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. Eric

    I'm just bummed that twinkle toes absconded with the movie rights to the Jack Reacher series. Being a foot too short and a p*ssy should have given him a clue.

    July 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Christina

      My thoughts exactly. Did Lee Child have a say in casting? Did he pick Cruise just for name recognition? Very poor choice; couldn't pay me to see movie now.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:43 am |
  2. Snake Oil Sammy

    Scientology is just a bunch of h o c u s p o c u s!! Why that formula will get you no results but a sour stomach! Now see here, iv'e got the thing to fix you right up, my special formula called X X Xhristianity!! It heals, it seals, it repeals and repels any and all bad things you don't like! ! It gives you all the comfort and security and money and anything else you desire and all you have to do is accept Xhrists blessing which just so happens to be free*!! You pay only $19.95 shipping and processing for a limited time only, raptures going now, don't get left behind!! Order your Religion today!!....

    July 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Hello

      you have lots of takers on your snake oil.....a lot of poor oily snakes out there who are willing to believe any crazy story that can be made up just to make them feel all warm and fuzzy....

      July 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  3. debbie

    This is the danger of so called religions like Scientology. They really have no common horse sense to what they believe. The man that started this movement was a science fiction writer who had an immense sense of self and ego. He couldn't make it in Hollywood as a writer and so he turned that hate he had for those rejecting him. So Hollywood became his next step. If he can't get his writings acknowledged or used he was going to do the next best thing. If he could get some Hollywood actors, actresses and producers, directors and such into believing this garbage he could prove he was a great science fiction writer and storyteller. Well, lets see. He has several high paid entertainers and actors in Hollywood brainwashed so I guess he accomplished his misson. Just sad to see that those that beileve this dribble are so self centered and egotistical like Tom Cruise that you could have sold them anything that made them believe that they are the center of their universe and things revolve around them and their ways of thinking. Tom Cruise used to be a very smart, successful actor and person but now he is just a sad case of a man who got caught up in this mumbo jumbo crap and he can't get out of it as not to lose his face and credibility with it. Good that Katie thought twice about what was going to soon happen to her impressionable daughter and got herself and her daughter out of that crazy loony organization. They only care about making money and doing for themselves and telling the rest of us that we are nuts and losers. Wonder if people like Tom, Kirstie and John take long looks at their reflections in the mirror and see what the rest of us see. Or do they only see what that organization has convinced them to see. Very sad for these folks. They all seem to have had very unfortunate things happen in their lives and I don't see Scientology giving them any "real" truth or solice. They all need to open their hearts and minds to the true God and read his manuscript it's called the Bible.

    July 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Hello

      May I suggest you read Caesar's Messiah and learn how the Roman Caesar's Flavian family invented Christianity as a tool to force the Jews to worship the Roman leaders as gods like the pagans were willing to do. and the JEWS refused.

      the very same tools used by the Roman's in their myth creation have been used time and time again as the foundation formula to control other spin off groups from the Jewish myth. Including all flavors of the Christian myth and Islam.

      Go to Caesar's Messiah dot com for more details of Joe Atwill's discovery .. Video release date to be given on July 14th.

      By learning of this scam and how it was created, you will also see the patterns that were also used by the other mythic scamers who have evolved out of the original scam.

      All mythic organizations have the same goal.. to control others and take their wealth... by giving lies in return.

      Ron Howard just used the same blue prints to create his myth to make him wealthy.. That in reality was his real personal goal... He knew his so called religion was nothing but a easy way to get money... and there are plenty of stupid fools who are willing to listen to the garbage and pay dearly for the message of krap.

      Life is NOT a supernatural Eternity test... those that tell you otherwise are just lying to take advantage of you and your weaknesses.
      It is the scourge of the Age of Supernatural Stupidity we live in ....If you are gullible enough to believe in the supernatural your are ripe for being scammed by mythic salesmen..
      easy money for professional con men... no matter if they wear a dress, a fancy suit or nothing at all... they are still con men.. giving you garbage... for the cost of your right to think for yourself and your wealth.

      The same church that is so hell bend on anti abortion was the leader in burning people at the stake for being heretics.
      And if they could get away with it today.. they would still be burning heretics at the stake. They had no problem ki!!ing people for not following their dogma.. and would love to return to that old time religion if they could.

      They want complete control over the massive over population of this planet. They see no problem if humanity destroying this planet and the future generations starving to death... that is why the are so anti abortion and anti birth control.,
      When humanity is in greatest peril.. is when it gives most to the myth makers to appease the gods and make the sales men rich.

      July 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  4. Bill Deacon

    Gospel Mt 9:9-13
    As Jesus passed by,
    he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
    He said to him, "Follow me."
    And he got up and followed him.
    While he was at table in his house,
    many tax collectors and sinners came
    and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
    The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
    "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
    He heard this and said,
    "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
    Go and learn the meaning of the words,
    I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
    I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."

    July 6, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  5. nojinx

    If they don't believe in talking snakes, flying horses or people rising from the dead, they are a step ahead of most crazy cults with big numbers. Some of them are still around after thousands of years, no reason this one will go away soon. It may just become the faith of choice in this place.

