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. MWF

    After thinking that "Science is something one does, not something one believes in" was a ridiculous quote, I looked on the Scientology link just below to confirm. They actually say "Scientology is something one does, not something one believes in." You don't really have to put extra effort in to sway people's opinions about this.

    July 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  2. jeff tartt

    The Church of Scientology is a brain washing joke.I have personally experienced their treatment of new members.There is no way they can deny what they tried to do to me in Clearwater,Fla.

    July 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  3. Dan

    What is Scientology? It's a made-up religion designed by a science fiction writer to separate fools from their money. Given that, according to W.C. Fields, there's a fool born every minute (probably more than one a minute now) they have unending supply of marks.

    July 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • MeinNJ

      Two words: Tax shelter

      July 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Cruise and Travolta could do the country a lot of good if they found the guts to denounce this so called "religion" but is only an ordinary self-help organization. Check out the properties they have gathered in Hollywood to see the benefits of not paying taxes on income you earn from charging your "believers" to believe.

      July 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Hello

      Yes.. religions are collectors of fools... They gather them like sheep to fleece..
      and when one jumps off the cliff.. they all happily follow along.... Just like the Roman's wants them to do..

      READ Caesar's Messiah on how this sheep herding myth was created and by whom.

      July 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  4. Thinker

    The article provides some of the really basic information supplied by the CoS. If you want to know more about it, try reading the wiki on L. Ron Hubbard (or the UNOFFICIAL biographys on him. The official ones make him out to be a superman.) The man was an extremely charimatic man who also just so happened to be a pathological liar and a crook. I took my time last night to read the wiki and look at a couple of the citations to verify and man was he messed up. Talk about delusions of grandeur...

    July 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      "a pathological liar and a crook."

      Just like Joseph Smith and the pope.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Thinker

      I don't know enough about the pope to comment on that.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Hello

      most myth makers are super narcissists... they create their gods in their own image...
      just like Ron H, Smith, The Roman Flavian family, Mohammad, and all the other myth masters. and those to come.

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

      read Caesar's Messiah to learn about the pope's mythic lie

      July 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  5. Reality

    Scientology: A modern day con following the footsteps of cons akin to Mormonism, Bahaism and Islam.

    July 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      You forgot Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism...

      July 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Reality

      Scientology: A modern day con following the footsteps of cons akin to the following with the number conned also listed:

      Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion

      Islam…………………………… 1.5 billion

      Irreligious/agnostic/atheism…… 1.1 billion

      Hinduism 900 million
      Chinese traditional religion 394 million
      Buddhism 376 million
      Animist religions 300 million
      African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
      Sikhism 23 million
      Juche 19 million
      Spiritism 15 million

      Judaism…………………………………….. 14 million

      Baha'i 7 million
      Jainism 4.2 million
      Shinto 4 million
      Cao Dai 4 million
      Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
      Tenrikyo 2 million
      Neo-Paganism 1 million
      Unitarian Universalism 800,000
      Rastafari Movement 600,000

      July 5, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  6. Nii

    Excellent analysis of religion! However that is from a religious point of view! From a spiritual viewpoint it is trying to be a good guy, realising that u fail, looking for a solution n finding something that works and seeking to proclaim your discovery to help others! BOOM A RELIGION IS BORN!

    July 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      so if I can come to those conclusions on my own without needing religion, then I should be able to skip to the front of the line to heaven, right? I have like 'moral-express' passes, or something. Right?

      July 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  7. Doc Vestibule

    Robert Heinlein, one of the Grand Masters of sci-fi, also saw one of his stories morph into a religion.
    Kind of odd given that the book says you have to learn to speak Martian before you can grok the religion....
    The difference is that Heinlein tried to distance himself from The Church of All Worlds and their crackpot founder, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, and never pretended that Stranger In A Strange Land was anything other than fiction.
    Oberon and his primary wife Morning-glory are still active in the Pagan community and have a website – caw.org
    They're just as guano insance as the Scientologists, but at least they're not so overtly after your money.

    July 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • cleareye1

      ...and this bit of wisdom os brought to you by Doc Vestibule! Love it!

      July 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  8. Mountain Rat

    Now we know why Kate is ditching TOM, this is some weird stuff and I would not like my daughter exposed to this junk!!!
    Cruise, I thought you were smarter than this??? AND TO THINK ALL THESE MOVIE STARS ARE IN FANTASY LAND!!! MOST DISAPPOINTING.

    July 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Nii

      If these movie actors did not live in fantasy land they wudn't be as fantastic to their fans! Just enjoy the movie and leave them alone to live their lives!

      July 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  9. Mountain Rat

    This is junk and definitely a cult. IF HOLLYWEIRD LIKES IT, LOOK OUT YOU WILL BE ITS NEXT FOOL!!!!

