III. Ritual Practice

 1. The theoretical formulation of the thetan also has ritual consequences. With all reservations, we could speak about a true and real cult of the thetan, considering that the concept of thetan is the concept that gives Scientology its uniqueness. In other words: liturgical formalities, religious services, ministers, symbolisms, etc., all constitute what we might define as accessories compared to the thetan, where the rite of recognition of the thetan (the “auditing” that I will speak about later) is fundamental. These “accessories” we can also consider as simply borrowed from the Christian religion, although the Scientology tendency is toward “comparative religion.”

These are not actually two different roots because “comparative religion” is just the unconscious reduction of non-European or pre-Christian cultural expressions prior to the Christian religious thematic (at least in the use that Hubbard makes of the term “comparative religion”). Concerning the Eastern image of the religious subject which emphasizes the thetan (oneself) instead of a God or any extra-human power, Scientology is yet validated and found legitimate in a phenomenological sense both due to the “divine” character given to the thetan (which in any case is superhuman) and from the formal and substantial analogies that do exist with other (particularly Eastern) religions and with Christianity itself.

In any case, Scientology rituals also comprise the practices of namings (instead of baptism), weddings and funerals, in addition to the practices aimed at recognizing the thetan and his universal relationships (auditing, especially, and partially the Church service).

 2. Auditing is phenomenologically an initiating rite even though it is practiced at all levels of the Scientology religion. It is the entrance rite for Scientology where one first gains knowledge of the thetan. The subjective judgment in Scientology can be different than the objective judgment of the religious phenomenology; in fact the Scientology literature prefers to represent auditing as more like “pastoral counselling” than as a rite, to compare to Christian religion; as more similar to the action of a spiritual counsellor (even though within the realm of Catholic confession) than the more “sacramental” of a priest. This is because everyone must be able to know himself as a thetan and know this subjectively. The process vaguely reminds one of psychoanalytical treatment, but Scientologists prefer to compare it to Zen practices.

The auditing rite is done in “sessions” with a fixed duration (ritual, as we said). The minister is called an “auditor”; the one audited is called a “preclear.” The terminology based on auditing removes as much as possible the initiation sense of the rite, as if, instead of an initiation rite, it were informal counselling, even though cathartic. The designation of the initiated arises again in the meaning of the word “preclear”—one who is not yet Clear but aspires to be.

The initiation is gradual, as in the ancient mystic religions and in Christianity itself, where the perfection happens gradiently: baptism, confirmation, eucharist, for example; similarly to the entrance in Christianity and its confirmation and the admission to the pastoral feeding which also physically unites the human body with the body of Christ.

The process of bringing one from the first level of preclear to the level of Clear and beyond is conceived as a freeing process (“release”), and “release” is the designation of the person who is doing this process, of which each step is called a “grade of release” up to the state of Clear.

The Clear is the “saint,” or aspirant to “sainthood” that the Scientologists prefer to compare to the Buddhist Arhat (the “venerable”) and the Boddhisattva, the one who has reached Buddhism but stays in worldliness to help others reach it. But the Clear is also understood in the analogy of a “computer” in the sense that he has acquired the ability to dispassionately resolve any problem if all the data is given. The image of the computer is used throughout the writings of Scientology—which they define as the “religion of the space age.”

They also speak of the “electrometer” invented by Hubbard, which we might consider as a liturgical instrument of the modern age characterized by electronics. It is an electronic measuring device which indicates objectively the spiritual travail and subsequent degree of release reached by a preclear in an auditing session.

The Scientology sermon, which constitutes the nucleus of the service, does not impose dogma nor threaten hell-like penalties; it is a kind of rational exposition.

 3. The religious service given in Scientology Churches is not very different from the services in the various Protestant denominations which operate in America. The Scientologists show their uniqueness not so much in the format as in the contents. The Scientology sermon, which constitutes the nucleus of the service, does not impose dogma nor threaten hell-like penalties; it is a kind of rational exposition. It replaces dogma with the axioms of Hubbard, and the only “threat” is the “hell in life” resulting from failure to apply Scientology principles. The Scientology service also includes a prayer of petition, the formal address to a superhuman destination which is believed to be able to grant the requests. This action, recommended by the liturgical manuals in Scientology, calls on the author of the Universe 1) to enable all men to reach an understanding of their spiritual nature and to come to know the author of the Universe, to the end of reaching “total freedom” (this prayer is called “A Prayer for Total Freedom”); 2) to preserve human rights so that all may believe and worship freely and have freedom from war, poverty and want. The prayer ends with an “Amen” where God is explicitly named: “May God let it be so.”

 4. Neither the wedding nor the funeral, which appear in various forms in the Scientology liturgy, derive from the theoretical need of the thetan. Only in the rite of naming the newborn, which has the same place as baptism in the Christian religion, does one find in the Scientology literature its function in direct relation to the thetan.

This is the textual justification for the rite: “The main purpose of a Naming Ceremony is to help get the thetan oriented. He has recently taken over his new body. He is aware that it is his and that he is operating it. However, he has never been told the identity of his body. He knows there are quite a few adult bodies around, but he has not been told that there are specific ones who will care for his body until it has developed to where he can manoeuvre it thoroughly.” In other words, it is the rite for introducing the thetan to his body, his parents, godparents, and the congregation.

 5. In alignment with its religious nature, Scientology has adopted distinctive marks—such as the Scientology Cross worn by ministers of the Church and displayed in the Churches—which immediately communicate that one is dealing with a religion.

IV. Final Considerations