While asserting that people mistakenly think they can solve their problems by thinking of their own personal interests, the Church of Scientology has been criticized for being the most successful monetary-extracting cult in America today. Founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology was based on three decades of his study and research into how the mind and human spirit work. Many decades later, Scientology is mired in controversy over its financial methods, healing practices and religious status.
L. Ron Hubbard’s curiosity with how the mind works led him to study in many countries and engage in meetings with the likes of U.S. Naval Commander Joseph C. Thompson, an expert in Freudian theory. While he was a patient at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, in 1945, Hubbard experimented with his notion that medical treatments were not effective in patients with mental blocks. While testing his hypothesis that “thought is boss," Hubbard developed a procedure that was purported to have helped more than 400 people become healthier. That procedure came to be called “Dianetics." To finance his research, Hubbard wrote more than 200 novels and short stories of the science-fiction, Western, mystery and adventure genres.
Hubbard’s first article about Dianetics was published in the Explorer Club Journal in 1949. Owing to a lack of interest in the technique by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, Hubbard decided to take his findings directly to the public. The book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health was published in May 1950, and is said to have sold 17 million copies.
Not satisfied with his understanding of the human mind, Hubbard began to delve into the nature of the human spirit for the following three decades. During that time, Scientology was born. The first Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 in Los Angeles, California. Hubbard moved his operations, along with his family, to Sussex, England, and established the church’s worldwide headquarters there.
During the 1960s, the church experienced exponential growth after Hubbard developed a stepwise approach for reaching higher spiritual awareness and ability. Training fledgling scientologists in the new method, Hubbard also designed principles to administer Scientology organizations.
While living in La Quinta, California between 1975 and 1979, Hubbard wrote and also directed numerous training films. In a book called The Way to Happiness, published in 1980, Hubbard penned a “nonreligious moral code based on common sense" in an attempt to reach a mainstream audience.
Beliefs and practices
Scientology simply means “the study of knowledge or truth." Adherents believe that man is basically good and teaches that past negative experiences cause people to commit evil deeds, but it is not their basic nature to do so.
They also believe that sometimes people solve their problems selfishly, only thinking of what is best for them. Those solutions tend to overlook or ignore others and hurt not only the perpetrator, but also those around that person. These actions create internal strife and confusion that hurts the human spirit. Scientology serves to eliminate those negative experiences and helps adherents to become honest and integrated with their own values.
By raising adherents' understanding and awareness of those things that cause internal strife and discomfort, Scientology gives them tools to deal with life’s issues so that they can solve their own problems and improve their own well being. Once training is complete, Scientology encourages adherents to assist family and friends to make improvements in their own lives.
Hubbard discovered in his research that human beings have a strong drive or impulse toward survival. He categorized each phase of survival into eight separate “zones of existence" called dynamics. Those zones are delineated as the urge to survive for oneself, for family and sex, for a group, for mankind, and the urge to survive for life itself. The fifth through the eighth zones, which were developed after Hubbard wrote Dianetics, define the urge for the survival of the universe, the “life source" and the urge to exist as “infinity or God." Having reached the highest level of understanding or dynamic, adherents experience greater harmony in their lives.
They also teach their adherents about an ARC triangle, which represents an interplay among affinity, reality and communication. According to Scientology, when one of those three factors is lacking, an adherent’s relationship to his fellows and reality is out of alignment. According to Scientology, reality is “agreement on the solid things of life or mutually held between individuals." For example, when someone is successfully communicating with another, there is affinity between them. As the corner on the triangle that is communication improves or rises, the corners for affinity and reality also rise. The opposite also is true in that when someone is having a disagreement with someone, the corner of the communication triangle drops and so do the other two corners.
Hubbard developed an “E-Meter" or “Electropsychometer," which is supposed to assist in determining an adherent’s mental state. Through a process called “auditing," an “auditor" locates areas in the mind that are experiencing “spiritual distress or travail." Using that simplified lie detector, auditors diagnose electrical changes in the skin as adherents discuss intimate details of their past. The purpose of this scientific treatment is to raise an individual’s state of spiritual existence or consciousness by “clearing" those pockets of distress or “engrams" that were caused by early traumatic experiences. Those spiritual enhancements that are accomplished through auditing and training sessions are charted on what Scientology calls “The Bridge of Total Freedom."