    July 6, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Zeus

      Believing Jesus is a zombie and eating his body and blood at a ceremony every Sunday is very strange.
      Morals and social service are not exclusive nor invented by religion. Religion was popularized by people in high power so they could keep that power. New power = new religion. the fundamental kick start is greed.

      July 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  6. woodrow

    Scientology is a cult started by a science fiction writer. Mormons are a cult started by a con man at the turn of the century. I find these cults highly dangerous and I believe they should be illegal. At a minimum you should protect your family and friends and children from them.

    July 6, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • danabashed

      100% of religion is quackery and phony shytte! Love of others and yourself is up to you. If you are fortunate enough to be able to share it and gain it in return from those around you then you have lived live to its fullest extent!

      July 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • babs

      And now a Mormon Bishop is the Republican nominee for President? Need to wake up and get real. Cultists in positions of governmental power pose a genuine problem for our secular society. We must empasize freedom FROM religion and work against the true believers, and to whatever cult they profess allegiance.

      July 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  7. John

    atheist, scientologist....just to name a few. america is the birth place of weid thinking and caltures

    July 6, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Zeus

      And so are all religions. Jesus the zombie that must be eaten at mass is really really weird!!

      July 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jesus

      Atheism invented in America? What's in the water you've been drinking? Belief in a cosmic ET creator isn't weird, but calling that delusion into question is? Only in America....

      July 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • E

      Yes, atheism is a weird cult because we don't believe in imaginary beings in the sky, because we don't believe an imaginary man is watching over every single person on earth, because we acknowledge scientific facts like evolution and the real age of the Earth. What a "weird cult", observing common sense. At least we can spell.

      July 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • they're all actors

      Generally I do not mind others beliefs as they are generally inculcated as children and can't help themselves. At the advanced age of seven I realized I was not comfortable with church or it's stories and claims. I no longer "believed in" The Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus either.Many years later that has not changed. In the case of scientology I have seen the destruction of a seven year commited relationship due to the intrusion of this cult. Chiurch? Hardly. They would call 5-7 days a week from 10am to 10pm or later to harangue and sell their wares. In the end I could not be even peripherally involved with a pyramid marketing scheme masquerading as a religion and brain washing someone I cared for. His announcement, "I'm a Scientologist!" was just about all I needed to hear. Sadly, I feel it will do him more harm than my exit but when people choose to become part of a cult there is little one can do to stop them, My very brief and peripheral exposure to the organization absolutely repulsed me and I am sorry for those who fall into it's clutches.

      July 6, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  8. The best dynamic website design company in Dubai

    My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was entirely right. This post truly made my day. You can not believe simply how so much time I had spent for this info! Thank you!

    July 6, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    July 6, 2012 at 4:36 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things stated once again and again and again Ad Nauseum,
      "Prayer changes things"

      Earlier I challenged you to do something positive for humanity by praying to stop the international forced sëx trafficking of the estimatated 800,000 people.

      To wit,

      I see your prayers to stop the estimated 800,000 people who are forced into sëx traficking across international borders have not worked.

      Oh wait, since prayer changes things that means you have not been praying to stop this scourge on humanity.

      Why won't you pray to stop this repulsive human abuse?

      Matthew 21:21:
      I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.


      [A true believer can tell a mountain to throw it self into the sea and it will be done. LOL.

      Mark 9:23
      All things are possible to him who believes.

      Luke 1:37:
      For with God nothing will be impossible.

      John 14:12
      Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

      John 14:13
      And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

      John 14:14
      If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.

      Nothing could be simpler or clearer than Jesus' promises about prayer in the Bible.
      So there you have it, straight from Jesus himself in the New Testament in clear, simple, and unequivocal terms.

      You are a sincere believer are you not?
      Well since you are why do you not pray to end this horrible and repulsive human abuse.

      Jesus says very unequivocally that if you have faith and do not doubt that you will receive whatever you ask in prayer and nothing is too big to ask for.
      Sinnce this horrible practice has not ended, that means you are not praying to end it.

      Why not?
      Knowing that you could put a stop to such practices but don't implies you are a sicko enjoying the schadenfreude.

      How is that cognitive dissonance in you brain knowing that you could stop this human abuse but choose not to stop it?
      Put up or shut up you TROLL

      July 6, 2012 at 5:57 am |
    • Barry Sivley

      II challenge Tom Cruise to read Evidence that demands a verdict, by Josh McDowell.

      July 6, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Susie

      Leave autism outof this!

      July 6, 2012 at 10:53 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 6, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Zeus

      Believing Jesus is a zombie and eating his body and blood at a ceremony every Sunday is healthy? That is the craziest idea going around, yet it's so popular because most people are lemmings.

      July 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jesus

      Religion isn't healthy for children. My dog is an atheist, are you saying that isn't healthy for him? Maybe you could teach him about prayer.

      July 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • E

      Religion isn't healthy for children or other living things. I teach my kids how to cope in the real world without relying on imaginary deities.

      July 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Hello

      yep.. it gives power to the myth salesmen and makes them rich.


