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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. Shaina

    On a more serious note, what is that "silent birth" stuff that hit the news? What is the position of this "church" on equality? If even half of what I read about silent birth is accurate, I can't see how women could be viewed as equals....

    July 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • LittleHero

      Do they practice silent conception as well? Maybe that was Katie's issue?

      July 3, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Narry

      It's a religion; since when do any of the treat women as equals?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  2. Chad

    Everyone is looking for meaning and purpose.

    The God of Abraham is real, and answers those questions for you.

    Don't "kick against the goads", learn what is real and what isnt.

    No matter what you may think, you are better off knowing and accepting reality.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • XenuSent

      Chad,

      Audits change things!

      Proven!

      July 3, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • LittleHero

      I got audited once, it cost me a bundle. The IRS is evil.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Narry

      "The God of Abraham is real,"
      And he's better know as Allah!

      July 4, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • billybob

      The God of Abraham was Satan, God does not use temptation, that is what Satan does. Why would God need to trick Abraham into sacrificing his child? Would God want Abraham to cheat on his spouse and father a child with one that is not his wife?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Chad

      @billybob "..nonsense.."
      =>it helps if you have read it...

      July 4, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  3. Mormons are cult event their Easter Bunny is Different than regular Chritians

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qO-QqRJOi9U&w=640&h=390]

    July 3, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Is that the Utah video

      Is that the Mormon Easter Bunny Expose that some guy (may he rest in peace) shot in Utah on his cell phone vid.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  4. XenuSent

    You will all burn in a Volcano or something....!

    July 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  5. Roberto

    Tom, Tom, Tom. And all you others that follow this craziness. Bless your little pointy heads. Lots of money. Doody-head brains. Thanks to the gods you ain't callin' the shots when it comes to everyday life an' livin'. Stick to show-biz. It's a fake all the way. And that's what your lives are. A fake. But, boy, does it pay good. Whew! Maybe I should git into show-biz.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why would you think I "follow" anything, you doofus?

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

      Tom, Tom,

      I think he's referring to Tom Cruise!

      July 3, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I can only hope you're correct.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Buddy

      Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son is a dummy. Roberto is talking about Tom Cruise, and Piper's son assumes he's being talked about. I think Piper's son needs to take his medication early today.

      July 4, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  6. ;D

    I'm listening to the song "Ebony & Ivory"... Good Times................ :)

    July 3, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  7. John Sankovich

    Whatever it is makes no difference, it don't really care to whom anyone worhips tp or eahaltes the study of. Just sayin'in again ( like millions of other minions) – run, Katie, run.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  8. No religion above Benny Hinn our healer and savior

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lvU-DislkI&w=420&h=315]

    July 3, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • No religion above Benny Hinn our healer and savior

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lvU-DislkI&w=640&h=390]

      I shall ask brother Benny to help all of you sinners

      July 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Roberto

      Whoa!!! Can I get him to come to my house and get rid of the mosquitos? Dang. I'll bet he's good at that.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Benny is awesome

      I had three broken legs and he healed me just by smacking me in the face with the fist of Jesus. Sure he crushed my nose but he healed three legs with one Jesus powered punch. I can now walk and do the dirty.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Benny is awesome

      Roberto if those mosquitoes have faces Benny can save them or get rid of them.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You guys RAWK!

      July 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Benny is awesome

      NO Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son it is Benny who Rocks!

      July 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Narry

      @Roberto
      Benny would be on the mosquitos' side cause he's a bloodsucker like them.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  9. Roberto

    I'm starting a religion. It's called June-buggery. They show up every summer and so I believe they are a portent of things to come. It may take a ba-zillion summers for the truth to come through. But I'm sure it will. Meanwhile, I'm going to to wear purple underwear from here on out and pray to the June bugs every summer evening they show up on my screen door. And then I'm going to attach my wrist to my thermostat in the hallway and measure my temperature because I'm certain that it will be an indication that the June bug population will determine that my electric starters for my stove top will light my burners. And then I will count the bristles on my toothbrush because that will make sure that a spaceship will come and clean my cat litter twice a day. Meanwhile my daughter will be tending to the leaves on my dogwood tree and making sure there are only 1500 leaves on it because that is an assurance that I and my family will be projected into the realm of Objugnawaty where we will be bligerized into Optunocity. And then...

