The question "What is Scientology" involves examining a series of related questions. We do not refer so much to the Church of Scientology (CoS) here, the organization, but mostly to Scientology beliefs and practices. The answer below is that of an ex-Scientology member, independent from the critical movement, from the Freezone, and of course from the CoS.
Update: Jan 2009:
I receive a lot of hits on this page from people who want to know, subsequent of the tragic death of Jett Travolta, what is the belief of Scientology regarding the after-life.
In two words:
Scientology beliefs regarding the after-life is very similar to Buddhism. After a while, the individual re-incarnates, until he reaches enlightenment. There is no heaven, there is no hell. Scientology does not pronounces itself as to whether there is a God or not. This is for the individual to decide for themselves (Scientology is not faith-based).
However, Scientology do claim that individuals who have not been freed by Scientology psychotherapy can still fall victim of "implant stations", where false ideas would be "implanted" on their mind. A bit like what they accuse psychiatrist and other "Suppressive persons" of doing here down on earth.
Scientology is a controversial "New Religion" started by L.Ron Hubbard in 1950. It claims to be the application of scientific method to free people from mental problems and release their spiritual potential.
Scientology view Man as a spiritual being (called "Thetan"). Thetans are immortal spirits who have lived numerous lives before the present one. They are currently entrapped in "meat bodies" and have forgotten their glorious past, as well as the fact that they are spiritual entities. Through the application of Scientology techniques, they can recover their original divine-like spiritual abilities, including freely go in and out the body as one would go in and out his car.
Scientology techniques consist mostly of a face to face session, called "auditing", monitored by an instrument, called "e-meter", that keeps track of the patient's (pre-clear) mental condition. The e-meter allows the auditor to isolate "mental masses" (engrams) in the mind of the pre-clear and help him to get free from these through reliving the incident associated with this mass. Gradually, after many sessions, the pre-clear will reach the state of "Clear", where he is free from all engrams, and subsequently will reach gradual levels of "OT" (for Operating thetans) as he regains his spiritual abilities.
Does auditing involve recalling past lives?
Yes. As an immortal spiritual being we are supposed to have a long string of past lives, with all the trauma of accident and death this entails. The spiritual being would not be free without auditing these.
How do you recall past lives?
It just comes to you during the auditing session. The auditor asks you to recall a previous incident. You are already far into the past in this present life and you don't see nothing, but he insists. You know that you are supposed to have past lives, so you look, and pictures start to appear. You are not sure if these are for real or your imagination, so you tell the auditor. He answers: never mind, just tell me what you see. As you get more into it, at times things pop up that would be hard for you to make up and about things you are not aware to consciously know. Well, these may be actual snippets of past life. I don't know. By any means, that's how past life vision works in auditing.
Is it true that scientologists believe their mind is infested with dead aliens implanted by a galactic overlord?
At the OT level 3, Scientology reveals an incident that happened 75 millions years ago whereby Xenu, a galactic overlord, pasted together several spiritual beings and dropped them on earth. The result is that several spiritual beings live within the same body. They are not "dead" and they are not "aliens". The Scientology practice for that level is for the main thetan of that body (you) to audit the other thetans ("body thetans") through this dramatic incident and thereby free them from that body so that they go away.
However, it is false to say that this is "what Scientologists belief". The incident is only revealed at the OT 3 level and relatively few Scientologist reach that level. It therefore cannot be what Scientologists believe,. Scientologists believe they are spiritual beings entrapped in a body and that Scientology auditing can free them of that body and make them regain their spiritual ability. The Xenu incident is only one of many accident in the "time track" of the thetan, even though it is a major engram for Humanity. Critics try to present it as the core belief of Scientology in an attempt to ridicule Scientology. It is a dishonest attitude that does not reflect positively on those who engage in it.
Is auditing brainwashing or mind-control?
No. These are assertions made by critics to scare people away from Scientology. The whole question of brainwashing and mind-control is a debate that has been settled already back in the 80's-90's. Anti-cultists however continue to believe in it.
Does auditing actually work?
