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What is the Church of Scientology?

What is the Church of Scientology?
Church of Scientology, Tampe, Florida [Credits: Church of Scientology Tampa / Wikimedia Commons]

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Religion has existed ever since the twilight of humanity. There are more than four thousand active religions globally, but more than four-fifths of the world population follows one of the top five religions. With so much diversity in faith, it is common to come across certain popular and controversial religions simultaneously, and there are few examples of this better than the Church of Scientology. Variedly described as a cult, a business entity, and a new world religion, Scientology has been the source of intrigue and ridicule among believers and non-believers alike.

Today, we dive into the murky world of the Church of Scientology and find out how it manages to attract and repel so many people around the world simultaneously. Let us try and answer the question: what, after all, is the Church of Scientology all about?

Birth of the Church of Scientology

To understand the Church of Scientology’s beliefs and practices, we have to first look at its birth.

L. Ron Hubbard was an American author who mainly wrote science fiction and fantasy stories. After trying his hand in different fantasy writing genres, he became obsessed with psychology and the human mind. In the 1950s, he introduced a self-help therapy concept called Dianetics, which he described as “the hidden reason of all psychosomatic ills and human aberration.”

L. Ron Hubbard in 1950 [Credits: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library / Public Domain]
To support his theory, he published a book called Dianetics: The Modern Science to Mental Health and set up the Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation. Hubbard promoted Dianetics as a form of psychotherapy which allowed the people to understand the relationship between the body and the mind. Hubbard introduced concepts like auditing, engrams, thetans, and other concepts that were unheard of at the time.

However, the scientific community largely ignored Dianetics, and in 1951, the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners sued the Hubbard Foundation for illegally practicing medicine. This, coupled with declining interest in Dianetics, forced the Foundation into bankruptcy in 1952, and Hubbard lost trademark rights to Dianetics.

While Hubbard was initially critical of religion in his writings and wanted Dianetics to be seen as a strictly scientific procedure, he was forced to rethink his position following the bankruptcy. In 1952, Hubbard had established a cult-like organization named Scientology to expand upon the success of Dianetics. However, Scientology was still not classified as a religion. By 1953, Hubbard actively considered repackaging Dianetics into a religious movement under the umbrella of Scientology.

In late 1953, Hubbard established the first Church of Scientology in New Jersey, by incorporating three different churches. In 1954, the first local Church of Scientology was established by Hubbard’s followers in California. Soon, Scientology spread to different parts of the United States of America and other anglophone countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and South Africa.

Ever since the death of Hubbard in 1986, David Miscavige has been appointed as the leader of the Church of Scientology. Under Miscavige, Scientology has grown from a nice religion into a globally known one.

David Miscavige [Credits: ScientologyMedia / Wikimedia Commons]

Beliefs and Practices of the Church of Scientology

The Church of Scientology is essentially based on the concept of Dianetics. Dianetics and Scientology, in fact, are two sides of the same coin. Scientology has complex beliefs and practices that find their roots in psychology, pseudoscience, and Hubbard’s fictional writings.

Despite this, Scientology places the utmost importance on the scientific approach in propagating its teachings. Scientologists believe that Hubbard’s teachings are scientific laws that can be verified using one’s personal experiences. According to Hubbard, “for a Scientologist, the final test of any knowledge he has gained is, ‘did the data and the use of it in life actually improve conditions or didn’t it?'”

Due to its scientific approach towards religion, the Church of Scientology does not prescribe or impose any God or other deities upon its members. Scientology claims to have originated from certain fundamental truths that members can validate through their own experiences. These fundamental truths as propagated by the Church of Scientology primarily include:

“Man is an immortal spiritual being.
His experience  surpasses well beyond a single lifetime.
His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized.”

Let us know more about the different teachings of the Church of Scientology.


Scientology believes in the concept of an immortal soul called thetan, which it claims is humankind’s true identity. The concept of the thetan is similar to the concept of soul or spirit found in other religions. Thetans are beings that are good by nature, omniscient, and capable of unlimited creativity. According to Hubbard, thetans are spiritually pure and associated with the material world only for pleasure.

However, thetans soon forsake their true spiritual nature and associate themselves with their worldly nature, eventually erasing their actual self’s memories. Therefore, thetans consider themselves human beings, when, in reality, they are non-materialistic spirits. Hubbard emphasized the theory of reincarnation of thetans, which he referred to as “assumption.”

Clear and OT Levels

Hubbard taught that the human mind is divided into the analytical mind and the reactive mind.

The analytical mind, according to Hubbard himself, is like a “perfect computer.” The analytical mind is tasked with serving consciousness to human beings and making rational decisions (which are always correct) to ensure the tan’s survival. However, according to Hubbard, this is not always the case. If a human brain is not functioning properly, then the reactive mind will take over the analytical mind.

The reactive mind stores mental images of painful and traumatic memories, which are referred to as engrams. As the engrams accumulate in the reactive mind over time, the thetan becomes further detached from its true state. Engrams can come from two sources — either by accident or rogue thetans who want to take over the mind.

Scientology’s primary objective is to help a person rid himself of the reactive mind’s engrams and understand his thetan self properly. This is known, in Scientology doctrines, as the Clear state. To attain the Clear state, the Church of Scientology recommends a procedure that is known as auditing. According to sociologist David Barrett, “Clear is the complete erasure of the reactive mind from which stems all the tensions and problems the individual has.”

