Legend holds that L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology created the now famous religion following a bet. According to the legend, as he was playing poker one night, Hubbard told his friends, and fellow writers, that he could create a world religion. Some even say that Hubbard stated that he would be bigger than Jesus Christ.
U.S. News and World Report, Special Edition, Mysteries of History Secret Societies discusses the topic of “Scientology’s Inner Self.” The article is an interview with J. Gordon Melton, the director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, and tries to delve deep into the inner belief system of the Scientologists.
When considering if something is a cult it is often wise to look at formal definitions in light of the evidence presented. Webster gives five definitions for the word cult. Definition number three states that, a cult “is a religion as regarded as unorthodox or spurious,” and definition number four describes a cult as being, “a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator or creator of doctrine.”
The article records that the base belief of the Scientologists is that the “true self, [the soul] or thetan,
Melton is asked about the French sociologist Regis Deriquebourg who states, “Scientology’s belief system is one of a regressive utopia where man seeks to return to a “once perfect state.” Melton shares Deriquebourg’s assertion. He then goes on to describe Scientology as a conglomerate of many world religions including: “Rosicrucians, Theosophists, Jewish Cabalists and the ancient Gnostics.” He further states that, “Hubbard adopted and refurbished the Gnostic-myth into contemporary language.” In other words Hubbard has taken major cults of the world and drawn them together to create his own cult of Scientology. Melton points out that Scientology is most heavily based on the Gnostic myths.
Many people credit the book Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health as Hubbard’s first step in creating the religion of Scientology. Again, another definition given by Webster defines a cult as, “a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book).” So, what exactly did Hubbard believe he discovered while writing Dianetics, and what is Dianetics?
Hubbard believed that the “immortal soul, or thetan existed independent of the body that it inhabits. It predates the body and upon death it will enter into another body.” Dianetics is related to the “understanding of the human mind, which can act rationally, or irrationally.” According to Melton, the first assignment for a new scientologist is to clean up the “irrational part of their minds, or Engrams.” This is accomplished through the process of Auditing.
Auditing is one of the areas where a possible cult like environment appears to take place. It is at the auditing sessions where the “counselor will ask a number of questions, for self exploration, that are supposed to clean up or remove the “aberrations” that are found in a person’s mind.”
During these auditing sessions the counselor will use a machine called an “E-meter”. This machine, according to members, is very much like a lie detector. The scientologists believe that it will help the new members to reveal “aberrations in their previous life or incarnations.” Scientologists believe that this E-meter is a “spiritual machine that helps them to contact their souls, or thetans.” This is supposed to help scientologists reach their ultimate goal to “clear their minds of any aberrations they may have in them and reach Total Freedom.”
Much of Hollywood has readily embraced the religion of Scientology. Stars who have embraced Scientology are, “Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Isaac Hayes, Catherine Bell, Chick Corea, Kirstie Alley, Anne Archer, Priscilla Presley, and Jenna Elfman.”
Some former Scientologists have quickly called the “church” a cult, as stated by Melton, “They have felt some dissatisfaction with the “beliefs or practices of the church.” Others have expressed concern for the “church leadership acting outside its own precepts and practices.” It seems apparent that some have become dissatisfied with the practices of the church of Scientology, and who is better to define the cult to which they belonged than a previous member?
Melton seems to conclude that the Church of Scientology is a group that does good work for the community, “both immediate service to the community and in promoting the image of the church.” But, according to Webster’s definitions of cult, it is evident that despite the “good” works Scientologists may be doing, they should still be classified as a cult.
Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Massachusetts, 2005
“Scientology’s Inner Self.” U.S. News and World Report, Special Edition, Mysteries of History Secret Societies, Collector’s Edition, 4 February, 2008