As with every religion known to me, Scientology has a communal life and ecclesiastical organization which function both to preserve and express the belief system and to foster the religious practices. In ecclesiastical terms, the Church of Scientology is hierarchical rather than congregational in organization. Congregational religions exercise authority by locally electing ministers of churches, voting on reformulations of belief systems (creeds) and religious practices, as well as church polity. Most Protestant denominations in the United States are congregational in their polity. They exercise authority from the bottom up, so to speak. Hierarchical religions, on the other hand, exercise authority by appointment and delegation from the top down, either from a central religious figure such as the Supreme Pontiff (Pope) in Roman Catholicism and the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism, or from a central executive body such as a synod of bishops or council of elders. My study of the Church of Scientology showed me that it follows the classic hierarchical type of church polity.
Scientology has a communal life and ecclesiastical organization which function both to preserve and express the belief system and to foster the religious practices.
I will here give a brief summary of the organization of the Church of Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986, was and remains the sole source of Scientology religious doctrine and technology, including the upper OT levels. The highest ecclesiastical authority in the Church of Scientology is exercised by Church of Scientology International (CSI) and Religious Technology Center (RTC). CSI is the mother church and has the chief responsibility to propagate the Scientology creed around the world. The all-important function of RTC is to preserve, maintain and protect the purity of Scientology technology and to insure its proper and ethical delivery in accord with the tenets of the faith. RTC functions very much like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Roman Catholicism.
Scientology Missions International (SMI) functions as the mother church to the mission churches around the world. This structure is very similar to the First Church of Christian Science in Boston, which also serves as the mother church to all other Christian Science churches. In all doctrinal disputes, RTC is the ultimate and final court of appeal in Scientology, just as the Vatican and its congregations are the final courts of appeal in Roman Catholicism.
I need also to mention here the Sea Organization. The Sea Org is composed of Church of Scientology members who take vows of service “for a billion years,” signifying their commitment to serve the Church in this life and in countless lives to come. The Sea Org has become to Scientology what Jesuits are to Roman Catholicism. From the ranks of the Sea Org have come almost all the Church’s leadership.
Scientology sometimes describes itself as “an applied religious philosophy.” Some have used this phrase to argue that Scientology is not a religion. But as noted above, my research into the teachings of the Church and interviews with its members show that Scientology possesses all the marks which are common to religions around the world and throughout history: a well-formed belief system, sustained religious practices, and a hierarchical ecclesiastical polity. Furthermore, the word “philosophy” can have several meanings and is not at all incompatible with the word “religion.” Literally, the word philosophy means “love of wisdom” and every religion known to humankind preaches some sort of “wisdom” or insight into ultimate truth. My interviews with Scientologists showed that adherents consider the word “philosophy” to refer to the ultimate meaning of life and the universe in the religious sense of the term. Scientology’s “philosophy” is dependent upon the belief that the soul is immortal and has an eternal destiny. In making use of philosophical concepts and in stressing the application of its teachings, Scientology is certainly no different from any other religion known to me. Religion always links up with philosophy. In his great work the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian in the history of Roman Catholicism, makes use of countless philosophical ideas, terms and constructs borrowed from the Greek philosopher Aristotle and urges the moral application of these “philosophical” notions, yet no one would classify the Summa as anything but a religious treatise of the highest order. The phrase “an applied religious philosophy” in no way detracts from Scientology being a bona fide religious faith in the fullest sense of the term.
My research into the teachings of the Church and interviews with its members show that Scientology possesses all the marks which are common to religions around the world and throughout history...
Western religions—specifically, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—traditionally have been exclusivistic in nature. Each faith claims to be the one true faith by virtue of its own unique religious law, savior, prophet, path to salvation, or interpretation of the ultimate meaning of life and truth. This exclusivistic trait is, on the whole, absent in Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism and Taoism. In the East, one and the same person can be initiated into life as a Shintoist, doubly married in Shinto and Christian rites, and finally buried in a Buddhist rite, without having to “choose” which religion is the “right” one. Today even Western Christianity is losing some it its exclusivistic character, as evidenced by various denominations deeply engaged in interreligious theological dialogue and intercommunal religious worship. Such pluridenominationality is not at all surprising and is fully understandable to scholars of religion who study current practices firsthand. Although Scientology has close affinities to both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is not purely non-exclusivistic nor, for that matter, purely exclusivistic. Scientology does not require members to renounce prior religious beliefs or membership in other churches or religious orders. This is in keeping with the pluridenominational temper of our times. Nonetheless, as a practical matter, Scientologists usually become fully involved with the Scientology religion to the exclusion of any other faith. In any event, openness to persons from other religious traditions in no way detracts from Scientology’s specific religious identity.