What Is Scientology? 21 Things Scientologists Believe
- Alyssa Roat Contributing Writer
- Updated Oct 24, 2023
Scientology. The word brings to mind images of Hollywood and celebrities…but what else?
Scientology, at its core, is a self-help religion started by writer L. Ron Hubbard. This 20th-century religion is cloaked in mystery for many because some doctrine is reserved for the knowledge of higher-level initiates. Scientology is described variously as a cult, a business, or a new religious movement.
So, let’s assemble some basics of what we do know about the history, people, beliefs—and controversies—of Scientology.
Who Invented Scientology?
Scientology was invented by a man named Lafayette Ron Hubbard, better known as L. Ron Hubbard. Born in Montana in 1911, Hubbard attended George Washington University in 1930-32 but dropped out to pursue other interests.
He married and became a writer, writing in genres from western to horror to science fiction. Hubbard became interested in exploring and was elected to the Explorer’s Club in 1940. During the winter of 1940–41, Hubbard received licensures as a Master of Steam and Motor Vessels and Master of Sail Vessels.
This lent itself to Hubbard’s service during WWII in naval intelligence in Australia and aboard several vessels near the American coast. The end of the war found Hubbard, a patient at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, suffering from war-related ailments.
During this time, Hubbard began thinking about the human condition and undertook a quest to discover a “science of the mind.” From this quest came the invention of Scientology.
In 1950, Hubbard introduced his ideas definitively to the world in the form of his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.
Why Did L. Ron Hubbard Invent Scientology?
Hubbard believed the basic principle of human existence is survival. Things that lead to survival are good and pleasurable, while things that are counter-survival will be negative. A normal, analytical mind, he believed, will make good survival decisions.
However, Hubbard contends that when a mind is not working properly, the reactive mind will take over and create negative images called engrams. Bad engrams can even be left over from past lives.
Hubbard believed people need to confront and eliminate these engrams to return to how a mind should work, and he created Scientology for this purpose.
Who Is Scientology Intended to Attract?
In an interview with Business Insider, former Scientologist Steve Hall shared that much of the allure of Scientology is the focus on self-inquiry:
“Scientology is a body of know-how that is supposed to enable a person to make rational decisions in life…But it's structured and it's called auditing. It's done in a safe environment and the counselor has a code of conduct. The auditor does not tell the person what to think and does not tell them what to say. He just guides them on a path of self-discovery. And once you've experienced it you want more, because it helps you become a better person. You're able to open up new lines of communications with people you were afraid to talk to before. The shy kids who can't talk to girls can suddenly get up the nerve, that's the good side.”
The idea of Scientology is that by undergoing certain counseling sessions, and rituals, and pursuing self-discovery, people can improve themselves. Scientology is particularly attractive to those who feel that they are mentally or emotionally being held back from realizing their full potential.
Who Are Scientologists and Who Leads the Church of Scientology?
Perhaps the most famous Scientologist is actor Tom Cruise. Other famous adherents include John Travolta, Michael Pena, Kirstie Alley, Catherine Bell, Elisabeth Moss, and dozens more, while just as many celebrities are among the ranks of former Scientologists.
David Miscavige is the leader of the church of Scientology. Born in 1960, Miscavige was reportedly miraculously cured of severe allergies and asthma after a Dianetics session, after which his family joined Scientology in 1971.
At 16, Miscavige left school to join the Sea Org, a religious order that controlled all Scientology management organizations. He rose through the ranks and earned the personal favor of L. Ron Hubbard.
He became the de facto leader of the church in 1980 when Hubbard stopped making public appearances and assumed the official role after Hubbard’s death in 1986.
How Many People Are Scientologists?
Numbers are difficult to produce. Studies from The American Religious Identification Survey in 2008 and The Pew Forum in 2015 lump Scientology in with “new religious movements and other religions” or “other faiths” at about 1.2% and 1.5% of the American population, respectively.
