The purpose of this consultation is to take stock of Scientology from a sociological viewpoint.

The question is: Is Scientology a religion and if so, which type of religion? We will try to provide elements of answers in this paper.

We will also describe some aspects of Scientology as it appears to us today. Our presentation is neither polemic nor apologetic.

I. Is Scientology a Religion?

I.I. What Do We Mean by Religion?

This consultation cannot give rise to a basic discussion on the definition of religion. We may nevertheless have an operational viewpoint and agree on a minimum number of characteristics found in most religions. We are aware that this view provisionally ignores the discussion on the definition of religion imposed by new forms of religion. With Bryan Wilson we can agree that a religion includes:

  • A cosmology in which the universe takes on a meaning regarding one or more supernatural forces. The conception of Man exceeds the boundaries of his terrestrial existence. There is a before and an after. The finite character of Man is not accepted.
  • A moral which stems from this cosmology. It supplies directives and guidelines in accordance with the suggested meaning of the universe.
  • Tools which put human beings in contact with the supernatural principle: prayer, religious ceremonies, techniques of meditation.
  • A community of followers, however small, which is capable of maintaining and reproducing the beliefs and of managing the benefits of salvation.

The combination of these elements makes it possible to distinguish religions:

(1) from deist philosophies, which provide a cosmology and a meaning for existence but which are not intended to link human beings with supernatural powers;

(2) from individual magic, intended to obtain empirical results through the use of empirical techniques;

(3) from deist organizations such as Free Masonry, which acknowledge the existence of the Grand Architect of the Universe but whose ceremonies are not directed to putting Man in relation with Him.

I.II. The Contents of Scientology

Scientology contains a cosmology, an anthropology, ethics, religious ceremonies, an auditing method, a method for purifying the body, training methods, a theory of communication.

The Cosmology: The Supernatural in Scientology

The founder, L. Ron Hubbard (1911–86), renews the thesis of primordial spirits. He asserts that before the birth of the universe, spirits existed, which he calls thetans. They were non-material, massless beings without temporal limits, occupying no space, omniscient, omnipotent, indestructible, immortal and capable of creating anything. These intangible beings, along with the Supreme Being, created the universe. In doing so, they got caught in their own trap and got stuck in their creation—and especially in Man—i.e., in matter, energy, space and time (MEST, the physical universe), even forgetting that they were the creators. Thus they lost their power and omniscience and became vulnerable human beings. Since that time, they have returned, life after life, inhabiting different bodies. Today, thetans have forgotten their true spiritual identity and believe they are human bodies. Hence, Man has a spiritual origin: he is altogether a body, a mind and a thetan.

This is a gnostic version of the fall of perfect man into imperfection and a transposition of Greek drama, where the Gods interfere in human affairs and are trapped.

A liberation must put an end to the succession of lifetimes. Scientology wants to bring man close to the state of original thetan.

The Dynamics and Ethics

Scientology deals with the driving force of the universe and the meaning of existence.

The universe is motivated by a dynamic urge which is a force at the service of survival, the very principle of existence. It varies among individuals and races. It depends on physiology, environment and experience. It influences the persistence of Man towards life and the activity of intelligence considered as the ability of an individual, a group or a race to solve problems related to survival.

Scientology deals with the driving force of the universe and the meaning of existence.

The morality of an individual is judged with regard to the actions which he accomplishes for survival. In such a perspective, goodness is what is constructive, badness what is against survival. One can see that Scientology ethics are not a set of recommendations (the Bergsonian idea of closed morals). They are the result of an understanding and interiorization of the meaning of life which acts as a personal compass. It would be an open moral system.

In Scientology as in spiritualist groups there is no “sin.” There are mistakes which are destructive actions against Man, family, society, God. Part of ethics is to spot and repair faults.

The dynamic drive becomes more complex as the organism becomes more complex. In a “normal” (unaberrated) man, it breaks down into eight areas, corresponding to objectives:

(1) The dynamic of self consists in a dynamic urge to survive as an individual, to obtain pleasure and to avoid pain. It deals with food, clothing, housing, personal ambition and the general objectives of the individual.

(2) The sex dynamic guides procreation.

(3) The group dynamic governs social life. It stimulates the conduct intended to maintain the survival of the group to which the individual belongs.

(4) The dynamic of humanity encompasses the survival of the species.

(5) The dynamic of life pushes the person to work for life in itself—i.e., all living things, both plant and animal.

(6) The dynamic of the physical universe is the individual drive to increase survival of matter, energy, space and time.

(7) The dynamic of thought is the individual urge to survive as thought and spiritual beings.

(8) The dynamic of universal thought is the urge to survive for the creator or Supreme Being.

The first four dynamics are connected with Dianetics. The others, added in the early 1950s, of metaphysical nature, are dealt with in Scientology (cf., difference below).

The follower is invited to be in accordance with all dynamics. Checklists of self-exploration enable him to take stock of his condition on each. With the help of a minister, he looks for means to remedy defective conditions.

The Anthropology of Scientology

L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings include a concept of the individual in which the body and the mind are intimately linked.

Based on his research into the mind and human nature, L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health in 1950 which became an immediate bestseller and resulted in the founding of Dianetics organizations. At that time Dianetics was addressed solely to the mind as a means of unburdening or releasing an individual from mental trauma. However, Mr. Hubbard continued his research and in the early 1950s entered the spiritual realm with the discovery that Man is an immortal spirit who has lived countless lives and transcends the physical dimension. The first Church of Scientology was founded in 1954.

