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. Dr. Rick Stoppe

    Christian Science is an oxymoron. It is neither Christian nor scientific. It is a religion for tax purposes only. Tom, you have now chosen 3 women taller than than you, significantly taller when in heels. Cruise for someone shorter next time. If love is better the second time around, think how much better it will be the 4th time around.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Woody

      Mary Baker Eddy was a Scientologist? Before Scientology was invented? Wow. Learn something new every day.

      July 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  2. achepotlex

    It is no more or less retreaded and dangerous than any other religion.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Marsupialist

      I don't know about that, it is more dangerous than believing that Joseph Smith found some freaky gold tablets with alien writing out in the woods and when translated they explained how all the stuff about Jesus was wrong that Jesus was in North America the whole time along with the Opossum of course the true God of all Marsupials

      July 3, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  3. eigenklarg

    Scientology is just a 20th century remake of Mormonism (with some additional sci-fi flair).

    July 3, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  4. AEireM55

    I am putting together my own religion right now. I have not figured out yet what we will believe in or what the rules will be, donations to the Church will secure my retirement. I will get back to you with the details.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You bring the funny!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Woody

      I suggest "The First Church of Who Cares". It's the perfect answer to all of life's major questions. "Is there a God?" Who cares! "Is the world going to end on 12/21/12?" Who cares! And so on.

      July 4, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  5. Jesus of Nazareth

    I am Jesus and I support this crazy bs the same as I support my own crazy followers! Think about it, my followers believe I walked on water, turned water into wine, healed leapers, raised the dead and died myself and rose again three days later. I also spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert with nothing to eat. When I was dead, I went to hell and stole a pair of keys from a red Devil and did a few other miracles. Who is crazier in your eyes????

    July 3, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Snowdog

      I feel sorry for you.. One day you will be face to face with the one that you mock. Jesus is the Savior and he is God.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Marsupialist

      We also believe you stole the thunder of the might Koala bear which really is not a bear but nevertheless I am the son this and son of god that stole the Koalas thunder leaving him to eat only eucalyptus the rest of his holy days. Okay so now we worship the Opossum the only North American Marsupial, try to explain that away. Why would God only create one NAM the answer, because he the Opossum is God.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  6. RS 12234

    I did not know about Scientology and now (after reading this) I know less.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  7. Mormontology, Marsupialism, Zeusism, Bushism

    Just another cult. Scientologists have Xenu Koramba, Mormons have Moroni and Smith (was a law firm), Marsupialists have the great Opossum and Bushists have Halicheneyburton. All cults all out for your money all the time. It is rumored that the "hunting accident" where Cheney thought his friend was a quail was really an initiation into the Haliburton Bushists Temple of Greater Greed sometimes also known as BFOC (blood for oil club or cult).

    Exposing human kinds worst cults, my work is done here MMZB

    July 3, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Thanks MMZB

      Thanks for exposing the cults, we mere mortal sheep always need help to keep us out of crazy cults.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Wait, wait!! You have ignored koalas!! They are the gods of Marsupialism! How dare you fail to genuflect in honor of their incredible Cuteness!

      July 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  8. lulu

    umm....Come again? I didn't quite understand...What is scientology again? I believe that everyone has the right to believe in whatever they wish but It's quite obvious that someone decided to make money of their own believes and someone else was stupid enough to go with it and BANG we have a new religion. Why is it even classified as a religion anyway? Are there miracles occuring? And the E-meter? Really? I wonder how much money the cult, i mean, church banks a year.

    Anyhow, each their Own!

    July 3, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  9. Sherlock Holmes

    Scientology is a ponzi scam and violation of human rights. To rank higher up you need to give them more and more money. They disconnect you from your friends in the real world and break up families. Katie Holmes is now a SP in Scientology, which stands for Suppressed Person.

    If she weren't so famous then the church would harass her even more and deny normal Scientologists any form of communication with her. Suri is now a PTS, also known as a potential trouble source. If they lived on Scientology property every single thing Suri would do would be intensively spied on. Google 'Scientology Scam'. I haven't even scratched the surface.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:13 pm |

    WHAT do you KNOW?

    July 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  11. Lengrady75

    This is precisely why all religion is wrong...

    “Individuals have to decide what is true and real for them.”

    July 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Trekgeek1

      Agreed. Truth and reality are not dependent on a particular person. What is true is true for everyone. What is real is what is real for everyone. We all live in the same universe, subject to the same physical laws. Ideas such as "find what is real and true to you", are just really new age ways of masking being wrong. Whenever somebody says something crazy and you say "that is nonsense" they just retort "it's the truth for me". Ridiculous, imagine if that were tolerated in academics.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • hj

      fortunately this is not the premise of many religions.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Snowdog

      So if murder is real and true to someone then it is ok. What a ridiculous statement.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  12. People Paula


    July 3, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  13. Erik

    South Park got it spot on and L. Ron Hubbard's own voice corroborates their story.


    July 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Soma

      Bahaha, anyone with questions about this cult should watch that episode. No wonder it was disabled so quickly.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  14. Guest

    I thought it was about dead aliens souls living in our bodies,and the more dead alien souls you consume the happier you are

    July 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  15. I'm Just Saying

    Everyone knows Tom Cruise is into Scientology, but they still want to get with him. I am not a TC fan nor am I a TC hater. So why do they continue to flock to him. $$$$$$$$$$$$. I can not feel sorry for these ladies. Tom get a lady already committed to Scientolgy just a word of advise. I would not even entertain a commitment with someone who is not a Christian. It is not going to work. Didn't L Ron mention that. Just sayin,

    July 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  16. LordXenu

    Jesus, Muhammad, Santa Clause and me went partying last night! Don't knock it.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  17. kamana

    The human male fabricated his religions because the human male is a lazy animal who dose not like to work to support himself. If you watch all the religious communities throughout the world you will invariably see them hustling the people for substance and support. In that respect, Scientology is no different from any other religion: just another hustle for money.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Trekgeek1

      What was the Human female doing all this time?

      July 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  18. GonzoG

    I won't call Scientology a "cult". They seem a tad nutty to me, but so long as they behave themselves...who are we to say anything is wrong with their beliefs.

    NOW, when they go about knocking valid medical treatment as part of their religion–then they are crossing the line with me.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  19. jbkorn02

    I'm glad she got out though before they did something strange to her child.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  20. jbkorn02

    I have always thought that any organized religion was bs (thought mormons believed were dumb becasue everything they believe has been proven false). But with this one I honestly think they are all just playing a joke on us. That's how riduculous it all sounds. I wouldn't be suprised if in a few years they came out laughing at how easy it was to fake a religion and get tax exempt.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:52 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.