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. SHAME

    Katie, we are worried about you! Stay away from Scientoloists. I would hate to see Katie in the news next time for being in a tragic accident and dying leaving Suri to be kidnapped by the church so they can tell everyone shes the reinvcarnation ofL.Ron Hubbard!!!

    July 10, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • SHAME

      * andby 'accident' I meant 'run off the road by three black SUV's all with men in black suits and dark sunglasses'. We know what you look like 'undercover' scientology STALKERS!!!

      July 10, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  2. Clay C. McDonald

    How these people attained tax exempt status is unknown. Perhaps so many lawyers fought for it was manipulated into being. Now these celebrities can use this tax exempt status to hide large sums of money without paying taxes. Perhaps in time Scientology will evolve into a useful and pragmatic religion that actually assists those who are members & even take a humanitarian stand. Yet, being a new religion they are paranoid, inconsistent in their dogma, controlling and suspected by people of being a scam. The advantage is, in spite of their consistent idiocies with regards to science fiction dogma they are out of the grid of the older religions which are outdated and without any real logic. Perhaps in time this Scientology movement will evolve into something more significant than a cult. As they stand now they try to own you – or at least this is the impression given by disgruntled ex members.

    July 10, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  3. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .The basic principles of life continues!
    .If you disagree with the basic principles of life, then you've just reached the cut-off point!
    .If you disagree with the basic principles of life, then you're about to fall flat on your face!

    July 10, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • The Correctors

      .You have just confirmed our faith in the basic principles of life UK Dave! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

      July 10, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  4. When and why did reality fail these people?

    No religion here, just a bunch of half wit retards without a brain cell to spare- keep movin' folks!

    July 10, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • qris

      I also read this hilarious story here:

      July 10, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • geane

      Religião é insanidade coletiva camuflada.
      Catolicos,luteranos,Mormons... Todos.

      July 10, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  5. MichaelS3352

    I am a REAL liberal, and I may have my disagreements with Conservative Christianity in this country, but I find most American Conservative Christians to be good, honest, decent, friendly people who really are trying to make things better, even if some of my values are not theirs. Sure, they may oppose gay marriage, but most American Evangelicals have their heads screwed on straight and are not crazy or paranoid.

    This is in starkest contrast to the Scientologists, who are crazy, paranoid robots who are apt to do anything David Miscavaige tells them to do, whether it's legal or not.

    Guess who I'd rather sit down to dinner with? I have to say this is one area where the Heartland has an edge over Hollywood, any day of the week.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  6. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .You are forced to reduce your crimes!
    .Perhaps the penalty is indeed DEATH!

    July 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • The Correctors

      .BEAUTIFUL PENALTY! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

      July 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  7. Expatmom

    No Scientologists are running for POTUS. This should be telling people what Mormons are!!!

    July 9, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  8. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .We found many still need help for insecurity!
    .Google(help for insecurity) in seconds!

    July 9, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • The Correctors

      .We're now recommending Google(help for insecurity) to everyone!
      .24.9 million results already!
      .Thanks for your help UK Dave! 🙂

      July 9, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  9. ajoseph1234

    Many of you are ignorantly playing with fire. When it comes to blaspheming God, ignorance is not bliss!

    July 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • UK Dave

      You're prepped for Salvation already ajoseph1234!
      Me too! 🙂

      July 9, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • jwt

      Is your god threatening us for not saying he the almighty ?

      Oh wait he's a figment of the imaginiation. No threat is possible.

      July 9, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  10. Rosalie Atkinson

    L. Ron also used to be known as Lafayette R. Hubbard when his parent lived near Port Orchard, WA.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Omar Little


      July 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Dearly beloved, touch not yourselves, but [rather] give your body to another: for it is written, oragasim is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
      Romans 12:19

      July 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Omar Little

      Who said who in the what now?

      July 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm |


    July 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  12. AliKat

    Unbelievable that the article's description of Hubbard fails to note, or even reference, the fact that he was a science fiction author, first and foremost, before founding a "religion."

    July 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • LiveFromATX

      um... no, it doesn't.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • ME II

      "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." – from the article

      July 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  13. altred

    I use Scientology for solving problems. I attend scientology for what is called "the basics." The basics
    are courses designed to really help you understand you (your mind) and the things around you and how to keep your life force high (your ability to feel good about yourself, your environment and how to get work done).

    Another great thing about Scientology is their belief in maintaining good ethics – highly important in terms of building relationships with a partner, a co-worker even a wife – really good stuff!

    I don't use it as religion. I don't call myself a Scientologist and they don't bother me about it. When they ask me “do you call yourself a scientologist?” My response is “No, I’m just a black man trying to make it in a racist world.”

    It can really help anyone people in terms of how to deal with suppression, racism – even how to build a successful business.

    I highly recommend Scientology at the basic levels.

    I have been there six years now – never seen an alien, they have not asked me for excessive amounts of money, and some of them are the most caring and thoughtful people that I have met.


