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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. ags

    As fast as my comment was posted, it was also taken off.
    I forgot to mention they have a whole building probobly filled with staff that filters the truth that comes out

    July 16, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  2. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .Perhaps more handshakes are necessary!
    .Drop the poison first!

    July 16, 2012 at 5:36 am |
  3. Anna

    Tom Cruise and Scientology should be held accountable for the suicides that took place after he told sick people to stop taking their medicine because he and Scientology do not believe in Psychiatric medicine. As a doctor I can tell you that chemical imbalance is very real and some individuals need medicine to function and stay mentally healthy. I propose an international lawsuit holding Mr. Cruise accountable for these unfortunate deaths.

    July 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Perhaps the Psychiatric profession should take the logs out of its collective eyes before becoming overly concerned about the speck in someone else's eye.

      July 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • ags

      I agree with you Anna but unfortunately there are some high level ranking people from various helpful industries including the media, who are brainwashed and protecting their cult to no end. They hire their own lawyers, spies, they are all part of it. The amount of money they make and their so called church has is unbelievable. Hmm those scammers also are taxed exempt and getting away with murder, child abuse, and mental abuse.
      My heart goes out to Tom Cruise and John Travolta who I hope one day will see the light.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • sam stone

      Whomever stops taking their medication because a movie star or a church tells them to do so has no call to complain

      July 17, 2012 at 4:20 am |
  4. Shaun

    The truth about Scientology based on former members suing the cult for damages they suffered:
    http://www.scientology-lies.com/crimesindex.html

    July 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  5. Carla

    Please read about Scientology and what they do to people, it is a crime:
    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/02/scientologys_di.php

    July 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  6. Kevin

    Scientology is a dangerous cult that utilizes abuse, fear and harassment when members try to leave. Shelly Miscavige has been missing since 2007 when she disobeyed her husband cult leader David Miscavige, who also happens to be Tom Cruise's best friend. Katie and Suri were lucky to escape alive. The FBI and IRS needs to investigate Scientology for crimes, fraud and abuse.

    July 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Thinker

      Oh they definatly are. The hard part is finding good hard evidence against them. The Guardians are vey good at covering things up and blackmailing people. For example they got a reporter who wrote an unflattering report on them convicted of a bomb plot and she spent quite a bit of time in jail before the truth came out and the conviction was overturned. There are other examples if you do a bit of research. They even broke into the IRS and other federal agencies to steal and destroy information.

      They are also sue happy. Hubbard directed them to sue repeatedly and often; not to win, but to harras the person into retracting statements or dropping charges etc.

      July 17, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  7. Lipschitz

    Hi everyone! I'll declare immediately – I'm "staunchly" Christian. Everyone, however, has the absolute right to believe what they believe in. I can't and won't impose my beliefs on anyone. But to be clear, we can't all be right. Obviously my view is that my beliefs are the correct ones and a person of the Muslim faith will believe otherwise. Good enough, that's what makes Canada great. The right to freedom of religion.

    However, one of the truths of the world which cannot be argued against is as follows: Tom Cruise is one of the all time biggest idiots the world has ever known. The world would be a better place if a parachute was strapped to his back and he was thrown out of a plane over a deserted island and food and scientology paraphenalia were dropped to him on a regular basis. Again, my views aren't based on his beliefs. Its just that he is an idiot.

    Thanks everyone for your patience. God bless.

    July 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  8. Norma

    http://www.factnet.org/node/1724

    read this about scientology

    July 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  9. wabob62

    He is an overpiad overrated actor who I don't like, way to go Katie for dumping this clown I hope you find a real man. All this religion BS was created and written by man and I tend to be wary of that all that. All you have to do is live an honest life and be thoughtfull of others you willget your rewards.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  10. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .I've made the very powerful argument!
    You cannot overcome the very powerful argument!
    The very powerful argument is;
    http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/fmcg/healthcare-beauty-and-baby/lock-up-your-sons-its-lynx-for-ladies/225401.article
    You cannot overcome GIRLY LYNX ATTRACT!

    July 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • mafia don

      We never could overcome the girly stuff UK Dave! :)

      July 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  11. PL

    I believe everyone should be able to believe as they wish as long as it doesn't affect anyone else. But in this day and age, believing in God rates right up there with Santa and the tooth fairy. Are we not more intelligent than that these days. I really think everyone believes in a religion and God just because they think people will look down on them if they don't. As intelligent people we are smarter than people centuries ago who had to have a reason for strange things happening in the world and their life.
    But as I said before, to each his own. but I don't need a "spirit" to make rules for me on how to be a good person. All religion is, is the power of positive thinking. Come on people, treat other people as you want to be treated and everyone would get along. There would be no more wars.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  12. Real Patriot

    Who ever gave these people church status anyways? You gotta wonder about these freaky deaky religions that started in the US like Scientology and Mormonism....Remember when Cruise came out publicly and blasted women who took and pain medication during childbirth and Brooke Shields told him to shut up?

