Scientology: Religion or Space Opera?

By:  Heather Abraham

In response to Kenny Smith’s article, Gold’s Gym and Scientology in an Age of Authenticity, a Religion Nerd reader inquired as to the “doctrines and beliefs” of Scientology.  In response, I have compiled this brief article introducing the basics of Scientology to ReligionNerd readers; welcome to Scientology 101.

Founded by L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) in 1953, The Church of Scientology has continuously found itself embroiled in a sea of controversy both here in the United States and abroad.  Apart from its ufology connections, Scientology has no apparent religious antecedent and therefore has stood out, even among other new religious movements, as something unique and for some, worrisome.  Scientology’s foundations began in 1950 with the publication of Hubbard’s best selling self-help book Dianetics: Modern Science of Mental Health.  According to George Chryssides in New Religions: A Guide,

Dianetics offers an analysis of the human self, which Hubbard called the ‘thetan.’  The thetan is distinct from both the mind and the body, and is the true immortal Godlike self. The body consists of matter, energy, space and time, (MEST) all of which lack independent reality and depend on the thetan.

According to Hubbard’s teachings, the human mind consists of the analytical rational mind and the reactive irrational mind which responds to raw stimuli and stores traces of psychological and emotional trauma called engrams.  These engrams, the result of the countless traumatic events which accumulated over many lifetimes, are stored in the reactive mind and are the source of human anguish, sadness, depression, psychological disorders, anger, and a plethora of destructive human behaviors.  Simply put, engrams prevent humans from reaching their full potential.  In order to rid humans of engrams, Hubbard created a therapy system which allows pre-clear humans to bring engrams into awareness through the  process of auditing in which the preclear, over an extensive period of time and through many levels of auditing, rids his or herself of the engrams and eventually becomes clear.


Auditing sessions are performed by trained auditors, within the Church of Scientology.  Auditors attach an e-meter (electropsychometer) to the pre-clear subject and encourage the pre-clear to recall traumatic experiences. Throughout the process of recalling, the e-meter measures electrical charges in the body and locates areas of stored spiritual distress, thus assisting the pre-clear in releasing the stored engrams.

The ultimate objective of these auditing sessions is for the pre-clear to extinguish the reactive mind becoming clear and to eventually achieve the ninth level of an operating thetan (OT).  Although there is no charge for these auditing sessions, The Church of Scientology does request an obligatory ‘donation’ which increases as the subject moves from 1st to 10th levels of OT.  This process of successfully completing one level and moving to another is referred to in Scientology speak as the Bridge to Total Freedom.  Once a Scientologist reaches the higher OT levels he/she will begin to acquire almost super human abilities.  Those who reach OT level eight and above are considered to be the most brilliant and creative souls on earth.  In Scientology 8-8008, first published in 1952, L. Ron Hubbard describes the fully rehabilitated thetan’s extraordinary abilities.

A thetan who is completely rehabilitated and can do everything a thetan should do, such as move MEST[matter, energy, space, and time] and control others from a distance, or create his own universe… is able to create illusions perceivable by others at will, to handle MEST universe objects without mechanical means and to have and feel no need of bodies or even the MEST universe to keep himself and his friends interested in existence.

Because the teaching material can be dangerous to those who have not achieved appropriate OT levels, Scientology enforces close scrutiny of any who may come in contact with higher level resources.  Accordingly, the higher the OT level the more restricted the teaching material becomes to outsiders.  According to Chryssides,

The OT material is strictly confidential and, it is said, can cause mental or even physical harm if it is divulged to those who are unauthorized to receive it….From official Scientology literature, however, it seems likely that OT material relates to ‘body thetans’- the remains of thetans [souls] who lost their bodies many millions of years ago as a result of a gargantuan explosion.  These beings devoid of their bodies, continue to latch onto the bodies of others, and it is incumbent on those who progress through OT levels to help release them from this situation.

These body-thetans are said to have been ‘killed’ in a vast explosion instigated by the galactic tyrant Xenu many millions of years ago.  In New Religions: A Guide, Andreas Grunschloss classifies Scientology as a “non apocalyptic Ufology” movement based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.  Religious ufology movements are religions that incorporate

a basic ancient astronauts myth and conceives of earthly human beings primarily as (extraterrestrial) ‘thetans’ who have to access their ‘bridge to freedom’-a belief about the soul that has strong similarities with typical ufological notions of ‘star seeds’ or ‘walk-ins’ who had been planted in this earthly garden for spiritual growth. According to Scientology’s secret mythology, a fierce intergalactic ruler named ‘Xenu’ carried the thetans [souls] to earth.

Hubbard referred to these “astronaut myths” as space operas; actual historical events involving extraterrestrial civilizations throughout the galaxy.  Interestingly, Scientology has recently instituted a vague stance on the role ufology plays within their tradition.   In a 2009 interview with Martin Bashir, Tommy Davis, Director of Scientology’s Celebrity Center International in Los Angeles, refused to either acknowledge or disavow the existence of the Xenu myth as part of Scientology’s advanced teachings.  Bashir, respectful throughout the interview, pushed Davis for an explanation—causing Davis to angrily walk off the stage in mid interview.  Although Hubbard’s writings on Xenu have been disseminated to the public via the internet and court records, an official Scientology position has not yet been offered.  A quick search for Xenu on resulted in a “your search yielded no results” response.


Although most people are familiar with the Church of Scientology through its association with Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley, Scientology attracts a diverse group of adherents from the world over.  It is estimated that in the United States members of the Church of Scientology number between 50,000-100,00.  According to Scientology’s official website ( their movement is rapidly expanding across the globe.

Since the establishment of the first Church of Scientology in 1954, the religion has grown to span the globe. Today, more than 8,500 Scientology Churches, Missions, related organizations and affiliated groups minister the religion to millions of parishioners in 165 countries. And those numbers are constantly growing. In fact, they are growing more now than at any time in the religion’s history.  Scientology’s rapid emergence within the world’s changing religious community has led many to ask what kind of religion it is, how it compares with other faiths and in what ways it is unique.  As the only major worldwide religious movement to emerge in the 20th century, Scientology generates immense public interest.

I look forward to following this unique and intriguing new religious movement with RN readers and I hope that this brief albeit complex narrative provides a foundation for future explorations in Scientology events and controversies to come.



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