Claiming to possess scientific and spiritual secrets that will fix life issues, Scientology has become a notable religion for recruiting stars, particularly at low points in their careers or personal lives.
I saw this in action on the movie set of Mission Impossible 3 two summers ago. One of the producers invited me to view the making of the film in the Southern Italian city of Caserta. On our tour of the elaborate grounds, the producer pointed out the “Scientology Tent.” It had been set up by Tom Cruise to introduce people to his church. Throughout the filming, Scientology leaders invited select people from the cast and the production team to personal “stress-relief sessions,” where they were introduced to the church’s methods and beliefs.
What follows is a very brief explanation of a few of the principles of Scientology, as I understand them. It is not an attempt to promote or deconstruct its theology or rituals, as many readers have requested that I do (both Scientology members and ex-Scientology members have sent me e-mail messages requesting I promote their cause.) It is rather an attempt to better understand why there is an increased interest in contemporary religious expressions, and what the appeal of them are all about.
Scientology literally means “the study of knowledge.” It was founded by science fiction writer Ron Hubbard in 1954, after the publication of his wildly famous book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. He promoted his new form of psychotherapy as "a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and arch." The theory of Dianetics aims to cleanse people’s memories of traumatic past experiences — in this way, it will allow them to arrive at a "clear" mental state. Ron Hubbard died in January of 1986.
The Church of Scientology hinges on the belief that man is essentially his spirit alone, called “thetan,” and that the spirit works through the mind to effect the body. Through a process called “exteriorization,” the thetan can leave the body and the person can see without eyes, hear without ears, and thus come to an understanding of who he truly is by rejecting the confines placed upon him by his mind and body.
Scientology teaches salvation lies entirely within one’s own hands. Nobody is asked to accept anything on faith, at least not at the beginning of the doctrinal process. That which is true for the person is what he has observed to be true, that’s all. The individual is thought to possess control over his destiny and so can make life exactly how he or she designs it.
According to scientology, pain, disappointment and failure are the result of actions, which do not promote survival. They are, in fact, threats to survival, and should be treated with technology that will increase your ability to survive and live a happier, healthier life.
If you ever walk the corridors of the New York City subway system, you may be invited to take a stress-test (what better place?) These tests employ an e-meter, an example of Scientology technology used to quantify a person’s emotional and mental state by measuring resistance to electronic pulses. It is part of the practice of diagnosing and later trying to eliminate the causes of personal suffering
Personal conversion accounts posted on the official website of the Church of Scientology International provide some insight into what its followers are looking for:
“I have a feeling of well-being that never goes away. I know I have control of my life and that I can continue to improve myself,” writes one convert.
“I know what I want, where I am going in life and how to achieve my goals — and I have fun along the way. I know that my life prior to Scientology looked successful in terms of general society, but only Scientology allowed me to achieve what I wanted my life to be,” writes another.
Scientology’s promise of placing control in the hands of the believer, and in this way eliminating the sometimes uncomfortable practice of submitting oneself to the will of a personal God (as in Christianity and Judaism), together with its practical efforts to purge real pain and suffering may be significant reasons we see the Scientology flock growing.
As we discussed in Monday’s article, another influential factor in this religious shift is our many misconceptions of who God is. “God the Cop”, “God the Clockmaker”, and so on, is not the kind of Supreme Being anyone in their right mind would like to obey, and certainly not anyone we could love.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. On Friday, I will post some of your reactions to Monday’s and today’s articles. Thanks for all your messages!
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