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July 3rd, 2012
05:20 PM ET

Tom Cruise divorce raises question: What is Scientology, anyway?

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - News of Tom Cruise's split with Katie Holmes and questions about any role that Cruise's status as a Scientologist may be playing in the divorce have a lot of people wondering: What is Scientology, anyway?

In a series of tweets on Sunday, News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch called the religion "a very weird cult" and said that Cruise is the "number two or three" man in the church's hierarchy.

Here are the basics about the religion. What other questions do you have?

What is Scientology?

Scientology describes itself as a religion that was founded in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard.

At the core of Scientology is a belief that each human has a reactive mind that responds to life’s traumas, clouding the analytic mind and keeping us from experiencing reality. Members of the religion submit to a process called auditing to find the sources of this trauma, reliving those experiences in an attempt to neutralize them and reassert the primacy of the analytic mind, working toward a spiritual state called "clear."

The process involves a device called E-meter, which Scientologists say measures the body’s electric flow as an auditor asks a series of questions they say reveals sources of trauma.

“Auditing uses processes - exact sets of questions asked or directions given by an auditor to help a person locate areas of spiritual distress, find out things about himself and improve his condition,” according to the Church of Scientology’s website.

The church goes on to to say, "Science is something one does, not something one believes in."

Auditing purports to identify spiritual distress from a person’s current life and from past lives. Scientologists believe each person is an immortal being, a force that believers call a thetan. “You move up the bridge to freedom by working toward being an ‘Operating Thetan,’ which at the highest level transcends material law,” says David Bromley, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. “You occasionally come across people in Scientology who say they can change the material world with their mind.”

Bromley and other scholars say the church promotes the idea of an ancient intergalactic civilization in which millions of beings were destroyed and became what are known as “body thetans,” which continue to latch onto humans and cause more trauma. Advanced Scientologists confront body thetans through more auditing.

Bromley says the church discloses that cosmic history only to more advanced Scientologists. The church’s media affairs department did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

In a 2008 CNN interview, church spokesman Tommy Davis was asked whether the basic tenet of the Church of Scientology was to rid the body of space alien parasites. "Does that sound silly to you?" laughed Davis. "I mean, it's unrecognizable to me. ... People should really come to the church and find out for themselves what it is."

Who was L. Ron Hubbard?

L. Ron Hubbard was the founder of Scientology. Born in Nebraska in 1911, Hubbard was the son of a U.S. Navy officer who circled the globe with his family, according to Scientology expert J. Gordon Melton, a fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies in Religion who writes about Scientology on the religion website Patheos.

Hubbard attended the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., but left before graduating to launch a career as a fiction writer, gravitating toward science fiction.

After serving in World War II, Hubbard published a series of articles and then a book on a what he described as a new approach to mental health, which he called Dianetics. His book by the same name quickly became a best-seller.

The success provoked Hubbard to establish a foundation that began to train people in his auditing techniques. In 1954, the first Church of Scientology opened in Los Angeles, with other churches opening soon after. Hubbard died in 1986. The church is now led by David Miscavige.

Why is the church so controversial?

Many groups and individuals have challenged Scientology’s legitimacy as a religion.

Scientologists have faced opposition from the medical community over the religion's claims about mental health, from the scientific community over its claims about its E-meters and from other religious groups about its status as a religion.

“It’s part therapy, part religion, part UFO group,” says Bromley. “It’s a mix of things that’s unlike any other religious group out there.”

For a long time, the Internal Revenue Service denied the Scientologists’ attempts to be declared a church with tax-exempt status. But the IRS granted them that status in 1993.

Many members say the church is largely about self-improvement. “What I believe in my own life is that it's a search for how I can do things better, whether it's being a better man or a better father or finding ways for myself to improve,” Tom Cruise recently told Playboy magazine. “Individuals have to decide what is true and real for them.”

What does Scientology teach about psychiatry?

