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. FRIDAY THE 13TH !!!!

    .FRIDAY THE 13TH !!!!
    .OUCH !!!! OUCH !!!! OUCH !!!!
    .BAD FOR MANY !!!!

    July 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  2. whatever


    July 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • whatever


      July 12, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  3. L ron

    In the OT levels, Hubbard explains how to reverse the effects of past-life trauma patterns that supposedly extend millions of years into the past.[122] Among these advanced teachings is the story of Xenu (sometimes Xemu), introduced as the tyrant ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy." According to this story, 75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Scientologists at advanced levels place considerable emphasis on isolating body thetans and neutralizing their ill effects

    July 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • jwt

      maginally less believeable than a vengeful and evil god.

      July 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • PAUL


      July 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • PAUL


      July 12, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  4. the mother ship

    Zenon. send the mother ship to earth to take us away to paradise.

    July 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  5. funny Scientology moron

    It's a Joke

    July 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  6. ggrieser

    This has got to be the dumbest religion/belief system in the history of the world. Does anyone really think Hubbard believed this carp? Just think of the dumbest person you know, then think dumber, and now you're imagining a scientologist. Hard to imagine? Try drinking a couple hundred beers first. Even the name is stupid. Xenu? really? Wasn't Jar Jar Binks a scientologist? It's just a direct marketing scheme targeting stupid people with money. What's not to get?

    July 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      The funny thing is that Hubbard was a science fiction writer. Or ... ONE of the funny things.

      July 12, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Thinker

      The scary thing is that Hubbard was delusional so he may have actually believed what he was saying. Considering his incredible ability to sell impossible ideas to theoretically intelligent people he had to have something more than just straight charisma. He crated the Sea Org to escape from government asasins (stupid filter hates that word) that he believed were closeing in on him for example. He was always making things up about himself that weren't true and due to his delusional nature he may have believed every word of it.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  7. PAUL



    July 12, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  8. PAUL



    July 12, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  9. augustghost

    Wasn't L Ron Hubbard a fiction writer before he started this scientology thing? Makes you wonder

    July 12, 2012 at 5:24 am |
    • PAUL


      July 12, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  10. gary

    all ur pontificating. Like masturbating in a closet, just makes one person feel good.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  11. Dale

    All these stories about scientologists kidnapping people and killing people is to me sort of out there..actually I have never heard of any major or high profile police reports against this "religion" or actually organization. Has anyone else for that matter? I don't think scientology is any worse than alot of organizations out there. I think alot of religious folk dont like it because its not the Bible....but I think alot of people who make these comments just do it because they hate Tom Cruise and think he is evil...I really think people need to take a reality check here....think about why you really dont like Scientology? I have never heard anything that bad about it.....it really makes me wonder...

    July 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • MT

      You post the same text on other articles about Scientology. If you've "never heard anything that bad about it," you apparently don't know how to use Google, or you're a Scientology shill. +++ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology_controversies +++ http://www.xenu.net/ +++

      July 12, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  12. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    .Sing your way in & sing your way out!
    .I just taught Katie Holmes & Tom Cruise a valuable lesson!
    .Sing your way in & sing your way out!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • dumb mother

      Keep your singing glorious UK Dave! 🙂
      I just know that Katie Holmes & Tom Cruise will keep their singing glorious too UK Dave 🙂
      Thanks to you UK Dave! 🙂

      July 11, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  13. rockymtngirl

    Adam & Eve lived in a beautiful garden as perfect human beings and no known problems ahead of them. We have that hope for the future, and yes there is something required of us to attain it. The world we live in now is difficult and "man" cannot solve man's problems. So what do you look forward to? Do you have children that are being raised and taught that their future is bleak? Is there something more for them than Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  14. Robert

    What is ziphalaysis?
    I am sure I can find an authority on it. There seems to be a lot of authority from people who have no experience, direct knowledge or bother to investigate things for themselves and just parrot others.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Thinker

      I have it on good authority that there is no such word!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  15. renikko

    I'm a theology student, and thought this would be a great article to ask several questions pertaining to an assignment where many answers will be needed. No offense, but if you are Christian please do not answer (I have those slots covered, and this is not an attempt to Evangelize).


