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. closet atheist

    Is it a coincidence that religious fundamentalism is on the rise in the US and our standing in education is falling...??

    July 5, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Narry

      Oh, the wonders of home schooling.

      July 5, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  2. Horus

    Scientology – an elitist cult invented by a sci-fi writer, and perpetuated by the easily manipulated.

    July 5, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Pretty much the same thing as the xtian cult.

      July 5, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • closet atheist

      If humans still exist in a couple thousand years (debatable), they'll look back and muse about the mythologies of our time... christianity and scientology will look the same to them... both quite silly

      July 5, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      Lets hope that jesus will be just another god myth such as ra, zeus, dionysus, in a few hunderd years that bites the dust and vatican city and all the cathedrals and churches wil be used to house the needy or be just of archeology intrest like the temples in Greece.

      PS: Intreseting headline in the business news...
      Shhh, Vatican gets a report card on financial transparency, but it is secret.
      True not a joke, but it does have to make you laugh at all the suckers that keep supporting this corrupt organization.

      July 5, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Narry

      Or, it was designed to prey on neurotic, self-centered types, like celebrities. Make them pay through the nose for "self-improvement". Again, a lot like Christianity.

      July 5, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  3. Atheist Hunter

    Good morning my searching friends! Just sharing a good read with you. Keep looking, Jesus is watching you! He cares!

    July 5, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      There is no evidence for a Jesus or for any gods. Please back your claims with evidence.

      July 5, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • sam stone

      He cares! And you will be in heaven forever......annny day now.......

      July 5, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Horus

      Jesus is watching? Wonder what he thought of me and my wife in the shower this morning.....How arrogant (and absurd) to believe that there is a "god" watching every person, at all times, on this one rock in this vast universe....

      July 5, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Jesus sees me when I'm sleeping? He knows when I'm awake?
      If he knows when I've been bad or good, I'd best be good for goodness sake.

      July 5, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Doc Vestibule
      I think you have jesus confused with Professor X.....

      July 5, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Narry

      Doc Vestibule
      Wasn't being "good for goodness sake" a tag line from one of those atheist bus ads? Christians don't want people to be good just because it's the right thing to do, they want you "get saved" and you're supposed to be good magically afterwards, but it never seems to work out that way for many of them. Christianity isn't about morals, but they claim to be the authorities of what good morals are all about. It's a bit twisted, isn't it?

      July 5, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Ba-al


      Yes, he did and he told me that you have ED.

      July 5, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      He could show me he really cares and appear in front of me. That would wipe away my doubt, and I would join your army. Or did Jesus/God finish all 'it's' tour dates and they'll be no more appearences? Seems like a simple enough equation; Appear = Save Souls. Tsk...... do I gotta do all the thinking from Earth?

      July 5, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You'd better not shout, you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout – I'm telling you why: Jesus Christ is coming to town.

      July 5, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  4. jaybird

    In a couple of words, Scientology is just another DUMB CULT! Next...

    July 5, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  5. doctore0

    Scientology is like other religions.. mutant mental illness

    July 5, 2012 at 6:53 am |
  6. Nii

    The funny part is u wud b de irrational one among these Authors
    1. Moses-Egyptian Crown Prince
    2. Joshua-His Secretary
    3. Ezra-Persian official
    4. Daniel-Prime Minister of Persia and Babylonia.
    5. David-King of Israel
    6. Solomon-King of Israel
    7. Paul of Tarsus-Theologian n Lawyer.

    July 5, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • tallulah13

      Bootyfunk has a greater knowledge of the workings of the world than any of those people you listed. For that matter, any child with a decent grasp of science would have a greater knowledge of the workings of the world than any of those people you listed. Not because men of that era were stupid, but because the advancement of scientific knowledge that occurred over the millenia renders obsolete much of what was believed to be true so long ago.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • OTOH

      The minute that you bring seeing or being spoken to by supernatural beings to the table, rationality ceases.

      - Joseph Smith – rational in many respects, evidenced by his successful founding and promotion of a new religion. Were his angelic visions real and rational?

      - Mohammad - rational in many respects, evidenced by his success as a trader and warlord. Were his angelic visions real and rational?

      July 5, 2012 at 3:18 am |
    • OTOH

      p.s. The instant that Bootyfunk would claim that the ghost of Aristotle or Socrates appeared to him and told him things, his rationality would also cease in that matter.

      July 5, 2012 at 3:21 am |
    • Cq

      "7. Paul of Tarsus-Theologian n Lawyer."

      You mean Pharisee and Scribe, don't you? Now, what did Jesus say about them, and being careful of false teachers?

      July 5, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  7. euphoniusmunk

    Scientology is weird. I much prefer Mormonism, magic plates, visions and polygamy. That's normal.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  8. Fuster

    Scientology is just another religion invented to control gullible people, just like Christianity.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  9. wilmerson

    I like Tom Cruise. I do not care for his personal life never really did. I enjoy watching him as an actor. He has made some of the best movies and achieved a lot in his career. I do not know much about his religion except people say it is weird. There are a lot of weird religions out there. The good thing about America is that you can choose the religion you want and the God you want to serve. I do not think being an atheist makes sense but I respect others freedom to do what you want. Everyone has there own opinion. I hope everything works out for him ok.

    July 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I'm not a Tom Cruise fan. I think he's a one-note actor and I think he must be a terrible husband if three women have chosen to end marriage with him. However, I wish him no malice.

      July 4, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Ting

      So being a Scientologist, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or a sun worshipper is fine, but not believing in any of those gods does not make sense? How about a polytheism, does that make sense?