Auditing is a one-on-one counseling session that resembles the Christian concept of confession. However, in auditing, the counselor (known as an auditor) will not seek to provide forgiveness or salvation. Instead, the auditor will try to understand the person’s problems and help him realize his thetan self using fundamental principles known as the ARC triangle (affinity, reality, and communication). According to the Church of Scientology, auditing allows a person to be free from the reactive mind, allowing him to make rational decisions instead of reacting to the accumulated engrams.

Auditors also usually use a device known as the E-meter during the auditing process. The e-meter is a device that can calculate the electrical resistance of a body. It is used to identify negative charges in a person’s body, allowing the auditor to zero in on the person’s problems and solve it.

In the process of auditing, there are three status levels: Preclear, Clear, and Operating Thetan (OT). Once a person reaches the OT status, he goes through higher initiation levels known as OT levels. OT levels are initiation levels, which allow a person to be exposed to Scientology knowledge, which is kept secret from people in the lower levels.

The Church of Scientology claims that if a person from a lower OT level is exposed to knowledge of higher OT levels, it will cause extreme harm to that person. As a result, the Church of Scientology maintains an extreme form of secrecy around the OT levels. However, it is known publicly that there are eight OT levels, from OT I to OT VIII.

In the OT III level, Hubbard told the story of an intergalactic being known as Xenu (or Xemu), the Galactic Confederacy’s tyrannical ruler. According to this story, Xemu came to Earth (called Teegeeack in this story) approximately 75 million years ago in a Douglas DC-8-like spacecraft and brought his people along with him. He then stacked these people around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs. The thetans of these aliens attach themselves to humans (implants) and cause them harm. Similar stories, which Hubbard termed as “space operas,” are told at various higher OT levels.


The Church of Scientology runs a “detoxification” service called the Purification Rundown (also called Purif), advertised as the only effective treatment of long-term substance abuse. It is extremely controversial, however, and involves the use of high-dose supplements and extended sauna baths. Another similar detoxification program is offered by the Church of Scientology, known as Narconon International. Its program is very similar to Purif and involves high-dose vitamin supplements and extended sauna baths and Scientology elements like auditing.

Rejection of Psychology

Hubbard has termed psychiatry as a “barbaric and corrupt profession.” Similarly, the Church of Scientology is opposed to both psychiatry and psychology. Hubbard went as far as establishing an anti-psychiatry organization called the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and blamed psychiatry for the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the CCHR has campaigned against psychiatric procedures, treatments, and drugs, and even runs an anti-psychiatry museum.

The Church of Scientology Controversies

Scientology is considered one of the most controversial religions of all time, often described by critics as a cult or a commercial enterprise.

The Church of Scientology has been quick to sue its critics, filing many lawsuits against governments, police forces, individual critics, former members, and other organizations. The Church has clashed with many governments, including those of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France.

Some points of criticism against Scientology are as follows:

Criminal Behaviour of Members

Many Church of Scientology members has been accused of varying degrees of criminal behaviors, including espionage, theft, fraud, and extortion.

Mary Sue Hubbard, the then-wife of L Ron Hubbard and the second-in-command of the Church of Scientology, was convicted in 1978 of committing the largest domestic espionage in United States history. Ron Hubbard himself has been convicted of fraud in France and sentenced, in absentia, to four years in prison.


Disconnection is the process by which a member of the Church of Scientology cuts off all ties with a relative, family member, friend, or any other known person who is perceived to be critical of Scientology. This practice has been widespread in the Church of Scientology, where members have been forced to disconnect with “Suppressive Person” (SP), which refers to antisocial people and against Scientology. Failure to disconnect leads to the member being termed a suppressive person himself.

Harassment of Critics

The Church of Scientology has been very clear about its stance on critics, constant censorship, and fightback. The Church has filed many lawsuits against their critics — government officials, police officers, journalists, academics, and anyone else. Several of the Church’s critics have also reported that they have been harassed and threatened by Scientologists for their opinions.

Internet Censorship

The Church of Scientology has moved to censure websites and articles critical of the religion. They tried to shut down the newsgroup alt.religion.Scientology (a.r.s.) For its criticisms of Scientology but ultimately failed. They also filed lawsuits against YouTube for not taking down videos critical of the Church or which the Church claimed to be copyrighted (especially one Tom Cruise video).

In response, the internet hacker group Anonymous launched a massive internet attack on the Church of Scientology, which came to be known as Project Chanology.

Other Controversies

  • Several female members of the Church of Scientology has claimed that senior church members forced them to undergo an abortion. According to the New York Times, a high-ranking Church source claimed that over 1500 forced abortions had taken place in the Sea Organisation (an organization of the Church).
  • The Church of Scientology has often used confidential information shared by past members to discredit or malign them during their auditing process.
  • David Miscavige, the Church of Scientology’s present leader, has been accused of physically and mentally torturing the Church’s lower-ranked members. Tommy Davis, the spokesperson for the Church, has vehemently denied these claims.
  • Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist, died under mysterious circumstances while she was under the Church’s care. The Church was charged with culpable homicide, but the charges were dropped later.


Now that you know a bit about the Church of Scientology and its many facets, you can easily understand why it attracts so much controversy. The religion itself is shrouded in mystery, with the number of Scientologists worldwide estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000. As with any religion, the Church of Scientology has its followers and naysayers. The best thing to follow would be to read about its many beliefs and practices and then choose your side!

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