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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. retief1954

    Who's to say Scientology is any more "out-there" than Christianity? Judaism? Islam? It's all a matter of faith, isn't it? None of it can be proven, can it?

    July 4, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • John

      All organized religions replace reason with faith.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:51 am |
    • you might be an atheist if

      You do not recognize reason compliments faith

      July 4, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      You are an idiot if you don't know faith is pretending to know about something you don't know about ('cause it's not real).

      July 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • psst's understudy

      com·pli·ment/ˈkämpləmənt/
      Noun:
      A polite expression of praise or admiration.
      Verb:
      Politely congratulate or praise (someone) for something.
      Synonyms:
      noun. praise – flattery
      verb. congratulate – felicitate – praise – commend – laud

      com·ple·ment/ˈkämpləmənt/
      Noun:
      A thing that completes or brings to perfection.
      Verb:
      Add to (something) in a way that enhances or improves it; make perfect.
      Synonyms:
      noun. supplement – addition – adjunct
      verb. complete – supplement

      July 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  2. John C

    I mean come on is it that weird that a science FICTION writer came up with a religion?

    Picture this, the middle east 10 000 BC. The tribes first and only "fiction talker" (no writing as yet) comes up with the same scheme, only this time the saps that fall for him are even more gullible.

    Queue the founding of Religion.

    Yay!!!

    July 4, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • Know What

      John C

      You are sort of correct about Moses, but the ancient Hebrew tribes did have other gods before Yahweh - remember Ba'al? And there was El, and some others. Moses was probably a slick and powerful persuader, and had some magic tricks up his sleeve that he learned in the Egyptian royal court where he was raised to throw in for extra dazzle.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • Know What

      p.s. There is a lot of good stuff here about ancient Hebrews:

      http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/religion-hebrews.htm

      http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch04.htm

      http://www.fsmitha.com/review/r-dever.html

      July 4, 2012 at 3:27 am |
  3. jross

    Apparently Tom Cruise wanted to be a priest untill he was about 15 when the acting bug hit. Also his family (? no idea, was he a foster kid?) apparently moved 14 times or 15 times up to then. It sounds like he's been missing something in his life for a long time. Not sure what but he's obviously found it or something masquerading as it in scientology. Sad.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:31 am |
  4. John

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z4iaUFSkME&w=640&h=390]

    July 4, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • you might be an atheist if

      you let cheap videos do your thinking for you

      July 4, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • spoddney

      Awesome...thanks for putting that up.

      July 4, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  5. spoddney

    Unfunny Truth

    Can you tell me how to embed videos into your CNN comment?

    I've never figured out how to do it.

    July 4, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • Blunt Object

      Just paste the link from youtube and it will show up embedded. I don't think it works with any other video source.

      July 4, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  6. Narry

    Scientology supposedly claims to be able to cure being gay. First John Travolta now Tom?

    July 4, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  7. Cq

    You don't get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion. L Ron Hubbard

    He said that in 1948, long before he started Scientology, and still people joined. Could there be any better proof that people will believe anything as long as you wrap it up as religion?

    July 4, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Apparently, someone thinks it works here, too. All you need to do is impersonate another poster to get attention.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You gotta' fight back!

      Don't take that crap from him!

      Give it back as good as you get it!

      Don't let them get the upper hand!

      Don't be a puss!

      Don't be a wuss!

      Come 'on, man up! (or woman up, whatever) or people will think you're weak!

      July 4, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  8. dilberth

    Well, one thing that could be said of Scientology, is that they don't worship a dead man like christian AKC's do (Ass Kissers of Christ).

    July 4, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Cq

      They all but worship L Ron Hubbard, a third-rate science-fiction writer, and he's dead. If they're still around in a 100 years they'll probably be worshipping him full blown by then.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  9. LittleHero

    Can you say tax dodge?

    For all those insisting that Atheism is a religion – I say let's own it. Organize! Let's get every atheist tax-free status. My home is my church and all my earnings support the church and it's clergy.

