(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)
If the rise of Mormonism in recent times is surprising, Scientology is even more so, since it came into being in just the last fifty years. I must emphasize again that the belief structure of Scientology is no more bizarre than that of Christianity or Islam or Mormonism or any other religion. What is surprising that it, like Mormonism, came into being at a time when people had easy access to the story of its founder, stories that had enough suspicious elements that should have made any reasonable person wary as to his bona fides.
To get a lot of information on this strange organization and its beliefs you can see this website which contains a wealth of categorized information and is run by someone who makes no bones about the fact that he is not sympathetic to the organization.
Here is an illustrated history of Scientology.
Basically Scientology started around 1950 and has as it central myth a story involving a malevolent extra-galactic despot named Xenu who, with the help of psychiatrists, brought a large number of the aliens from the planets in the galaxy he lived in to Earth seventy-five million years ago.
We are told that these people were brought in galactic rockets that looked like DC-8 airplanes, an odd coincidence when you think about it, since that was the shape of commercial airliners that were becoming popular on Earth at that time. Once they reached Earth, Xenu destroyed these aliens and their spirits were captured, given false memories, and stored until humans appeared on Earth at which point those spirits were inserted into them. As a result, they now infect every human being on Earth, causing them misery and suffering, and the implanted false memories are the sources of the other religions.
The basic ideology of Scientology is a confused mess and frankly, I did not think it worth devoting too much time to making sense of it. Apparently, to detect and get rid of the evil influences and memories and thoughts implanted in you by these spirits so that you can reach your full potential, you need to get yourself ‘audited’. If you pay the Church of Scientology lots of money, they will ‘audit’ you using something called an E-meter (which looks like a lie detector but may be just a simple galvanometer that detects electric currents) to determine how much the bad influences have you in its grip and prescribe remedies to get rid of them, in addition to revealing to you the details of your past lives.
Scientologists also say that each of us is possessed of an immortal soul that is trapped in our bodies that is released and becomes re-incarnated upon our death, a model that is similar to that of Buddhism. While Hinduism also believes in reincarnation, Scientology, unlike that religion, does not seem to believe in god.
Who created this religion that sounds like something out of a science fiction novel? None other than a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, that makes it really credible, doesn’t it? Scientology grew out of Hubbard’s earlier promotion of a mental health treatment called ‘dianetics’ that had many of these features already. Once the soul, as a result of all this auditing, is freed from all the restrictions caused by these evil spirits created by Xenu, it can achieve great things.
Many people have joined this religion, including celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta and Kirstie Alley. They will tell you that the reason for their career success is that they have got rid of the evil spirit influences that were holding them back. What more convincing testimony do you need that Scientology is the right religion than their great acting performances? Who can forget that classic of film Look Who’s Talking starring Travolta and Alley? Okay, so that was not a good example, but you get the idea.
The Scientology organization is both secretive and aggressive, quick to ostracize those who leave the religion and take legal action against anyone who criticizes it. It has recently been suffering some setbacks, though. The government in Australia is threatening to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the church after a senator made a scathing attack on it, based on allegations that he had received from former members that “implicated the organisation in a range of crimes, including forced imprisonment, coerced abortions, physical violence and blackmail.”
In France, the organization was convicted of fraud and hefty fines were levied on it. Unlike in the US, France does not recognize Scientology as a religion, “arguing that it is a purely commercial operation designed to make as much money as it can at the expense of often vulnerable victims.” The US with its tax-exemption loophole for religions is a magnet for people who are willing to prey on the gullible and separate them from their money.
Scientologists have tried to keep their origins story and practices a closely guarded secret to be revealed only to those who reach exalted levels within the organization (which does not come cheap) but the internet has blown that wide open and the stories are now all over the place. Now with the click of a mouse you can learn all about Xenu and volcano myths and thetans that formerly you had to shell out a lot of money for.
A Cleveland reporter describes his experience with auditing when a Scientology branch office opened here in 2007, along with the mind-boggling prices they charge, such as $50,000-$60,000 (!) for the full auditing program. Maybe this is why they target Hollywood celebrities so much, people who often have more money than sense. Scientology does not seem to have caught on much in the Cleveland area. I was on a panel once with a Scientologist last year at our university but at that time, I had no idea about Xenu and the gang or I would have asked him about it.
I am unsure of the ultimate origins myths of Scientology. It seems obscure. Everything I read starts with the extra-galactic machinations of Xenu and the shenanigans of the spirits that sort of play the role of source of evil. But where did Xenu and the inhabitants of the galaxy they came from originate? Do people still exist in those galaxies? Maybe science fiction writer and Scientology originator Hubbard died before he could invent a back story for them. Or perhaps, given their strong commercial business model, they only reveal this precious secret to people who can afford to shell out money at the highest levels, such as Tom Cruise. So tell us, Tom. Inquiring minds want to know.
But the internet is a wonderful thing with its free flow of knowledge. So I am sure that the knowledge is out there if one is willing to dig deep enough.
POST SCRIPT: South Park on Scientology
For a quickie introduction about the basic origins story of Scientology, watch this clip from a 2005 episode of South Park in which the secrets of Scientology are revealed to Stan because church members believe him to be the reincarnation of their founder L. Ron Hubbard.
The absolutely hilarious full South Park Scientology episode titled Trapped in the Closet (featuring Tom Cruise) is well worth watching.