Another class of definitions characterizes religion by the consequences that it holds in other areas of life. The first functional definitions of religion came out of the work of Emile Durkheim and put the stress on the feelings of solidarity which religious ceremonies evoked and its effects on social cohesion and community unity. These definitions have been criticized on the basis that, on the one hand, there frequently exist multiple religions in the same society putting in doubt the cohesive function of religion for the community as a whole and, on the other hand, other non-religious symbols and rituals, such as those which belong to the nation, the state or ethnic group, can serve the same function of creating ties of solidarity and community sentiment.
Actually a certain number of social scientists now define religion by its consequences not in social life but in the personal life of individuals. These authors define religion as “a combination of forms and symbolic acts which relate the individual to the ultimate conditions of his existence” (Bellah 1964:358) or as “a system of beliefs and practices through which a group of people faces the fundamental problems of life.” (Yinger 1970:7) Such fundamental problems would include: the perception of injustice, the experience of suffering and the awareness of what life lacks in meaning and purpose. Religions propound two types of answers to such problems of humanity. On one side, they would offer explanations for them giving them meaning. On the other, they would propound methods and programs of action directed to overcome these problems.
From the current functionalist perspective a religion is therefore a combination of beliefs giving meaning to fundamental problems such as injustice, suffering and the search for the meaning of life and a combination of practices through which such problems are faced with the intent to overcome them. To ask if Scientology fits this definition is therefore to investigate if it presents a combination of practices designed to overcome these fundamental problems of life and a system of beliefs that serve to explain them.
In this respect it is possible to observe, in the first place, that the central practice of Scientology, auditing, is presented in effect as a way to overcome suffering. It affirms that through active and voluntary participation in auditing one’s ability to face the problems of existence, resolve them and achieve each time higher levels of consciousness and spiritual well-being, will be improved. Scientology services strive to raise the individual to a point in which he is capable of putting the factors of his own life in order and resolving his problems. According to Scientology the tensions of life cause the individual to fix his attention on the material world reducing his awareness of himself as a spiritual being and of his environment. This reduction of awareness would have as a consequence that problems would arise, such as difficulty in relations with others, suffering, illness and unhappiness. The objective of Scientology is to revert the reduction of awareness, awakening the individual. It therefore propounds solutions to the fundamental problems of life through procedures which cause the individual to increase his awareness and freedom and to rehabilitate his decency, power and basic abilities. Individuals who are more aware and alert would be capable of better comprehension and greater capacity to handle their lives. Through auditing and training in Scientology, people would come to know that life is something valuable and that they could live satisfactory lives in harmony with others.
Scientology postulates that through its practice and training persons will free themselves from suffering such as irrational fears and psychosomatic illnesses, become more calm, more in a state of equilibrium, more energetic and communicative, will repair and revitalize their relations with others, achieve their personal goals, discard their doubts and inhibitions and acquire certainty and confidence in themselves, feel joy and clearly understand how to achieve happiness. In summary, Scientology presents itself as a means of overcoming suffering and the inequalities of individual ability.
Another of the elements which is included in the current functional definitions of religion is the giving of a meaning or explanation for the fundamental problems of life. Through the explanation of the reasons for human suffering, most religions alleviate in an indirect manner the tensions which such suffering produces. For those who are followers of such religions the problems of life become less perceived as senseless, unjust and inexplicable through acquiring a meaning. The doctrinal explanations for suffering give a foundation at the same time for the justification of religious practices designed to overcome such suffering: the postulating of the causes of the problems of life may be regarded as the basis for the development of programs of actions to overcome them.
In this respect it can be observed that Scientology also propounds answers to human suffering by giving an explanation. The doctrine of Scientology expounds particularly in describing the reasons for suffering. According to this doctrine the individual is basically good and happy and the reasons for suffering are found in the “reactive mind” which is clearly differentiated from the analytical mind and is made up of “engrams.” In Dianetics: The Original Thesis, the founder L. Ron Hubbard states:
“Man is not a reactive animal. He is capable of self-determinism. He has willpower. He ordinarily has high analytical ability. He is rational and he is happy and integrated only when he is his own basic personality.
