General Heresy is a column dedicated to investigating, and making public, different faiths and philosophies, as well as religions and related organizations.
In recent years, Scientology has become a rising power in the world of religion, claiming 10 million (and counting) followers, and boasting 8,600 churches, missions, and affiliated groups worldwide, and celebrity members like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley.
It has been the victim of ridicule and the butt end of an endless stream of jokes for some time now and, rather than just accepting the words on the street (cult, aliens, Xenu, Big Brother, billion year contracts), I decided to do a little research and see just what this organization is all about.
I did my best to meet up or at least get in contact with a member of the church, any member of the church, but in spite of several messages to members on Facebook (some of whom did get back to me, telling me their religious affiliation on their profile was meant as a joke), the Toronto Church of Scientology, as well as the official Church of Scientology, I did not receive a single notice back. I was greeted with silence. Only when I began to take an online course via the Scientology website was I even remotely put in contact with any member. I imagine it must have been my honesty in mentioning that I was a journalist, exploring the ins and outs of the faith and organization.
In this very first edition of General Heresy, I am going to look at the breakdown of Scientology as the church officially presents it, and conversely, what the critics of the church have to say in response.
DOES SCIENTOLOGY HAVE A CONCEPT OF GOD?
“Most definitely. In Scientology, the concept of God is expressed as the Eighth Dynamic—the urge toward existence as infinity,” states the church’s official website. Scientology, at its core, is broken into eight dynamics:
Self, Creativity, Group Survival, Species, Life Forms, Physical Universe, Spiritual Universe, and finally, Infinity.
Each dynamic is a rung up the ladder towards the divine. Only when one embraces survival through each of these steps can one finally experience the truth of God or the infinite.
Creator of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was very clear on the importance of a belief in, or concept of, a god: “No culture in the history of the world, save the thoroughly depraved and expiring ones, has failed to affirm the existence of a Supreme Being. It is an empirical observation that men without a strong and lasting faith in a Supreme Being are less capable, less ethical and less valuable to themselves and society….A man without an abiding faith is, by observation alone, more of a thing than a man.”
I have not, as of yet, been able to acquire any study promoting the hypothesis that: atheism equals depravity and that nonbelievers are “less capable, less ethical, and less valuable”, and, unfortunately, Scientology does not provide resources regarding its statements on anything but Scientology, and even so, proposed proofs are presented without evidence, but so far as concerns Hubbard and his church, those who haven’t a concept of God are more things than people.
WHAT ARE SCIENTOLOGY’S BELIEFS ABOUT THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE?
Scientology seems to connect with Christianity, briefly, on the matter of creation, but then branches out to describe the theory of “Theta”, the life force, or spirit of all things. Theta creates, what they call, MEST, the physical universe (Matter, Energy, Space, and Time). Through what can only be described as arbitrary pseudoscience, Hubbard invented the idea of Thetans as spiritual vehicles of creation, which he explains, in confusing detail in his book, The Factors.
DOES SCIENTOLOGY RECOGNIZE GOOD AND EVIL?
Basically, good, to them, is any action that aids one in achieving survival through the eight dynamics, and evil is any action that denies those aspects of life.
Good = constructive
Evil = destructive
DOES SCIENTOLOGY BELIEVE MAN IS SINFUL?
Not so surprisingly, Scientology takes its cue from Christianity on this one. “Man is basically good” says the church, but “his experience in the physical universe, through many lifetimes, have led him into evil”. The spirit is perpetually good and, apparently, lives through many lifetimes, but by containment in a physical body and living in the physical universe, one’s spirit is changed. Enlightenment through the eight dynamics is essential to purge the spirit, not the body, of this evil.
That one has lived many lives is a common belief among members of the church, and through their rigorous “auditing”, one can discover, by way of past life regression therapy, just what sins they filled up on in previous lives, so that they may work to excrete them in the present life.
Though the church does not officially promulgate the notion of past lives as dogma, they do state that: “It is a fact that unless one begins to handle aberration built up in past lives, he doesn’t progress. In Scientology, one is given the tools to handle upsets and aberrations from past lives that adversely affect the individual in the present, thus freeing one to live a much happier life.” And Hubbard himself said, in his book, Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought:
“It is certain that an individual experiences the effect of the civilization, which he has had part in creating, in his next lifetime. In other words, the individual comes back. He has a responsibility for what goes on today since he will experience it tomorrow.”
WHAT IS THE STATE OF CLEAR?
The state of Clear is, essentially, the removal of what is referred to as the “reactive mind”. This is the part of our mind that works on stimulus and response, impulse, and instinct, or as they specifically define it: “the hidden source of irrational behavior, unreasonable fears, upsets, and insecurities.” One must be ruled by the analytical mind (rational, conscious, and aware), in order to reach the state of Clear and it is asserted that “Thousands upon thousands of Scientologists all over the world are Clear and more achieve this state with every passing day.” I offer to you that, in spite of this assertion, no one person has attained a state of departure from their reactive mind…not unless they are dead or comatose. So it could be that thousands have attained such a state, but I do not think they have done so in their waking lives. I invite you to snap a finger in front of the eyes of any self-affirmed “Clear” Scientologist.