L. Ron Hubbard rejected psychiatry and psychiatric drugs because he said they interfered with the functioning of the rational mind. Scientologists continue to promote that idea.

The Church of Scientology’s website says that “the effects of medical and psychiatric drugs, whether painkillers, tranquilizers or 'antidepressants,' are as disastrous” as illicit drugs.

How many Scientologists are there?

That’s a matter of considerable dispute.

The Church of Scientology says it has 10,000 churches, missions and groups operating in 167 countries, with 4.4 million more people signing up every year.

Scholars say that, despite the global proliferation of church buildings, the membership numbers are much lower than the church claims, likely in the hundreds of thousands. Some of the church's followers are celebrities.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Scientology

soundoff (1,679 Responses)
  1. IF YOU WANT ALL PRAYERS ANSWERED ...

    If you want all prayers answered, go to Facebook(THE WOMAN'S TOUCH)!

    July 3, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      As if.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  2. jack

    The Church of Scientology is like every other religion, it is myth that pretends to answer the unanswerable questions about the universe, creation, life, death etc. It is also like all other religions: big business. There is no better example that religion is big business than the pope. This man who pretends to be the "vicar" of Jesus Christ, the penniless holy man of 2000 years ago, lives in a palace in the Vatican, surrounded by his organizations untold wealth.He lives in the Vatican when he is not a his summer palace in the Alban Hills outside Rome.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  3. Unfunny Truth

    July 3, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  4. Really???

    Undead aliens that latch on to humans causing mental problems(snort). Killing kids by not giving them medicines for seizures. Intimidation of members who try to leave. No search for God in any of this garbage, just whack jobs that want to control people & their money.
    The reason Scientologists hate doctors is they were easily revealed as frauds by the medical profession for lying about claims of "having perfect memories" after doing their mind cleaning. Looks like they actually practice mind wiping, otherwise known as brain washing instead.
    Honestly, this is the type of alien baby carp the tabloids would try to pass of as journalism to the gullible. You can tell their "founder" wrote FICTION!

    July 3, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • res

      Well...John Travolta's son died of a seizure. I'm wondering if maybe he was not being properly attended with anti-convulsants. Wow!

      July 3, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  5. Elizabeth

    If Scientology can convince the IRS and the US government than it must be legit! To legit to quit!

    July 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Dr.Fritz

      The IRS was not "convinced." They were harassed for twenty years and the IRS Commissioner was blackmailed. It's what Scientology does. It's a criminal organization.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  6. Our Church looked into Mormons and it is shocking

    Some ladies from our congregation went to Utah on a mission

    http://www.landoverbaptist.org/news1000/cult.html

    July 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  7. Dr.Fritz

    Scientology has a long history of cover up, abuse, and criminality. Google XENU. Google Scientology child labor. Google Scientology enforced abortions. Google, Scientology, Fair Game. Google Scientology, Brainwashing manual parallels. Google Scientology Paulette Cooper. Hubbard's wife was sent to federal prison in the 1980s, and L. Ron Hubbard went into hiding as an un-indicted co-conspirator.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  8. Jesus here

    I have returned my children and boy am I laughing. Those books I left all over the place were jokes just for fun and you all put them together and made a bible LOL. I knew my dad created some silly simpletons but Jesus (taking my own name in vein here) you took it all seriously. I was just trying to cheer everyone up you know after the crucifixion and all, I was kidding about the Jews and Romans they're not really bad people well that is unless count Judas and Pilot. Okay then now I am back and you know it was all a joke so stop all the money scams in my name.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      "Pilot" eh?

      Oh, what's the point?

      July 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Too funny! "Pilot". Did he fly a plane?

      July 3, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Tom,

      yes, with one of those "God is my co-pilot" bumper stickers.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Heh. If a pilot needs a god to help him fly, or live, he's a goner.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • OTOH

      "Pilot" is probably just an auto-correct oops...