    July 3, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  10. dilberth

    Here is an excellent summary of Scientology by the eminent atheist, Pat Condell. Enjoy.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ga9uX-2C50&w=640&h=390]

    July 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • John

      Good video, along with the one posted earlier below.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  11. Jedi Cult Member

    The Jedi use a power called the Force and weapons called lightsabers, which emit a controlled energy flow in the shape of a sword, in order to serve and protect the Galactic Republic and the galaxy at large from conflict or governmental instability. . .

    July 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yup. And the Equinox Rabbit lays chocolate eggs.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Well

      Where were the Jedi when Darth Cheney was going all postal

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

      What do you think? They were collection the chocolate Easter eggs, silly.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  12. When hip hop invades you childs ears you might ask

    Why is My Sweet Angel-White Christian Child Speaking in Ebonics, and Dressing Like a Bank Robber?

    July 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • res

      Welcome to the jungle u created...we didn't start the fire.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  13. res

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
    It is a period of civil war. Rebel
    spaceships, striking from a hidden
    base, have won their first victory
    against the evil Galactic Empire.
    During the battle, Rebel spies managed
    to steal secret plans to the Empire's
    ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an
    armored space station with enough
    power to destroy an entire planet.
    Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents,
    Princess Leia races home aboard her
    starship, custodian of the stolen plans
    that can save her people and restore
    freedom to the galaxy....

    July 3, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  14. UK Dave

    I'd like to invite disbelievers, but this deal's off!

    July 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  15. res

    The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre...

    July 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • LinCA

      so, any religion, really.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Malaki Smith

      That is right and Mormons don't believe anything bizarre or strange unless you count the multiple wives and the gold tablets with alien writing and Moroni the alien errr I mean Angel who visited Smith in the woods.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • res

      Also...writings describing dark skin as a curse and mark from God.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  16. peter

    People who believe the books written by the modern day prophets of joeseph smith or ron hubbard need our sympathy. Mormonism like sceintology is a mental illness.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Malaki Smith

      You are wrong, Mormons are good Christians we just know that Jesus was here in America with his people before the Indians and if God did not want us to have more than one wife why did he make so many women.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • res

      Really?! Mormon writings describe dark skin as a curse and mark from God... Pure evil and crazy cult...

      July 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Malaki Smith

      I will throw you into a wood chipper and eat the mush that comes out the other end if you say Mormons are evil

      July 3, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Que?

      The mormons are not evil, but the Mormonism IS, u dumb a zz!!

      July 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  17. Unfunny Truth

    Very sad.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCGP-0545EU&w=640&h=390]

    July 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Dr.Fritz

      EXCELLENT VIDEO, but Xenu, etc, is not just a story, its a long psychological procedure – that goes deep in to the mind – that has led many people to commit suicide, to go insane, and some to murder.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  18. Who Is Your Favorite Scientologist?

    My favorite Scientologist is Charles Manson.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Mitt the man

      Mitt Romney is my favorite Scientologyister

      July 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  19. Southern Baptist is the way

    Join the true church of Jesus blessed be his name

    http://www.landoverbaptist.org/

    July 3, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • You are wrong Bob is the way and only Bob

      http://www.subgenius.com/

      July 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • My cult is better than your cult

      Southern Baptists – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Slave Owners

      July 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Devout Landover Baptist

      My favorite sermon

      Black History Month Sermon by Pastor Deacon Fred warns church members of the dangers in celebrating anything to do with the descendents of Ham – a race given unto eternal servitude by God's Holy power!

      http://www.landoverbaptist.org/sermons/blackhistory.html

      July 3, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah. I'll give it all the consideration it merits.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  20. Dr.Fritz

    Australian Senator Nick Xenophon correctly labelled Scientology as a criminal organization hiding behind a cloak of religion. Americans would do well to listen to their Austrian cousins.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Dr.Fritz

      That's Australian cousins! Darn that spell check!

      July 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • MeIsAwesome

      Agreed. It's really quite embarrassing that our country gives them as much dignity as calling them a religion. There are scams and then there is Scientology. It is a whole new level of shameless scamming with pseudoscience(Dianeticss) and science fiction combined. If Dianetics worked, Doctors would have brought it up with you by now!

      There's a good chance it's a load of bunk when your parents can tell you they remember them at the county fair using tin cans and string for e-meters. Their e-meters look much better now, but they still don't tell you anything worth knowing, other than perhaps you're a sucker.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:33 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.