A Website for Basic Christian Doctrine

Stranger than (Science) Fiction: The Cult of Scientology

By Scott Gnuse

During my four–year stay in Southern California, I had the privilege of visiting the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame on numerous occasions. “Privilege” may be a strong word, as the area is not all that it is made out to be on television. In fact, the area is surprisingly run–down and dirty, a far cry from glamorous.

However, I was always intrigued by a large building which stood out from all the rest on Hollywood Boulevard. Just outside its doors were men and women with charismatic personalities who ambitiously patrolled the sidewalks with flyers in hand. My first visit to the famous Hollywood strip found me fending off one of these persistent advocates. As it turned out, this building was none other than the Church of Scientology Information Center.

Scientology is arguably the most unique cult of the twentieth century. As an organization, the Church of Scientology is relatively new, having only begun in the 1950s. At the same time, many of the elements that compose the belief system go back hundreds, even thousands, of years. Perhaps what makes this cult so intriguing is the attention it has received in recent years due to celebrity members such as Tom Cruise, Kirsty Alley, and John Travolta. In fact, actress Leah Remini’s controversial split from the church in 2014 is now the basis for the hit A&E show “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” in which Remini exposes shocking truths about the church and its practices. The show is currently in its second season.

So, what makes the Church of Scientology so controversial? Why is it classified as a cult? After all, it is called a church, right? The following article is designed to answer four primary questions: What is Scientology? Why should Christians care? Why should Christians be concerned? And how should Christians respond?

I. WHAT IS SCIENTOLOGY?

A Brief History of Scientology

Scientology traces its roots back to its founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (commonly known to most as L. Ron Hubbard). Hubbard was born on March 13, 1911 in the small town of Tilden, Nebraska. As a military kid, Hubbard spent a good portion of his childhood at his grandfather’s ranch in Montana while his parents served in the U.S. Navy overseas.

Hubbard’s unique upbringing had a profound impact in shaping his eclectic worldview. The combination of ranch life and military pedigree were instrumental in leading him to become one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in American history. Hubbard was also exposed to various eastern religions and philosophies during his frequent visits with his parents while abroad in Asia.1

The exact nature of Hubbard’s education and subsequent military service is somewhat mysterious. He claims to have been educated at George Washington University, Columbian College, Princeton University, and Sequoia University. He returned to studying philosophy after sustaining severe combat injuries during his military service in World War II.2 However, controversy exists due to recent research which has discovered many of these claims to either be exaggerated or fabricated.3

What is not debatable, however, is Hubbard’s skill as a writer. He became a successful author of science fiction and fantasy novels starting in the 1930s. It is estimated that he wrote some five hundred short stories and novels, but his biggest success came from his writings on philosophy and mental health. The ball started rolling with the release of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health in May 1950.

The Dianetics movement quickly gained traction in the early 1950s. Hubbard’s response to the progressive growth was to create a new religion which corresponded to the teachings of Dianetics. Hence, the Church of Scientology was born in 1954. But what exactly did this new religion teach?

A Brief Synopsis of Scientology

According to Hubbard, Scientology is the “science of knowledge.”4 Knowledge is the key to understanding one’s existence and one’s objective in life. To start, all humans are immortal spirits known as thetans who have existed for trillions of years and dwell within the skull of an individual. When the individual dies, the thetan is released from the body and reports to an implant station before being sent back down to earth to inhabit a new individual.5

Upon entering the body, these immortal spirits lose their personal sense of identity and are stifled in life due to environmental restraints such as matter, energy, space, and time (known in Scientology as MEST) and mental suppressors called “engrams.” These engrams develop due to pain or unpleasant experiences that have been accumulated in the present or previous lives. In other words, the problems we encounter today physically, mentally, and emotionally are the result of accumulated engrams.6

Scientology claims to have the answer to this problem through a process known as auditing. If engrams are the problem, the solution is to rid the mind of all engrams and reach the status of a “clear” or “Operating Thetan” (OT).7 The auditing process seeks to bring the thetan into a state of enlightenment where he or she becomes self-aware, is able to separate from the MEST body, and is able to display mental control over the MEST universe.8 The thetan who is “cleared” and reaches the level of an OT will finally be delivered from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth upon their death.9 This is the liberation that so many members of the church seek but few ever find.

II. WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS CARE?

Doctrinal Differences

Statistics are hard to come by, but it is estimated that there are several million adherents to Scientology around the globe. One report insists that there are over seven hundred centers in sixty-five countries. Even more startling is the number of participants who claim to have a Christian background (nearly forty-seven percent). It would seem Scientology has a unique influence on the Christian community, yet there has been a relatively minimal response on the part of the Christian church.10

This all stresses a very important point: Christians not only need to know what Scientology teaches but how it differs from Christianity. Though Hubbard embraced certain elements of Christianity, he certainly rejected its core beliefs and values. Scientology is a far cry from biblical Christianity. As Kurt Van Gorden writes, “When the teachings of Scientology are compared to biblical truth, Scientology is illuminated as the empty façade of biblical imitation it truly is.”11 So what are some of these core doctrinal differences?

Scriptures

Scientology: According to the Church of Scientology, all of Hubbard’s writings since Dianetics are considered “scripture,” although Dianetics would still be considered a foundational primer to their belief system.12 One would be hard pressed to find an exhaustive list of the Scientology scriptures. Hubbard himself admitted that the holy scriptures included a collection of his works, works of the great teachers (ironically including the gospel of Luke), and the teachings of Eastern religions such as Hinduism’s Veda and Buddha’s Dhyana.13 This vast range of religious literature reinforces the subjective and existential nature that Hubbard hoped to construct with Scientology.

Christianity: Whereas Scientology seeks to find truth in multiple sources, Christianity believes that the Bible is the ultimate source of truth. The Bible is God’s word that He has given to mankind and is confirmed by Jesus to be the ultimate source of truth.14 God, in His infinite wisdom and power, guided men by the Holy Spirit to write and preserve His message to humanity.15 As God’s Word, the Bible is perfect, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for all of God’s people.16 Unlike the subjective nature of Scientology, the Bible is objective, fixed, and unchanging.

God

Scientology: The concept of God in Scientology is loose at best. The church most commonly refers to the divine as the “Supreme Being,” but this is purposely left undefined. This allows Scientology’s adherents to fill in the gaps according to their own personal preferences. Perhaps the following statement best explains the church’s position: “Although the existence of the Supreme Being is affirmed in Scientology, His precise nature is not delineated since the Church holds that each person must seek and know the Divine Nature in and for himself.”17 Again, this reinforces the belief that God is subjective and each individual Scientologist is free to be flexible in their personal interpretation of the divine.

Hubbard takes his teaching on the subject to the next level when he claims that man shares in the divine nature with God. His belief is that man is part God and can eventually attain a “godlike” nature through the auditing process. His teachings reveal an evolutionary process in which man can attain a status that is both “very high and godlike.”18 Thus, Scientology falls into the realm of other dangerous cults which teach man’s pursuit of divine attainment.

Christianity: Unlike Scientology, Christianity believes there is one God who exists in triune form: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.19 God is eternal, personal, and the creator of all things.20 The Bible also denies the existence of other gods.21 Likewise, the Bible teaches that God is completely different and set apart from man, for God is holy, true, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and several other attributes lacking in man.22 It is safe to say there is a mighty chasm between the God of Christianity and the god(s) of Scientology.

Man

Scientology: The Church of Scientology teaches that man is a spiritual being known as a thetan. How these beings came into existence is unknown, but the religion teaches that thetans are trillions of years old and are considered to be basically good in nature, a belief which stems from Hubbard’s first work on Dianetics.23 There is a deliberate attempt in Scientology to separate the physical from the spiritual by distancing oneself from the physical body obtained in this life. The idea for the thetan stems from the “I am not this body” mentality of the Eastern philosophies adopted by Hubbard and closely resembles the spiritual atman of Hinduism. As stated above, thetans are also participants of a divine nature and are attempting to regain their state of perfection.

Christianity: Unlike Scientology, Christianity believes man is a creation of the one true God and has been made in His image and likeness.24 Man is composed of two essential natures, physical and spiritual (body and spirit).25 As God’s image-bearers, mankind was given stewardship over the created world in order to care for it, rule over it, and magnify God in it.26Scripture teaches that man was originally created free of sin but, through Adam’s rebellion, inherited a sin nature that has corrupted all of mankind.27

Man’s Problem

Scientology: According to Scientology, the fall of man (the thetan) is physical rather than spiritual in nature. Upon penetrating the physical universe, thetans became trapped in MEST and hypnotized to the reality of their true identity and nature. As a captive of the physical realm, the problems man now faces are the frequent interruptions of the analytical mind by the reactive mind.28 These interruptions, classified as “engrams,” are sparked by problems in our previous lives. For example, Hubbard suggests smoking tobacco may be a consequential expression of having seen volcanoes in a previous life.29

