Imagine… you’re sitting in an award-winning restaurant, surrounded by attentive staff, relaxing décor and soft lighting. A beautiful cloth and silver cutlery adorn the table. You admire the intricate design of the glassware. As you glance around and see the other diners, you are pleased with your restaurant choice. Your meal arrives and you take a bite. You have never tasted anything so delicious. But just as you attempt that second bite, somebody shouts “Stop!” A group of people gather around your table and tell you shocking stories about the restaurant; from the food poisoning reports, and poorly treated (and badly paid) staff, to the owner (a trickster) who owes thousands in unpaid taxes. Suddenly you lose all desire to finish your meal. You stand up to leave and just as you are doing so, you wake up from your dream. Next morning the dream remains vivid. You mull over its content. You remember the meal and still crave its taste, yet the critics’ voices return, and your desire is quelled for a second time.
This analogy was designed to help you contextualise the difficulties some people face when it comes to understanding Scientology. The press and media portray it negatively, claiming that the church is a cult which brainwashes people and takes their money. The church heavily refutes these claims and states it is a bona fide religion which assists individuals overcome personal difficulties, and helps communities to reduce crime rates and improve moral functioning. Either way, a state of confusion prevails. Most people are unable to decipher what is true and what is fabrication. Therefore, it is important for people to get to know the real facts themselves about what exactly is Scientology.
The American L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) founded Scientology in the early fifties. He was an incredibly intelligent man who devoted a large part of his life researching the mysteries of the human spirit. He once said his only desire was to make the world a better place – a world without insanity, criminals and war. Hubbard was a famous pulp fiction writer in America in the 1930s but it was his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, published in 1950 that brought Scientology into the spotlight after it explored the mind in ways it had never previously been viewed. Scientology is an applied religious philosophy based on the premise that each human is an immortal spiritual being, which he referred to as a ‘thetan’, that occupies a body and possesses a mind. Hubbard believed that as ‘thetans’, people have lived many lifetimes. He attributed personal issues, for example, problems with anger, addictions, anxiety or phobias to past lives. In his book, he explained how the brain holds engrams (mental pictures of bad, painful experiences from when each thetan first existed) and the only way to free oneself from this anguish is to undergo spiritual counselling, known in Scientology as ‘auditing’.
In addition to enjoying an enormously successful literary career which saw his name listed in the Guinness Book of Records as a bestselling author, Hubbard was also a skilled pilot, sailor, explorer and photographer. He carried out most of his research in America but lived in the UK during the fifties at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, West Sussex. He was married three times and had seven children. After his death in 1986, he was succeeded by David Miscaviage, who had served under him. Miscaviage, Chairman of the Board, now runs the church and oversees its expansion around the world.
There is a similarity between Scientologists and Ahmadiyya Muslims in the sense that both groups have endured rejection and criticism with both remaining stoic in the face of adversity. There is also solidarity with each supporting one another at their respective events – for example Scientologists attend the Peace Symposium each year and Amadis can be found in the audience at the annual International Association of Scientologists event in East Grinstead, when people travel all over the world to hear the Chairman of the Board outline the expansion and achievements that Scientology has achieved in the previous year focusing in particular on their social intervention programmes.
Scientology has eight social intervention programmes, most of which operate outside of the main church and are mainly delivered free of charge. The first of these is their Drug-Free World programme. They distribute well-researched and informative booklets in towns and cities advising people about the harmful effects of illicit drug misuse. In addition, they run a fee-paid three-month rehabilitation programme for drug addicts called Narconon which helps drug addicts overcome addiction for good. Addicts are also given help to rebuild their lives without drugs.
Criminon is a programme for people in prisons and the criminal justice system which is largely a correspondence course. It is designed to teach people that the main reason why somebody commits an offence is because have lost their self-respect and that by restoring this; they will stop their offending behaviour.
Applied Scholastics, which is particularly popular in under-developed countries, is used in schools and colleges and helps to improve literacy rates and remove barriers to study.
CCHR (Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights) is a psychiatric watch-dog organisation that educates people about the harmful effects of psychiatric drugs and allows them to make an informed choice about the effects of psychotropic medication. It also exposes psychiatric abuse and the corrupt monopoly between psychiatry and the pharmaceutical companies.
Scientology Volunteer Ministers work tirelessly with victims of natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods) across over the world alongside other aid agencies providing first-aid, emotional care, food and shelter to those in need.
The Way to Happiness programme runs campaigns against poor ethics, poor integrity and the need for personal responsibility. Booklets on this topic are also distributed in towns and cities, aimed at eradicating moral decay so that people can live in more peaceful and moral and cohesive societies.
Finally, there is the Human Rights programme, which is rolled out to schools, colleges and organisations. This highlights the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and encourages participants to garner a better awareness of why Human Rights are so important in the fight against injustices and tyranny.
Although Scientology states a belief in the Supreme Being, the reality is that God is hardly ever mentioned in its teachings. However, L. Ron Hubbard did say you could practise another religion if as it didn’t conflict with practising Scientology. But this dual arrangement rarely occurs. Instead, Scientologists remain encased in their own religion which has its own moral code of ethics.
It’s impossible to estimate the precise number of Scientologists in the world. Figures range from 50,000 to 10 million with its heaviest concentration believed to be in the United States. The last census in the UK revealed a figure of 2,418 Scientologists in England and Wales.