A controversial 20th-century religion that aims at improving individuals and humanity as a whole.
Of all the new religions of the 20th century, Scientology is perhaps the most controversial. Its founder, its history, its beliefs and its practices have all come under intense scrutiny both from critics and in the courts. In this entry, ‘Scientology’ refers to both the religion itself and the organization the Church of Scientology.
The first Church of Scientology was founded in Los Angeles in 1954. Originally it was based on the psychoanalytic system of dianetics developed by l ron hubbard in 1950, but during the 1950s Hubbard greatly expanded its teachings. The essence of Scientology is its practicality, as The Scientology Handbook says:
Scientology is an applied religious philosophy which contains workable answers to the problems people face in their lives. The subject matter of Scientology is all life. It contains practical means through which predictable improvement can be obtained in any area to which it is applied.
This includes drug rehabilitation and criminal rehabilitation through the sister organizations Narconon and Criminon, and also techniques for health, education and administration.
Scientology refers to its practical teachings as ‘technology’ or ‘Tech’. Every procedure must be followed precisely, with no variation from the way that Hubbard wrote it. Two organizations, the Religious Technology Center and Author Services Incorporated, were set up to protect the Tech and to preserve Hubbard’s writings – in the Church’s words, ‘to prevent attempts to alloy or subvert the purity of the religious teachings of Scientology’.
Scientologists are encouraged to progress up ‘The Bridge to Total Freedom’, a long and complex graded system of auditing up to Clear (see dianetics) and then beyond to what are called Operating Thetan levels, with a parallel progression of training to be an auditor at progressively advanced levels. The word ‘thetan’ refers to the individual’s inner spiritual being.
Most religions have creation myths. At the heart of Scientology’s belief system is the story of a galactic dictator called Xenu who, 76 million years ago, imprisoned the billions of people of the 75 planets of the Galactic Federation in volcanoes on Earth and dropped H-bombs on them. This traumatic event separated the thetans from their bodies. These deeply troubled thetans attach themselves in their millions to humans today, and are responsible for illness, perversion and many of the other problems of the human race. Advanced levels of auditing can help Scientologists to rid themselves of these ‘body thetans’.
Scientology has the reputation of being a litigious religion, frequently taking legal action against ex-members and other critics, some of whom have accused it of being authoritarian. In recent years it has attempted to stop discussion of the religion’s beliefs on the Internet on the grounds that quoting its beliefs is a ‘violation of copyright laws’.
From the outset, Scientology has fought in countries around the world to be recognized as a religion. After many years of battling, the US Internal Revenue Service finally recognized Scientology as a tax-exempt religion in 1993. The British Home Office accepted that it is a religion in 1996, but the UK Charity Commissioners have so far rejected Scientology’s application to be registered as a charity.
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