Cults in Culture: Scientology – A Fictional Route to Happiness (Part 4)
A multipart series on religious groups commonly associated with Christianity
“Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion,” L. Ron Hubbard famously told a group of science fiction writers meeting in Newark, N.J., in 1949.
It’s one area where Hubbard’s claims can be proven – the man himself has gained fortune and notoriety for founding the belief system of Scientology.
Much controversy surrounds Scientology because of its secretive practices and founder L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction author. Many call it a cult of celebrities due to its prominent members, including: Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kristie Alley and Lisa Marie Presley. The spokesman of the organization, Tommy Davis, has a celebrity mother – actress Anne Archer, who rose to fame with “Fatal Attraction.”
But Christian theologians say Scientology itself is a “fatal attraction.”
“Scientology is often viewed as the most sinister of new religions because of its aggressive attacks on critics, its manipulation of members to buy Scientology products and its incredible demand on full-time workers,” said James Beverley, professor of Christian Thought and Ethics at Tyndale University, in an interview with The Christian Post. “There are regular reports of violence in the top circles of the movement, particularly at its base in Hemet, Calif., east of Los Angeles.”
“Many researchers and former members who have chronicled the origin, development, beliefs and practices of Scientology, view it more as a totalitarian, abusive, business cult, wrapping itself in the cloak of religion for reasons of opportunism and expediency,” Craig Branch wrote in The Watchman Expositor, in an article titled, “Hubbard’s Religion.”
Yet little is known about Scientology besides its celebrity following and the recent controversies in the media, such as Lisa McPherson’s death and defectors who are now coming forward. That clandestine behavior itself is a characteristic behavior of the religion, theologians say.
“It is a form of a mystery religion … You have to get deeper and deeper into this thing before you would actually even be told what the movement teaches and all the rest,” said R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a broadcast titled, “Making Sense of Scientology,” which aired April 25, 2006.
“They are very private and secretive,” Craig Branch, director of the Apologetics Resource Center, told the CP.
The same clandestine behavior was apparent when this reporter traveled to Las Vegas to visit the Celebrity Center to learn more about the organization.
The religion itself was founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in 1950. Hubbard developed a self-help system called Dianetics, which became the basis of Scientology. In Dianetics, individuals, or “thetans,” are “cleared” of past bad experiences. These experiences are called “engrams,” which then arise later in life to cause a number of illnesses and irrational behaviors. This is all detailed in Hubbard’s book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.
The only way to rid a person of these past engrams – which accumulate over a life span – is through auditing. This is done in counseling sessions (though, as Scientology member Scott was quick to correct – “they are more like therapy”) through the use of a machine called an E-meter, which is much like a simplified lie detector.
However, it is easy to see how Scientology begins to make sense – as this reporter experienced – because they portray it as a science.
The organization claims to be compatible with Christianity and other religions because it says it is a scientific process. Tom Cruise, in his now famous encounter with NBC “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, said, “Scientology is something that you don’t understand – it’s like, you could be a Christian and still be a Scientologist.”
But Mohler said in his broadcast, “It is impossible to be a Christian and still be a Scientologist.”
“While Scientology claims to be compatible with the Gospel, it is a different worldview,” Beverley affirmed.
Branch told the CP, “It is a methodical and deceptive process to create the illusion ‘We can help you right now.’”
"Christians especially must be cautious about this aspect of Scientology because most Scientologists will say Scientology is compatible with Christianity at first. But as you progress in Scientology, it becomes clear that you cannot remain both a Christian and a Scientologist," Branch wrote in a Christianity Today article.
Hubbard states in Volunteer Minister’s Handbook, "Man is basically good but he could not attain expression of this until now. Nobody but the individual could die for his own sins – to arrange things otherwise was to keep man in chains.”
Beverley said this is totally opposite of what the Gospel teaches.
“Christianity is rooted in Jesus while Scientology is rooted in the life and teaching of L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology is an esoteric religion that focuses on self-improvement. Scientology places no emphasis on the Bible and Scientologists give little attention to God,” he said.
Branch agreed, “There are voluminous differences (between Scientology and Christianity).”
“Hubbard's construction of Scientology was a combination of his science fiction writings (Xenu ruling over an intergalactic federation 75 million years ago, etc) and his reliance on some Buddhist/Hindu/Taoism/occult exposure,” said Branch. “His doctrine of man, God (Operating Thetan), sin, salvation, ‘scripture’ and authority, etc., are all totally incompatible with Christianity.”
Scientology teaches reincarnation by which a person can progress by working his way through the various levels of "Clear," and Operating Thetan 1-8, can have power and authority over the MEST (matter, energy, space, and time) universe, explained Branch. This of course mandates the paying of a lot of money for Scientology courses and submission to the organization’s authority.
Mohler said that in Scientology, “Your problem is what has happened to you. … The Christian world begins in a totally different place. We are humans who are made in the image of God … and the problem isn’t something that has happened to us, the problem is sin. The problem is within us.”
The problem of sin can only be solved by someone else, said Mohler. It can only be solved by Jesus, he said.
Several aspects of Scientology, including its recruitment of celebrities, the financial aspect and reported extortion and the punishment of members who misbehave, are troubling. But those topics have been covered extensively in the secular media, most recently in the ABC News Report “Inside Scientology” in May.
In a series of articles on his website, arcapologetics.org, Branch describes these aspects. In summary, though, he told The Christian Post, “Scientology certainly fits the psychologically deviant framework [of a cult], as well as the sociological one, as it is a new framework, and has a long and consistent history of exploitation and psychological harm and authoritarian control. … My series of articles documents these endemic characteristics.”
The organization is known for its litigiousness.
“One of their tactics is to sue critics,” said Branch. “They have a policy to attack anyone who comes against them.”
Branch said he has been sued twice by the organization and has “a long history with them.”
Kurt Goedelman, founder of Personal Freedom Outreach, told the CP, “Anything that’s been said about them, they come back with a vengeance.”
Still, Mohler said, Christians are to respond, “Calmly, on the authority of Scripture, and prayerfully, to share the Gospel. At the end of the day, there’s no other answer that we can give.”
Branch agreed, and said Christian should approach Scientologists “with knowledge, documentation, compassion, truth, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. These people are looking for answers and a ‘fix’ for their life, and often they don't realize, an answer for meaning and purpose. The Gospel is the power of salvation.”
Editors’ note: This is the fourth story in a multi-part series examining cults, Christianity and belief systems that claim to be Christianity. The Christian Post will be looking at several belief systems that are commonly associated with Christianity and providing expert opinions and research on those belief systems. While the CP recognizes the issue of semantics when using the words “cult,” and “Christianity,” for our purposes, we are defining those belief systems outside of Christianity whose proponents claim to be Christian to be "cults."