Scientology is often in the news, be it through a clash with a particular government, a new expose or the latest latest gossip about one of its celebrity members. But what exactly is Scientology? As a belief system it has now been around for just over sixty years and has grown rapidly from those first origins. However, its principles are not widely known.
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Scientology claims to be a synthesis of all major religions and can therefore be dated back some 50,000 years. A former sci-fi writer called Lafayette Ronald (later shortened to L.Ron) Hubbard wrote a book called “Dianetics” that put forth the idea that all illness was related to psychic scars, called “engrams,” caused in childhood. A process of “auditing” could determine these scars, defeat the illness and give the individual great intelligence. Four years later, Hubbard's message had gathered enough adherents that he opened his first Church of Scientology in Los Angeles.
Scientologists believe that humans are infinite beings and will live on forever in various forms. There are eight stages, or “dynamics” that a person passes through, from the first as a baby, the “urge to existence” to the last, the “urge to infinity.”
To rid themselves of their engrams, a person must go through extensive auditing. This process is called "The Bridge to Eternal Freedom" and takes many years. Those who achieve this, who “get clear” are called Operating Thetans and are said to not only be immortal, but also leave their bodies at will, move inanimate objects with their mind and talk to animals.
Almost from the start, Hubbard sought to attract celebrities to his church, feeling that they would be able to reach more people than regular members. Indeed, in 1955 he launched “Project Celebrity” with precisely that aim. Today, famous members of Scientology include Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Allie, Juliette Lewis and Beck.
There has been some controversy over how the auditing process affects individuals, with reports of members being psychologically tortured, held against their will and forcing members to cut ties with their family. Scientologists are also vehemently anti-psychiatry.
The UK government does not recognise the Church of Scientology as a religion, asserting that it does not benefit the public. The Church has lobbied strenuously to be given religious status, many critics believe to secure charity status and so pay no tax. This is the same in most European countries. The UK Ministry of Defence, however, does include Scientology as a recognised religion in the Navy, while the Crown Prosecution Service includes it under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006 that protects against religious persecution.
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