    1. What do you think about Jesus?

    2.Who was he?

    3.Why does it matter?

    4. Why should we care?

    5. What are your beliefs (atheist, agnostic, ect...)?

    July 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Steve

      Let me understand what you are asking. You are asking what various people think about a certain individual (Jesus) but you are excluding those closet to Him from answering? So, do you really want to know about Him or not?

      July 11, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
      • renikko


        It's a school assignment. I have my reasons for asking what I ask and in the way I asked. The assignment was to ask a Christian Pastor, active Christian Lay person, and a non-Christian these questions. It was easy to find a Christian Pastor and Christian lay person, that's why I didn't ask for their opinions. The assignment is an "ethnographic and sociological investigation about what three different types of people think about Christology."

        July 11, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Maybe you should put your persecution complex on the back burner and actually comprehend what you're reading. If I had to guess I'd say renikko is a believer.


      1. I think that, in the context of how he is characterized in the bible, he was a guy with a few good nuggets of wisdom, but also a lot of bad advice.

      2. He's an unconfirmed figure within a certain beliefs history.

      3. It doesn't really.

      4. I don't really care all to much. Most of the good advice he gave is just good old common sense.

      5. I'm an agnostic atheist.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Dale

      eh..I don't think those are good questions really...I'm not a religious guy...but looking at those questions...they are not good questions to answer for alot of people...regardless if they are Christian

      July 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Answer to question 1: I don't. That takes care of questions 2-4. Answer to question 5: Sunworshipper

      July 11, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • brad


      1. What do you think about Jesus? He was either Lord, Liar or Lunatic, if he was a liar, or lunatic, what does that say bout the millions during his time and to this day that give their lives in martyrship in various countries and those the deeply believe in prayer, God's plan, and consider him the bases and foundation of LOVE (talking about people here, not other religions, religion is Mans way of getting to God, while Jesus IS Gods way of getting to man)

      2.Who was he? he was the living son of God.. 1/3 of the Triune God.. being of one substance with the Father and Holy Ghost, not 3 persons, but 3 parts of ONE GOD

      3.Why does it matter? It matters for your eternal soul.. we'll spend FAR more time on the OTHER Side of death than this one.. if you're wrong, no harm no foul, the loss is negligable, the gain is nothing.. but if He does exist, and you die w/o believing in him, and beleiving you are forgiven for your sins after you confess them, your loss is infinite.. google pascals wager

      4. Why should we care? see above reason

      5. What are your beliefs (atheist, agnostic, ect...)? I'm a divine monarchist waiting for the arrival of my king, Anglican Catholic and if i'm wrong I'll be NONE the wiser, if I'm right, i'm in for an eternity of love and compassion.. no wrong choice in those two.

      And when you think about it, Jesus is the ONLY person from ANY religion that "claimed to be the son of God, and God himself" that claim has been made by no other..

      and whether you believe or not.. i'm not here to persuade you, or anyone near me, My job is to live by example and when people ask, why, I have to be ready to explain to them the Hope I have.. I do NOT bible thump, object to thers rbeliefs, nor will try to "change" anyones mind..

      just my .02 weighing in.. God Bless

      July 12, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • MT

      > 1. What do you think about Jesus?

      Nothing at all. Your question has several unstated assumptions. The most important is "Jesus was a divine being who lived 2,000 years ago." What you're really asking is "Do I agree with this assertion?" And the answer is "There's no reliable evidence to support your assertion."

      > 2.Who was he?

      Irrelevant. The proper question is "Jesus was a divine being; do you agree?" If you're assuming he was a divine figure who lived 2,000 years ago and you're asking me to agree with you, I would reply, "There's no reliable evidence to back up your claim."

      > 3.Why does it matter?

      It only matters if you've either decided to make a person described in a book a central part of your mythology, or your parents groomed you to do so. Either way, it matters because some people are so strongly programmed to accept the mythology they try to change the cultural practices of other people to conform to the mythology.

      > 4. Why should we care?

