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. Shifter

    A cult, duh. Even less believable than Christianity.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • jiminauburn

      The difference between a cult and a religion to me is that a religion lays their beliefs on the table to begin with. They say "this is what we believe". A cult starts with something believable, but they have other crazy stuff that they bring out later, after you have been indoctrinated.

      Scientology does this. They also have you break off contact with friends and family if they criticize the church. They will declared an SP. And if you do not, they will kick you out.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  2. Jerry


    July 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • LIL JON


      July 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • closet atheist

      Now all we need is nicki minaj and pitbull... i smell a hit

      July 5, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • ladyantistupid

      Chillin on my cycle with my Buddy Dave
      talking to Ashtrays along the roads way
      We be Bridging
      We be Bridging
      Oh yeah, we be Bridging

      July 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  3. Eddie Haskell

    Tom, drink the Kool-Aid!!

    July 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  4. Jack

    Hello. Everyone is welcome to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  5. Me

    What a SCREAMING joke....more CNN BS........

    July 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Me

      I've lost all respect for Tom Cruise....loose cannon and a typical left wing extremist.....ranks right up there with George Clooney....

      July 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • dpljlb

      Spoken like a Scientologist

      July 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Me

      and you are????.....f'n a NOTHING......

      July 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  6. christ jones

    Just another "opiate for the masses"

    July 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  7. Unrelated

    Why do people flock to nonsensical, irrational dogmas (religion, Communism, Nazism etc.)?

    July 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • RoseMcB

      Because it relieves them of personal responsibility of they can lay it all on "God" or some such thing. "It's God's will..." Annoying little gits.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Ace Johnson

      ..slavery to the internet, corporate finance, political correctness...

      July 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • U235

      Probably because religious groups provide people with a sense of higher purpose. Science illiteracy plays a big role in this way of thinking.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Thinker

      Because people want to be a part of something and they want to feel special. They also like being right, and every ideology you mentioned tends to hold that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Fear and uncertainty play a role as well. The leaders of these groups offer a gaurantee of one form or another, either in this life or in an afterlife. So they provide people with a sence of belonging, a feeling of being right, and a certain future (whether they are right or not ie communism)

      Unfortunatly, these ideologies require unquestioning obediance in many cases and/or require a single source of information be considered as infallible. This usually leads to abuses by those with power in whichever group.

      July 5, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  8. jiminauburn

    Xenu, Xenu, Xenu

    That probably just caused several $cientologist's heads to explode.

    $cientology is all about the money. And it is a cult. The article talked about the auditing. You pay for the auditing. You pay for each class to go through the levels. Everything has a price. People spend their life savings on this stuff.

    The first levels sound kind of logical... They reel you in. Then the later ones get crazier and crazier. But by that time you are brainwashed to believe whatever they say is true. When they start talking about the evil galactic overload Xenu, you take it right in stride.

    During the auditing sessions, they ask very personal, embarrassing questions. They have all this recorded. So later on if you want to leave or you want to speak out against them, guess what they will threaten?

    Is anyone surprised that the two most famous $cientologists both have fought rumors about them being gay? Do you wonder what they have on tape that they are confessing to?

    They love to sue people. If you criticize them, they will sue you. They will call your work and tell them you are a pedophile. They have their fair game doctrine. Where if you criticize the church, you are fair game and they are to utterly destroy you under instructions from L Ron himself.

    L Ron famously made a comment to another scifi writer. He said something to the effect that if you really wanted to make a lot of money, you should start your own religion. I think he made the comment to the writer of the Dune series.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Unrelated

      How do you know all this?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • jiminauburn

      I had friends into it for a while. Also, I have read up on it quite a bit.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • RoseMcB

      @unrelated He knows this in the same way I know this. It's a matter of public record. Many, many exposes have been done on the CoS over the years. One of the more comprehensive ones was done by New Yorker magazine a few years back. Look it up. You'll be amazed and probably shocked.

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

      @unrelated, it's all 100% true. It's all over the place, there are court records, news articles, witness accounts, repeated accounts of ex-members, etc. It's insane.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • ladyantistupid

      What I have found AMAZING is that they don't get caught for any wrong doings. My God, the leader of the cult's wife has been missing and nobody seems to be investigating where she is???
      It's seriously like something right out of a Movie! I'd love to do write a Screen Play but afraid I'd end up buried under a trailer on their secret gounds!

      Somebody said a movie (disguised but on this cult) is coming out soon. Can't wait to see it! The actor ( forget his name) looks like Hubbard and Amy Adams plays his wife. Joquin what's his name who played Johnny Cash is in it too. Haven't seen Joquin in a movie in a very long time; very talented actor.

      July 5, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  9. Spike

    I"ve never met a Scientologist. Do they all wear lab coats? 😛

    July 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Nodack

      Does Tom Cruise wear a lab coat?

      July 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • JoJo

      They wear magic theta underwear that allows them to transcend this world.....i think.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  10. Dr. Necessitor

    How is Scientology an more ridiculous than believing that the earth was created 5,000 years ago, and that 2,000 years ago a guy came along to raise the dead, turn water into wine and die and come back to life?

