VII. A Sociological Analysis of the Evolution
of the Church of Scientology

VII.I. The Evolution of Scientological Ideas—Past Lives

From mid–1950, Hubbard had already perceived that past lives might be of importance in explaining man’s problems. The foundation that he set up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was devoting itself at that time to a study of possible benefits of “recalling” “the circumstances of deaths in previous incarnations” [Joseph A. Winter, A Doctor’s Report on Dianetics: Theory and Therapy, New York: 1951, p. 189]. This interest developed into a positive commitment to the view that deleterious experiences in past lives (as well as in early life) created “engrams” (impressions or mental image pictures which form the reactive mind, which are associated with pain and unconsciousness, and which cause illnesses, inhibitions and hence irrational behaviour). Dianetics and Scientology had thus to be extended to eliminate these engrams as well as those created by early experiences in the individual’s present life.

VII.II. The Evolution of Scientological
Ideas—From Dianetics to Scientology

This disruption of mental life was expressed, at another level, as theta, the universe of thought, having become “enturbulated” by MEST. Auditing was intended to free theta from this encumbrance. The concept of theta also underwent refinement in 1951, being recognized as “life force, élan vital, the spirit, the soul” [in Science of Survival, I, p. 4]. At this point, Hubbard’s belief system maybe said to have become a system for the cure of souls. This development became more explicit when, in 1952, Hubbard launched Scientology, and this new, expanded, and more encompassing belief-system subsumed Dianetics, providing it with a more fully articulated metaphysical rationale. Theta now became the thetan, a more explicit analogue of the soul, and the religious dimension of the system now became explicit. The thetan was perceived as the essential identity of the individual, the person himself (that which is aware of being aware) and the Scientological theory now provided the metaphysical justification for the soteriological task of freeing the thetan from the ill-effects of previous lives (previous occupations of human bodies).

VII.III. The Evolution of Scientological
Ideas—Thetan and Body

The individual cannot talk about “my thetan” since in essence the individual is the thetan occupying a body; in this sense, the thetan is seen as even more important than the soul in conventional Christian interpretation. The thetan enters a body (at, after, or even before birth) seeking identity. In this sense, Scientology has some similarity to the concepts embraced in the Buddhist theory of reincarnation. Hubbard is, however, more definite and precise in his characterisation of the reallocation of thetans to bodies than anything found in Buddhist scriptures.

VII.IV. Proximate and Ultimate Salvation

The initial goal of Scientology auditing is to release the thetan from the confines of the reactive mind: the ultimate goal is to rehabilitate the thetan so that he achieves a stable state where he no longer has a reactive mind. He moves from preoccupation with the proximate and immediate goal of his own survival (the 1st dynamic) to an increasingly expanded recognition of the possibilities of salvation, as he identifies progressively with the family, associations, mankind, the animal world, the universe, spiritual states, and infinity or God. Thus, the ultimate goal of the thetan working through the eight dynamics is the attainment of something of a god-like condition which Scientologists refer to as “Full OT” or “Native State.”

VII.V. The Soteriology of Scientology

This scheme is in itself a soteriology, a doctrine of salvation. If the final condition appears to exceed the salvation normally posited in Christian religion, that is because soteriologists often deal with proximate rather than with ultimate salvation. Christianity, too, has concepts of man as joint-heir with Christ, although the more limited prospect of the soul finally reaching heaven has frequently satisfied both the Church and the laity. Even so, in some movements—Mormonism is one example—the idea of man attaining the status of god is explicitly acknowledged. The terms in which salvation is to be accomplished differ in Scientology, but the long-term idea of saving the soul is easily recognized in its teachings. In its practice, the proximate ends of salvaging the individual’s sanity, curing his psychic distress, and helping him to overcome depression are emphasised, but they are justified by reference to the soteriology outlined above.

VII.VI. Similarities to Buddhism
and the Sankhya School

The mechanics of life as characterised by Scientology have considerable similarity to those embraced by both Buddhism and the Sankhya school of Hinduism. The accumulation of a reactive bank in the mind bears some similarity to the idea of karma. The concept of past lives has much in common with the theories of reincarnation in Eastern religions. The idea of acquiring access to levels of consciousness is found in Yoga (the Yoga school is closely related to that of Sankhya) and the yogin is believed to be able to attain supernatural power.

VII.VII. Salvation as a Global and
as an Individual Possibility

The ultimate prospect of salvation for the thetan embraces the idea of survival for mankind and the animal and material universes, through the agency of Scientology. This element of concern for society and the cosmos certainly exists in Scientology. The idea of “clearing the planet” (producing “Clears”—people who have become entirely clear of the reactive mind) has been put forward as a goal. Hubbard has, however, at times, shifted the emphasis and wrote, “Scientology is interested not in ‘saving the world’ but in making able individuals more able by exact standard technological address to the individual himself, which is the spirit.” [The Character of Scientology, 1968, p. 5.] However, what may be being emphasised here is that world salvation is itself contingent on the salvation of individual thetans—a typical evangelical emphasis.