Auditing by itself is a remarkable procedure. The auditor is not allowed to "evaluate" for the pre-clear, i.e. he is not allowed to interpret experience for him (contrary to what happens in psychoanalytic therapy). The entire process is akin to Socratic guided questioning whereby the pre-clear discovers things for himself under the guidance of the auditor and the e-meter. The release from past incident is through catharsis achieved by re-living the incident until the mental charge associated with it is released and does not affect the pre-clear anymore. The auditor then proceeds to the a previous incident related to this one until the basic-basic incident of the chain is found. All the individual incidents on the chain do not need to be audited, only some of them to allow sufficient energy release to tackle with the basic-basic. Upon release of the basic-basic, the whole chain blows, and the pre-clear experiences a tremendous release and well being.
The fact that the auditor does not evaluate but guides the pre-clear to tab on his own buried knowledge and experience, and the fact that the process is systematically guided down the chain of event, with the e-meter indicating the charge or release status of each incident, is remarkable by itself. The release or energy achieved from what has been blocked for years, can be tremendous. If you speak to Scientologists who have gone through this experience and tell them about all the negative things you have read on critical web sites, they may politely listen to you, but they won't give a damn, because, for them, the process is working and the release they felt is so strong that little else matters.
Does this mean that auditing and Scientology works?
Because Scientology claims that upon sufficient chains have blown away, you reach the state of "Clear", in which your mind is free from any mental mass, and that after you reach that state, you can start working on recovering your lost spiritual abilities. Ultimately, you will then reach "Total Freedom". You will basically be a super-human being with unlimited divine powers.
Though the technique itself is remarkable, and DOES achieve certain results, it is false to claim, in my opinion, that this ultimately culminates in spiritual benefits. That's the BIG LIE of Scientology. Because the technique does work, at a certain level, people jump to the conclusion that the grandiose assertions made through L. Ron Hubbard's writings must necessarily be true as well. That's a cultic faith leap to make.
The truth is that mechanical procedures such as Scientology will no achieve spiritual enlightenment. Spirituality is immaterial, it is not achieved through procedures in time and space. It can not be bought, no matter the amount you give. You can achieve a certain degree of emotional and mental freedom by re-living traumatic incident of your past, and through various Scientology procedures you can also reach some truly stupendous psychic effects which you may interpret as spiritual (well, you can achieve these through drugs as well), but true spiritual liberation is something else.
That's the problem with Scientology. There is no such thing as a "Clear" or as an "OT". Though people can reap a lot of benefit through Scientology, they cannot actually reach any level, because these levels simply do not exist in reality. What will happen is that they will feel that in order to really reach those levels, or "be stable" in the level they thought of having reached, they need to do more Scientology auditing. That's how you eventually reach to such procedures as the OT 3 levels, where you end up auditing out "body thetans". And because you still did not reach the level as you want, you will feel you need to audit out more body thetans, or do more and more higher levels... You may also find all kinds of silly justifications, maybe such as other people are "enturbulating" you and preventing you from reaching your true potential, or you may feel that you have past "overt acts" you need to confess, etc...
But the truth is that you are trying to reach the Infinite through finite means. It's like trying to reach the horizon. You can't. The horizon will just keep on moving backward as you keep going on, and running faster won't help either.
So if you ask me if Scientology works, I will have to answer: No. This does not mean that you cannot achieve other results than spiritual liberation, or that auditing is a worthless process. But Scientology claims to sell spiritual freedom. It doesn't, and it can't. In my humble opinion.
The Freezone is mostly made of ex-Scientologists who dissociated themselves from the Church of Scientology (CoS) but continue to believe in Scientology auditing techniques and continue to practice and offer it outside from the CoS. They claim to offer the benefit of Scientology without the cultish craziness of the CoS.
In my opinion, the Freezone has exactly the same problem as the CoS. What they offer can reap some results and benefit, but ultimately it just does not work. For this reason, no freezoner ever emerged as a successful alternative to the CoS, and over time they tend to just fade away into society and cease practice.
However, if you are interested to try out Scientology techniques without having to enter the cultish mouth of the CoS, you may want to try some of the Freezoners. I can make no recommendation, though, because I don't know enough about this field, and I would not recommend any of the Freezoners I met through the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup.
