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What Is Scientology?

By Scott Barnes

Scientology is a set of religious beliefs created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard wrote a self-help book that explored the relationship between body and mind called Dianetics in 1950. In 1952, he expanded upon the success of Dianetics by creating Scientology. Hubbard then incorporated the Church of Scientology in 1953.

Hubbard maintained a leadership role in the Church of Scientology until his death in 1986 — even during periods where he went into hiding because of controversy and legal actions against the church.

Scientologists believe that people are immortal alien beings (called thetans) who have forgotten their true nature and are trapped on earth in a human body. Scientologists believe that each thetan has lived numerous past lives, both on earth in our physical bodies, and on other planets. Scientologists also believe that by undergoing a series of classes and teachings (called auditing by the church), people can free themselves of their human form and reclaim their true selves.

The Church of Scientology building (known as
Credit: ©Scott Barnes 2011
The Church of Scientology building (known as "Big Blue") at Fountain Avenue and L. Ron Hubbard Way, in Los Angeles, California

Many of the classes are structured to help people relive painful or traumatic events from their past, with the goal of freeing themselves from carrying these burdens. Auditing courses and study materials are available for Scientologists in exchange for monetary donations (the most advanced of these courses are not cheap).

By taking all of the classes the Church of Scientology offers, Scientologists believe that one can reclaim his true thetan form, become closer to God (or the Supreme Being), and unlock abilities to control life, matter, energy, space, and time that have been repressed by being in human form.

The Church of Scientology is legally recognized as a religion (with tax-exempt status) in eight countries, including the United States and Australia. Many other countries (including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) refuse to grant Scientology an official religious status.

Scientology is one of the most controversial religious movements of our time. Many people reduce the world view to nothing more than a cult that brainwashes its members and then fleeces them by charging outrageous fees for some auditing classes. Critics lambast the church for its rejection of psychiatry, and many people take issue with the church's "Celebrity Centres," facilities that are technically open to the public but primarily serve the most famous Scientologists in the arts, sports, and government (think Tom Cruise, Isaac Hayes, and Nancy Cartwright).

Reports from some who have left the Church of Scientology are even more incriminating and include stories of church members being held for years against their wills at "rehabilitation camps" for violating certain policies, or sending members to go through the trash of the church's critics and former members to find material to blackmail them into silence. In 1979, several Scientology members were convicted for participating in the largest theft of government documents in U.S. history. Scientologists have also been accused of tampering with witnesses in court cases and even murder.

In response to these claims, Scientologists state that their religion is genuine and that the movement has been distorted, and that they are being persecuted.

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