    July 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Time to break out the butterfly nets...

      July 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • latricoteuse

      Pffft. If I ever heard a Scientologist dude talking, this is it. Probably white, to boot. Give us a break.

      July 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      " they have not asked me for excessive amounts of money"

      So they know the first rule of drug sales, never charge more than your sucker can afford...

      July 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • ME II

      Perhaps you want to go look up the word "excessive" in the dictionary.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • M1k3el


      Oh thank goodness!
      I thought it was because the dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of his people to Earth in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs.

      Good to know it's just the media keeping the black man down and not a bunch of loons preaching BS to anyone who will pay.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Clay C. McDonald

      More than likely this was written by a white person who is a member trying to scam innocent black people into joining this cult.

      July 10, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • CynicalAtheist

      "...they have not asked me for excessive amounts of money, and some of them are the most caring and thoughtful people that I have met..." Because while they are taking your money (I find it quite strange that a "church" would CHARGE you money in the first place...!!!) they are smiling and being kind. After you leave they are all in the back room, snickering at "a fool and his money, soon parted!" There are enough self-help groups and books out there, you DO NOT NEED SCIENTOLOGY!!! Why are there sooooooooo many successful people who HAVEN'T used Scientology? Flawed argument, altred.

      July 10, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  14. Cyber Shocked

    In just a few short years all religion will be wiped off the face of this planet! Every religion destroyed! Eradicated! The governments of this earth will band together and do it. They will see no other way to save humanity. Wipe out all religion! For the good of all humanity. It has been foretold and will come to pass: Revelation 17:15-18 and chapter 18.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • ME II

      "In just a few short years..."

      How do you know?

      July 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • CynicalAtheist

      Seriously???!! One can only HOPE!!

      July 10, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  15. Scott F

    Please! Rupert Murdoch calling anything wieird is hilarious. This is the guy who is under investigation in Britain for telephone eavesdropping fraud and sponsors the ultra right wing which supports the clowns you see on Fox News. I am not a scientologist but this guy has no credibility, Period.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Bill Hannegan

      Look – these whackjobs believe that the universe is 4 quadrillion years old, and that a super-villain named "Xenu" brought millions of people to Earth, strapped them to volcanoes, and killed them. The reason only high level people in the Church are actually allowed to see the teachings is because the general public would die laughing if they got a look.

      July 9, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • CynicalAtheist

      ... all brought around by the IMAGINATION of a whacked job of a Science Fiction author... The idea came from a deranged man's mind! He figment became some other delusional person's figment and a cult was born! This is NOT A RELIGION, FOLKS!!

      July 10, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Who invited me?

      This is how all religions start....all started as "cults". It is a religion, just as baseless, irrational, and illogical as all the others.

      July 10, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  16. 1amazed2u

    They call it a church? Oh I get it,,,,, the tax exempt thing. They call different people weird names. I tried to read hubbards book out of curiosity and never could make it past page 25 or 30...... two different times. Weird is as weird does. Run Katie run.

    July 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  17. steve

    Haven't found a religion yet that didn't have some useful ideas or values to share.

    Haven't found a religion yet that people haven't been able to warp into some bizarre distortion of reality with the intention of controlling people or bilking them out of their money. And it's also fascinating how groups AGAINST a particular religion can take on all the same "cult-like" qualities that they seem to criticize in the religion they hate (rigidity, dogmatic beliefs, unwillingness to consider alternate viewpoints, controlling/abusive behavior toward those who challenge their own "anti-cult" belief system).

    Best to study all religious and take from each what we value, and resist the urge to attack others' belief systems unless they directly affect us. It's when everyone has to believe the same things that we get into big trouble.

    July 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • threecats

      I wholeheartedly agree with you! Most religions have very good, sound rules for people to live in peace with each other. But one of the foundations of all religions is the claim to have only answer to everything. They are right and everybody else is wrong. This intolerance is what makes them so easy to exploit by a few members for their own gain and/or power trip.

      This, of course, is just my personal opinion. 🙂

      July 10, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • CynicalAtheist

      However, Scientology does not operate peacefully... how many of us were afraid for Katie? And we know why... If you belong to a church, should you feel afraid of it?

      July 10, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  18. robert ray


    July 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  19. Daniel

    Weird, but not really any weirder than thinking Jesus is coming back...

    July 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Phil

      Before Jesus left he said he would come back ,you can beleave it or not I choose to believe .

      July 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • HeavenSent


      Dearly beloved, touch not yourselves, but [rather] give your body to another: for it is written, oragasim is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

      Romans 12:19

      July 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      He also said that he would return before the generation of his Apostles died. Unless one of them is still alive and hiding somewhere in the world, then he lied.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  20. Steel Gutter Guard

    I am no longer certain the place you're getting your info, however good topic. I must spend some time learning more or working out more. Thanks for wonderful info I used to be in search of this info for my mission.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
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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.