      July 3, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not a chance. The dolt wouldn't know the difference between "Pilate" and "pilot". And my auto-correct knew the difference; so would his.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  9. Jack

    Hello everyone. All are cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  10. dan

    scientology is evil. pure and simple. go to youtube and look for the BBC special on it. they actual stalk the host.... im not kidding.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  11. Dr.Fritz

    CNN should be ashamed of itself by kissing up to the Scientology cult. Your article sounds as though it was written by a Scientology PR person.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • zaint007

      agree.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      This is not an op/ed piece. I thought it was a fair attempt to answer the premise: "What is Scientology anyway?"

      July 3, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Sillyboy

      Just saying by definition Christianity and all religion is a cult. So quit acting like you know things and look up the definition of a cult. Churches take money from people and have followers and have people spread their beliefs. You know nothing you chimpish little child.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  12. The electric chair was invented by a dentist.

    Not believing in Scientology is a religion!

    It takes as much faith to not believe in Scientology as it does to believe in it!

    Non-believers in Scientology are a cult!

    They real reason that Christians say they don't believe in the Scientology God is that they are angry at him!

    It is a bad idea to risk Scientology hell by not believing. And you lose nothing by believing if Scientology is wrong.

    All science that claims to deny the truthfulness of Scientology is done by an evil conspiracy of bigotted unbelievers out to get Scientology. They are driven by the dark evil one, deluded and misled.

    The Book of Scientology is right because in the Book of Scientology, it says it is right. Let me quote some passages to prove it.

    So Christians, catching a clue yet? How do your arguments sound now? Pretty freaking ridiculous, eh?

    July 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  13. zaint007

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult

    July 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  14. res

    Among scientology teachings is the story of Xenu, introduced as the tyrant ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy." According to scientology, 75 million years ago "Xenu" brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes...The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Scientologists at advanced levels place considerable emphasis on isolating body thetans and neutralizing their ill effects...THIS IS PURE SCI-FI!!! Not religion...

    July 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      If I decide that I need a SciFi religion, I'd much rather go Jedi.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Yankee Doodle

      Or the Confederacy period... :D

      July 3, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Ganja

      And I rather be a Rastafarian.........................................

      July 3, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Que Loquera!

      This is some crazy S h ! T !!!

      July 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Bob Loblaw

      Detonating H bombs in volcanoes? WHOA...what a trip!

      July 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • res

      Scientology reminds me of Heaven's Gate, the UFO religion, In 1997, 39 members of the group had committed suicide in order to reach an "alien space craft" which they believed was following the Comet Hale-Bopp...Crazy crap!

      July 3, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Bob,

      yes, Xenu did not follow the prime directive.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Really???

      I would rather be pastafarian!

      July 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Really???

      what for the beer, the stri-pers, both?

      Ramen.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • ;D

      please sign me up for the Jedi-in-training, so I can learn to control the Force and wield a lightsaber

      July 3, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • res

      I wonder if Xenu is the equivalent of the Devil...

      July 3, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  15. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Scientology is creepy and wrong on so many levels.

    I don't like proselytizing and proselytists are unwelcome on my porch. Nevertheless, I understand why young Mormon missionaries, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses do what they do and show up at my door. (I do wish they wouldn't but other than wasting my time, they're mostly harmless, so long as you don't let them in.)

    But Scientology is different. They prey on the weak minded and lonely. The whole E-meter / auditing baloney comes with a script that is intended to make people think something is wrong with them. Once they convince someone that Scientology will welcome them and help them, they fleece their converts for every penny they can for truly ungodly sums for their levelized equivalents to Sunday School or Catechism classes.

