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. markiejoe

    I assume all Scientologists are supporting Mitt Romney for President, since Romney's "religion" is based on the same kind of science fiction stories as Scientology.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      A vote for Romney is avote for the Devil.


      July 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Collin

      Not the same at all. Mormonism is a christian religion. It makes historically verifiable claims. See here: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/index.html

      July 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Patiat

      Collin- just how is the story of the golden tablets verifiable??? They were supposedly shown to Joseph Smith, taken away, and then shown to him one last time before being taken away definitively. There's nothing verifiable about a tale like that.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      It sems to me that Scientology has more in common with Atheism than Mormonism. It's not focused at all on God but rooted in a scientific approach of self evaluation, self improvement and relativism. That's what makes it an attractive option for those in the entertainment business.

      Although Mormons are not Christians as suggested by Collin, they do believe in God or multiple gods. To be Christain is to recognize Jesus is God himself and the second person of the Holy Trinity. Mormons do not from my understanding.

      July 5, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Phony heavensent has no life.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • wrong side of the bed

      @colin..So,if it is a Christian religion it's OK?Joseph Smith was a con man in a time and place where dozens of them plied there trade.He used the vale of christianity to appeal to more folks and give his con some legitimacy.What then,does this say about the gullibility and desperation of ALL religious believers?.

      July 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  2. wentz

    L Ron Hubbard ingeniously created a fake "religion" so the multibillionaire celebrities to use as a tax write-off.. Hell you can't blame him. It's a good idea.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      No. He created it to make himself money.

      Don't ascribe to him a motive other than self centered. The organization does target celebrities, though. For money and for a higher profile.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  3. FreeXenu

    Funny how they failed to mention any shady business on the oh so profound founder, mr.hubbard. that aspect of him is so big, it should be given its own record deal.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Thinker

      THey can't. If they do they will get buried under a pile of lawsuits.

      July 5, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  4. American New Yorker Guy

    Mr. Cruise, it is very unfortunate that you have chosen the wrong person to marry. As an American guy in New York, I date many unbelievably gorgeous Russian girls & other European women. European women are the absolute best to choose as a partner in life. European women are highly educated, sweet, sincere, unbelievably friendly, and very exotic.
    Katie Holmes will now probably retain that man-hating-could-never-get-a-date-loser-in-life lawyer Gloria Allred.
    There are lessons in life to be learned, and people learn from their mistakes. Tom, I am sorry, but you made an incredibly BIG mistake placing a wedding ring on Katie Holmes.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • blinky

      Um, other than bragging about the size of your junk, your point about Scientology is...?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • markiejoe

      And how to "European women" feel about having every aspect of their, and their children's, lives controlled by Scientology.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Cana

      What the hell are you talking about?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Ellen Thompson

      You're serious?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Kathy

      In other words, you like pliable women. American women are just to darn independent and can actually think for themselves.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Cyber Shocked

      Russian & Czech women are so smokin' hot gorgeous! I want one!

      July 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  5. Patti

    A more appropriate name for this "religion" would be bullsh!tology

    July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  6. dallastexas75205

    Really, why does the religion have to go extreme. I don't blame Kate for staying Catholic.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Pichounette

      Catholicism is not extreme??

      July 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • W247

      Catholicism is not a cult??

      July 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  7. Aezel

    If you ever read any of L. Ron Hubbard's sci-fi, the guy was very smart. I really can't help thinking that Scientology was his giant joke on humanity, simply because he knew he could.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • wentz

      The only reason this "religion" exists is the tax breaks which other religious foundations get from our government for their operational costs. It's an exploitation of our country's pursuit of liberty. period. It's not as much a cult as it is a scam. Are you a multi-millionaire celeb? Wanna easy tax break? SURE! Just call your self a scientologist. The air you breath alone as a scientologist is a tax write off.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Cana

      Aezel....I have always said the same thing!!! I'll bet that he is laughing he @s$ off wherever he is right now. He has to be slapping his forehead saying "Holy $h!t! I got away with it!"

      July 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • spoddney

      You're correct in stating that L Ron Hubbard was smart.