VII.VIII. Morality in Scientology

It is sometimes suggested that it is a characteristic of religion to prescribe a moral code, though religions vary considerably in the extent to which they are committed to a specific code of morality. Scientology began with the general goals of enhancing the individual’s potential. In its emphasis on freedom, it adopted a more permissive approach to morality than that expressed by traditional Christian churches. However, from the very early exposition of Dianetics, Hubbard made clear that the individual was responsible for his own limitations, that a thetan was basically good and would diminish his own power were he to commit further harmful acts. The emphasis of auditing is also to demand that the individual should confront problems and take responsibility for his own well-being. He must acknowledge the “overt acts” (harmful acts) that he has committed in both his present and his past lives.

Survival, as a Scientological concept, conforms to the general concern of all religion—salvation. Ethical action is deemed to be rational behaviour conducive to that end.

In an important publication, Introduction to Scientology Ethics, L. Ron Hubbard set out the ethical standards required of a Scientologist, and made it clear that a commitment to ethics was fundamental to the faith. The individual’s goal is survival—that is, survival on all eight dynamics, from concern for the self and the family up to concern for the urge towards existence as infinity, the so-called God dynamic [see para VI.IX]. Survival, as a Scientological concept, conforms to the general concern of all religion—salvation. Ethical action is deemed to be rational behaviour conducive to that end. Thus Hubbard laid stress on the individual’s need to apply ethical standards to his conduct and to behave rationally if he was to achieve his own salvation and facilitate that of all mankind. Thus, in ways analogous to the Buddhist’s self-interested commitment to good actions as a way of improving his future karma, so the Scientologist is enjoined to behave rationally—that is, ethically—towards the attainment of survival, for himself and for the widening constituencies embraced by the eight dynamics. Hubbard wrote, “Ethics are the actions an individual takes on himself in order to accomplish optimum survival for himself and others on all dynamics. Ethical actions are survival actions. Without a use of ethics we will not survive” [p. 19]. Survival is not mere survival. It is rather survival in a felicitous condition. “Survival is measured in pleasure” [p. 31]. Thus, as in Christianity, salvation entails a state of happiness. But “a clean heart and clean hands are the only way to achieve happiness and survival” [p. 28]; thus, in practice, achieving survival demands the maintenance of moral standards. Hubbard wrote “As for ideals, as for honesty, as for one’s love of one’s fellow man, one cannot find good survival for one or for many where these things are absent” [p. 24]. Scientology ethics subsumes moral codes, but goes further in affirming the essential rationality of Scientological ethics, the application of which is seen as the only way in which the deteriorating condition of contemporary morality and the activities of anti-social personalities can be redressed and mankind redeemed.

In 1981, Hubbard formulated a set of moral precepts, said to be based on common sense. He described the booklet in which they were presented as “an individual work…not part of any religious doctrine” and intended they be widely disseminated as a solution to the declining moral standards of modern society; however, Scientologists adopted this moral code as part of the religion. This code echoes in considerable measure both the Decalogue and other precepts of Christian morality, expressed in modern language and with the addition of social, functional, and pragmatic justification for many of the principles that are put forward. The code interdicts murder; theft; untruthfulness; all illegal acts; the infliction of harm on people of goodwill; and it enjoins, inter alia, faithfulness to sexual partners; respect for parents; assistance to children; temperateness; support for just government; fulfilment of obligations; respect for the religious beliefs of others; care for health and for the environment; industry; and competence. It contains, in both negative and positive terms, a version of the golden rule that is frequently rendered in Christian traditions as: “Do not unto others that which you would not that others should do unto you.” The booklet urges its readers to present copies to all others for whose happiness and survival the reader is concerned.

VII.IX. The Religious Claims of Scientology

Despite the various elements described above which pertain to religion, Scientology was not initially claimed as religion. Even when, in 1954, three churches were incorporated for Scientology (with somewhat different titles), the religious implications of Scientology were still not fully explored. However, Hubbard affirmed that Scientology had religious aims. He wrote “Scientology has accomplished the goal of religion expressed in all Man’s written history: the freeing of the soul by wisdom. It is a far more intellectual religion than that known to the West as late as 1950. If we, without therapy, simply taught our truths, we would bring civilization to a barbaric West” [Creation of Human Ability, p. 417]. Certainly, Hubbard regarded Christianity as in some respects less advanced than Buddhism, referring to the Christian day of judgment as “…a barbaric interpretation of what Gautama Buddha was talking about, the emancipation of the soul from the cycle of births and deaths” [Phoenix Lectures, 1968, pp. 29–30]. Scientology itself was a religion “in the oldest and fullest sense” [ibid, p. 35]. In The Character of Scientology, 1968, Hubbard reiterated some of these earlier points, and claimed that the background of Scientology included the Vedas, the Tao, Buddha, the Hebrews and Jesus, as well as a number of philosophers. Scientology had “brought the first religious technology to overcome the overwhelming backlog of spiritual neglect” [p. 10], and this he saw as combining the honesty and precision of the Gautama Buddha with the urgent productive practicality of Henry Ford [p. 12]. He saw the auditor as someone trained in auditing technology, and Scientological training as religious education.

