Worship is an intrinsic part of every religion, although the practice of worship differs from one religion to another. The insoluble bond between religion and worship is obvious in the common sense understanding of worship as adoring devotion and dedication. Such distinctive attitudes and actions are clearly implied in religion defined functionally as “a state of ultimate concern” or as “a means of ultimate transformation.” Worship is directed toward intense interests. Worshipful attitudes and actions are even more obvious in religion defined substantively as “alignment with the transcendent ground of personal and social existence.” Worship is directed toward superhuman powers. On either definitional approach to religion, all religions begin and end in worship.
The range of attitudes and actions embraced in the concept of worship extends to the entire active side of religion. In its broadest scope, worship includes all rites, rituals, ceremonies, practices, observances, or services that occur within a sacred context and for a sacred purpose. Seen in this light, worship can run the gamut from public celebration to private contemplation, from solemn festivals to habitual routines. But the term “worship” is usually reserved for the intentional cultivation of persistent religious beliefs, values, and sentiments through a disciplined course of action. As such, worship involves the whole person in fixed patterns of divine service as defined by a specific religious tradition. Of course, religious traditions differ among themselves over the objects, forms, and occasions of worship, depending upon their distinctive understanding of the divine and the human reality.
IV.I. The Object of Worship in Scientology
In the long history of the religions, the objects of worship have included everything from supernatural beings to natural landmarks, from invisible powers to heroic individuals, from abstract principles to concrete symbols. But, as historian Arnold Toynbee has shown, this apparent variety among humankind’s worship can be reduced to three objects or objectives—Nature, Mankind, and an Absolute Reality that is neither Nature nor Mankind but is in them and at the same time beyond them.
Most historians of religion agree that the earliest forms of religion were rooted in the worship of natural phenomena or of parochial communities. The polytheisms of the ancient world were celebrations of the powers and possibilities of the natural environment or of the human world. These forms of worship have certainly not disappeared from the face of the earth. But the great “world religions” are all focused on worship of an Absolute Reality that transcends both nature and history.
This Absolute Reality is conceived in very different ways among the different religions. Broadly speaking, the Western religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam understand this Absolute Reality in personal terms. These traditions worship a personal Reality who can be known and served in a relational way. The worship of these theistic religions finally aims at communion with this personal Being. By contrast, again broadly speaking, the Eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism conceive of this Absolute Reality in impersonal terms. These traditions worship a unitive Reality that can be understood and experienced in an inward manner. The worship of these monistic religions finally seek a Union with this impersonal Being.
Scientology clearly belongs among those religions whose worship is directed to an Absolute Reality that transcends the natural order and human existence while sustaining and fulfilling both. As noted above, the ultimate goal of the religious life in Scientology is survival “through a Supreme Being” or “as Infinity.” As we shall see, auditing and training are the primary forms of worship in the Church of Scientology. These worship activities equip and assist the Scientologist to survive and thrive across all eight dynamics. These spiritual exercises produce healthy and happy individuals, families and groups. But ultimately worship enables individual Scientologists to discover themselves as spiritual beings in a spiritual universe that radically transcends the physical body and the material world.
As such, Scientology’s understanding of Absolute Reality has more in common with the mystical traditions of Eastern religions than their theistic counterparts in the West. Though the Church of Scientology resolutely affirms the existence of God, it has no dogma concerning the nature of God. Scientologists are free to symbolize God in either personal or impersonal terms so long as they affirm the reality of God. For the most part, however, they think of God less as a personal Being who commands personal devotion and obedience than as a spiritual Force that invites individual exploration and discovery. God is to be found within rather than without, through individual experience rather than dogmatic teachings.
IV.II. The Forms of Worship in Scientology
The forms of worship differ from one religion to another, depending upon a given religion’s distinctive understanding of the divine and human realities. But certain broad generalizations can be drawn between the forms of worship in Western and Eastern religious traditions. Unlike Western religious traditions where the disciplines of worship are focused on prayer and praise toward a personal God, the disciplines of worship in Eastern religions are centered in meditation and identification with an impersonal Absolute. The former religions celebrate a relationship between the individual and the Supreme Being, the latter establish the connection between the true self and ultimate Reality.
While Scientology is a distinctive religion with its own distinctive forms of worship, those forms have more in common with the spiritual disciplines of Eastern religions than the spiritual devotions of Western faiths. Like its Eastern counterparts, worship in the Church of Scientology is a highly disciplined and deeply cultivated process of self-examination and self-development. These spiritual exercises to increase individual awareness and ability are broadly divided into the two categories of auditing and training, the two sides of Scientology’s Bridge to Total Freedom.
Scientology auditing, which bears some resemblance to Christian confession and Buddhist meditation, is a form of spiritual counseling that enables a person to discover his or her identity as a spiritual being who has the potential of infinite survival.