Is Scientology a religion?
There is no explicit tenets about God in Scientology, and Scientology is not about worshiping God. Nor does it really has a cosmogony, apart maybe a text written by L. Ron Hubbard called "The Factors" but which is anyway not a mandatory or even important part of the movement. Nor does it really have a place called heaven or hell, nor a code of conduct that would be mandatory to follow in order to be a Scientologist.
Scientology believes Man is basically good, and that after removing the many trauma he suffered down his "time track", he will be his true spiritual self again, and will know what is right and what is wrong without anybody telling him. Scientology is not about believing in this or that. The Thetan in its original states already knows everything. All that is needed to do is to remove the walls of ignorance that entrap him.
Because there is no specific believe in God, because Scientology requires members to pay for its services and copyrights its scriptures, and because critics don't believe Scientology techniques can achieve any good (in fact they believe it is harmful and a form of brainwashing), they claim Scientology is not a religion but a cult, a business and a scam. They further say L.Ron Hubbard wrote "the way to make a million dollars is to start a religion" and advance this as the ultimate "proof" it is all a scam. They claim Scientology is a religion for tax evasion purpose only. Critics deny attacking a religion when they attack Scientology, since they claim it isn't one in the first place.
I disagree with all but one statement from the above.
Saying they don't attack religion because it is not a religion but a scam is like a murderer denying he killed any girl because "she was not a girl but a bitch". First rename your target, then it makes it OK to harm it.
The "million dollars" statement is not something L.Ron Hubbard wrote but something others reported he said, and even that is disputed. Even if he did say this, it is not a proof that the movement created after he released Dianetic was not genuine, as the context may have been very different..
Buddhism does not believe in a God either, and yet there is no dispute that it is one of the three big mainstream religions in the world.
Whether the Scientology tech does any good or not is a matter of individual appreciation. If people did not feel it brings them something they are willing to pay for, they wouldn't do it. You may not like Shakira but if I do and am ready to pay to go and hear her sing and dance, would it be a scam just because you think it is not worth it?
You may say, based on what I wrote above about the fact that Scientology claims to provide Total Freedom but is unable to deliver it that this would be the definition of a scam - promising something you can't deliver. However, the fact that you can't reach the Infinite through limited means is only my opinion, just like I believe it wrong to charge for spiritual enlightenment. The question is: do Scientologists know they can't deliver it? I don't think so. I think they actually believe in their own stuff, and because of this I would not call it a scam, even though I may disagree with them.
As for copyright, Scientologists are paranoid about the fact that their precious "exact tech" can be altered. They believe alteration of it can be very dangerous since they believe their 'exact tech" is so powerful. They therefore copyright everything and will ruthlessly attack anybody who infringe them. It is like a religious sacrament.
The one thing I agree with critics is that Scientology chose the Church status for tax purpose only. If it was not for this, they would just refer to themselves as a religious philosophy, which I think it is indeed. People in the movement sincerely believe they are a spiritual beings in need of salvation through Scientology practice, and that alone is enough to be a religious movement as far as I am concerned. I do not agree with Scientology being tax exempted, but then I also disagree with any revenues-generating groups, including churches as the case may be, to be exempted in the first place. Removing tax exemptions for churches would avoid the State having to decide what is genuine religion or not, and would avoid crooks to use the status for tax evasions purpose.
Very few countries, however, formally recognize Scientology as a religion. At the date of this writing (Feb 23, 2008), there are only 28 countries, with the following repartition:
The most recent additions to this list are Spain (Dec 2007), South Africa (Dec 2007), and Portugal (Nov 2007).
The CoS claims 7,731 churches, missions and groups in 164 countries worldwide
In spite of the CoS claiming 10 millions adherents world-wide (probably because it counts anybody who bought a book or took a service), the real figure are considerably lower (see http://www.religioustolerance.org/scientolnbr.htm). If I base myself on my estimation of the number of active Scientologist in Belgium, say 1000 at most for a population of 10 millions and extend this ratio for a world population of, say, 7 billions, that would make a total of 700,000, a figure closer to other independent estimates and averaging a 100 for the 7,000+ existing group, which makes sense as well. Even if you'll round this up to 1 million or even 1.5 millions, it would still make an extremely minor minority religion.