    July 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Norma

      hahahahaha

      July 15, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Thinker

      Hubbard set Scientology up as a church since his Dianetics group was being constantly sued by the AMA for promising unproven effects and calling it medical science. (The radiation curing pill sold really well for a while :P )

      He decided that if it is a church he can claim whatever he wants and the AMA can't touch it. The tax exempt thing was just an added bonus.

      July 17, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  13. UK Dave & my fellow faithful scientists

    .Boy! Have I been slow!
    We're all havin' a big get-together!
    Liverpool UK is the big get-together!

    July 14, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  14. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .I JUST CONVERTED HELL !!!!

    July 14, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  15. xirume

    Just another made up religion crafted by another quack and designed to take advantage of an ever-growing abundance of fools. Religion is just another money-making racket.

    July 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  16. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .We're putting a very tasty ending to Friday the 13th at midnight tonight!
    .We're starting the end of Friday the 13th with a very tasty drink!
    .We've even got very tasty cigars lined up for tonight!

    July 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • mafia don

      Keep showin' up UK Dave!
      You've been thrillin' us UK Dave! :)

      July 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Rachel

      Why don't you two get an apartment together or something. Geez.

      July 14, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • Thinker

      They are probably the same person. There was a guy whose main handle was JustSayin and he had several alternate handles he would have arguements with. It was pathetic.

      July 17, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  17. Jan K.

    I will never understand why anyone would ever believe in any "god" other than Jesus Christ who was God's words, turned into a human being, to speak them here on Earth. Even Muslim/Islamists believe that Jesus was crucified, died and came back to life again, yet they choose to follow a man named Mohammed who was born 600 yrs. after the life of Jesus.
    No other man/god/leader/religion/cult etc., etc. can claim this death and re-birth. Jews, Muslims and many other religions believe in the Old Testament prophesy of a Messiah who would come to save and guarantee the reward of an eternal life in Heaven for those who believe, they just cannot accept that the Messiah of the world would appear as a simple carpenter, while they invisioned their Savior would be some rich king on a white horse! In all of history, Jesus Christ is the only One who fulfilled ALL of those prophesies (please check it out) that were written 2,000 years before His birth! If you can find someone or something that can top that, then go for it. Once, during a discussion I was having with an unbeliever in regard to Jesus, the person said to me "Well, who's to say who is right and who is wrong?" My response was, "Bottom line is this....If I am wrong, I lose nothing, if you are wrong, you will lose everything". He agreed with me. Please think about that. If I am wrong (which I know I'm not) then my fate will be the same as any other un-believer in Jesus, but if I am right, and you are wrong, you will be cast into a hell forever and ever and ever. God sends no-one to hell, he lets them choose for themselves where they will be. Jesus=Heaven, No Jesus=Hell. Jesus, (God's words), says that "No-one comes to the Father/God/Heaven, but by Me/Jesus. If you don't/won't believe and choose to "play" with fire...You Will Get Burned! Now then, if you want to jerk around with that, go ahead, your choice, but you have been forewarned. Please, if you wonder or care about what may happen to you after your death, please check out the Bible. I mean, seriously check it out. Start by reading the New Testament and read the history and words written by the men who hung out with Jesus. It is history. His-story. In all of science and all of time, no-one has ever been able to prove that Jesus was some sort of hoax or magician. Many of Jesus' followers/apostles and even His half-brothers died horrible, tortured, violent deaths because they refused to deny Him as the Son of God. Would they go through that if they knew He was a fake? I pray that God will bestow upon you, the gift of Faith in Jesus, and if you seek Him, you WILL find Him. You can thank me later, when I see you in Heaven! :)

    July 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • TomPaine

      "When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours".

      - Stephen F. Roberts

      July 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • JWT

      Your particular version of a god offer nothing that I need or want. Also what you post is your version fo the story and there are many other at least equally valid versions. Why would I listen to yours ?

      Anyway it's all moot since the gods are all fiction.

      July 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You know how you feel about other people's gods and how you feel about your own? That's how they think of your god in relation to theirs. Really, it's not that difficult a concept to understand.

      July 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Here is a little quiz. See if you can name the following person:
      (1) He was prophesied centuries before birth as "The Saviour."
      (2) He was born of a virgin.
      (3) He was saved in infancy from a jealous ruler.
      (4) He astonished learned men by his youthful wisdom.
      (5) He began to preach when he was thirty years old.
      (6) He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness.
      (7) He cast out demons.
      (8) He cured a blind man.
      (9) He performed many other miracles.
      (10) He preached a Supreme God of truth and goodness.
      (11) He lived centuries before Jesus of Nazareth was born.

      July 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Avroasitis

      No evidence that any of your points ever happened.

      July 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      @HawaiiGuest
      The quiz was originally prepared by Charles Francis Potter, a respected clergyman. The person referenced is Zoroaster. The Zoroastrian scriptures claim that they happened; whether to believe that they did is another matter. In any, case Zoroaster prophesied that there would be others like him, appearing about every millennium, until the arrival of a final "Saviour" marked the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

      July 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Did it now? That's an interesting thing. I've never really done any research into that religious belief. Now I need to.