    Skeptics here will say all religions behave this way, but they don't. If you have the mental strength, sit down face to face with a Scientologist in their lair and observe the mind games they will play to sign you up for 'auditing'. To anyone confident in themselves, everything they say is transparent BS, but those people are not the ones Scientology is looking for.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Answer

      Scientology vs all religions.. give it a win for scientology. Those others freaks will have all their fears amplified.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  16. shep

    It is the Mormon church without the magic diaper.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  17. Chaoundrogk L

    We read elsewhere: Scientology #2 or #3? That's an instant disqualification for a fair trial at court, if he doesn't give it up. No such 'support' may be allowed. Anyway, we are not impressed:
    a) "The idea of an ancient intergalactic civilization in which millions of beings were members of'?" Might have been the case but boy these guys are in trouble! The, and the likes of, Masonic Lodges don't like such things! True or not, one of their creations for the purpose, do they go behind them undoing against them whatever they do? Let them or anyone take over them? They are not new at it.
    b) "The basic tenet of the Church of Scientology was to rid the body of space alien parasites?" Yes, those who don't like them and don't want to get involved making room for them being on, or busy with, drugs most of the time – agewise. Ref: a).
    c) "For a long time, the Internal Revenue Service denied the Scientologists’ attempts to be declared a church with tax-exempt status. But the IRS granted them that status in 1993". Huh! What else is new, it's all about pay out "donations", tax-free. What's the flipside? Even Madonna can get caught as a Juotaxsaver. Get them like Al Capone with sufficient proof to loose everything and go to jail – the IRS bosses said ok to take the money, we 'll nail them whenever we feel like it?
    d) "L. Ron Hubbard rejected psychiatry and psychiatric drugs because he (an expert?) said they interfered with the functioning of the rational mind. Scientologists continue to promote that idea. The Church of Scientology’s website says that “the effects of medical and psychiatric drugs, whether painkillers, tranquilizers or 'antidepressants,' are as disastrous” as illicit drugs." Wonder why so much specific interest but no give to th poor? Certainly, such drugs diminish the effects of other illicit drugs they (and many others) may put in your food (or coke), if you give them the opportunity to do so. What do they do? They affect your behavior the opposite way, drive you crazy in fact and then they tell you about their 'magic' powers on you and others, so that unsuspecting, you fear the what if they do – and you do as they please and give your money as well – getting absolutely no benefit in return. Old crap!
    Do we want to join more theory – concealed vicious dictator abusers while we don't need them but they need us, is a good question? The traditional masonic lodges have problems recruiting lately; will they prevail with the lies they say to the poor while on drugs?

    July 3, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  18. I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS!

    Since I overcome everything, what are your complaints America?
    I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS!
    Are you the LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS AMERICA?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWs1-NEV9O0 gets you by with a little help from your friends America!
    Since I overcome everything, what are your complaints America?
    Try Healthiest Regards in future!
    VERY ROYAL DAVID

    July 3, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  19. citizenmn

    Beware: the Church of Scientology is lawsuit crazy and will go after anyone who criticizes them or writes negative things about them. I'm sure Scientology fanatics are busy monitoring this story with the intent to counter any negative posts. Having said this, know that Scientology is basically a cult that drains ordinary members bank accounts and uses useful idiots like Tom Cruise in order to get ordinary people to join.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • chinaman03

      that's crap. i've been trashing them for at least 3 years (since the day i met someone who introduced me – or forced me – to the church.)

      everynight, i would wait by my bed to see if any dead threads calling to the phones. nothing. every morning, i would dress up, open the front door, and wait for some agents storming in and pound the daylight out of me. nada. they are busy making their family members miserable, not having enough time for the little me!

      July 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  20. Brian

    Believing in scientology is crazy and stupid, but believing that a god gets a woman pregnant and she gives birth to him as a human so he could be nailed to wood as a sacrifice of himself to himself so to impress himself and then will not burn everyone who believes in himself nailed to wood to impress himself is perfectly sane though!

    July 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      There's a distinction between crazy and believing in the improbable.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • res

      Scientology teaches that people are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature... So what's my true nature??? :/

      July 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You are actually a polar bear.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • res

      LOL !

      July 3, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.