The CoS also claims the "distribution" of books has tripled in the last 20 years, going from 3 millions in 1987 to 10 millions 2007, for a total of 240 millions books "distributed". I am not sure what they mean by "distribution", for all I know it could mean the distribution from their main office to their branch offices. "Books sold" would be a much better criterion.
The CoS has adapted its principle through many fields outside of auditing: study technology, drug rehabilitation, management, prisoner help, tragedy relief, etc. Most of these however evolved basically from auditing procedures or discoveries made as a results. The principles of communications, for example. It can be quite useful if correctly applied: look the person you are talking to, speak clearly and with intent, answer the question asked and not something else, get answer to the question you asked and not to something else, acknowledge the answer, address genuine concerns, etc. These are all auditing principle but applied to real life. Sometimes schools, companies, prisons, or other entities adopt Scientology techniques, often from front groups mandated by the CoS. However, they often get rejected later on because of the bad reputation of Scientology and the pressure of critics.
If you want to get a concrete and practical idea of a simple and intelligent application of Scientology "galactic" principles to daily life, I advice you to take a look at the small booklet writen by Peter F. Gillham, "Fundamentals of Success". Gillham is a Scientologist who went all the way across the Scientology "Bridge" and worked with L. Ron Hubbard. In 1972 he wrote the above-mentioned booklet and put it in the public domain to make sure it remains available. The CoS banned any Scientology book not written by L.Ron Hubbard. However, they can do nothing about the on-line availability of this booklet since it is in the public domain. It is available in PDF format and, through Google, in HTML format.
Another good source is the Scientlogy Handbook, available through the officical CoS website, and which contains a surprising amount of practical information on Scientology practices applied to many different areas.
Some Scientology front groups:
Volunteer Ministers - with a claimed membership of 115,000, go on the spot of human or natural tragedies to help out people with Scientology techniques.
Narconon - is the front group promoting Scientology techniques to help people free themselves from the harmful effects of drugs. At the core of the technique are heavy sauna sessions supposed to "sweat out" the toxic.
Applied Scholastics network - is the branch that promotes Scientology "Study Tech". In my opinion, this is one of the most useful aspect of Scientology external activities, especially its no-cost literacy programs (except that it should target more third-world countries). It markets an individual auto-learning rather than class-based approach and has nice notions of gradient learning and practical applications.
Criminon - is the branches that tries to bring Scientology benefit to prisoners.
Wise - the branch that tries to impart the wisdom of management through "galactic" principles.
For the rest, the CoS also has Human Rights branches that mostly focuses on L. Ron Hubbard notorious hate of everything psychiatry. The Cos also promotes its "Way to Happiness" booklet, which is, in my opinion a set of simplistic conservative and paternalist precepts in contradiction with the Scientology concept that people should find their own moral code for themselves.
I tried to make a succinct presentation of what is Scientology and address some of the common arguments. If you think I missed something, drop me a note.
What is Scientology? - From Xenu.net, the leading critical web site. This is a very anti-cult based page that basically says nothing other than Scientology is brainwashing and a scam. I wrote an analysis of this page which you may want to read. Another resource to "understand" Scientology from a critical viewpoint is the "Scientology Illustrated" cartoon from the same website.
Wikipedia: Scientology_beliefs_and_practices - Comprehensive, clear, and balanced overview of Scientology beliefs and practices, probably done by a mixture of Freezoners, Scientologists and Critics.
Wikipedia on Auditing - A very detailed and rather interesting description of auditing.
Theology & Practice of a Contemporary Religion - A rather comprehensive booklet freely available on-line from the official CoS web site - even with a PDF version. The appendixes also contains several descriptions of Scientology beliefs and practices from independent scholars. Another resource from the official Church is the "What is Scientology" on-line book.
Scientology FAQ - From the official CoS page.
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