      July 13, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • PL

      Come on Jan, Jesus was just a preacher like the ones we have around now. The bible, I admit, was a damn good book, which probably took many many years to write and revise by preachers years ago, , but it didn't write itself or just "appear". Maybe hundreds of years from now "50 shades of grey" will be the new bible, who knows!
      and Jan, I hate to break your bubble, but when you die – you're dead. References to your soul or being in heaven is just the way other people will remember you when you're dead. If you were a good person, people will say you went to heaven, bad person – you're in hell. I'm sure we are all smart enough to know you won't really "go" there.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Russ

      First, open your mind and read what I am writing. ALL religions are myths. They are not historical fact. They were written down by man, or transmitted by man orally. They are man's stories. Many of the things that are supposed to be facts in the stories have been proven scientifically to be not true/impossible. If the Bible were a witness in a trial that you put on the witness stand, and it was shown that some of it's testimony was wrong/false, then all of it's testimony would have to be thrown out.

      July 15, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Russ

      You cannot "believe" to insure yourself from going to hell. Belief has to be full, total, and unquestioning. If you go to church on Sunday, say some prayers, and claim you are a believer, that isn't good enough. That is not belief. Belief is accepting something as a fact, with your whole being. If you aren't doing that, you aren't a believer. Belief is like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren't. Most Americans aren't. They go through the motions.

      July 15, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • HeavenSent

      God sends non-believers strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, . . . (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

      Soon, consistent with His righteous and holy ways, the Lord will send "the man of sin" (2 Thessalonians 2:3) whose coming "is according to the working of Satan" (2 Thessalonians 2:9) so that people will "believe the lie."

      God sends the Antichrist (1 John 2:18) and his false prophet "who deceives those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 13:14).

      Why? "Because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

      Sooner than you thing will be the coming Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15-5:3; Revelation 6).

      Amen.

      July 15, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  18. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .SUDDENLY I'M INTO SONG-WRITING !!!!
    SUDDENLY, I CREATED Facebook(THE SCOUSE LYRICS) to save our Universe – from you lot!
    SUNG IN UK LIVERPOOL'S BROAD SCOUSE ACCENT ...
    (solo)
    Gerrin' ter know yer!
    Gerrin' ter know all abou' yer!
    Gerrin' ter like yer!
    Gerrin' ter hope yer like me!

    Gerrin' ter know yer!
    Purrin' it my way!
    Bu' nicely!
    Yerrrrr precisely
    My cuppa tea!

    Gerrin' ter know yer!
    Gerrin' ter know all abou' yer!
    Gerrin' ter like yer!
    Gerrin' ter hope yer like me!

    Gerrin' ter know yer!
    Purrin' it my way!
    Bu' nicely!
    Yerrrrr precisely
    My cuppa tea!

    Gerrin' ter know yer!
    Gerrin' ter feel free an' easy!
    When I am with yer!
    Gettin' ter know wha' ter sing!

    Haven' yer noticed!
    Suddenly I'm brigh' an' breezy!
    Because of all the beaurriful an' new
    Things I'm learnin' abou' yer
    Day by day!

    (all join in)
    Gerrin' ter know yer!
    Gerrin' ter feel free an' easy!
    When I am with yer!
    Gerrin' ter know wha' ter sing

    Haven' yer noticed!
    Suddenly I'm brigh' an' breezy!
    Because of all the beaurriful an' new
    Things I'm learnin' abou' yer
    Day by day!

    Find these Scouse lyrics@Facebook(THE SCOUSE LYRICS) too!

    July 13, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  19. TomPaine

    I'm tired of people who have a belief in any particular religion deriding another person's religion, whatever it may be, as though they can somehow show that all the other religions are even more baseless than theirs is.

    July 13, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • yoshi

      this is not a religion my friend, that is the problem – read the book Inside Scientology – this is a business and it lures in the weak with free therapy and then it takes over their lives – why would a so-called church be so secretive, follow people around and sue everybody that looks at them?

      July 13, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  20. 1twinsfan

    The problem with religions that have all the answers is that they won't let you ask any questions. - I actually read this in a church advertisement and found it very astute.

    July 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Lily Chase

      I will respectfully disagree with you here. I will speak from a Catholic point of view, but understand please that this applies to other faith traditions.

      I've studied a significant amount of Catholic theology and to be honest with you, there are more questions than answers in that field. Why do we suffer? How do we reconcile faith and reason? What about gay marriage? How do we even know that there is a God (and if there isn't, how did I make a profession out of studying him?!) Theologians who study these questions rarely come up with black and white answers.

      One of the problems we're having today is that the leadership in the American church - and many other countries' Catholic leadership as well - is not comprised of theologians but rather of administrators. They're conditioned to create and follow rules. This has its place, of course, but because our leadership is so rule-oriented our questions get squashed. This is true not only for the Catholics but, I think, for a lot of religions that we encounter today.

      It's a never-ending struggle to find a balance. But please know that at least in my faith tradition we have a long and rich history of asking unanswerable questions.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:58 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.