VII.X. L. Ron Hubbard as Religious Leader

The claim is often made (by their followers if not by themselves) that the founders of religious movements are special agents of revelation through whom a supreme being expresses himself. This prophetic mode of religious leadership is characteristic of movements in the general Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, but in the Hindu-Buddhist tradition, the religious leader is more typically seen as a master who benefits his followers by indicating to them the path to enlightenment which he has himself trodden. Hubbard conforms much more fully to this latter model. He is represented as a teacher who, rather than having had religious truths revealed to him, is said to have discovered by scientific research facts which indicate certain therapeutic practices and a metaphysical body of knowledge which explains man’s higher being and ultimate destiny. Contemporary Scientological works build up an image of Hubbard, who is readily described as a genius, very much in the style of eulogistic biographies produced to enhance the reputation and acclaim the unique experience of prophets, gurus, and founders of religious movements [for example, What Is Scientology? pp. 83–137]. In the Christian tradition, religious leaders whose roles and acclaimed reputations have most closely approximated that of Hubbard in Scientology are Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, and the leaders of the various New Thought movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

VII.XI. Religion and Church Organization

It is not by any means necessary for a religion or a religious system to organize as a church. The spiritual elements within the Scientological scheme were in evidence before the movement registered church organizations, and these elements, taken together, certainly justify the designation of the belief system of Scientology as a religion. But even if the organisation as a church were the criterion of a religion, Scientology meets this test. The Church was incorporated and a creed was promulgated in the 1950s, and the form of certain ceremonies was prescribed. The Creed and the ceremonies formalised institutionally the commitments implicit in the belief system of Scientology. The ecclesiastical structure of Scientology is hierarchical, reflecting the graduated system of learning and spiritual enlightenment required to master its teachings. Lower-order organisations are conducted as missions conceived as evangelistic agencies. The lower-echelon churches undertake what may be designated as elementary training of ministers leading towards ordination, and serve local congregations of “parish” members. This tier of church organisation constitutes the core of the system. Above this level there are higher church organisational echelons engaged in advanced auditor training and auditing. The higher level organisations provide guidance for lower-level institutions. Analogous to this structure, the Church has developed a volunteer ministry of lay people who undergo training for social and community work. The ministry itself is hierarchically organised, each grade being marked by the completion of certificated training courses. At the lower levels of qualification, the volunteer ministers undertake, inter alia, prison and hospital visiting, while higher level ministers seek, where numbers warrant it, to bring into being congregations of Scientologists. The formal overall ecclesiastical structure bears some resemblance to that of Christian denominations, different as teaching and practices may be. The volunteer ministry has some loose parallels with the lay diaconate of the Anglican and other churches.

VII.XII. The Creed of Scientology

In a work, Ceremonies of the Founding Church of Scientology, 1966, it was explained that “in a Scientology church service we do not use prayers, attitudes of piety, or threats of damnation. We use the facts, the truths, the understandings that have been discovered in the science of Scientology” [p. 7]. The Creed of the Church of Scientology devotes much attention to human rights. It affirms the belief that men were created equal, and have rights to their own religious practices and performances; to their own lives, sanity, defense and to “conceive, choose, assist or support their own organizations, churches and governments,” and “to think freely, to talk freely, to write freely their own opinions…” It also affirms the belief that “the study of the mind and the healing of mentally caused ills should not be alienated from religion or condoned in nonreligious fields.” It is maintained “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.” It is also affirmed that “…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.”

VII.XIII. Scientology Ceremonies

The wedding and funeral ceremonies prescribed for the Church, whilst somewhat unconventional, do not depart radically from the general practice of Western society. The christening ceremony, referred to as a “naming ceremony” is more explicitly committed to the principles of the Scientological belief-system. Its purpose is to assist the thetan who has recently come to acquire this particular body. At the time of his acquisition of a new body, the thetan is believed to be unaware of his identity, and this naming ceremony is a way of helping the thetan to learn the identity of his new body, of the parents of that body, and the god-parents who will assist the new being. This ceremony is, therefore, a type of orientation process, fully in accordance with Scientological metaphysics.

VIII. Conceptions of Worship and Salvation