VIII. Conceptions of Worship and Salvation

VIII.I. Worship—A Changing Concept

Theistic religions—traditional Christianity among them—attach importance to worship, which constitutes formalized expression of reverence and veneration of a deity, humility, submission to that deity, prayer (communication with the deity), proclamations in his praise, and thanksgiving for his benefits. (Older conceptions of worship also involve sacrifice—animal or human—and acts of propitiation of a vengeful or jealous deity. But concepts of worship have changed, and older forms of worship, once regarded as indispensable, would now be regarded as against the law. The idea of worship is changing in our own times, both within the traditional churches and among new movements.) The traditional conception of worship is generally associated with the postulation of a deity (or deities) or a personage who is the object of worshipful attitudes and actions. This definition of worship, which accords with those employed in recent court cases in England, is narrowly based on the model of historic Judaeo-Christian-Islamic practice. As empirical evidence makes clear, however, worship in this sense does not occur in all religions, and where it occurs it manifests significant variations, some of which are instanced below.

VIII.II. Variations in Worship—Theravada Buddhism

First: Theravada Buddhism—in its pure form—and some other religions posit not a supreme deity, but an ultimate law or principle which neither demands nor depends upon the reverence, praise, or worship of believers. It is generally accepted that a deity is not a sine qua non of religion, thus—if the concept is to be retained—a definition of worship broader than that prescribed in the Christian tradition must be adopted.

VIII.III. Variations in Worship—Nichiren Buddhism

Second: there are religious movements, found for example in Nichiren Buddhism, which deny supreme beings but which require the worship of an object. The Soka Gakkai Buddhists, a movement which has about 15 million adherents, with about six thousand in Britain, worships the Gohonzon, a mandala on which is inscribed the vital symbols or formulae of ultimate truth. In worshipping the Gohonzon, these Buddhists expect benisons from it. Thus, something resembling the concept of worship as understood in Christian contexts may occur even when a supreme being is explicitly denied.

VIII.IV. Variations in Worship—Quakers

Third: even within the broad Christian tradition, attitudes of reverence and humility need not imply specific forms of behaviour such as are to be observed in Orthodox, Roman Catholic or High Church Anglican services, in which believers may bow, kneel or prostrate themselves, pronounce words of praise, thanksgiving, blessing, and seek, by supplication, blessings in return. Within Christianity there are many movements which follow different practices: The Quakers provide a cogent example. Quakers meet in a spirit of reverence, but do not engage in formal acts of worship such as set or spoken prayers, the singing of hymns or chanting of psalms. Often they conduct their entire meeting in silence.

VIII.V. Variations in Worship—Christian Science

Fourth: within Christianity, there has been a tendency both within the old-established churches and in a variety of relatively recently arisen groups for the idea of God to be expressed in increasingly abstract terms. Since some major modern theologians have redefined conceptions of God, often eliminating the idea of God as a person (see above, para IV.III.) older conceptions of worship appear to some to be anachronistic. Opinion polls reveal that a steadily increasing proportion of those who believe in God none the less do not believe that God is a person, they aver rather that God is a force. In newly arisen religious movements, there are sometimes forms of “worship” adapted to these more modern, abstract apprehensions of deity. One example is Christian Science. Since that movement, which pre-dates Scientology by over seventy years, has many characteristics in common with Scientology, and since Christian Science has long been recognised as a religion, the attitude to worship in that movement is explored more fully. In Christian Science, God is defined as “Principle”, “Life”, “Truth”, “Love”, “Mind”, “Spirit”, “Soul.” These impersonal abstractions do not require manifestations of submission and veneration, and such dispositions are accorded only limited expression in Christian Science church services. The opinions of Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science) on worship are represented in these quotations from her textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

Audible prayer can never do the works of spiritual understanding… Long prayers, superstitions, and creeds, clip the strong pinions of love and clothe religion in human forms. Whatever materializes worship hinders man’s spiritual growth and keeps him from demonstrating his power over error. [pp. 4–5]