At the more advanced levels of participation, adherents are taught that their makeup comprises clusters of spirits or “thetans" that were banished to Earth approximately 75 million years ago by a cruel ruler named “Xenu," and need to be audited. These higher-level auditing sessions currently cost as much as $1,000 per hour, or $12,500 for a 12-and-a-half-hour block of sessions.
Between 1952 and 1986, the Church of Scientology was governed by Hubbard through a secular organization called Hubbard Association of Scientologists (HAS). Hubbard also established the Church of American Science and the Church of Spiritual Engineering around 1953, but soon abandoned them.
Today the church is organized into a hierarchy governed by the Religious Technology Center. The ecclesial head of the church is the center’s board chairman. The center, being the senior ecclesial management body of the church, ensures the continued orthodoxy and purity of the church’s doctrine. The center also maintains the continuity and management of the Scientology and Dianetics technologies, but does not manage individual churches. That operation is maintained by the Church of Scientology International (CSI). CSI plans, assists, and coordinates those churches' expansion by providing programs to individual organizations and groups.
For 26 years after the Internal Revenue Service withdrew tax-exempt, non-profit status, the Church of Scientology fought a losing battle. According to an article published in The Wall Street Journal on December 30, 1997, their status was restored when the church agreed to pay a $12.5 million settlement for back taxes. As part of that settlement, the church agreed to drop 50 lawsuits against the IRS.
The church uses its tax-exempt status as evidence of the U.S. government’s validation of Scientology’s religious status. To that end, the church claims that in 1994, a joint council of Shinto Buddhist (Yu-itsu Shinto) sects in Japan not only extended official recognition to Scientology, but also trained many of its monks in its beliefs and practices as an addition to their own meditations and worship.
Adherents pay large sums for higher-level services, and critics aver that such policies are proof that Scientology is a commercial enterprise. The church points out that an adherent can make in-kind contributions, and that their most devoted members donate nothing for services. Members of their Sea Organization, or Sea Org, are said to have committed future lifetimes to Scientology in exchange for services. Those members hold the highest-ranking positions within the church.
Such techniques as wiretapping and other forms of espionage have been used to obtain government documentation and to harass members of splinter groups. High-ranking members, including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, were convicted in federal court of infiltration, wiretapping, and theft of documents in government offices, most notably those of the IRS. Charges of death threats and bombings of former members have also been lodged against the church.
In 1971, a federal court ruled that Hubbard’s medical claims of curing blindness and improving adherents’ intelligence and appearance, through removing engrams, were bogus. The court also ruled that E-meter auditing would no longer be considered a scientific treatment. According to critics, Hubbard’s response was to push the church's religious aspect by: requiring its counselors to wear clerical collars, building chapels, changing the name of their franchise locations to "missions," renaming fees as "fixed donations," and deeming his books on Dianetics and Scientology to be sacred texts. It also has been reported that sales of those texts have been falsely inflated by bulk purchases by members at Dalton Books and other book retailers.
Since Hubbard’s death in January 1986, the church has experienced vast monetary and membership growth. Currently the church has 4,200 Scientology groups, missions and churches in 156 countries, with 10 million adherents. There also are more than 1,000 “social betterment" groups that use Hubbard’s technologies in education, drug and criminal rehabilitation, as well as moral or ethical consciousness raising.
Continuing controversies surround the church and its religious status, but it is the fastest-growing religion in the world. The church has expanded more in the past five years than the preceding 50. New Scientology groups, missions and churches have opened at a rate of three per day during 2005.
Glamorous “Celebrity Centers" have been opened in Hollywood, California, to aggressively attract a star-studded roster of adherents with large discretionary incomes. The chain of clubhouses offers counseling and career guidance to such adherents as Tom Cruise, John Travota, Kirstie Alley, Mimi Rogers, and Anne Archer. Its roster also includes Jazz star Chick Corea and Nancy Cartwright, the voice of the cartoon show’s Bart Simpson. The clubhouses cater to the rich and are unavailable to the rank-and-file Scientologist.
L. Ron Hubbard’s search for understanding the way the mind works spawned the Church of Scientology in 1954. Since its inception, controversy over its practices and religious status has followed the church. While Scientology is the fastest-growing religion in the world, critics continue to dog it. With millions of dollars squirreled away in foreign banks, the church’s assets remain intact and membership figures continue to climb.