Although not all members of Scientology (which becomes evident from the discussions and numerous interviews that I have had) believe there is a special theological system in Scientology, there nevertheless exist at least two fundamental formal attributes which point to the existence of a theological system. First, it is the role of the charismatic leader in the establishment of the church, and secondly, it is the existence of a well-developed religious doctrine and holy knowledge with an esoteric and an exoteric component.
I.I. The Charismatic Leader
The work of the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is the basis for the dogma and organization of Scientology. Hubbard’s work is the authoritative text which is always addressed and which is constantly studied. Through the internal self-determination of the church, the texts of Hubbard have the role of scripture—the holy text. The charismatic leader is thus the author of the main text. The second reason for seeing in Hubbard the charismatic leader is the belief of members of the church that Hubbard was the first person who found and traveled the path to true spiritual identity. All that remains to be done by those near or far is to follow Hubbard’s path and relive Hubbard’s experience, which is within anyone’s reach.
It is important to emphasise a basic difference between the charismatic founder of the movement and his followers. For Hubbard, the path was opened as a result of his own charisma. For the followers, it requires in-depth study with the guidance of the scriptures.
The purpose of the scriptures is to reach a spiritual identity, and to change one’s self-consciousness.
The purpose of the scriptures is to reach a spiritual identity, and to change one’s self-consciousness. It should be emphasised that the process of achieving new levels of self-consciousness was authored and regulated in detail by Hubbard. We find it is important to emphasise that detailed regulation and authorisation of procedures is an important way of preventing any schism. The door for any possibility of new interpretations of the authoritative texts is closed in an extremely simple but effective way. It is supposed that the full truth was found in Hubbard’s personal experience. And this personal experience is connected with the technology of achievement of a true spiritual identity. Unlike Hubbard’s one-time, unique experience (which serves as a form), the experience of others in content is the technology for changing one’s level of self-identification. The content of Hubbard’s experience (in a sense of technology) is in essence of a universal and repeatable nature. The purpose of the mission of the Church of Scientology is to grant each person who has felt an internal necessity to achieve spiritual identity an opportunity to go down the path which was opened by Hubbard.
What are the main features of the charismatic leader of the Scientology movement which provide the basis on which to consider him a religious leader?
First, the founder of the movement has discovered spiritual essences, spiritual knowledge which concerns every person.
Second, with the help of this knowledge, the founder has developed a way for personal salvation.
Third, the knowledge given to the leader was complete and any additions are impossible: any additions only deform the knowledge and transform it into harmful knowledge. From this emanates the necessity for special supervision to make sure the instructions of the founder are followed.
Fourth, the contiguity with personal experience and the personality of the founder, which is present in texts and video recordings, transforms the internal world of the follower, transforms the identity of the follower, and results in a stable realisation of one’s own self as a spiritual and immortal source.
Fifth, the founder of the movement cannot be replaced by any other person. That is why even very high spiritual achievement of a member of the Church of Scientology cannot result in a claim of founder status to assume a new version of doctrine; hence, no one can claim to assume the authority and power of the founder.
Sixth, on the basis of the spiritual message authored by the founder, a religious order is established in which the place of the member of the hierarchy depends exclusively on his/her spiritual achievement and on the permanency of spiritual practice in the order.
Seventh, the service in the Church of Scientology is built upon the texts of the founder and testimonials of those members whose lives have been assisted by the church and the works of the founder.
Thus, the founder of the movement, the charismatic leader, comes as a saviour to the followers; the charismatic leader offers full individual and spiritual self-realisation. In other words, the leader, the founder of Scientology is the founder of the religious doctrine and religious movement.
I.II. Scientology: The Religious Doctrine and the Holy Knowledge
Several fundamental Scientology themes lead us to consider Scientology doctrine as religious. First of all, spiritual and eternal essence is the concept with which a person should identify himself.
The next theme is history or a single event (a catastrophe) which caused man to forget his true nature, i.e., the theme of slavery of the true eternal self either by nature or through deliberate evil forces, which is classical for a religious doctrine.
Matter, energy, space and time are created by the powerful and eternal self who has lost the awareness of his omnipotence and falls under the control of his own creations.
Some testimonies suggest that the oblivion of self is the result of the activity and creativity by the eternal self. Other testimonies (more obscure) describe it as a result of personal evil will which caused a catastrophe in a major part of the inhabited universe.
In any case, be it absence of evil will or presence of an evil creator, we see the classical theme of religious ontology, with the theme of fall and oblivion of one’s former spiritual power as well as oblivion of the catastrophe itself.
Knowledge about one’s own infinite past, about events that happened to an individual during his numerous earlier existences, is not just knowledge. It is holy knowledge which gives back to the person an understanding of his true place in the cosmos and permits him during the process of attempting to comprehend his former disasters—down to the main catastrophe of cosmic importance—to revive the true knowledge about himself. Thus, the knowledge acquired in Scientology through long-term study and awareness of one’s own history is liberating knowledge that brings salvation.
Holy knowledge changes and transforms the person who is receiving the knowledge. The achievement of one’s real identity comes after the destruction of engrams, which are the barriers in the form of false knowledge of oneself, i.e., false identity. The destruction of internal obstructions placed in the way to understanding one’s own true eternal self is achieved with the help of an auditor, one who listens, (from the Latin audire, to listen) who is simultaneously minister and keeper of the path to holy knowledge. The technique of questions and answers in auditing reminds one of the procedures of gaining holy knowledge characteristic of customs which hold that a pupil (or truth seeker) only can be brought up to the threshold of true awareness. Awareness itself and understanding of the true nature of things is something the searcher must find independently. (Similar techniques of understanding one’s true self can be encountered in the “spiritual exercises” of Ignatius of Loyola, in oriental spiritual schools, Zen Buddhism—koans—and in the Hasidic stories.)
The parallels shown above, without diminishing the uniqueness of the spiritual contribution of Scientology into the world treasury of spiritual experience, help us be certain of, first of all, the religious foundation of Scientology, and secondly, the spiritual potential of Scientology not only as a religious movement but as a religious order. The latter is especially important because the appearance of orders is possible as a result of resolving either organisational issues or issues of a religious and educational nature. The religious order as a way of solving purely organisational problems—as the history of religious movements shows—is short-lived, whereas orders formed around a well-developed spiritual education technology prove to be enduring. The Jesuit order can be used as an example, brought about around “the practice of spiritual exercises” by the founder of the order, Ignatius of Loyola. The ability of the order to solve numerous practical problems is the consequence of the spiritual, religious practice. The basis of stability of the Jesuit order is the correct adherence to the technology of “spiritual exercises”. Similarly, the core of the order of the Church of Scientology has stability due to the special spiritual technology of finding the true self which is the center of the religious dogma and holy knowledge. Therefore the problem of preservation of holy knowledge is a major element of the Church of Scientology.