Christianity: Christianity traces the fall of man back to the Garden of Eden where Adam disobeyed God’s order not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.30 Since that moment, the problem of man has been sin – attitudes and actions which go against God’s ordained plan for humanity. All of mankind is subjected to a sinful nature in which they are separated from God and bound for eternal punishment upon death.31

Salvation

Scientology: Scientology claims that the solution to man’s problem comes through a counseling process known as auditing. The goal of these auditing sessions, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars throughout one’s lifetime, is to clear the mind of all previous engrams and reach a state of mental enlightenment. Auditors examine counselees with a device called an “E-meter,” which supposedly indicates the presence of engrams that must be purged from the mind. The Scientologist is ultimately saved by attaining a higher level of knowledge, practicing good works, and reaching the state of an Operating Thetan or “clear.”32 In short, Scientology teaches that the salvation of the individual is based on their personal efforts.

Christianity: Christianity teaches that salvation comes solely by the grace of God through faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ.33 As the perfect God–man, Jesus lived the sinless life that the rest of mankind failed to live.34 This set Him apart as the perfect, sinless sacrifice that could be offered on behalf of sinful humanity.35 Jesus’ death and resurrection from the grave perfectly satisfied God’s wrath toward sin and achieved perfect righteousness for those who place their faith in Him.36 The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is the only means of salvation, and no amount of personal effort can save a sinner from eternal judgment.37

Eternity

Scientology: The ultimate goal in Scientology is to reach the status of an Operating Thetan or “clear.” By achieving this status, the thetan can be liberated from the MEST world and the endless cycle of reincarnation. The Scientologist who reaches this point is considered to have attained “total spiritual awareness and become one with infinity.”38

Christianity: Christianity rejects the notion of reincarnation, clearly teaching that man is appointed to die once and then face God’s judgment.39 The ultimate goal for born–again Christians lies beyond this life where they currently reside as aliens and strangers.40 Their hope rests in the promise of eternal life in heaven where they will dwell with their Savior, Jesus Christ.41

Jesus

Scientology: True to its cultic nature, Scientology has a distorted perspective on Jesus Christ. Hubbard believed Jesus to be nothing more than a legend or implant, a false concept forced upon a Thetan.42 To this day, the Church continues to teach fabricated ideas about Jesus in accordance with the convictions of Hubbard, including that Jesus was an Essene who believed in reincarnation,43 that His teachings were Hindu in origin,44 and that He was a man looking for salvation like the rest of humanity but failed to reach the status of an Operating Thetan.45

Christianity: The Jesus of Christianity is a far cry from the Jesus of Scientology. The Bible teaches that Jesus is one with God the Father and ministers as the second person of the Trinity.46 He rejected reincarnation by teaching about an eternal life prepared for those who believe in Him.47 His teachings were not foreign in nature but rooted in the eternal command of God the Father and the authority of the Holy Scriptures.48 Finally, the Bible teaches that Jesus was far more than a mere man looking for clarity like everyone else. Everything He did served as a testimony to the fact that He was indeed the sinless Son of God who came to seek and save the lost.49 As such, Christians can stand alongside the profession of the Apostle Peter which declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”50

III. WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE CONCERNED?

It is important that Christians not only know the doctrinal differences between Christianity and Scientology, but also the dangerous problems that accompany Scientology, including its composition, its founder, and its oppression.

Composition

In reality, Scientology is a blender religion that mixes beliefs and ideas from a vast array of worldviews. Hubbard himself described Scientology as a continuance of many earlier forms of wisdom including Vedas, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Gnosticism, and early Greek civilization, as well as the teachings of Jesus, Nietzsche, and Freud.51

A very ominous fact about Scientology is that it finds its roots in the occult. Much of the mysticism of the religion can be traced back to Hubbard’s connection to an occult group in Pasadena, California. The group was led by Jack Parsons, a disciple of Alister Crowley, a Satanist, sorcerer, and black magician who promoted a cultic artform known as sexual magick.52 Even Hubbard’s own son claims that a large portion of Dianetics stems from his father’s secret life of dabbling in the occult and that black magic is at the core of Scientology. This explains the church’s use of psychic powers as a means to bring the thetan into a state of enlightenment.53

It is also important for Christians to notice the gnostic nature of Scientology. Gnosticism was the most dangerous heresy during the first century of the Christian church. It was a system of thought that was influenced by philosophers such as Plato. This worldview believed that matter was evil and spirit was good, which led to a denial of the humanity of Jesus Christ and advocated for the attainment of a higher knowledge (enlightenment) that surpassed the Bible.54 It is easy to see how this heresy has influenced the Church of Scientology.