Dost thou ‘Love thy Lord God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind’? This command includes much, even the surrender of all merely material sensation, affection, and worship. [p. 9]

Jesus’ history made a new calendar, which we call the Christian era; but he established no ritualistic worship. [p. 20]

It is sad that the phrase divine service has come so generally to mean public worship instead of daily deeds. [p. 40]

We worship spiritually only as we cease to worship materially. Spiritual devoutness is the soul of Christianity. Worshipping through the medium of matter is paganism. Judaic and other rituals are the types and shadows of true worship. [p. 140]

The Israelites centered their thought on the material in their attempted worship of the spiritual. To them matter was a substance and Spirit was shadow. They thought to worship Spirit from a material standpoint, but this was impossible. They might appeal to Jehovah but their prayer brought down no proof that it was heard because they did not sufficiently understand God to be able to demonstrate his power to heal. [p. 351]

Although Christian Scientists use the Lord’s Prayer congregationally, that prayer is translated into a number of affirmations in accordance with Eddy’s teachings. Silent prayer in Christian Science is affirmation of “truths,” not supplication; God is a “Principle” to be demonstrated, not a “Being” to be placated or propitiated. Hence worship in Christian Science is different in form, mood and expression from worship in traditional churches.

VIII.VI. Worship Defined by Its Objectives, Not by Its Forms

The foregoing comments on the variations in worship indicate the need—if all the appropriate empirical evidence is to be taken into account—for a much broader definition of worship than that which is confined to, and dependent upon, the assumptions of one specific tradition. The forms traditional in Christian churches do not exhaust all the variant modes in which worship can and does occur (even within Christian churches). A distinction must be made between the external forms of worship (which may be particular, local, regional, or national) and the aims of worship, which we may represent as universal. The aim of worship is to establish rapport between the votary and the supernatural ultimate (being, object, law, principle, dimension, “ground of being,” or “concern”) in whatever way that ultimate is conceived by the religious body to which the votary belongs, with a view to his ultimate attainment of salvation or enlightenment. To emphasise that the defining characteristic of worship lies in its purpose makes apparent the cultural relativity of the various forms that worship assumes. Once worship is defined by reference to its objectives, we can comprehend diverse conceptions of the ultimate, extending from idols to transcendental laws. Thus, an idol is worshipped as a despotic entity who confers favours or inflicts injuries; the worship of an anthropomorphic deity emphasizes rather a relationship, of trust, but also of dependence; worship of more sophisticated conceptions of a supreme being places less emphasis on the emotional volatility of the deity, and stresses the search for harmony of dispositions in accordance with more general ethical principles; worship of an entirely abstract ultimate verity, law, or dimension, tends to be concerned with the diffusion of knowledge, the attainment of enlightenment, and the realisation of full human potential. All of these variously specified goals may be seen as part of man’s search for salvation, however differently salvation itself may be conceived. Reverence for the ultimate, for man’s “ground of being”, however depicted, is a general attribute of the respect and concern for life, which does not depend on any specific culture-bound behavioural forms or norms.

VIII.VII. The Decline of the Poetic Mode of Worship

In multi-religious societies, the concept of what constitutes worship must be stated in abstract terms if the diversity of religion is to be duly acknowledged. The recent and continuing trends in religion are towards abstract and more readily universalized expression. This is true not only of major theologians and among the clergy, but is also evident among many new religious movements. In a scientific and technological age, men’s conception of deity, or of the ultimate, tends to be understood in terms which are themselves more concordant with scientific and technical experience, even though this type of language and conceptualization stands in contrast with traditional poetic imagery which was once typical of religious expression. The poetic mode is steadily abandoned not only in new movements, but also in the so-called traditional churches, as may be seen by the liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II, and in the replacement of the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England by more prosaic, vernacular and colloquial forms of expression. Outside these churches, in movements without the obligation to even vestigial respect for tradition, the creation of new language and new liturgical forms has enjoyed even greater freedom. Among these movements is Scientology.