A common estimate of how many Scientologists there are in America is around 25,000.
Statistics for other countries are even harder to find. However, it is clear that Scientology is embraced by well under one percent of the population.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Giovenale
The Top 3 Beliefs of Scientology
Scientology didn’t start out as a religion. Hubbard’s Dianetics was based more on counseling regarding unconscious scars from negative memories. However, Dianetics began to transition into Scientology with Hubbard’s discussion of “thetans,” or human immortal souls.
According to Scientology’s website, Scientology’s top three fundamental truths are these:
1. Man is an immortal spiritual being.
2. His experience extends well beyond a single lifetime.
3. His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized.
What Are Some Other Beliefs of Scientology?
Unfortunately for the noninitiate, much of Scientology's belief is secret and only available to higher tiers of Scientologists. But the following are 10 of the most important beliefs in Scientology that outsiders know of:
The basic principle of human existence is survival. Things that lead to survival are good and pleasurable, while things that are counter-survival will be negative.
According to Dianetics, each person has an analytical mind that is usually responsible for making daily decisions and judgments necessary for survival. However, in times of stress or trauma, the reactive mind (somewhat like the subconscious) takes over.
This leaves lasting scars on the reactive mind, scars called “engrams.”
To get rid of these engrams, a person can go through a therapeutic process called “auditing.” In auditing, an auditor asks an individual a series of questions designed to purge engrams and allow the analytical mind to regain control. This is accompanied with the use of an electropsychometer, or E-meter, a device introduced by Hubbard which measures the strength of an electrical current that is run through an individual’s body as the person answers the auditor’s questions. E-meter readings indicate changes in emotional states and allow the identification of engrams.
4. Humans Are ‘Thetans’
In Scientology, humans are immortal souls called “thetans” that are trapped in multiple bodies over various lifetimes. According to Hubbard, thetans originated billions of years ago with the original Cause. Thetans emerged early in creation, and through their interaction created the physical universe of matter, energy, space, and time.
Over time, the thetans fell into the physical universe and got trapped. They were slowly stripped of their creative abilities and memories of who they were and eventually ended up on earth.
5. Thetans Become ‘Clear’ and More Creative
After purging the mind of engrams from all these lifetimes and the events that caused them to be stripped of their creative abilities, a thetan can become “clear.” Thetans who become clear reach a higher level of ethical and moral standards, are more creative with greater control of the environment and are less susceptible to disease. This is the goal of Scientology.
6. Thetans ‘Ascend’
Clear thetans can ascend to higher levels in the church and become “Operating Thetans” or “OTs.” They can also expand themselves by identifying with larger realities called “dynamics.”
7. High-Operating Thetans Increase in Power and Ability
A high-operating thetan can increase survival for all of Scientology’s dynamics. The eight dynamics are Infinity, Spiritual, Physical Universe, Life Forms, Mankind, Group Survival, Family, and Self.
All drugs are poisons that inhibit spiritual freedom. To dislodge the toxins of drugs and chemical residues trapped in the body, people can participate in a “Purification Rundown” which involves sweating in a sauna, mega-vitamin and mineral dosages, extra oil, good nutrition, and adequate rest.
9. Man Seeks Survival
The Creed of the Church of Scientology states, “And we of the Church believe That Man is basically good. That he is seeking to Survive. That his survival depends upon himself and upon his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the Universe.”
10. Belief in a Non-Definitive ‘Supreme Being’
Hubbard believed there is a Supreme Being, but he and the church leave individuals to come to their own conclusions about God and His nature instead of focusing on helping members realize their “inherent spiritual essence and abilities.”
11. The Sea Organization
The Church of Scientology has a paramilitary-like organization called the Sea Organization, or Sea Org. Members of Sea Org sign billion-year contracts and commit to serving the church with extreme dedication. They wear distinctive naval-style uniforms and often live in communal settings.
How Does Scientology Conflict with Christianity?