      Caesar's Messiah... DVD coming out soon.

      All mythic organizations have 2 goals.. to separate the fools from their minds and their money.

      They all have protective dogma.. believe in me or obey my rules or you will suffer.... hell is a mind control tool

      They call them sheep because that is how the myth makers want them to be....sheer what they can from them and fleece the rest.

      July 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  10. nottolate

    Can't feel sorry for this woman. From the time she was a little girl she ran around telling everybody that one day she would marry Tom Cruise. All the while not knowing a thing about him.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Hello

      Looks like she got a wake up call from his real owners, Scientology
      Tom can't have 2 masters.. a wife and his life controller.

      July 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  11. SDCinNS

    If you "set up" a church, you have to buy the e-Meter from Scientology's head office – the current price is about $5000. In 1963 the government determined that it cost only $12.50 to make. It's all about the money.

    July 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  12. SDCinNS

    Mr. Cruise has now been divorced 3 times – how much of a better husband and father has Scientology made him? Judging from the results.... not very good.

    July 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Right up there on par with those Christians,
      Rush Limbaugh – 4 wives

      Newt Gingrich – 3 wives. Cheated on first while she had cancer, cheated on second while she had MS. Real classy christian family values there.

      John McCain 2 wives. Came home from war to wife disfigured from accident. Divorced and married "heiress".

      July 6, 2012 at 6:03 am |
  13. dmx01

    If Scientology isn't a cult, why did John Travolta kill his son for it?

    July 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  14. SDCinNS

    “Individuals have to decide what is true and real for them" says Tom Cruise. What a bunch of baloney. He sounds like Yoda. What's true and real IS true and real regardless of what I think about it. I can't make it so. Otherwise my bank account would have a lot more zeros after it!

    July 5, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  15. UK Dave & crew

    I don't want problems! 🙁
    I want answers! 🙂
    I set straight & narrow examples to my crew & they get glorious results! 🙂
    I should set straight & narrow examples to the rest of the World to get even more glorious results! 🙂

    July 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • ladyantistupid

      ha, ha! My husband who worked as a Gaffer talked about this stuff!

      July 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  16. THACO

    The thing that really bothers me is that they use the word "science"in the name. Scientology has about as much scientific validity as VoDo.

    July 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Hello

      by using a name with SCIENCE for his scam organization he was hoping to give it some sense of intelligence... only fools would be tricked by the word play..
      The whole thing is just a con game...
      Learn of all the myths... from a good source like Joseph Campbell's The Masks of the God Series.

      you will see the evolution of the myths into the now so called religions... They are all scams...

      July 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  17. TC

    Call it anything you want as long as you call it crazy and harnful is good enough for me.

    July 5, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  18. ViK100

    The kind of garbage only perversed and inmoral hollywood types would join. Who calls this garbage religion? or Church? When these people don't even know the meaning of the either?? GARBAGE, GARBAGE, GARBAGE!!

    July 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • wrong side of the bed

      Slowly now...This religion is only a little goofier than any other religion.

      July 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • James

      You know, 'wrong side of the bed' is absolutely right. It is only a little goofier than other religions. But considering other religions are goofy in the extreme, that makes Scientology positively nuts.

      July 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Really? They seem pretty equal to me. I mean christianity is all about a god sacrificing himself to himself to create a loophole in a law that he makes. And the catholics believe that if they pray over some bread and wine it turns into the flesh of a zombie with special powers. Sounds just as nutty to me as scientology.

      July 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • TC

      Some of christianity can sound nutty but if you study it with a historical perspective, it becomes easily understandable to a secular ind – not saying it will change your mind but at least is understandable. Scientology – shouldn't even have a science connotation to it nutty?

      July 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • James

      @Hawaii Guest

      How much do you actually know about Scientology?

      July 5, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Not much I'll admit, but what I have heard has had me chuckling for hours. The whole thing with auditing (great word choice) to clear the "reactive mind" had me rolling around. When I first say an E-meter in action and their beliefs on that I had to stop the video.

      July 5, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      The idea of Xenu (Xemu?) sending subjects to earth in spaceships that look exactly like DC8s w/o propellers to blow them up in volcanos with H-bombs is real sound.

      Yep sure has that suspension of disbelief required in a religion all right.

      July 6, 2012 at 6:11 am |
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    July 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  20. am I an sp?

    R we all a bunch of sps. Tom cruise apparently finds that amusing. Does he realize all of us sps are the ones making him all his money. Personally I find him quite condescending, bravo for wife being smart enough to be divorcing him. Wife number three, um I wonder who's at fault.

    July 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • TC

      I am not in favor of divorce but this is one of those cases where I hope she got her sense back.

      July 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • ladyantistupid

      There is a huge group of fans that he lost and will continue to lose. He lost me at him thinking so confidently that "he is the only one that knows what to do at a Crash Scene". What an arrogant person. He didn't even set foot in a University. He thinks he is some sort of God.

      Never will I see any of his movies again unless he plays David Miscavidge himself in an Expose against Scientology.

      He is an Actor for crying out loud!

      July 5, 2012 at 10:55 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.