Mr. Hubbard continued his research and in the early 1950s entered the spiritual realm with the discovery that Man is an immortal spirit who has lived countless lives and transcends the physical dimension.

In Scientology the mind may be likened to a computer with two main divisions: the analytical mind and the reactive mind.

The first would represent intelligence, an unfaulty faculty supposed to be the awareness center of the individual (the “I” or basic personality). This analyzer is analogous to a computer working with perceptions (stimuli from the outside world), the imagination and memories contained in the standard memory bank. This memory receives, from birth to death, whether awake or asleep, information transmitted by the various senses, which it stores in full, in chronological sequence, in various files (auditory, visual, tactile, etc.) which it keeps at the disposal of the analytical mind. This mind thinks permanently. It continually receives copies of stored facsimiles, evaluates them, compares them, in order to supply correct answers to the problems encountered by the individual. To accomplish routine tasks such as walking, typing, etc., without having useless information, it sets up ready-to-work circuits that regulate acquired functions. In principle, the analytical mind is a sort of rational, unfaulty computer which does not create psychic or psychosomatic disorders.

Aberrated conduct is due to the reactive mind, which is a deposit of engrams. The latter are not exactly memories. They are complete recordings in all details of all perceptions received by the individual during a moment of pain and total or partial unconsciousness, such as fainting or anesthesia.

A. Auditing

The primary Scientology religious practice is known as auditing. For Scientologists, auditing is a methodical spiritual path. What is it?

Auditing permits an individual to recover all events in this life as well as in past lives—on the time track. The most significant events found are the traumatizing events in which a quantity of energy has been alienated that reduces capacity by blocking action and rational thinking. The recall of these events and the running of them releases, by abreaction, the energy linked to the incidents, which is thus made available. This produces a feeling of well-being. Moreover, past incidents are considered sources of physical or psychic diseases. Their recognition and the work that the audited person does on them are supposed to erase them. For example, someone in pain may discover in auditing that he has been strangled in an earlier life. Running the traumatic incident, he releases the pain accompanying the past incident. This reminds one of the construction of a personal myth in the shamanic cure as discussed by Levi-Strauss in his book Anthropologie structurale.

In Hubbardian terminology, Scientology auditing uses the capacities of the analytical mind to empty the reactive mind of its damaging engrams, which hamper the ability to recover the power of the incarnated thetan.

Auditing produces two things: (1) through exploration of the past, it quickly shows the adept that he is an all-powerful incarnated spirit limited by his human condition; (2) the erasure of engrams leads to the state of “Clear.”

The elimination of engrams helps to regenerate the being. It shows in an increase of the life force, with a greater capacity to survive, with a feeling of power and with better abilities which can be measured on a tone scale.

For Scientologists, auditing is a form of pastoral counseling. Bryan Wilson shares those views (in “Scientology,” 1994) by considering that Scientology manifests the systematization of the relationships with spirituality, an orientation that one finds in “methodism.” For us it is a form of rationalization of religious life.

To Scientologists, auditing is first and foremost a spiritual adventure which gives one access to the spiritual, immortal part of Man, as in oriental religions.

Through auditing, Man gains a greater understanding of his spirituality and his relationship with the Supreme Being.

It is through auditing that the thetan becomes certain of its immortality and is able to grow spiritually. Through auditing, Man gains a greater understanding of his spirituality and his relationship with the Supreme Being. Auditing also enables Man to become more understanding and capable along all eight dynamics.

Some detractors of the religion have compared Scientology to a form of psychotherapy. However, the methods and rituals are not the same, and they have totally different goals: psychotherapy deals with the mind; the goal of Scientology, on the other hand, is salvation of the spirit. 1) The audited person comes to understand the duality of Man and, through the discovery of past lives, understands the permanence of a single principle throughout all lives; 2) Scientology also deals with the thetan. By unburdening the thetan of the mental and corporal masses he recovers his initial power; the individual that the thetan represents would become “freed-alive” ( jivan mukti).

B. Religious Training

The other core religious practice in Scientology is called training, which is the intensive study of Scientology Scripture both for spiritual enlightenment and for training as Scientology clergy.

Scientologists consider that they must use their quality of spiritual awareness in all conditions of life. They find this path through their study of Scientology Scripture. This is similar to study for enlightenment found in other religions such as the study of the Talmud in Judaism, study of the teachings of Buddha and study of esoteric scripture. Moreover, according to them, auditing and training go together. One must raise at the same time one’s abilities, one’s responsibilities and one’s knowledge. One discovers that one can act with the power of the incarnated thetan and that one can communicate with other spiritual beings. For instance, in training, Scientologists also learn how to “audit” to discover the process of spiritualization in others and to exercise their responsibilities of believers.

C. Ceremonies

The Church of Scientology observes a number of religious ceremonies which are traditionally found in mainstream religions: naming ceremonies, Sunday services, weddings and funerals.

D. Organization

The Church of Scientology has the complex organization typical of modern civilization, based on a large number of organizations. Each religion borrows its form of organization from the era in which it arises. More recently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses borrowed organizational methods from the industrial era, while Scientology has adopted the organization style of the post-industrial era.

The purpose of the organization is to administer and reproduce the benefits of salvation. It is in the service of international expansion.

E. Pastoral Counseling

Scientology has a body of ordained ministers who celebrate ceremonies and practice auditing.

II. Who Are the Scientologists?