With many high profile members such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley, Scientology has been getting increasing amounts of publicity in the media over recent months, especially with Tom Cruise's sudden divorce from Katie Holmes, and the sex scandal accusations surrounding Travolta. However, for most, the religious sect of Scientology remains a mystery and few know or understand their beliefs.
Here are some of the basic facets of what Scientologists believe:
Scientology was created by L. Ron Hubbard (1911 to 1986) in 1952 and was officially incorporated as The Church of Scientology in 1953 in Camden, New Jersey. The faith basically centers around the belief that all people are immortal beings, who have fallen to forget their true nature. Scientology therefore guides the spiritual rehabilitation process, known as "auditing." Followers attempt to re-experience traumatic experiences from their past life to free themselves of them. To help followers do this Scientology has published various study guides and auditing courses that are handed out to members in return for specified donations.
One of the core things Scientologists believe is that everything we each experience in this life, and even past lives, are recorded as "engrams" on our brains. These engrams affect our decision-making and cause a person to conduct themselves in inappropriate and self-defeating ways. Painful or stressful experiences can be imprinted as "engrams" and can affect future behavior and thoughts in a negative way, making a person act irrationally and in a method untrue to their natural order.
Scientology looks to help followers clean themselves from these "engrams" so people are free from their self-destructive behavior and can make better choices and become closer to their true selves. For those Scientologists who are able to go through this process of erasing these "engrams" they are able to move closer to releasing the true spiritual self called the "thetan."
Scientologists believe in re-incarnation and that humans are continuously born and die, only to be born again in a repeating cycle - all the while potentially gathering more or shedding themselves of these damaging "engrams." The only way to break this cycle of rebirths is for a person to clean themselves of all past and present "engrams" to achieve one's complete nature as a "Thetan." Upon achieving this status the spirit can be freed from the reincarnation cycle and be released from the physical world and become one with God.
An energy or force called "Theta" which transcends all things is promoted by the sect. Unlike Christianity there is no specific teachings of God in Scientology, but members are welcome to be "spiritually enlightened" to a deity as they progress in the faith.
There are different levels of enlightenment in Scientology; Pre-Clear, Clear, and Operating Thetan, with the final level of Operating Thetan being someone who is able to control matter, energy, time, and thought.
The leadership of of Scientology is very rigid, and Scientology ministers are appointed to guide and counsel other members, and where necessary perform various religious rites and sacraments. They believe that one cannot free themselves without helping to free others at the same time, so leaders or "Auditors" are used to try and help others identify their previous life and current life disturbances, so they can work on shedding them and move to a more enlightened level.