    July 4, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      With Barry in power you'll probably get it approved. He might even visit you and make a donation.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not my post.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      After all, he's got to keep Holly-weird happy. Maybe he can be an honorary Operating Thetan Level 8 (butt buddy) with Tommy and Travolta.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'll take credit for the last one though.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Wow. You are really needy, aren't you?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I went to a North Hollywood spa last year and guess who was there! I asked him for his autograph, but it washed off in the shower.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not funny. My husband's gay.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Aww. Didn't mommy breast-feed you long enough? Did she push you off when you were only 5?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      My offer still stands. You're always welcome to sit down and finish the job. You're probably a cow anyway, so what's one more?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Goodness me. I must have really hurt you, little troll.

      I can only hope the damage is permanent. It was obviously well deserved! Kudos to me!

      July 4, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It's perfidious!

      You've got lots of toxic vomit for poor believers, but... *sigh* no real game. You're a disappointment. Kind of like the tall, mouthy kid who can spin the ball, but can't hit the rim.

      *thunk*

      July 4, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ah, well, I see my little butt-hurt troll has passed out or been sent to bed by his mommy.

      Too bad. The little fvcktard made an entertaining cat-toy until it had the stuffing beaten out of it.

      Oh, well, tomorrow is another day, full of the promise of disemboweling more boneheaded dweebs.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      it's a date, so don't be late and make me wait.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Why

      Why do Christians make immature comments under others' aliases?

      This seems to be a common thing. Is that what their Christ would do? I've read the Bible but do not recall where Jesus says to go out and act little brats in His name. Is there a New New Testament I am not aware of?

      July 4, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Why Not

      Well, hi-ho and a hearty fuk you back at ya'. When was the last time you scorned an atheist for chiding believers, or is this just a simple case of hypocrisy? Think hard now, you weaselly whiner.

      Ooooooh, I'm such a bad, bad christian. Where do I go to confess? How about right here?

      July 4, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Why

      @Why not, did Jesus teach you how to say 'fuk?'

      July 4, 2012 at 3:43 am |
  10. istrien

    I have read several just right stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much attempt you place to make this sort of wonderful informative site.

    July 4, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  11. Jack

    Hello. Everyone is welcome to visit ... thestarofkaduri.com

    July 4, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • This kind of trolling starts when middle school lets out for the day.

      Will you please go away?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  12. panorain

    One of the most-cherished traditions of scientology is labor. Both as a form of liberation and as a form of penance. That is how they get their churches to be so big. They just get more free labor. Did TC get any? Plus are there any fair-minded ways to leave? Besides getting shunned or worse?

    July 4, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  13. LV-426

    All these Scientology cats are lacking is a little time. Just need to give them a couple of thousand years to embed their fable in society and build some more monuments. PLUS they need to get the ’follow us or else’ story straight, i.e. more fear factor required people AND they need to get some more folks into positions where they can influence the law/policy of the day. IRS was a good start but need to go further. Oh don’t neglect the education system, need to get on the curriculum somehow AND print more bumper stickers, OH and make some snow domes..oh, nearly forgot, they need anthems. Can’t go mainstream without some catchy anthems.

    July 4, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  14. Diana

    Jesus said " I am the way the life and the truth, no man comes to the father (God) except through me" John 14:6. We were created by the God of the universe and nobody else and we are a three part human being (mind, body, spirt). In John 10:10 Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." Jesus died for our past, future and present sins, that's how much he loves us!!! Because of the fall of man God had to send his only son Jesus to save us and give us eternal life to reign with God the father, Jesus his son and the Holy Spirit forever in heaven after this life on earth iis done. There is good and bad in this world, just like there are ways of life from the majestic kingdom of God – his will, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and holy doctrine of truth, love & the fruits of the spirit and his host of heavenly waring, comforting and ministering angels, and there are ways of death from the kingdom of darkness Satan and his host & doctrines of demons along with man's carnal flesh -his own will. Yes we all have a choice to make who will have lead our lives and be Ruler over your life... I chose God, Jesus, Holy Spirit and the heavenly host of angels. Here are a few more of God's promises in the Holy Bible. John 8:32 " Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Proverbs 3: 5&6 "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your path." Matthew 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." God bless you and hope you make the right eternal choice!