Scientology auditing, which bears some resemblance to Christian confession and Buddhist meditation, is a form of spiritual counseling that enables a person to discover his or her identity as a spiritual being who has the potential of infinite survival. Auditing ranges from very simple to more searching religious experiences as one progresses higher and higher on the Bridge. Scientologists believe that the highest levels of spiritual awareness and ability can only be attained by progressing through graduated levels of auditing. The lower levels of auditing lead to the spiritual state of “clear,” in which a person is freed to live a sane and productive life, while the higher levels of auditing known as the “Operating Thetan” levels minister to the thetan’s ability to directly influence life, matter, energy, space and time.
Scientology training, which is similar to scriptural study and religious instruction in Judaism and Christianity as well as in Hinduism and Buddhism, augments the freedom achieved through spiritual auditing by knowledge achieved through religious education. The broad scope of training in Scientology is divided into numerous courses, ranging from lower level courses that teach basic principles to upper level courses that cover the full philosophic and technical materials of Dianetics and Scientology. In this sense, training offers just as much spiritual insight as does auditing. Indeed, the practice of faith for Scientologists is composed in equal parts of auditing and training in the principles and technology of Scientology. A person cannot achieve full spiritual awareness and empowerment without traveling up both sides of the Bridge to Total Freedom.
While the primary forms of worship in all religions are directed toward sacred objects and are expressive of spiritual experiences, there are other rituals that are routinely performed in the context and spirit of worship. Principle among these other practices are the rites of passage which mark the great moments of transition and transformation in individual and communal life. Every religion has its celebrations of the believer’s life cycle and of the tradition’s sacred history, and Scientology is no exception. Churches of Scientology regularly celebrate the rites of naming, marriage and burial according to the ceremonies of Scientology as well as commemorate the holy days in their faith’s sacred history and common life.
IV.III. The Occasions of Worship in Scientology
In the history of religions, worship can occur on either private or public occasions. Worship is not restricted to the formal ceremonies and collective celebrations of a gathered religious community. Private worship is often found in the home where it is dependent on set times (such as meals or upon rising and retiring). The Christian’s daily devotionals, the Jew’s ritual benedictions, the Muslim’s daily prayers, the Hindu’s ceremonial chanting and the Buddhist’s sitting meditation are all authentic expressions of worship, though conducted in the privacy of one’s home or even in the solitude of one’s mind. But worship is also a public occasion, whether performed in concert with others or merely in the company of others. Corporate worship is the norm for public worship in the theistic religions of the West. The people’s words are presented to God in formalized prayers and praise, and God’s word is proclaimed in return to the people in scripture and commentary. The pattern of public worship is somewhat different in the monistic religions of the East. To be sure, there are many elaborate ceremonies and festivals that are celebrated in a collective manner. But individual worshippers typically gather in public shrines, where each worshipper intones and enacts the prescribed ritual utterances and gestures as an act of personal devotion. On either pattern of public worship, the celebration of worship is dependent on a class of experts who are masters of the means and meaning of worship.
Similar to other religions, worship in the Church of Scientology may occur on private as well as public occasions. Auditing can occur in any quiet, distraction-free setting, such as at home. However, in such circumstances it is supervised by a highly trained Case Supervisor through use of a running written record of the auditing sessions. The vast majority of auditing takes place on Church premises where there are specially equipped rooms for this purpose and where the assistance of Case Supervisors and others is readily available to help in the scheduling and administration of these religious services. With the limited exception of home extension courses designed to guide one through the basic books of Dianetics and Scientology, all formal training is conducted on Church premises under trained Course Supervisors. Auditing at some of the upper levels, the “OT” levels, is conducted as “solo auditing.” In this instance, a Scientologist follows exact instructions, auditing himself or herself alone as both the auditor and the person receiving the auditing. However, solo auditing is only done under the aegis of an Advanced Organization or Flag Service Organization where the written records of the auditing sessions are routinely reviewed by Case Supervisors to ensure that the auditing adheres to relevant Scriptures and that the expected spiritual gains are being attained. Although both auditing and training tend to be individual rather than group disciplines of worship in Scientology, this is no more unusual than a Buddhist practicing meditation in a Buddhist Center under the direction of a spiritual master or the rabbinic student studying Torah in a yeshiva under a Talmudic scholar.
On any reckoning of the occasions of worship—whether worship is private or public, solitary or corporate—the worship center plays an indispensable role in every religion. Such worship centers go by different names and exhibit different architectures. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, ashrams, shrines have their own distinctive look and feel. But their religious purposes and functions are quite similar. These “places of worship” provide the sacred setting in which the “divine services” appropriate to a given religion are regularly conducted. Like any religion, Scientology churches have their own distinctive ambience. But they are the centers of both private and public worship services.
By reason of my professional training and the scholarly research summarized above, I am convinced that Scientology is a worshipping community. As befitting a new religion, the Church of Scientology’s forms of worship are distinctive in accordance with its distinctive understanding of the divine and human realities. But, similar to other religious traditions, Scientology’s worship is intended to deepen the spiritual awareness and develop the spiritual ability of the individual, the family, the community, and ultimately the world.
Lonnie D. Kliever
26 September 1994