many of which can be found on a website the church has established for this purpose. This public relations campaign was in response to the charge made by critics that Scientology incorporated as a church to avoid litigation of practicing medicine without proper accreditation and for tax exempt status.
The church is recognized in some countries that uphold religious freedom as an official religion under the law, including the United States, Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Spain. Other nations, which have state churches, including Belgium, Germany, France, and Austria, do not recognize the Church of Scientology as an official religion. An intermediate approach is taken in some countries, such as Canada, where Scientology is recognized as a non-profit charity organization. Despite the lack of legal recognition in some countries, the Church of Scientology is present in 175 countries worldwide, including nations where it is not recognized as a bona fide religious tradition.
Scientology and Psychiatry
Scientology is publicly and vehemently opposed to psychiatry and psychology. This theme appears in some of Hubbard’s literary works. In Hubbard’s satiric Mission Earth series, various characters praise and criticize these methods, and the antagonists in his novel Battlefield Earth are called Psychlos. According to its website, the Church of Scientology adopts the following view on Psychiatry:
The Scientology objection to psychiatry does not stem from any desire to deny the insane treatment. Rather, the Church objects to the mistreatment of the insane, which is psychiatry’s historical hallmark. … Through its long and tragic history psychiatry has invented numerous “cures” which eventually proved destructive in the extreme. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mentally troubled patients were literally subjected to torture devices. Next it was ice baths and insulin shock. Then electroconvulsive therapy that caused broken teeth and bones as well as loss of memory and regression into comatose states. Next, it was prefrontal lobotomies with an ice pick through the eye socket. Today it is drugs.
L. Ron Hubbard was bitterly critical of psychiatry’s citation of physical causes for mental disorders, such as chemical imbalances in the brain. He regarded psychiatrists as denying human spirituality and peddling fake cures. He was also convinced psychiatrists were themselves deeply unethical individuals, committing “extortion, mayhem and murder. Our files are full of evidence on them.” The church claims that psychiatry was responsible for World War I, the rise of Hitler and Stalin, and even the September 11 attacks. Scientology’s opposition to psychiatry has also undoubtedly been influenced by the fact that a number of psychiatrists have strongly spoken out against the church, resulting in pressure from the media and governments. Additionally, after Hubbard’s book on Dianetics was published, in which he tried to present a new form of “psychotherapy,” the American Psychological Association advised its members against using Hubbard’s techniques with their patients until its effectiveness could be proven.
Scientology and Other Religions
Scientology teaches that it is fully compatible with all existing major religions, often being described by followers as a system of religious technology. The Church of Scientology has publicly stated:
Scientology respects all religions. It shares with other religions the dreams of peace and salvation.
Yet, Scientology claims to have as its most valuable asset “an actual technology for achieving greater spiritual awareness,” and “Scientology offers certainty of salvation now” while making it “possible for any religion to attain its goals and is therefore a religion of religions.”
Both Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard’s life are embroiled in controversy. Hubbard has been interpreted as both a “Friend of Mankind” and a con-artist. These sharply contrasting views have been a source of hostility between Hubbard’s supporters and critics.
Some documents written by Hubbard himself suggest he regarded Scientology as a business, not a religion. A Reader’s Digest article in May 1980 quoted Hubbard as saying in the 1940s, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.”
Scientology became a focus of controversy across the English-speaking world during the mid-1960s. In 1967, L. Ron Hubbard distanced himself from the controversy attached to Scientology by resigning as executive director of the church and appointing himself “Commodore” of a small fleet of Scientologist-crewed ships that spent the next eight years cruising the Mediterranean Sea. Here, Hubbard formed the religious order known as the “Sea Organization,” or “Sea Org,” with titles and uniforms. The Sea Org subsequently became the management group within Hubbard’s Scientology empire. He returned to the United States in the mid-1970s and lived for a while in Florida.
In 1977, Scientology offices on both coasts of the United States were raided by FBI agents seeking evidence of Operation Snow White, a church-run espionage network. Hubbard’s wife Mary Sue and a dozen other senior Scientology officials were convicted in 1979 of conspiracy against the United States federal government, while Hubbard himself was named by federal prosecutors as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” Facing intense media interest and many subpoenas, he secretly retired to a ranch in tiny Creston, California, north of San Luis Obispo.
Aside from his literary achievements, the Church of Scientology has lauded L. Ron Hubbard in a variety of other fields. His abilities in music appreciation, performance, and composition are praised by the church, as well as his time spent as an “adventurer” traveling and sailing. His humanitarian efforts in drug rehabilitation and literacy are also commended by the church. However, many critics of the Church of Scientology have suggested that Hubbard’s achievements are overstated and cannot be proven.
Adapted from New World Encyclopedia