Founder

Another concern with Scientology is the numerous moral issues surrounding its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The first is Hubbard’s distortion of his own personal history. Documentation seems to indicate that he attended high school in the U.S. during the period in which he claims to have been traveling overseas. Likewise, military medical records give no indication that Hubbard was ever severely wounded in World War II, contrary to his personal testimony.55

Hubbard was also a man with no verbal filter. According to the research of Russell Miller, adherents of Scientology were shocked by the vulgar and obscene comments of their mentor. An entry from his book reads, “One Scientologist asked, ‘You mean the leader of the church speaks like that?’ Another Scientologist responded, ‘Oh yes, he doesn’t believe in keeping anything back’.”56

It should come as no surprise that Hubbard’s marital life was also engrossed in controversy. His first marriage to Margaret Grubb Hubbard lasted a few years before ending in divorce. His second marriage went down in flames when his wife, Sara Northrup Hubbard, discovered he had lied about his marital status. Hubbard had pretended to be a bachelor while he was still officially married to Grubb. Northrup’s divorce allegations did not stop at bigamy. They went on to include “sleep deprivation, beatings, strangulation, kidnapping of their child and fleeing to Cuba, and Ron counseling her to commit suicide.”57 Hubbard’s third marriage to Mary Sue Whipp lasted until his death in 1986, though it too was marked by controversy.58

Oppression

It has already been mentioned that the solution to man’s problem according to Scientology is achieved through a counseling process known as auditing. The adherent to the religion meets with a special counselor who helps them rid the body of engrams. This is done using a special electronic device known as an “E-meter,” which supposedly indicates the discovery of an engram that needs to be purged. The shocking reality is that auditing sessions can cost upwards of $1,000 per hour.59 It is no wonder the system has preyed on the middle class and celebrity culture for its abundant wealth.

Perhaps the most startling form of oppression comes to those who choose to leave the religion. Those who vacate their standing in the church and become critical of the church are soon treated as enemies.60 Such is the basis for Leah Remini’s popular A&E show, “Scientology and the Aftermath.” The documentary series highlights Remini’s struggles with the church from the earliest years of her childhood up through her controversial exodus in 2013. Needless to say, the church does not respond well to those who withdraw from its community and is willing to go to great lengths to silence those who speak out against it.

IV. HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS RESPOND?

This article has shown the various issues of the cult, from its doctrinal deviations from Christianity to its heretical and ethical problems. Though Scientology contains the necessary components of a religion (scriptures, worldview, spiritual solution), Kurt Van Gorden rightly concludes that it is a false religion due to its departure from biblical, orthodox Christianity.61 Its adherence to faulty scriptures, its trust in a faulty salvation, and its rejection of the Christian Savior solidify its place as a cult in our contemporary world.

As of 1993, Scientology boasted over 700 hundred centers across 65 countries.62 To this day the influence of the church continues to grow around the globe. It has become increasingly important that Christians know how to respond to this strange and complex worldview. Scientologists, like all unbelievers, are a part of the mission field that need the gospel of Jesus. So how can Christians respond to the growing influence of Scientology?

First, Christians need to pray. Ask God to save those who have been deceived by the lies of Scientology. Pray that their hearts would be opened to the truth of God’s Word. Plead that He would place faithful Christians (even yourself) within their sphere of influence.

Second, Christians need to know the truth. It is important for God’s people to have a clear understanding of their own personal faith and the Bible before tackling false worldviews. You cannot spot the flaws if you do not first understand the truth.

Third, Christians need to understand the differences. Educate yourself on the distinctions between two worldviews and seek to find Bible passages that combat the claims of Scientology.

Finally, Christians should minister to Scientologists with grace. Our response to Scientology should be grounded in a compassion for the lost. This is not just an academic exercise, nor is it merely groundwork for an effective debate. Rather, it is for the purpose of speaking the truth in love.63 Christians are encouraged to build relationships with Scientologists, ask provoking questions of their worldview, and then share the truth of the gospel with boldness and sensitivity.

