In terms of the Scientology belief system, there exists a vast amount of religious material through which the scholar must wend her or his way. Furthermore, the scholar needs to be sensitive to the fact that Scientology, like every other religious tradition in history, is organic and has undergone and is undergoing an evolution. One can mention such key scriptures by L. Ron Hubbard as Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought, The Phoenix Lectures, plus the voluminous training and management manuals, but this would only be the tip of the iceberg of Scientology scriptures. Central to everything are the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, who is the sole source of inspiration for all Scientology doctrines pertaining to auditing and training.

My interviews with Scientologists and my study of its scriptures have shown that members of the Church adhere to a basic creed, in which they confess that mankind is basically good, that the spirit can be saved and that the healing of both physical and spiritual ills proceeds from the spirit. In full, the Scientology creed states:

We of the Church believe

That all men of whatever race, color or creed were created with equal rights.

That all men have inalienable rights to their own religious practices and their performance.

That all men have inalienable rights to their own lives.

That all men have inalienable rights to their sanity.

That all men have inalienable rights to their own defense.

That all men have inalienable rights to conceive, choose, assist or support their own organizations, churches and governments.

That all men have inalienable rights to think freely, to talk freely, to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others.

That all men have inalienable rights to the creation of their own kind.

That the souls of men have the rights of men.

That the study of the mind and the healing of mentally caused ills should not be alienated from religion or condoned in nonreligious fields.

And that no agency less than God has the power to suspend or set aside these rights, overtly or covertly.

And we of the Church believe

That Man is basically good.

That he is seeking to survive.

That his survival depends upon himself and upon his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe.

And we of the Church believe that the laws of God forbid Man

To destroy his own kind.

To destroy the sanity of another.

To destroy or enslave another’s soul.

To destroy or reduce the survival of one’s companions or one’s group.

And we of the Church believe

That the spirit can be saved and

That the spirit alone may save or heal the body.

This creed elaborates on and complements the Scientology teaching on the Eight Dynamics. A “dynamic” is an urge, drive or impulse to survival at the levels of the self, sex (including procreation as a family), group, all of mankind, all living things, all the physical universe, spirit, and, finally, Infinity or God. Contrary to some popular presentations of Scientology, the Church has always maintained a belief in the spiritual dimension and, specifically, a Supreme Being. The earliest editions of Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought explicitly state: “The Eighth Dynamic—is the urge toward existence as Infinity. This is also identified as the Supreme Being.” (Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought. Los Angeles: The Church of Scientology of California, 1956, page 38.) The average believer is expected during his or her adherence to Scientology to realize the self as fully as possible on all eight dynamics and thus develop an understanding of a Supreme Being, or, as the Scientologists prefer to say, Infinity.

Scientologists define the spiritual essence of humanity as the “thetan,” which is equivalent to the traditional notion of the soul. They believe that this thetan is immortal and has assumed various bodies in past lives. The Scientology doctrine of past lives has many affinities with the Buddhist teaching on samsara, or the transmigration of the soul. More will be said about the soul under para. III (a).

Scientologists define the spiritual essence of humanity as the “thetan,” which is equivalent to the traditional notion of the soul.

The Creed of Scientology can be compared with the classic Christian creeds of Nicaea (325 C.E.), the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530 C.E.), and the Presbyterian Westminster Confession (1646 C.E.) because, like these earlier creeds, it defines the ultimate meaning of life for the believer, shapes and determines codes of conduct and worship in conformity with that creed, and defines a body of adherents who subscribe to that creed. Like the classic creeds, the Creed of the Church of Scientology gives meaning to transcendental realities: the soul, spiritual aberrancy or sin, salvation, healing by means of the spirit, the freedom of the believer, and the spiritual equality of all.

Following their creed, Scientologists distinguish between the “reactive” or passive (unconscious) mind and the “analytical” or active mind. The reactive mind records what adherents call “engrams,” which are spiritual traces of pain, injury, or impact. The reactive mind is believed to retain engrams that go back to the fetal state and reach further back even into past lives. The theological notion of “engrams” bears close resemblance to the Buddhist doctrine of the “threads of entanglement” which are held over from previous incarnations and which impede the attainment of enlightenment. Scientologists believe that unless one is freed from these engrams, one’s survival ability on the levels of the eight dynamics, happiness, intelligence and spiritual well-being will be severely impaired. It is on the basis of this belief or spiritual knowledge that adherents are motivated to go through the many levels of auditing and training, which constitute the central religious practices of Scientology. I will discuss auditing and training in greater detail in section III. A neophyte or beginner in the auditing/training process is called a preclear and one who has removed all engrams is called a Clear. This distinction can be compared with the Christian distinction between sin and grace and the Buddhist distinction between unenlightenment (Sanskrit, avidya) and enlightenment (bodhi).