      July 4, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • mnovas

      Aren't all religions "weird" when considered from the viewpoint of others who do not share the religion? Even Christianity - which at its core portends a a belief in a "God" who transcends time and space that sent his son "Jesus" to die for our sins? "Jesus" who is also "God" and part of a holy Trinity including the "Holy Ghost"? Don't get me wrong, I am a Christian. But I also "believe" that someday all of this faith (regardless of which one) will make sense when as humans we are limited by our narrow powers of observation and understanding. These limited powers of observation (based on perception of 3 spacial dimensions and 1 time dimension [headed inexorably in one direction] lead to our need to faith to begin with... anyway...

      July 5, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • mnovas

      Aren't all religions "weird" when considered from the viewpoint of others who do not share the religion? Even Christianity - which at its core portends a belief in a "God" who transcends time and space that sent his son "Jesus" to die for our sins? "Jesus" who is also "God" and part of a holy Trinity including the "Holy Ghost"? Don't get me wrong, I am a Christian. But I also "believe" that someday all of this faith (regardless of which one) will make sense, but for now we as humans are limited by our narrow powers of observation and understanding. These limited powers of observation (based on perception of 3 spacial dimensions and 1 time dimension [headed inexorably in one direction] lead to our need to faith to begin with... anyway...

      July 5, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Sim34

      You forgot that it makes sense to them not to believe in the other guy's gods, but it doesn't make sense to them for the other guy not to believe in theirs. Truly amazing! 🙂

      July 5, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  10. sun worshipper

    The logic of whorshipping our SUN is beyond arguement, calling it a GOD is illogical but nessesary to gain a following as to move the civilization past the moronic idea of god as its currently understood.
    Oh my God can power a car so you have no need for earth based fuel. My God gives its power freely and to all creatures, we are stupid to not use it!
    using the law of conservation of matter and energy, the energy given off by the sun simply transferrs to us thru food and warmth, but the whorshipping goes beyond that. if the planet when it is at its perihelion were even just a few hundred feet closer to mars we would be very cold all the time, if the planet when it is at its aphelion was closer to the sun by equal distance, very very hot. so everything points to the sun as the true life giving object to whorship if you were to whorship anything- logically speaking!

    July 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Sim34

      Your God is not immortal. It had a beginning and will die in a few billion years. Like other Gods, basking too much in him is actually harmful. Skin cancer kills.

      July 4, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  11. Get some fresh air atheist trolls!

    Atheism a delusion based no proof.

    July 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Zeus

      You are an idiot who has rejected every logical argument posited here based on nothing but your voodoo supersitions.

      You are an idtiot.

      July 4, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      Zeus, i've been telling Trolls that all day. he explained to me that he'd gave himself a frontal lobotomy since he hadn't been using his frontal lobe anyway. he said critical thinking interferes with his blind obedience to a book written by ignorant sheep herders in the bronze/iron age. best not to feed the trolls...

      July 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • sam stone

      Get your own fresh air, D bag

      July 5, 2012 at 6:42 am |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 4, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • euphoniusmunk

      Prayer? Get with the times, man!. Goat sacrifices. Burnt offerings. Almost murdering your son. These change things.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      July 5, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Lux

      More trolling.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  13. UK Dave

    It's corruption that's taking sour people away from us & all of my evidence shows that Scientologists are not sour people.

    July 4, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • John

      I hope you realize all they want is your money before they have scammed you of all of it. Most Scientogolists, like most people, are just trying to do and be good. The religion however is nothing but bullshit.

      July 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  14. UK Dave & the entire scientific community

    I am with the entire scientific community on this on! Today is just cause to celebrate! You've just found out that the God particle/Higgs boson is entirely predictable! This means that your life is entirely predictable! That you are expected to live or otherwise is decided by this one particle! Are you the entirely predictable type?
    Very predictably, I celebrated!

    July 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  15. Unfunny Truth

    The truth about Scientology.


    July 4, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • UK Dave

      Since hacking is not corruption, you don't have a case against the Scientologists here Unfunny Truth.
      Since evidence-gathering against the Church's enemies is not corruption, you don't a case against the Scientologists here either Unfunny truth.
      It's corruption that's taking sour people away from us & all of my evidence shows that Scientologists are not sour people.

      July 4, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Unfunny Truth

      I posted an informative video clip, and that is it.

      Do not be sorry little UK.

      July 4, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  16. Marc


    July 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  17. shep

    It is the Mormon church without the magic diapers or Mormon harems.

    July 4, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  18. LordXenu

    I'm galactic lord Xenu and I need all your money, gimmmmmmeee!

    July 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  19. Mr Chihuahua

    Halp! A thetan anal probed me with his e-meter lol!

    July 4, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  20. spoddney

    If there are any Scientologists reading this can you please tell me when you're asked to bring out notable followers you produce, by and large washed-up, washed-out, B grade movie 'stars' e.g Anne Archer...Juliette Lewis and donut munching/addicted Kirstie Alley (did the supra-physiologic doses of niacin you give people not work).

    Can you at least produce somebody with an iota of credibility and more than half a brain.

    Can you not introduce us to some Scientologists who are say University Professors...perhaps a Nobel Laureate (or two)...perhaps a notable doctor or Scientist.

    I mean if John Travolta and Tom Cruise are the 'best' you can come up with...well...I don't think I need to say any more.

    July 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Sim34

      An actual scientist would no sooner be a Scientologist than a Creationist.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      L. Ron was a shrewd con-man.
      He realized that Hollywood is the new Olympus and that movie stars are worshipped almost as demi-gods.
      Snagging high profile stars to spread the Scientological word was a stated goal of his – he even had a list of candidates from his era.
      Plenty of people buy products based on celebrity endorsements – why not religion too?

      July 5, 2012 at 8:59 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.