      Because people who accept the mythology aren't generally able to contain their beliefs to their own personal lives. Instead, they try to change the cultural practices of other people to conform to their mythology. And that's silly.

      > 5. What are your beliefs (atheist, agnostic, ect...)?

      A "belief" is confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof. Try as you might, atheism isn't truly a belief system in the way you're using the word. It's the lack of a belief system that mandates accepting cultural mythology as fact. If you want to know "Do I believe in a god," be clear and just ask. And the answer is no. Because I'm not 10 years old any more.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:23 am |
    • Arvoasitis

      1. I must admit that in my youth I was influenced by a few devout and altogether admirable Christians so that even though the views expressed are my own I nevertheless have a tendency to put a positive light on Jesus.

      2. Jesus was a religious revolutionary and it is easy to understand why the Jewish establishment considered him a traitor to the faith. I tend to think of Jesus as a real person rather than a mythical figure although his story has been embellished with fabulous elements. (A comparison could be made with Brendan the Navigator, later known as St. Brendan, who in the 6th century with a group of monks crossed the Atlantic and explored the coast of North America; by the time his story was published it too was similarly embellished but in the light of modern knowledge it is possible to find reality in what could otherwise be dismissed as a sea-faring yarn.)
      3. Jesus appeared at a time when a segment of Jews were obsessed with restoring the Jewish faith which had gone serious deterioration during the Babylonians captivity. Liberated when Babylon fell to the Persians, the Jews were divided between those who south a return to the laws of Moses and those who admired the gentler, kinder Persian religion (Zoroastrianism). Jesus took up the cause of the latter in his standard formula: "For you have heard it said (insert Jewish doctrine) but I say unto you (insert Zoroastrian doctrine as found in the Apocrypha)."
      4. Zoroastrianism has fallen upon hard times but thanks to Jesus its tenets live on in the Christian religion. Thus we have in theory an admirable religion although the history of Christianity is a horrific tale of violence, ignorance and brutality far worse than any other religion.
      5. To borrow a line from Groucho Marx, why would I want to join any organization that would accept someone like me for a member? I find all religions and atheism and agnosticism too doctrinaire but I probably could label myself as a skeptic; sometimes I tongue-in-cheek have called myself a Hindu, since there is no concept of heresy in Hinduism.

      July 12, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  16. becer

    All religions are cults indeed...They can't even agree on what the bible says and they are supposed to be reading the same damn thing..Go figure..

    July 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  17. larryjosephmunchkin

    "it's not a belief, it is something you do" That statement in itself would disqualify it as a church. Churches are based of belief systems.

    July 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  18. Planes Walker

    Silly or not, Hubbard had some great points and ideas that have helped a lot of people (read the first chapter of his book, Dianetics, and you'll see what I mean). However, I think creating a religion was maybe going too far. Maybe he should've stuck with writing more books.

    Sure, Scientology is strange. but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't agree with their views on medication; but then, I also don't agree with the Catholic church's views on contraception and abortion. Take your pick. No religion is without its controversial beliefs and dogmas.

    July 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Thinker

      Most of Hubbard's points were actually from Freudian Psychology. Hubbard was good at making things sound original though. He was also good at making the impossible sound possible. Almost no actual science went into Dianetics anyway. Particularly its claims are completely bogus; unless you think that by reliving past traumas you can cure arthritis and the common cold. Hubbard himself claimed that Dianetics cured him of every problem he had (though he was actually suffering from several different conditions). He also claims that Dianetics gives people perfect recall. This was horribly debunked at a demonstration though.

      Hubbard created a religion because the AMA and FDA were all over him for making unproven claims about all of his products (More than just dianetics. He sold cures for lots of things. Like radiation poisoning.) By creating the church he used the const*tiutional [yay filter!] freedom of religion to make his claims without needing so much as a shred of proof.

      You should read the wiki on him. If even a quarter of it is true the man was a nut.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  19. Lola

    It's always just a club, so why not?

    July 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  20. John Taylor

    All Religions are cults

    July 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Steve

      Amen. Much better to go with a genuine relationship with God than a set of man-made rules any day.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:45 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.