Scientologists do not speak of “Clearing” simply in terms of individual well-being. Their belief is that auditing and training have a beneficial effect on the person’s family, group, environment, and sphere of influence. In other words, the beneficial effect takes place on all eight levels of the “dynamics.” Scientologists also believe that they should take responsibility for bettering the world around them and that they should help others attain the state of Clear. They believe that when enough people have attained the Clear state, the central aim of Scientology, as enunciated by L. Ron Hubbard, will have been achieved: “A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights.” (L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology 0-8: The Book of Basics, page 3.) In this quest to remove the conditions leading to mistrust, war and self-destruction, Scientology is no different than all the other missionary or evangelical religions, namely, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Three aspects of Scientology’s goal to “Clear the planet” so as to bring about a new civilization demonstrate that the belief system of the Church accords fully with the pattern of the great historic religions, past and present. Those three aspects are (a) its missionary character, (b) its universality, and (c) its quality of ultimate concern and commitment.

(a) First, Scientology’s religious quest is envisioned in terms of a sacred mission, addressed and available to one and all. Thus, the prophets of the Bible such as Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah, received revelations that they had a mission to address the nations far and wide about peace, justice and love. Thus, too, the Buddhist missionaries of the second century B.C.E. onward sensed a calling to spread the message of the Buddha throughout the Far East, including China, Indochina, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. Today, Japanese Buddhist missionaries are spreading their message to Europe and the Americas. So also, Jesus of Nazareth saw his gospel as having a missionary goal; hence he sent his disciples unto all the nations. The missionary aspect of Islam is so strong that today it is the fastest growing historic religion in the world, especially in Africa and East Asia. In its dedication to “Clear” the planet in order to bring about a new civilization, Scientology’s missionary efforts conform entirely to the pattern of the great historic religions.

(b) Secondly, Scientology sees its mission in universal terms. As a result, it has set out to open mission centers in all parts of the world in order to make the auditing and training technology universally available. The most obvious historic parallel to traditional historic religion is Jesus’ commission to his disciples: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). In the eighth century B.C.E., the Jewish prophet Amos was called to bring God’s word not only to Judah and Israel but also to Damascus, Gaza, Ashkelon, Tyre, Sidon and Edom, all of which were “pagan” Canaanitic city states that did not share Israel’s belief in the God of the Fathers (Amos, chaps. 1–2). Today, Muslims are establishing full-scale mosques in cities including London, Los Angeles, Toronto, and even Seoul because they believe in the universal value of the Word of the Prophet Muhammed. Likewise, Buddhist and Hindu Vedanta spiritual leaders are bringing their sacred teachings and forms of life to our shores because they are convinced that their teachings have a universal application. Again, in this respect, Scientology follows the pattern of the historic religions in the worldwide spread of its auditing and training technology, which Scientology missionaries believe will benefit all of humankind.

Scientology follows the pattern of the historic religions in the worldwide spread of its auditing and training technology, which Scientology missionaries believe will benefit all of humankind.

(c) Thirdly, the dedicated aim of Scientology is to assist enough people to attain the status of “Clear” so that the tide of civilization may turn to the better. This aim has the character of an ultimate concern and commitment. Each of the great historic religions has a central core of teaching which provides its followers a compelling motivation to fulfill its religious mission on a worldwide scale and with a sense of urgency and ultimacy.

For the Buddhist that core teaching is summed up in the religious notion of “release” (moksa) from the entangling bonds of craving and the bestowal of bliss in egoless thought (nirvana). The Buddhist scripture, The Dhammapada, has the Buddha declare: “All the rafters [of my old house] are broken, shattered the roof-beam; my thoughts are purified of illusion; the extinction of craving has been won” (section 154). The ultimacy of this awakening is what motivated and motivates every Buddhist monk and missionary.

As I have noted above, the Scientology belief in past lives is closely related to the Buddhist idea of samsara; likewise, the Scientology notion of “Clearing” has close affinities with the Buddhist belief in moksa. As Buddhist missionaries in the past sought to make available to all sentient beings “release” from the cravings of existence, so also the Scientologist missionary strives to make available to one and all the opportunity to be rid of engrams which impede universal survival, peace and abundance by becoming “Clear.”

Zen Buddhists in Japan seek to attain satori, or “sudden enlightenment,” for all humanity, and the strength of this belief has led them to establish monasteries in the Americas and Europe. The Muslim conviction in the ultimacy of the word of the Prophet Muhammed—summed up in the great shahada: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet”—gives the missionaries of Islam the strength of conviction to seek converts on a worldwide scale. In the Biblical tradition, the most compelling core belief which motivated and still motivates missionary activity is the firm trust that God desires the ultimate salvation and universal redemption of all humankind. Thus the biblical prophet Isaiah saw God’s salvation of all the nations as the new creation of a heavenly Jerusalem on earth in which all flesh would worship the one, true God (Isaiah 66:22–23).

In the New Testament the redemption wrought by God in Jesus the Christ is viewed by the Apostle Paul not simply as the salvation of Christians, or even of all humanity, but as the pledge of universal liberation, restoration and re-creation of the cosmos itself (Romans 8:19–23). In this context the Scientology belief in the mission of “Clearing the planet” to bring about a renewed civilization corresponds in like kind to the ultimacy of conviction which characterizes the motivation and faith of the world’s great historic religions.

III. Religious Practices