VIII.VIII. Communication as Worship

Scientology presents a thoroughly abstract conception of the Supreme Being, as the Eighth Dynamic. Scientologists seek to expand their awareness and comprehension to embrace all dimensions of being, with the objective of aiding, and being part of, the survival of the Supreme Being or Infinity. Scientologists venerate life, and recognize God as an ultimate ground of being, but this recognition does not entail specific forms of behaviour that at all closely approximate those acts that are considered to be “worship” in traditional Christian churches. Scientology is a movement which incorporates people from diverse religious backgrounds; which emphasizes new conceptions of creation, the meaning of life, and salvation; and its teachings draw on more than one of the great religious traditions as well as on broad scientific orientations. It is therefore entirely appropriate that Scientology should present its theories in abstract and universal terms, and its conception of worship accommodates these perspectives. The general position has been expressed as follows: “In Scientology, we define worship in terms of communication. Who could worship effectively would be he who considered himself capable of reaching the distance necessary to communicate with the Supreme Being” [Scientology as a Religion, p. 30].

Scientology is a movement which incorporates people from diverse religious backgrounds; which emphasizes new conceptions of creation, the meaning of life, and salvation.

The essence of Scientology is understanding through communication—communication with the thetan’s own past and with the environment, and in that sense it may be likened to the communication that takes place in Christian worship, the communication which the individual seeks with the deity in prayer and in the eucharistic service, when, indeed, he behaves, as the traditional churches phrase it, as a “communicant.” The purpose is in large part the same—the purification of the individual, the rehabilitation of his soul as part of the longer-term process of salvation. In Scientology there are two fundamental forms of such communication—auditing and training.

Auditing, occurring as private communication by the individual with his (the thetan’s) past, is mediated by the auditor and the E-Meter, but it is essentially a process of bringing the individual into better rapport with his true and original self, and in this sense seeks to put him in contact with a basic spiritual reality.

Training in the Scientology Scripture is communication with the fundamental truths and ground of existence. Through increased understanding the individual seeks greater communication with his basic self, with others and with all life. These activities, too, share elements characteristic of worship, even if such aspects as adoration (of a deity), antiquated concern for his propitiation, and the ancient procedures of supplication are, in this modern context, superseded.

VIII.IX. The Scientology Goal of Survival

The key term which reveals the purpose of the services that are conducted in a Scientology chapel is “survival”, a concept recurrently emphasized in Scientological literature. “Survival” is, however, merely a modern synonym for the old religious concept, “salvation,” and salvation is the primary objective of worship in all religions, the establishment of rapport between powerful deity and dependent votary which will result in the diminution or elimination of untoward and evil experiences, and the multiplication of benefits culminating in the final benefit of continuing life. Scientology is concerned with the salvation of the thetan, its liberation from the encumbrance of matter, energy, space and time, and, in the more proximate instance, with its capacity to overcome bodily disabilities and the vicissitudes of daily life. The thetan, as the trans-human essence, or soul, existed before the physical body and has prospect of surviving it. That survival is ultimately linked to the survival of the Eighth Dynamic, the Supreme Being, and the Scientology services of auditing and training to enhance the consciousness of this ultimate reality. The practice is thus an occasion for participants to renew and reinforce their recognition of the supernatural. In the wide sense that we have explored above, this is an occasion for worship and enlightenment.

VIII.X. Auditing and Training

The core activities of Scientology are auditing and training. These are the agencies of spiritual salvation. Only by these means can the thetan—that is, the individual—be liberated and achieve the spiritual state of being “at cause” over life and the material world. Auditing, in which the individual confronts his own past pain and traumas, helps him to establish control of his life and frees him from the irrational impulses of the reactive mind. Thus, in being audited, the preclear may be said to be embarking on a spiritual quest for salvation, the benefits of which are accretive, and which lead ultimately to a condition in which the thetan ceases to be “enturbulated” with material conditions (MEST). Such a spiritual quest, with salvation as its ultimate end, divergent as may be the outward forms and doctrinal specifications, is the central overriding concern of all the world’s advanced religions.

