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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. PAUL

    Is This Still The Talk of The Town?

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8XSYpPwPrk&w=640&h=390]

    August 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  2. TJ

    L. Ron Hubbard surely knew a thing or two about some important events of this world because he not only spent his “magician years” in satanist Aleister Crowley’s Thelema Church in California, but he had also risen to the 33rd degree in the Scottish Rite Masonry (perhaps even to the Illuminati degrees). Scientology, do not go there please.
    Mr. Tom Cruise is acting like a false prophet who has los his way.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  3. &#32

    &#60b&#61

    August 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  4. Athiest

    Scientology, like all religions, is a cult.

    Take ownership for your life and stop blaming your problems on others, be they "body thetans", or "the devil".

    Stand up and be grownups. Take responsibility. Put away the fairy tales.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  5. neil

    Help us save the jobs of 5 people
    http://www.indiegogo.com/save-our-jobs
    Please help

    July 31, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  6. kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    July 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Dzerres

      I always find that the more words someone has to use to describe something the less legitimate it is. You win the prize in this blog.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  7. sofiahope

    I mean, we can debate about it for another one hundred years and become even more divided about everything if everyone really wants to, or we can just take the pleasant approach call Scientology a cult and be done with it.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  8. colloidal gold l colloidal silver l colloids for life l mesosilver l purest colloids l silver water

    Excellent points altogether, you simply won a new reader. What could you suggest about your post that you made a few days in the past? Any certain?

    July 28, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  9. Kindness

    Kindness
    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    July 28, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • dougaussie

      break the matrix of illusion that holds our senses captive?, only a revelation from God can break the bondage illusion of sin, the revelation that Christ on the cross was the Son of God who took on human biological form. The Revelation that to chose Him gives access to God, no other way is possible or allowed. How do two men hear the same thing but only one believes and the other disbelieves is a mystery, some spark hidden deep within a extradimension of the soul?

      July 28, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  10. Patty

    Funny. There's no mention of Xenu nor that comment from Hubbard in which he states that if he wants to make money, he'll start a religion. This article is so fluffy, it's almost cute.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • PAUL

      I HAVE A SCIENCE EXPERIMENT IN MY PANTS!!

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWkS7pf9hKE&w=640&h=390]

      July 27, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  11. Scientology IS Psychiatry

    The concept of desensitizing trauma triggers is not unique to Scientology, it is common in psychotherapy. What is unique to Scientology is their blackmail and isolation from family and friends, which classifies them as a more dangerous cult. They get the auditee to spill their guts, they keep detailed records, and they use it against them if they try to leave which is much more difficult as they have no family or friends left on the outside and are shunned by those on the inside. They also charge ridiculous prices for their empty promises of clear, which eventually means super-human abilities.

    One could use the technology of "auditing" or desensitizing trauma triggers oneself by repeating these triggers, or exposing oneself to them repeatedly until they no longer have the effect to trigger negative reactions. It's not rocket surgery... it's a simple psychotherapy technique sans medication, much to Scientology's chagrin and embarrassment.

    July 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Athiest

      Human emotional blackmail and threat of losing your family is not specific to Scientology.

      It happens within the Jehovah's Witness cult as well.

      All religions are cults, invented by man, to explain the scary unknown.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  12. MM

    No different than any other cult. For some reason our culture dismisses christianity as some great and amazing adventure. It is just another cult no different than scientology. You are misinformed if you think otherwise. Confirmation bias clouds your logic.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  13. Zortsan

    I eascaped from Communist Russia. I don't believe to anyone who is talking about possessing a truth. It is crazy idea and real foundation of mass murder.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  14. Thisgirl