      I'd add that smart people are often successful because they know how to manipulate stupid people.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  8. JRae

    Hopefully, Tom's next wife will already be a scientologist, so he doesn't have to go to the trouble of trying to convert her. It's failed twice now. I guess "love" or money blinded Katie so she didn't see or care to see just how deep he was into it. She should have known he would want to raise their kid in this cult. Unequally yolked....there's a reason God mentions this...a difference in religion will always be an issue when it comes to raising the kids. Poor kids are always stuck in the middle.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  9. larry

    Just like Isalm it is a cult.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Christians are part of the only true religion. The rest are dogs or Atheists.


      July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • 666metal

      haha christians are part of the only true religion...lol and what is that religion?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • bbrooker88

      Sorry, but ALL religions are a cult. Every single last one of them.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • turnagainoutlaw

      Or Christianity or Judaism or Mormonism etc.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • George

      Islam is no more a cult than Christianity or Judiasm. All originated in the same place and have been at war with one another ever since for control of the birth of their faith.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • 666metal

      Judaism is us atheists that will control everyone in the world. We're the only one's the get the high salaries, as we foreclose on your homes, screw up your communities, control your judges and politicians.

      Oops, drank to much of my own koolaid. Yum.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Weinstein

      Spoken like a truly uneducated American...

      July 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jerry

      Not sure who said it but... "The difference between a cult and a religion is how much real estate they own." Can I get an AMEN?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Phony heavensent, maybe going to school to get an education will do you wonders instead of obsessively stealing my handle to write your nonsense. Makes me feel good that my posting bothers you. LOL.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Heaven Scent

      Both Heaven Sent & Heavensent have stolen my handle. They are both Islamic Scientologips trying to control the world for the Queen Mother who is now 105 years old & runs The World Bank, the IMF, and the New York Yankee's from her 105 cubic mile aquarium where she is the leading frog-lizard of the planet. She is still alive, you cannot find a death record however neither can you find a birth record of the reclusive Queen Mother. In the centuries she's been around she has become the worlds only quadrillionaire and eats baby boys on toast for high tea.

      July 10, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  10. mork

    all religions are for the weak including this one

    July 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  11. careader

    Take any religion and bring it to an extreme, and you get a cult.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • 666metal

      all religion is pretty extreme.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      All the misfits can't stand community.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  12. 666metal

    it is a cult just like all the other religions.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  13. not surprised

    So let us break this down... Science Fiction writer, writes a book that is so good that he convinces himself and others that it is real? My mother woke up this morning telling me that she saw two little kids standing in her room, she said they ran off so she came and woke me up to ask why I let them in the secure apartment... I told her it was a dream she was having... but now I am beginning to think it was real, and despite her dementia, it could actually be true... I am thinking of starting a tax exempt church of the Wandering Children.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • wentz

      bingo. you got it. L. Ron didn't believe it was true.. . scientology is a social commentary on his views regarding tax breaks given to religious groups. Ever wonder why only rich celebs call themselves scientologists? It gives them an easy tax write off.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  14. Tom

    This is a horrible article, you don't even scratch the surface, not even an inkling of why Scientology has a bad name. You also don't mention all the other books L.Ron hubbard wrote and basically make him out to be a literary scholar. He was a freaking science fiction writer.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Anna

      I totally agree. Ridiculous.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • nojo1

      Why so uppity Tom? As they clearly stated..."Here are the basics about the religion. What other questions do you have?" The basics, not a comprehensive report.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  15. Pat (Michigan)

    Scientology is a cult. It has nothing to deal with the sin nature of man before a holy God. Only Jesus Christ can provide that forgiveness..... Only accepting Christ as Savior provides eternal life. This is a bunch of self-actualization that does nothing. God says our lives are as filthy rags, which only the blood of Jesus can make clean, acceptable before God, the Father. Tom, like other who do not accept Christ have a destiny with Hell. I did not say that – the one who rose from the dead did – Jesus Christ.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Not perfect

      Some might say christianity is a cult...