Training is directed to communicating wisdom to anyone who is seeking enlightenment as well as to those who engage in helping others in their endeavour to attain salvation. Implicit in these processes is the demand that the individual face up to his own painful past experiences and overcome the tendency to transfer blame to others for his own failings. Training to this end is achieved through a series of hierarchically graduated courses in which the student learns and perfects the techniques of auditing which, once the appropriate standard is attained, is believed to be effective in application to any preclear. Training is organised as an intensive programme, and anyone who has witnessed the concentrated dedication of those undergoing training courses, as I have on visits to the Church of Scientology at Saint Hill Manor, could not but be impressed by the single-mindedness and seriousness of purpose uniformly manifested by the students, which is, of course, a religious commitment.

VIII.XI. The Error of Segerdal

Scientology is a religion the organisation of which is not primarily along traditional congregational lines. At a time when, in the face of the contemporary communications revolution, the established churches are beginning to recognize the limitations of congregational structures and to experiment with other patterns of worship, Scientology has already evolved a new and more intensive procedure of spiritual ministration. The one-to-one relationship required by auditing and the intensive system of training of auditors constitute a pattern of care for the spiritual progress of each specific individual which far exceeds in its pastoral concern anything which could be offered by conventional forms of congregational ministry.

Contrary to common understanding, the status of Scientology’s practices as worship has yet to be addressed in the Courts. In an early case, Regina v. Registrar-General Ex parte Segerdal and Another, 1970, the central issue was whether a building the Church of Scientology maintained in East Grinstead qualified as a “place of meeting for religious worship” on the ground the services the Church conducted there conformed to the criteria which were held to determine what constituted worship. These services consisted of such ceremonies as weekly sermons and other gatherings, christenings, funeral services and wedding ceremonies. Although in this case Lord Denning ruled that these particular services did not constitute worship, in actual fact the core of religious practice in the Church of Scientology lies in the procedures of auditing and training. For Scientologists, it is in these activities that worship occurs—as communication with spiritual reality—not in the services addressed by the Court in Segerdal. Of course, these worship activities may not conform to the model invoked by courts that have Christian worship in mind, since it is not reverence for a deity but it is worship in the understanding of its practitioners.

It is apparent from what has been suggested above (Paras VIII.I–VIII.VI) that by no means do all religions postulate a supreme being. In the Segerdal case, Lord Denning referred to Buddhism as an exception from the principle he espoused, and said that there might be other exceptions. Why should not Scientology be one of them? If there are exceptions, is not the principle itself put into question and the definition which is used thereby nullified? The tendency to return, despite discussion of exceptions, to emphasis on a Supreme Being as a necessary element in worship indicates the extent to which culturally conditioned assumptions persist in spite of contrary evidence from other cultures. In fact, of course, Scientology does acknowledge a Supreme Being, but conceives of that entity as something which cannot easily be apprehended, and with which communication, at this stage of human enlightenment, is a rare thing. Thus, while Scientology postulates a Supreme Being, it is not presumed that men can normally lay claim to intimate knowledge of that Being. This in itself betokens a form of humility, which is sometimes lacking in religions in which individuals are encouraged to make bolder claims to know the will and mind of God.

In view of this limited apprehension of the Supreme Being, the attitudes of dependence, familiar in Christianity, together with supplication, veneration, praise and intercession become inappropriate. They would be no less appropriate for Christians who endorsed the formulae defining the Supreme Being advanced by modern theologians (see Para IV.II). Reverence is not lacking among Scientologists, who take creation itself as an object of reverence, but without a God conceived in anthropomorphic terms, the elements and form of worship found in the Judaeo-Christian tradition become inapplicable. When the essence of worship is seen to be its purpose and objectives, rather than its external forms, it is not difficult to admit Scientological practices as a form of worship.

IX. The Appraisal of Scientology by Academics