    July 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Unrelated

      People need their drugs. Reality is way too boring.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Concerned

      because one was proven and the other is theory......

      July 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr

      Inspector: You are playing God.
      Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: *Somebody* has to.

      (I LOVE that movie!)

      July 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Thinker

      As far as I am aware, neither is proven...

      July 5, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • wrong side of the bed

      @concerned..If you believe the world is 5000 years old and all that other bible nonsense, then I have to break it to ya.You are just as batsh3t as the Tommy.Sorry!

      July 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  11. Daverelentless

    In LA I lived around the corner from the old Hospital where the hypnotized Scientologists lived. They were relentless in their proselytizing even following one into the Grocery Store across the street. I got rid of them by telling them I was L. Ron reincarnated and that I came to tell them how wrong they were.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • dpljlb

      HA! They have no money, except the celebrities. All the other poor SUCKERS have spent every last dime on AUDITING sessions. Shows you how WEAK one's mind can be to actually believe in their LUNACY.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  12. Flex

    Tom Cruise is full of himself. End of story, simple yet rue.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  13. David

    When I first moved to Los Angeles, an overweight women was in line at the bank, I could over-hear the conversation, she told the Bank Teller she wanted to withdraw all the funds from her account. She asked for payment in the form of a bank check made payable to The Church Of Scientology. I'll never forget the expression of the Bank Teller's face. Shock.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Jeannie

      That's an example of the way Scientology operates. They find weak personality people, brainwash them into thinking Scientology is their savior, and then get them to turn over all their money to the organization. They take away all the member's free will. They tell that member every move to make. But because these people were not strong to begin with, they mistake this attention as something good. Whereas in reality it's just to control people. [Something like Orwell's 1984 scenario.]

      July 3, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Unrelated

      One way to get skiny!

      July 3, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Chris

      And no other church has done this to someone else?

      July 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • wrong side of the bed

      Have you ever seen the Vatican?Pretty nice digs,payed for by the good folks of the RCC in exchange for a nible on the body of a dead guy.Ya I know...Sounds creepy doesn't it?Religion is whatever you can make people believe.

      July 5, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  14. Texan

    I'm not religious, but this sound a little like a mix of several religions with some self-help/motivational speaker stuff (like Landmark Education seminars) thrown in. I suppose any group of people who have the same beliefs are a cult. Good thing Rupert Murdoch, an avid Santorum supporter, disapproves. Never heard of a scientologist going to war to convert others, unlike virtually every other mainstream religeon. Whatever works for someone to find happiness and do good to others, then go for it.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  15. dubrats

    why is this news??.....very scary that anybody even cares.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  16. Bob Dobbs

    Scientology may be a cult but then again so is the dominant Christian religion. Quite frankly, I'd prefer the cult of scientology over the cult of christianity any day of the week.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • SubGenius

      Then you clearly haven't done your due diligence, sir.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • skysgirl

      youll be sorry!!

      July 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • dpljlb

      Go ahead. You'll be broke and alone. Ask Lisa McPherson. Oh, that's right, you can't. Your religion killed her.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • ladyantistupid

      Hope you have some money! If not you will be working for them for 50 bucks a week for the rest of your life, to pay them for your "Auditing" and "Bridge to no Where".

      If you have kids and family, better bring them in if you want to ever see them again.

      Kinda like Drug Dealing and The Mafia and the Hotel California all wrapped up in one big package. You can enter but You can Never Leave. If you do leave, it will take years to remedy yourself of the scars and years to get your finances back in order.

      July 5, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      its like the Hotel California

      see you later I'm going to get audited

      heaven at last

      July 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  17. FalseProphet

    Scientology was Hubbard's way to make a bunch of money. He even said so a bunch of times...use google and see for yourself... on many many occasions he stated that a cult would be the easiest way to make money.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  18. SixDegrees

    Hail, Xenu!

    July 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  19. William

    One thing's for sure. it lets you suck D**K or take it in the A** while still being married to your wife....

    July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  20. JD

    SHe knew he was a scientologist when she married him....so why the discord now?!

    July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      I'm willing to guess her good catholic family got their hands into her life and started to make sense to her about the reality of Scientology and how it was affecting her child. All that matters is that she escaped. 🙂

      July 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • RoseMcB

      Because, as her child gets older and she realizes what's in store, she's frightened for her. CoS is not some benign nut club. They are vicious, intrusive and demanding. I think Ms. Holmes has been increasingly wary and dissatisfied since her pregnancy and the birth, but was afraid to make a move. She has, it would seem, been planning her break for a very long time. 5 years of marriage and a prenup awarding $3mil per each year, plus child support. I'm sure her family has been helping a great deal and her Dad, as a very tough attorney, can, hopefully, keep her and her child safe and out of reach of CoS.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • dpljlb

      TruthPrevails: EXACTLY. And I'm sure all of the lunacy of the Cruise household wore VERY VERY thin on her after awhile. This was not a rash decision. She carefully thought this out for a very long time. She's a very bright gal. I'm sure after awhile she thought to herself "What the hell did I get into" and thought there was no way out. I'm confident her parents and family brought her "back down to earth" and gave her the support she needed to get the hell out.

      July 3, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.