What is Scientology – Religion, Psychiatry, or Mafia-style Criminal Organization?

what is scientology
Pimdehaas, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Scientology has been dragged into the spotlight on occasion since its inception; however, last year, it found itself in the headlines of major news outlets for long stretches of time. This year is shaping up to be about the same, with defendants from the Danny Masterson rape case of 2023 alleging the organization uses mob-style tactics to silence its members and even profit off of illegal activity.

Scientology has been shrouded in mystery from the beginning, so getting to the bottom of what exactly Scientology is and what it means to be a Scientologist is difficult to decipher. Depending on the source, Scientology is a religion, a path to mental health, a way to cure physical ailments, a cult, or a highly-sophisticated updated version of the mob.

To understand Scientology, it’s essential to start with its inception and then hold on tight as the path toward understanding winds and weaves into each scenario. So buckle up, and let’s start at the beginning.

The creator

Scientology was founded in 1954 by writer L. Ron Hubbard. Mr. Hubbard wasn’t a theologian or writer of great biblical or religious works.

Mr. Hubbard mainly wrote westerns, horror, and science fiction. Born from his book titled Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Scientology was based on the concept that each individual has two parts of their mind – one that is rational and one that is not.

Dianetics specifically describes the human mind as having a conscious “analytical mind” and a subconscious “reactive mind.” The reactive mind, according to Dianetics, houses our traumatic and painful pasts, which, if left unchecked, leads to pain that can manifest in either mental health issues or even physical ailments.

Scientology offers a cure to this “reactive mind” through a process called “auditing.” Auditing consists of being asked questions meant to locate your internal pain and erase it from your mind with the goal of becoming “clear.”

They even have a tool for measuring your clarity. While undergoing auditing, individuals hold onto an electropsychometer or “E-meter” that measures the strength of an electrical current in their body.

It’s this auditing that started putting Scientology front and center in the news and with the law, given that it costs a fee to receive auditing services.

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Money money money

In 1958, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revoked Scientology’s tax-exempt status because their auditing processes seemed more like “mental therapy,” as they put it at the time, than a religion. The IRS’ decision was celebrated by many, including physicians and psychiatrists, who felt the organization was using untested and unscientific methods not based in medicine to treat mental illness and physical ailments.

This removal of their tax-exempt status prompted Scientology to organize an entire group within the organization to fight any attacks made against the religion. The result was a long battle with the IRS, culminating in getting their tax-exempt status back in 1993, making it the longest investigation in the IRS history.

The internal organization and mechanisms of Scientology are enough to raise eyebrows. Despite the shroud of secrecy, what is known is pretty impressive.

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There are multiple layers of Scientology hierarchy with highly organized systems explicitly built to counter any negative press or attacks. Many might believe Scientology’s headquarters reside in Hollywood, given the organization’s clear attraction for celebrities.

However, the headquarters is in Clearwater, Florida, with the leaders residing primarily on ships dubbed Sea Organizations. The leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, even has the title of Captain.

Getting a bit weird

The Scientology website describes the organization as a religion, stating:

“…Scientology is a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one’s true spiritual nature and one’s relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being.”

That sounds good and well, but if you take a moment, it becomes apparent that none of that means or explains anything. At its surface, Scientology seems akin to meditation or yoga, a practice meant to focus the mind and control our emotional reactions to the outside world in an attempt to attain inner peace and perhaps achieve added benefits of physical and mental pain relief.

But thanks to some leaks on the internal doctrine of Scientology, we know that there is much more to this religion. Like Buddhism, Scientologists believe humans have lived multiple lifetimes but are trapped in different bodies.

It’s not until one attains a “clear state” that one is released from one’s trapped physical body. The idea is that each of us is an immortal being known as a “Thetan.”

Professor of religious studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University David Bromley explains:

“You move up the bridge to freedom by working toward being an ‘Operating Thetan,’ which at the highest level transcends material law. You occasionally come across people in Scientology who say they can change the material world with their mind.”

And this is when it gets a little bit stranger.

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Aren’t we all just aliens?

Thetans, according to Scientology, are the souls of an ancient intergalactic civilization that was destroyed here on Earth and have latched themselves onto humans. This latching is what causes our inner turmoil and the source of our physical pain.

Allegedly, once you reach the clear state of OT or Operational Thetan, you become privy to the advanced secret texts of Scientology. These texts allegedly explain that an alien named Xenu, who was an intergalactic ruler 70 million years ago, took billions of aliens from other planets here and murdered them with thermonuclear weapons.

This extreme galactic violence created the Thetans, who torment humans until they are audited out of our bodies, making us, you guessed it, clear.

The secret texts read like an episode from an Ancient Aliens mixed with a little bit of the plot from The Matrix. When asked by Playboy magazine what Scientology was, prominent celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise said:

“What I believe in my own life is that it’s a search for how I can do things better, whether it’s being a better man or a better father or finding ways for myself to improve.”

When put into that perspective, it’s hard to find fault with Scientology. Aren’t all religions, at their core, about finding ways to be better people to ourselves and the world around us?

Aren’t we all, regardless of religious backgrounds, aiming to do things better and be better? The question is, does Scientology have a much more sinister foundation and operation – or is it just a religion that is a little more open to the fantasy aspects of belief than the rest?

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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