This document is published by INFORM (Information Network Focus On Religious Movements).
Church of Scientology
What is the movement called?
The Church of Scientology is the general title of a movement which includes numerous legally incorporated bodies, all of which disseminate the teachings and practices of the late L. Ron Hubbard. Administrative control over individual centres is in the hands of the International Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, USA. The main centres of Scientology in the UK are in East Grinstead (headquarters), Birmingham, Brighton, Edinburgh, London, Manchester, Plymouth, Sunderland and Poole.
Where did the movement come from?
L. Ron Hubbard (1911-86), the founder of Scientology, was originally known as an American author of best-selling science fiction stories. Indeed, his 1950 book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, developed out of his interest in science fiction but it quickly created interest in its claim to be ‘the common people’s science of life and betterment’. Hubbard’s response was to add more clearly religious or spiritual aspects to Dianetics, thereby creating Scientology in the early 1950s as ‘an applied religious philosophy and technology’. The Church of Scientology, founded in 1954, is the organization responsible for marketing and controlling not only the psychological theories of Dianetics but also the spiritual programme of Scient elegy,
The world headquarters of the movement was located at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead between 1959 and 1964, before Hubbard was banned from re-entering the UK. He then ran the movement for some years from a flotilla of ships in various parts of the world before retiring from public view in Southern California. Hubbard’s science fiction stories continue to be best-sellers and to generate income for the Church of Scientology. His period of withdrawal and his death created turmoil, recrimination and a struggle for power, from which the organization continues to emerge slowly in the mid 1990s.
What do Scientologists believe?
The main aim of Dianetics was to free people from self-imposed limitations so that they could enhance their quality of life. Hubbard devised mental exercises for training his followers to apply Dianetics to their everyday life. Starting from the assumption that humans are ‘spiritual beings’ or ‘Thetans’, distinguishable from their bodies, Hubbard claimed to have worked out the conditions which either promote the soul’s survival and realization of full potential or make it succumb and wither. The key belief is that humans can be trained to overcome painful memories, to release their potential for greater happiness, and to create a world free from insanity, war and crime.
‘Auditing’ is the process whereby Scientologists train themselves to respond to probing questions about their past life without losing their composure, thereby demonstrating that the Thetan can eventually ‘go clear’ of the physical world and become ‘at cause’ in any situation, i.e. it can accept total responsibility for its own actions. Further courses of counselling and training, at progressively higher levels and prices, are designed to cultivate even more elevated spiritual states. The enhanced sense of inner potential is supposed to lead to greeter success in whatever the trained Scientologist chooses to do. A ‘purification’ régime of vitamin supplements, jogging and saunas is regarded as a further aid to success. Hubbard also claimed that Scientology had a civilizing mission for whole societies. Campaigns to reform institutionalized mental health care, to eradicate addictions, and to combat abuses of human rights have had high priority. Scientologists believe that all serious social problems can be traced back to ‘anti-social personalities’ who fail to make productive connections between emotion, reality and communication.
What do Scientologists do?
Scientology is a combination of training the mind to realize its full potential and of applying the expected gains in self-understanding and effectiveness to everyday life. It claims to be a religion because it emphasizes the spiritual nature of humans and the immortal life of the Thetan. The Church of Scientology trains its members to administer a wide variety of pastoral and training services, largely on a fee-paying basis. There are Ministers of Scientology, prayers, Sunday services and rites of passage. But not all Scientologists choose to participate in these religious activities. Most prefer simply to follow courses of instruction, to undergo training or counselling, and to help organize activities in their local group. Relatively few of them work for the Church on a full-time or even part-time basis, although it is quite common for Scientologists to spend some part of their adult life ‘on staff’, working in administration, social reform campaigns, publishing or training and counselling.
Scientology is not communitarian, but junior members of staff at Saint Hill, for example, live in local Scientology-owned houses and hostels. The Church provides accommodation for members of Scientology’s elite ‘religious order’ - the ‘Sea Org’, but most other members, including senior staff, continue to live in their own homes. The majority of Scientologists, who are not staff members, remain in employment outside the movement.
How is Scientology organized?
The headquarters were located briefly in Florida after the phase of running the movement from a sea-borne flotilla was abandoned in the mid-1970s. Since then, operations have been centred on Southern California. In principle, authority was distributed among many different agencies of the Church, but Hubbard’s personal assistants always exercised a greet deal of power on his behalf. The Guardians’ Office (controlling public relations, finance and legal matters) has also been effective in clarifying official policies, deterring dissent, and combating opponents. There was a purge of staff members in many branches of the Church following the conviction of Hubbard’s wife and eight other officials in 1979 for various offences connected with burglary of US Federal agencies. The headquarters’ staff is now reorganized in two parts: one is responsible for training and counselling programmes, while the other administers Hubbard’s literary estate. In 1993 the Church of Scientology and affiliated corporations won tax exempt status in America as religious and charitable organisations.
Among the many organisations affiliated to the Church of Scientology, the most widely known are Narconon, concerned with drug rehabilitation, and Criminon, specialising in the reform of criminals.
The Church of Scientology claims a worldwide membership of 8 million people, and it is likely that this number may have taken at least one Scientology course at some time, It is safe to assume that the number of people who have continued to take lots of courses in the UK over many years, and who have worked periodically ‘on staff’, is in the tens of thousands. The number of staff members in the UK in 1990 was said to be approximately 650, and worldwide about 10,000. There does not seem to be anything strongly unusual or unrepresentative about the social background of either casual or committed Scientologists. Most of them make initial contact with the movement through friends, reading the movement’s literature or accepting the offer of a free personality test at a Scientology centre.
The Church of Scientology has given rise to considerable public concern about some of its activities, For example, the practice of charging fees which escalate sharply with the ascending level of training courses is criticized, especially when large debts are incurred by Scientologists who wish to complete the next course on offer. There have also been serious misgivings about the Church’s readiness to retaliate aggressively against its opponents, including ex-Scientologists and agencies of various states, Some ox-members have complained about high levels of psychological pressure on Scientologists to work excessively hard for minimal payment, and on potential dissidents and defectors to comply with the robust style of leadership, It is not surprising, then, that Scientology has been the subject of considerable litigation. The movement often defends itself by claiming to have played a leading role in exposing abuses in institutional psychiatry, establishing successful programmes of rehabilitation from addiction, challenging secrecy in government, and defending the right to freedom of religion.
Hubbard, L.R. (1950, 1973) Dianet,cs: The Modern Science of Mental Health and What is Scientology? (1992) both Copenhagen: New Era Publications and both official Scientology publications,
Roy Wallis The Road to Total Freedom: A Sociological Analysis of Scientology. London, Heinemann, 1976
For a more critical approach:
Miller, Russell (1987) Bare-Faced Messiah, London: Michael Joseph
UK address: Church of Scientology, Saint Hill Manore, East Grinsteod, West Sussex RH19 4JY Tel: 01342 324571
Further information about Scientology, and about other new religious movements, may be obtained from:
Tel: 0171-955 7654
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