      July 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Patti

      ...or a fairy tale.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Josh

      "God says our lives are as filthy rags," By God you mean the collective bedtime stories a bunch of white/brown guys created 2000-1500 year ago? That "God"? It never ceases to amaze me how easily manipulated humans can be. Whatever gets you going in the morning but lets have a deal, I don't push the story of Little Red Ridding Hood on you, and you keep your funny stories to yourself.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • D-man

      You are delusional, Adolf Hitler once stated "What Luck for leaders that people do not think" THis scientology and other religions prove that humans are the smartest but also the most gullible creatures on earth. People believing fairy tailish stuff if I said jack and the beanstalk was true and tried to force it on you you would say I am a nutcase.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  16. Uhmmm

    This is a cult indeed! I ask myself, what has Tom Cruise done to help people in pain, such as poverty, etc. He should open shelters, and donate 50% or more of all his millions. That would be a good humen being, and not a selfish waste of flesh like him!

    July 3, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Duh

      EVERY religion is a cult, Einstein.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Anna

      Come on! He's done so much! For example, he "knows"and only scientologists "know"and can "help". In fact, world leaders depend on him and other scientologists. They help and make the world better. They "improve conditions". And they "work". They "work"a lot. They just "do it". I mean, Tom Cruise has been so busy helping and working and doing, that, even though he would like to take a vacation and "romp"and "play", he just can't! Hopefully that's clearer for you now.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Cana

      I can't stand Cruise and I think that Scientology is a complete joke. Having said that – how do you know what he does with his money? Not everyone makes charitable donations and helps others for the publicity. I don't know how much of his money he uses to help others......how do you?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  17. JeffinIL

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

    July 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Thinker

      I've always thought he started scientology as a way to prove that statement...

      July 5, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  18. blinky

    Everything in scientology borrows from Hinduism, science fiction, and a crude Reader's Digest version of psychoanalysis. It's entirely made up from bits and pieces of pop culture that were hip in the 1950s, when L. Ron was founding his, er, religion. There's nothing else to it.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • mikey

      agreed...a re-worded dressed up & modernized way of recounting Hindu beliefs...and a bit of Buddhism mixed in...no big deal.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  19. Steve

    It's a cult seeking to influence government and control the population.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • ladyantistupid

      well they seem to have done a good job at influencing the government to get a tax exempt status when they are in business to sell goods and services to their flock. From what I have read, they get enough intelligence on members of Congress, the IRS, etc and utilize blackmail strategies and intimidation. They also have recruited a flock of Lawyers who tie things up, appeal and exhast the system.

      One day this will all come to a head. And its ironic that Cruise, their "golden boy, poster child" is causing people to look a little closer into the Secret World of Scientology.

      July 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • ladyantistupid

      PS. And as the public researches this cult, along with Reporters, we sure do not like what we see. If any Sci Fi person attempts to try to get me into one of their places, I will run like hell!

      July 5, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  20. Johnson

    I would agree with Mr. Murdock and add that Scientology is very similar to Mormonism which has the same system of rejection for those who leave. They both also share the concept of planetary involvement in spirituality. Both are cults.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • cjoshua

      I'm sorry to inform you that your knowledge/ideas of Mormonism are skewed and incorrect. Mormonism is nothing like Scientology....not even close!

      July 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Collin

      Not the same at all. Mormonism is a christian religion. It makes historically verifiable claims. See here: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/index.html

      I have friends and family members who have left the mormon church and I do not shun them, the church does not sue them. I only talk about the church if they ask me about it.

      I can also tell you that the mormon church makes bad men good and good men better. It has been the source of many of the good things in my life. It kept me from alcohol and drugs and taught me to be honest in my life and hard working.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • JP0

      @Collin: "It kept me from alcohol and drugs and taught me to be honest in my life and hard working." I guess you couldn't figure that stuff out for yourself. It took the promise of a better life after death to keep you from alcohol and drugs and to make you honest and hard working. Amazing! It's really pretty simple, if you don't abuse drugs and alcohol and if you are honest and hard working you will have a better life NOW. And, you will live on in the minds of all of those on whom you had a positive influence. You don't need to believe fairy tales to be a "good person".

      July 3, 2012 at 8:03 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.