Scientology. What comes to mind when you hear this word? For many, it invokes association with its celebrity followers: most notably Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Others may know the word, but not really understand what it means. Let’s take a look at the Scientology religion, including its background and beliefs. Let’s also discuss some of its rather controversial practices.
Religion can be defined as, “Belief concerning the supernatural, sacred, or divine, and the moral codes, practices, and institutions associated with such belief.” In contrast, a cult can be defined as, “A group of people (often a new religious movement) devoted to beliefs and goals which may be contradictory to those held by the majority of society.” Based on these two definitions, one realizes the distinction between a religion and a cult is often not easily discernable. Ultimately, the only true difference may be whether the religious movement has become culturally acceptable.
Scientology is a viewed as a religion because it meets three specific criteria. First of all, it believes in an Ultimate Reality: a Supreme or eternal truth which goes beyond the here and now of our secular world. Second, its religious practices are directed toward the attaining, understanding, or communing with that Ultimate Reality. Lastly, it contains a community of believers, joined together to pursue the Ultimate Reality. Because of these definitions, this article will accept the fact that Scientology is a registered religion and examines it in that context.
Founder L. Ron Hubbard
Background and Beliefs
The religion is said to differ from others because it gives individuals the means by which they can increase their ability to effectively resolve the situations and problems they face in their lives. However, it is up to the individual to bring about his own improvement, applying the teachings to himself and others around him. While some religions offer salvation in the afterlife, Scientology claims to offer certainty of eternal salvation now. This concept is quite unique. Although virtually all religions strive for the betterment of the individual, a potential guarantee of eternal salvation while here on Earth is more revolutionary.
Apparently, L. Ron Hubbard’s concept of the thetans claimed to inhabit our bodies is covered in many of the Church’s courses. A member may wonder how these thetans can be removed, as well as how they ever developed in his body. Unfortunately, this isn’t revealed until a Scientologist reaches the high processing stage of OT III, called Wall of Fire. According to Scientology defectors, it is at this stage one learns that an intergalactic ruler named Xenu brought these thetans, or spirits, to our Earth over 75 million years ago. Apparently, one isn’t told this until he reaches this stage, since it is only then that he can telepathically communicate with these thetans and make them go away. The Bridge plan also includes very short, vague descriptions for many of its progressive stages. In one very high processing stage (called OT VIII) the plan simply states, “Truth Revealed.”
Introspection Rundown and Lisa McPherson
One phrase not found on the Church's official website is Introspection Rundown. Allegedly, before new members can receive the church’s spiritual assistance,” an Introspection Rundown release form must be signed. The release form states the individual is opposed to psychiatric treatment. Furthermore, if a member should suffer a mental illness, it authorizes the Church of Scientology to free him or her from any psychiatric care. Instead, the individual agrees to be given a Hubbard-developed therapy called the Introspection Rundown.
However, this was only the beginning. Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, six Scientologists arrived, closely watching the medical staff’s every move. In fact, they even listened through the doorway while McPherson was being examined. Since McPherson had previously given consent to the church, she was soon taken by Scientologists, against the advice of doctors. But instead of being taken home, she was brought to the Church’s Spiritual Headquarters, the nearby Fort Harrison Hotel. Three weeks later, McPherson was pronounced dead: the initial ruling being meningitis. Although the church denied she was ever improperly held, and even refuted the concept of the Introspection Rundown, something was not adding up here. As investigations continued, Scientologists in question mysteriously left the country. The ruling of death was suddenly changed from meningitis to an embolism of the lung, caused by a minor traffic accident.
The story gets even more graphic and unusual from here. It was determined McPherson had been on constant watch, secluded in a dark room and fed a concoction of herbal remedies and other natural potions. She had lost forty pounds during seventeen days in isolation. Forensic entomologists later testified that sores found on her body included 110 cockroach-feeding sites; even more frightening, some of these bites were determined to have occurred before McPherson’s death. Lisa McPherson had joined Scientology before the secretive Introspection Rundown release form existed; accordingly, most outsiders who have researched Scientology call this newer release form, “The Lisa McPherson Clause.”
Over the years, there have also been documented situations where Scientologists have been linked to litigation. In 1967, the IRS stripped the Church of Scientology’s religious tax-exempt status. It was then that L. Ron Hubbard religiously revamped his church: counselors started wearing clerical collars, chapels were erected and the term donation was used instead of fee. Hubbard’s works were also dubbed as sacred scriptures around that same time. Shortly thereafter, and after much more time in court, tax-exempt status returned and the Church of Scientology was a legitimate religion. It should be noted that L. Ron Hubbard was a fairly well known science fiction writer for many years before writing Dianetics. Some sources state that Hubbard initially sought out religious status after actually betting a friend he could “invent a new religion and have it showing a profit within a year.”
In closing, one needs to remember that the United States allows its citizens many inalienable rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Although Scientology may not be the preferred religion of most individuals, there are also many people who claim to benefit from its practices. In those people’s eyes, this religion is providing a service and value in their lives. Accordingly, Americans must respect an individual’s right to follow any religion he chooses.