    July 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  10. Atheist Hunter

    Forget scientology and try Jesus. With Jesus there is no need for auditing or interrogating, he paid the price for your sins that causes your trauma. He makes all things "clear" and new! You don't have to hook up to an "e-meter", you just become repentant, ask for forgiveness, put your child-like FAITH in Him and what he accomplished at calvary. That's it. Trauma gone! SIMPLE! Nothing left to figure out, no step by step levels to achieve. Just as loved and forgiven as Paul. Jesus defeated your thetans (aka. demons.) Sounds like Hubbard's mind was trapped in one of his writings.

    Sorry Tom Cruise but all your attempts are as filthy rags, same as mine. Only God is holy.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      There's the christian I've come to know. Bash the other guys silly stories, and proclaim mine to be truth.
      Every time you post your self-rightous drivel, you make Jesus cry.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      "Sorry Tom Cruise but all your attempts are as filthy rags, same as mine. Only God is holy." Self righteous???? Wake up dude!

      July 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      So you know Jesus???

      July 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Yes I do know Jesus. He's my mechanic. wouldn't trust my car to anyone but him. And he cries laughing everytime he reads your posts.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Jesus loves you anyway, smile!

      July 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Looking at Clouds

      Atheist Hunter,

      Sometimes I almost wish that your fairy tale scenario were true - it sure would make things easier in life. But it is a cop out. There is NO evidence for supernatural beings (gods, angels, demons, gnomes, leprechauns, fairies, etc.). We are on our own here - let's make it the best REAL world that we can.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Seamusgirl

      I thought the responders were call us Christians "haters". How is you attempt to shout down our sharing of the Gospel not a self-serving , self-righteous move on your part? You are sooooooooooooo offended at the name of Jesus. Get over it. If you want your freedom to not believe, then why not allow us our freedom to believe. We just repeat the message, we dont "clear" you mind to demand you believe it. That is up to you. Simple. Not pushy. All I can do is share a testimony. If you dont like it, then please feel free not do and DONT MAKE A LAW that says I cant do it.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • jwt

      You are allowed to believe as you wish, you can even speak testimony – of course you will likely get told to foad, also equally allowable and just, or just plain ignored. Keep it out of my face and away from my kids, Also keep your personal religious laws out of our communal laws.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  11. Narry


    July 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  12. AverageJoe76

    Everyone knows you can't just go creating religions in modern society. It's discredited because the guy died in the 80's, he's too young to be imagined as someone like Gandolf the White. You gotta have a history, preferably some markings on a cave wall. And a hype man that died a loooong time ago for believing in it. You need natural disasters, and a villian. And a mystery maker you can never prove, but have a STRONG belief he exsists, simply because there are a vast number of holes in the story even the authors cannot explain. Bake for a few thousand years and POOF – a religion is born.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  13. closet atheist

    Not seeing too many comments from the christians on here....

    Maybe because they can't think of an intelligent comeback to the "it's no weirder than yours" comments..??

    July 5, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      I'm here giving your life meaning. Jesus loves you dude!

      July 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Mountain Rat

      No, you are just a Loser who will find himself in Hell. Can you really aford NOT TO BELIEVE??? If there truly is a GOD and Heaven and Hell, where do you see yourself???

      July 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      We'd be in Hell, while you, Mountain Rat, can sing 'Naaa-naaa-na-naaaa-na' from the heavens. Isn't that what this entire game is about; someone being wrong, and someone else saying 'I told you so."?

      July 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Thinker

      Mountain Rat, you realize that Pascal's Wager is not an effective arguement for religion right? It presents a dichotomy where one does not exist. You say "Can you really afford not to believe?" and the responce is "but which religion/denomination is the right one?" to which you answer "mine" and we say ptove why yours is right and all the others are wrong. When presented with an eye to ALL religions past and present (and future) Pascals Wager falls apart ass the probability of choosing the 'right' religion/denomination (including atheism) is extremley small (infinitly small if you include future religions).

      July 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Mountain Rat

      Thinker, just one word: F A I T H

      July 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Mountain Rat,

      Threats of eternal punishment betray a weak argument.

      Faith is not a virtue and is a terrible way to conclude what is and is not true.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @Mountain Rat

      Two words: Pascal's Wager.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • jwt

      Mountain Rat – another believer in the school yard bully god, a god that is clearly unfit to be worshipped.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Many Christians recognize themselves in Tom Cruise. His beliefs are no more preposterous than any other religious person's, they all depend on a unexplainable supernatural force that threatens a horrendous fate if you don't cough up with the bucks.

      July 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  14. Marianne

    Can anyone say CRAZY!!!! if this is not a cult then i dont know what is....

    July 5, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • closet atheist

      yeah.... crazy. almost as nuts as christianity..!!

      July 5, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  15. JellyBean

    I read to "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." That's about all I could stomach of this nonsense.

    July 5, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • ME II

      Actually, this is about the only aspect of Scientology that has any credence. Skin conductance, or Galvanic skin response, is a know effect and can fluctuate with stress. This is part of the technology used in "polygraphs".