“The most desirable state in an individual is complete self-determinism. …
“The reactive mind consists of a collection of experiences received during an unanalytical moment which contains pain and actual or conceived antagonism to the survival of the individual. …
“When injury or illness supplants the analytical mind, producing what is commonly known as ‘unconsciousness,’ and when physical pain and antagonism to the survival of the organism are present, an engram is received by the individual. …
“By stripping the reactive mind of its past painful content, the analytical mind may be placed in complete command of the organism.
The moment a man or a group becomes possessed of this ability, it becomes possessed of self-determinism. So long as these possess reactive minds, irrationalities will persist.” (Hubbard, pages 34, 39, 40, 72)
In Scientology, therefore, the human being is basically good, happy and integrated and the root of his unhappiness is found in engrams. Thus, the practice of auditing is propounded as the only suitable means of removing the individual’s engrams and enabling him to become a “Clear,” which is to say, returning him to his state as “basic individual.” Both terms mean: “the unaberrated self in complete integration and in a state of highest possible rationality. A Clear is one who has become the basic individual through therapy. … The basic individual is invariably responsive in all the dynamics and is essentially good. …The virtues of the basic individual are innumerable. His intentional vices and destructive dramatizations are non-existent. He is cooperative, constructive and possessed of purpose. In short, he is in close alignment with that ideal which Mankind recognizes as an ideal. This is a necessary part of an auditor’s working knowledge, since deviations from it denote the existence of aberration and such departures are unnatural and enforced and are no part of the self-determinism of the individual.” (Hubbard, pages 33–34)
Scientology furnishes an answer to human suffering giving it, like the majority of religious traditions, an explanation and postulating, from this explanation, a means of solution.
In summary, Scientology furnishes an answer to human suffering giving it, like the majority of religious traditions, an explanation and postulating, from this explanation, a means of solution. The explanation of human suffering lies in “engrams.” Engrams are described as unknown, powerful and influential mental image pictures which have mass and energy. The main solution proposed to overcome suffering consists of the practice of auditing which permits the location and conquest of engrams. Auditing is presented as a way to overcome suffering since it postulates that through the active and voluntary participation of the individual he will succeed in bettering his ability to face the problems of his existence, resolve them and achieve continually higher levels of awareness and spiritual well-being.
Scientology also gives an answer to the experience of injustice when perceived as an unequal distribution of abilities among men, postulating that the loss of abilities is due, at least in part to transgressions and irresponsibilities of the past. At the same time it gives a solution to this loss presenting itself as a way to regain these abilities. Additionally, Scientology provides an answer to the experience of life lacking meaning and the experience of death postulating that man is an immortal spiritual being whose experiences extend beyond one life and affirming that death is a transition through which the individual makes his passage while continuing to be aware. As stated by the Church of Scientology:
“Needless to say, ethics is a subject the Scientologist takes very seriously. As he moves up the Bridge and becomes more and more himself, he likewise grows more ethical, but he also views it as a matter of personal responsibility that extends well beyond this life. For unlike the materialist who believes death to be an end to life, conscience and accountability, the Scientologist sees it as a transition through which one carries his past—a past for which one continues to be accountable.
“He also knows that the abilities he is regaining were, in part, lost because of transgressions and irresponsibilities. Thus, honesty, integrity, trust and concern for his fellows are more than just words. They are principles to live by.” (The Scientology Handbook, lxxxviii)
Consequently, Scientology fits the concept of religion as it is currently defined from a functionalist perspective constituting a body of beliefs by means of which a group of people gives meaning to fundamental problems such as injustice, suffering and the search for the meaning of life and a body of practices through which they confront such problems and intend to overcome them.