    So in other words, you are worshipping yourself?!!! This is not a religion. This is something totally different. I believe something the enemy has put out there to cause confusion and self worship. Anything to get people's attention off of God who created us. The bible is the only explanation of human life that makes sense and has been the most controversial, and most talked about, and most hated in history. If you think about it, people argue more about whether GOD Himself exists, and if the bible is true more than anything else. Just about every explanation of how we got here, and what happens when we die, and all the bad things that happen in the world, has God mentioned in it somewhere. Oh and if someone says JESUS people totally flip out. This scientology thing is absurd. The guy made it up. This is his warped twisted ideas that he has convinced people to believe. I sincerely hope that more people wake up and realize how warped this is. I hope that more celebrities and others realize truth. There is only 1 GOD and He created us! And there is proof of that everywhere. It's not hard to find it. It's just that people are too busy trying to convince others' that it's not true. You can't possibly believe the bible and this too. It's a total contradiction.

    July 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      If proof of your alledged god is everywhere, you will have no problem providing some. Come on – we're waiting patiently for that which has not been provided in well over 2,000 years...

      July 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • monae75

      Where is the proof that there is only 1 god? The Bible mentions the existence of many other 'gods' but they were allegedly false gods.The god that the Big 3(Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) is Yahweh the god of war.

      July 22, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • monickers

      TO 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      God does not need to proof His existence, we have to seek Him. If you really want to open up your mind and experience God's presence then you will find Him. It is so sad that people admit there are spirits out there and go to a certain length to see them and be in a TV show to tell the world their ghost story but missed out on the good one -knowing that GOD is so real. No, He does not need to proof his existence to make people believe he is real.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  15. revelations 13:7

    all the celebrities are in on it too....

    July 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  16. revelations 13:7

    it's a cult.... just as wacky as Mormonism

    July 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  17. Argle Bargle

    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."

    Naturally, the church keeps a record of all those "sources of trauma" in its little black book and uses them to help prompt the member to see clearly why it's so important to donate so much money to reach the next level.

    I'll bet if I had as much money as Tom Cruise and donated a whole lot to the Church of Scatatology...I mean Scientology, that I'd be one of it's 2-3 top members, too!

    July 19, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  18. Tom

    If Scientology is a religion, and L. Ron Hubbard is its' founder, is L. Ron Hubbard "god"?

    July 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Argle Bargle

      Do you figure they had him stuffed and mounted and placed on the main Scientology Alter?

      July 19, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  19. Mihael

    These guys are the pictured reality that humanity has reached its end following a Gaussian curve. Cruise may be a good actor but that does not mean that he's also smart or intelligent. Scientology is tangent to insanity. Some years back I poped in to an open meeting and for the next one year I constantly got calls, even at 1 in the morning if I do not consider joining them. I changed my number three times. Eventaully I cut off the line for good. It did not matter how sordidly I swore at them or how I insulted them, this breed of leeches did not gave up. They are the same breed as terrorists or fundamentalists are. The 20-80 law staes that 80% of all people are stupid (in a nutshell), but this ratio is not valid anymore. The more idiots we get, the 80% acts more like 120. Terrrible

    July 19, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Argle Bargle

      We are headed to a point where there will be a small rich elite and a large, poorly educated lower class which will provide manual labor, essentially slave labor, for the elites. Just look how quality education has declined to the point that fewer people are seeking to better themselves beyond doing their job, then returning home to a television or video game and some beer. We're heading right for the society illustrated in the movie "Idiocracy". People laugh at the idea, but take a step back and really look at our society – suddenly it's not so funny any more.

      July 19, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  20. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .I'LL SEE AMERICA OUT IN GREY!
    .THEN, I'LL SEE AMERICA OUT IN BLACK!
    .GUESS WHAT COLOUR I'M WEARING AT THE MOMENT!
    .GREY! GREY!
    .THEN COMES BLACK – FOR AMERICA!
    .I MUST BUY BLACK FOR AMERICA!

    July 18, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • mafia don

      BUY BLACK FOR AMERICA UK Dave! :(

      July 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Pinky Expert

      PUNISHMENT DESERVES PINK UK Dave!

      July 19, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • UK Dave & my fellow scientists

      PINK IT IS THEN! ;)

      July 19, 2012 at 12:03 am |
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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.