      That being said, the E-meter, is so simplistic as to be useless. Most "high-tech" work out equipment has more sophisticated, skin conductance technology. And interpreting meaning from 'two tin cans and a ohm-meter' is laughable. In my opinion.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • ME II

      know effect -> known effect

      July 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  16. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 5, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Jack

      Don't pay any attention. I am just a pathetic troll

      July 5, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • ME II


      July 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  17. Darrell

    It's a cooky-аss cult is what it is.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Narry

      No more "cooky-аss" than any of the major world religions.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  18. V.Mathison

    Wow, this article could use a lot more research to cut through the deceptive layer of official Scientology PR it was obviously based upon. For example in the "Why is Scientology controversial?" section, where is the mention of the church policy of Disconnection that separates families? Where is the mention of "Operation Snow White", where several Scientology leaders including Hubbard's own wife, were imprisoned as a result of a series of infiltrations and thefts from 136 government agencies, foreign embassies and consulates, as well as private organizations critical of Scientology. Where is the mention of the supposedly "secular" front groups run by Scientology like Narconon and Youth For Human Rights International that actively use Scientology sales pitches to recruit the uninformed?
    You can't write an informed article on Scientology based on what little Scientology tells you about itself before you start writing out checks.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  19. Adam

    If I'm not mistaken, the religion's "creator", Mr. Hubbard, presented these ideas as works of fiction. Obviously, these works were taken a tad too far, and even he found the people to be a bit insane.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Narry

      That could be how all the religions began.

      July 5, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Actually all religions are born from ignorance.
      If I ask the question "where does lightning come from?" and no one knows the answer, an elder (trusted to know these things) could say it is a mighty warrier in the sky who creates the lighning,
      In other words,"I don't know" gets replaced with an answer even though the answer is based on belief, or the pressure to have an answer and not admit ignorance, rather than fact.
      Taken even farther, elders see the potential to control people with stories, like do good ot you will be punished by a force that you cannot see but can alweays see you, they start writing these things down, partly to keep them straight and partly to have "the answers" more uniform. When this happens over an extended period of time, you get Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc, etc.
      So ignorance is the driving force behind religions, coupled with people wanting to have "the answers" and Viola.

      July 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Narry

      Who invited me?
      And any answer will do, regardless of it's actually being the right one, or not. What ever happened to just being honest and admitting that you don't know something?

      July 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      You can't control people if you don't have information.

      Information is power,even when that "information" is made up or false.

      Take christianity. It was created by the jews to control the non-jews.
      They made the son of god a jew, but then deny him in their own religion. Since they controlled the information that they put in the bible, they could then control those they got to believe it. Would we have created the nation of Isreal if the bible didn't say we would. Perfect case of self-fulfilling prophecy. They had enough people beleiving that Isreal would exist, that the believers made it happen.

      Do not underestimate the power of information, even when false. Fact or fiction...enough believe and the truth becomes moot.

      July 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • ME II

      I don't think L. Ronnie submitted any Scientology stuff as sci-fi, although he did write sci-fi. Whether he ultimately believed in Scientology, no one will really know since he is dead. However, I think many of the more zany things about Scientology are actually recorded in Hubbard's own voice, e.g. Xenu and the space ships that look almost exactly like then-contemporary airplanes.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  20. J.C.

    "L. Ron Hubbard rejected psychiatry and psychiatric drugs because he said they interfered with the functioning of the rational mind"

    This should tell you all you need to know about Scientology.

    July 5, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Psychiatry threatens the dogma of Scientolgy the same way evlolution threatens creationist christians

      July 5, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • ME II

      Scientology is less believable than most religions, however, psychiatry is not what is usually called a "hard" science. There is a large amount of ambiguity and subjectivity in psychiatry and psycho-pharmacology. Just look at all the warnings that went out about Prozac and other drugs stated that they may increase the chance of suicidal thoughts and suicidal behavior and that was years after they had been on the market.

      "However, studies have shown that a small number of people (especially people younger than 25) who take antidepressants for any condition may experience worsening depression, other mental/mood symptoms, or suicidal thoughts/attempts." (http://www.webmd.com/drugs/drug-6997-Prozac+Oral.aspx?drugid=6997&drugname=Prozac+Oral&source=0)

      Other studies have questioned the efficacy of antidepressants altogether, "Study: Antidepressant barely better than placebo" (http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/drugs/2002-07-08-antidepressants.htm)

      Not that I agree with Scientology, I think there are some conditions that are definitely helped by psycho-active medication, e.g. bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, etc., but the above studies are the kernel of truth in the larger BS used by Scientology to facilitate there own brand of manipulation and to attract more dollars to their auditing / education centers, i.e 'not feeling happy? You must need to be audited.'

      July 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • ME II

      p.s. I wouldn't put Psychiatry and evolution in the same category. Psychiatry, I think, is a medical field and Psychology is a social science.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      ME II,

      While I understand your point about some of the subjectivity of psychiatry, it is still comparable to evolutionary biology because of the way it comes to understanding what is "true", i.e. the scientific method. It may not be as precise as some sciences but I feel it is religions (scientology, christianity, whatever) biggest problem. Religion wants to be able to assert
      truth, science wants to figure it out. I don't have a problem with science being wrong because the are not asserting absolute truth to begin with.

      July 5, 2012 at 2:20 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.