 

 

  1. Kurt Van Gorden, “Scientology,” in Kingdom of the Cults, eds. Walter Martin and Ravi Zacharias (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 353. []
  2. L Ron Hubbard, Scientology Abridged Dictionary (Los Angeles: American Saint Hill Organization, 1970), 36-37. []
  3. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 353-54. []
  4. L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (Los Angeles: Bridge Publications Inc., 1986), 369. []
  5. L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought (Los Angeles: Church of Scientology Publications Organization, 1972), 55. []
  6. Hubbard, Dianetics, 84. []
  7. Ibid., 14. []
  8. John Welden, “Scientology: From Science Fiction to Space-Age Religion,” Christian Research Institute Journal (Summer 1993): 20, http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0155a.html (accessed May 19, 2017). []
  9. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 367. []
  10. Welden, “Scientology,” 20. []
  11. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 368. []
  12. Ibid., 361. []
  13. L. Ron Hubbard, The Phoenix Lectures (Los Angeles: The Church of Scientology of California Publications Organization United States, 1969), 12, 16, 18-19. []
  14. John 17:17. []
  15. 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21. []
  16. Ps. 12:6, 19:7; Matt. 7:24-29; 1 Tim.3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3. []
  17. Staff of Scientology, Scientology: A World Religion Emerges in the Space Age (Los Angeles: Church of Scientology Information Service, 1974), 17. []
  18. L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology: History of Man (Los Angeles: American Saint Hill Organization, 1968), 38. []
  19. Deut. 6:4; Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19. []
  20. Gen. 1; Job 38-41; Ps. 8:4, 90:1-2; Jer. 32:17. []
  21. Is. 42:8, 43:10, 44:8; Mark 12:32; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19. []
  22. Num. 23:19; 1 Kings 8:27; Job 38-41, 42:2; Ps. 139; Is. 6:1-5; Jer. 23:24, 32:17; Rom. 11:33. []
  23. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 365. []
  24. Gen. 1:26-28. []
  25. Ecc. 12:7; Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 4:16. []
  26. Gen. 1:26-28, 9:7; Isa. 43:7; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 1:16. []
  27. Gen. 2:16-17, 3:1-19; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:10-18, 5:12-14. []
  28. Hubbard, Dianetics, 66. []
  29. L. Ron Hubbard, The History of Man, 27-34. []
  30. Gen. 2:16-17, 3:7-8. []
  31. Ps. 51:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23, 5:12-14; 6:23. []
  32. Welden, “Scientology,” 20. []
  33. Eph. 2:8-10. []
  34. John 1:1-5, 14; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 1:15-17, 2:9. []
  35. Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:21-24. []
  36. Ps. 75:8; John 19:30; Rom. 4:25, 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:8-11; Heb. 1:3, 9:24-10:14. []
  37. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 4:1-12; Gal. 2:16; Phil 3:9. []
  38. Tal Davis, “Scientology,” North American Mission Board, https://www.namb.net/apologetics-old/scientology. []
  39. Heb. 9:27. []
  40. Phil 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11. []
  41. John 14:3-6; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20-22. []
  42. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 364. []
  43. Staff of Scientology, Scientology, 15. []
  44. Hubbard, Phoenix Lectures, 27. []
  45. Kevin Anderson, Report of the Board of Inquiry Into Scientology, (Melbourne: Australia Parliament Government Printer, 1965), 150. []
  46. Matt. 28:19, John 10:30. []
  47. John 3:16, 14:3-6. []
  48. Matt. 5:17-19; Luke 24:25-27; John 12:49-40. []
  49. Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10; John 20:30-31. []
  50. Matt. 16:16. []
  51. L. Ron Hubbard, The Creation of Human Ability (Los Angeles: The Publications Organization Worldwide, 1968), 189. []
  52. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 354. []
  53. “Penthouse Interview: L. Ron Hubbard, Jr.” Penthouse, June 1983, 113. []
  54. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1932. []
  55. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 353. []
  56. Russell Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard (London: Michael Joseph/Penguin Books, Ltd., 1987), 354. []
  57. Ibid., 50. []
  58. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 355. []
  59. Davis, “Scientology,” www.namb.net/apologetics-old/scientology. []
  60. L. Ron Hubbard, Introduction to Scientology Ethics (Los Angeles: American St. Hill Organization, 1973), 49. []
  61. Van Gorden, Kingdom of the Cults, 351. []
  62. Weldon, “Scientology, 20. []
  63. Eph. 4:15. []