Scientology is not compatible with Christianity for several reasons. Here are the main five:
1. Christians Believe Humans Exist to Glorify God
Scientology puts forth that the basic principle of human existence is survival. However, Christians believe humans exist for God, or, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever.”
2. Christians Believe We Die Once
Scientology puts forth that spirits called thetans occupy multiple bodies over multiple lifetimes. However, the Bible is clear, “People are destined to die once, and then face judgement” (Hebrews 9:27).
3. Christians Assert that All Fall Short
The Creed of the Church of Scientology states, “Man is basically good.” However, the Bible asserts over and over that this is not the case. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
4. Christians Believe We Need a Savior
Scientology puts forth that a person’s “survival depends on himself…and his attainment of brotherhood with the Universe” (Creed of the Church of Scientology).
The Bible clarifies that a person cannot save himself or herself. In John 8:24, Jesus says, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he [that is, the Son of God], you will indeed die in your sins.”
5. Christianity Puts God First
Scientology doesn’t emphasize what a person believes about the Supreme Being. However, Christianity elevates God and seeking Him above all else. Jesus Himself said that the most important law is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Why Do Former Scientologists Leave?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason why former Scientologists leave. This article from Rolling Stone offers the viewpoints of several people who left Scientology after being raised in it as children.
Those interviewed cited cult practices, manipulation, and even being sent away from their parents to live in terrible conditions in Scientology facilities. The Church of Scientology, however, denies these claims.
Among adults who join and then leave Scientology, a common complaint is the religion’s policy of heavily encouraging members to break all ties with non-Scientologist family members. Others get tired of shelling out hundreds of dollars for sessions.
Why Leah Remini Left Scientology
Leah Remini may be the most famous ex-Scientologist. Remini grew up with Scientology from the age of nine. In 2013, the actress left Scientology and dedicated herself to exposing what she called “Scientology crimes.”
Leah Remini’s documentary series “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” aired the final episode of season three on A&E in August 2019. The show, which was nominated for an Emmy each year of its run, was dedicated to allowing former Scientologists to tell their stories. It allowed former high-ranking officials in the religion a space to explore policies and structures of Scientology.
Remini has faced major backlash from the Church of Scientology. “Ms. Remini is showing herself to be a spoiled entitled diva who still obsessively complains about such petty matters,” The Church of Scientology International said in an official written statement. The statement continues:
“Leah Remini knows the truth she conveniently rewrites in her revisionist history. The real story is that she desperately tried to remain a Scientologist in 2013, knowing full well she was on the verge of being expelled… She now regurgitates the tired myths the Church has repeatedly debunked, circulated by…expelled former staffers…Ms. Remini is now joined at the hip with this collection of deadbeats.”
Whether Leah Remini and her TV interviewees are bluffing or not, they are not alone in these accusations. Former Scientologist Athena Dean Holtz even speaks about Scientology in her article for Crosswalk.
What Truths Can a Christian Share with a Scientologist?
Many people turn to Scientology because of the help it offers. Overcoming past trauma and living to one’s full potential are tantalizing offers. However, this can be pricey; auditing sessions are not free. A Christian can talk to a Scientologist about the free gift of God that is Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23) and the healing that Christ brings.
Scientology depends on a person saving him or herself. This is an enormous amount of pressure. Christians can share the gift of salvation that comes from Christ; He paid the price so we don’t have to (Galatians 3:13). We can be secure in his love.
Scientology is lonely. Scientologists must separate themselves from family members who don’t adhere to the religion, and the religion itself is devoid of a personal God. Christians can offer a loving community and share a God who wants deep, intimate relationships with His people (1 John 4:9-11).
Rumors and accusations fly rampant around Scientology, and much of the doctrine is secret, reserved for OTs (“Operating Thetans”). What is true and what isn’t can be difficult to ascertain. But one thing is certain: Scientology is surrounded by many hurting people.
As children of God, it is our job to reach out to our neighbors and love them in the name of Christ.
For Further Reading:
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