    July 4, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • Lioness Promulgamations Riptidious Gultudinate

      Tl. DR.

      Plus: boring

      July 4, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Just as nutty as the Scientologists.....

      July 4, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Peter

      ohh please stop it.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Istvan

      LOL!!!!!

      July 4, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Cq

      Remind me again why we want to come to God?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • bwana

      And your point is? You do have a point, right?

      July 4, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • love4God

      To be truly loved unconditionally

      July 4, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • OTOH

      love4God
      "To be truly loved unconditionally"

      There are definitely "conditions", according to your book of superst.itions. Don't talk nonsense.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Nunez

      . . . and thus He created the holy Cut and Paste.

      July 4, 2012 at 3:17 am |
    • SHAME

      Jesus Christ I thought you'dnever shut up! Can't you pray that crap in your headand notspewit out for therestof us to smell? (it STINKS!!!)

      July 4, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • love4God

      @OTOH:
      To be truly loved unconditionally is being loved despite my imperfections.
      To be accepted for who I have been, who I am, and who I have yet to become.
      To be loved when I am at my weakest as well as my strongest.
      To know and understand compassion is not always deserved, but freely given
      To be given indescribable love which compares to nothing. Love beyond the boundaries of what can be given.
      To be unworthy of that love yet still receive it is humbling.
      To know love that has a capacity to endure when what is precious is broken.
      To have a love that never leaves you. Even when you push it away.
      To explain how much a love like this is worth can not be accomplished with words.
      To know unconditional love is a rare gift.
      To share it is also a rare gift. Love is not mine alone.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • OTOH

      love4,

      You are not talking about the "God" of the Judeo-Christian Bible, then. That one has conditions... one being that if you don't believe in it, you get eternal damnation.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • tallulah13

      How sad that someone needs to be loved so badly they will believe in something for which there is no proof. Just another reminder that those of who have the unconditional love of real friends and family should count ourselves fortunate.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • love4God

      @OTOH

      One God
      One Love
      One Humanity

      Love for love itself in the present not for a future reward.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • love4God

      @tallulah13
      In this moment I realize how necessary it is to retain human decency towards others.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:29 am |
  15. Notmyname

    Many of those who join the religion are those whom you rejected. You abused them to such an extreme alienated frame of mind that they don't know where else to turn to in life. Scientology is a fine religion with fine people. The main reason you do not like them now is because you do not understand them. You hated them worse before they joined. Those within the group upgraded themselves. You stayed the same.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Bull. "They don't know where else to turn in life"?

      What kind of special stupid are you?

      July 3, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • LittleHero

      That's cult talk!

      July 4, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • XenuSent

      Need an e-meter?......cheap!

      July 4, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • John

      Scientology, like all organized religions, is fake.

      You are being abused. I hope you realize that before they suck you of all your money, which is what they really want from you.

      July 4, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • SHAME

      If upgraded means brainwashed and robbed of all your savings PLUS being told not to contact any family or friends who are worried about you, then being sucked dry, chewed up and spat out then I would rather have not changed. Suicide is very sadly a common side effect of Scientology. This cult needsto end!!!

      July 4, 2012 at 4:06 am |
  16. southdenvercardio

    Well Tom Cruise mean it for what he believes in Scientology. As we all know, Scientology a comprehensive reference on the religion and how it helps people live a better life.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  17. Unfunny Truth

    Very sad but good video.

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

    July 3, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  18. Lisa

    I read where Ron Hubbard was once heard saying the best way to get rich was to start a religion. So he did. the fact that seemingly intelligent people buy into it is crazy. Tom Cruise loves it cause it lets him be the egomaniac he is.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  19. :)

    Maybe Tom Cruise was attracted to Scientology in his early 20's, when young people can be impressionable and are beginning to live life...with not many adult living experiences and gullibleness, he was maybe an easy catch for this cult. What do u think? : /

    July 3, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  20. :)

    BY THE BEARD OF ZEUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 3, 2012 at 11:31 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.