Scientology, by way of the Latin word scio meaning: knowing, and the Greek word logos meaning: study of, in direct, cross-language translation, means: the study of knowing, and while there is little reputable science in the employ of this organization, as the name may mislead you to believe, it seems clear (I use the term advisedly) that Scientology is simply a philosophy-based faith that encourages positive thinking to achieve enlightenment. While looking over the material on their site, that is, through the parlor trick of self-manipulation, what I deemed to be the basic fundamental aim of this church; I did not read about the evil lord Xenu and banished alien spirits, nor did I read of intimidation and paranoia-inducing surveillance.
I even enrolled in an online class of theirs so that I could get as much insight as I could, short of speaking to a representative of the church. After some very ironically confusing lessons about identifying confusions, a practical exercise of repetition and positive reinforcement as a means of learning, and a perhaps unwittingly creepily prompt, and personal, supervisor, correcting my work and complimenting and aiding my foray into the source material, I still discovered no supernatural claims or underhanded dealings. All I could do to come close to such accusations was to make the stretch that the lessons taught could very easily be used for self-gain through manipulation…which was, I think, part of the point.
It didn’t take long, though, to find former members willing to speak out against, not necessarily the faith, but the organization.
BBC documentarian, John Sweeney, was, while shooting a documentary on Scientology, kept under close and blatant, invasive watch, no matter where he went or who he spoke to, and was, in a burst of passion, driven to distraction by head of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige (though, in spite of correspondence evidence, the church denies such activities have taken place).
Since the making of the aforementioned BBC documentary, former Scientology spokesperson, Mike Rinder, has rescinded from the church and has begun blogging, and campaigning against the church. Rinder believes:
“That everyone has the right to accept ideas and reject ‘now you’re supposed tos’ based on what they perceive is right. And that anyone who claims to have all the wisdom there is to know is at best a fool and at worst seeking to dominate and control others.” As a believer, still, Rinder also says, “That the Church of Scientology today is practicing “reverse Scientology” and through threats, squirrel technology and an unwavering dedication to attaining MEST, it is not merely failing to free people, it is trapping them in a prison of lies, dogma and ‘command intention’ enforced by threats of disconnection and eternal damnation.”
It wasn’t until I hit upon Rinder and others similarly separated from the church that I discovered:
Although the Scientology website itself lists 8,600 churches, missions, and affiliated groups globally, a glance at locations listed on the site proves that figure to be way off, unless they’re just omitting thousands of locations.
In spite of constant touting of over 10 million members of an ever-expanding church, according to Rinder’s blog, there are, generously estimated, only about 216,000 active members of Scientology, worldwide.
Members of the infamous Sea Org (the faithful elite) are, in fact, required to sign a billion-year contract that attests to their loyalty for this and clearly many lifetimes to come, without ability to marry outside of the organization, and without freedom to have children, on pain of, what is referred to as a “freeloader’s debt”, for those who defect, which can tally up to many tens of thousands of dollars for breaching a multi-lifetime relevant contract.
Only a few points, to be sure, when compared to some of the darker religious splotches of history, but not insignificant in the least are these lies and lapses, incongruent with the faith.
Other high-profile defectors also had a few things to say with regards to the organization and the faith.
Actor Jason Beghe, now campaigning against the church, once relished the treatment he had from them as a celebrity: “They just love bomb the shit out of you”. Between him and his wife, about $1 million in donations had been handed to the church. “Even the best mousetrap in the world is not going to work without cheese,” Beghe said.
Once Beghe arrived at his decision to leave the church, he was greeted, at his home, by some church representatives: “they came to my house with these thick, looseleaf binders with information and awful photographs. Where do you get that data?” A quick turn to blackmail is what this seemed to suggest.
Larry Anderson, another actor-defector from the church, has had enough with certain church policies. “As a Scientologist, you’re not only encouraged, but you really have your arms twisted, never to look at media.” Anderson discovered in Operating Thetan’s third level, the “Wall of Fire” (part of the education levels you achieve through your wallet; a sort of pay-as-you-go religious program), one will find that Hubbard believed that humanity was infected by spirits of dead space aliens, banished to Earth by an intergalactic warlord, Xenu.
And there it comes at last. Scientology’s street cred is astonishingly astute, and perilously perceptive. In spite of the debunking of Scientology as an organization and the shameful banner of “cult” that the public has handed to it, the church thrives.
Fascinatingly enough, most defectors or outcasts from the church still hold faithful to the fundamental teachings of Hubbard’s Scientology. And why not, I suppose, when it propagates positive thinking, spiritual centredness, and harmony and unity within one’s self and with the universe?
Exile, Mareka James, cut off from her family and forced to live outside of the walls of the church, had this to say:
“I’ve gotten a lot out of it. Scientology is very different than the actual church and the organization and the management.”