A guide to the Church of Scientology

Scientology is a U.S.-based religion founded in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard. Here is a brief history of the religion and its interaction with the world.

KUSA - Editor's Note: An episode of Let's Be Clear with Jeremy Jojola interviewed a former member of the Church of Scientology. 9NEWS put together this guide to provide more background information on the interview. 

Scientology can be described as one of the most successful religions of the 20th century while simultaneously being one of the most controversial.

Founded in the 1950s by science fiction author and former military service member L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology is “a belief that each human has a reactive mind that responds to life's traumas, clouding the analytic mind and keeping us from experiencing reality.”

The Church of Scientology says there are millions of members worldwide with churches in several countries.

In 1950, Hubbard published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health which laid the groundwork for the practices and beliefs that would become the Church of Scientology. The book dominated best-seller lists when it came out and even rose again to the top of lists in 1990, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The book surmises that humans are, overall, just and good - and that the point of existence is to survive. Scientologists believe in two halves of the mind - our conscious analytical mind and our unconscious reactive mind.

“The reactive mind is the portion of a person’s mind which works on a totally stimulus-response basis,” Scientology.org explains. “It is not under volitional control, and exerts force and the power of command over awareness, purposes, thoughts, body and actions.”

Scientologists believe in the idea of ‘past lives,’ which is slightly different from reincarnation; instead of coming back as an insect or a cat, Scientologists believe people come back as different people.

“It is a fact that unless one begins to handle aberration built up in past lives, he doesn’t progress,” the church’s website says. “In Scientology, one is given the tools to handle upsets and aberrations from past lives that adversely affect the individual in the present, thus freeing one to live a much happier life.”

Scientologists use the practice of auditing to help their members live happier lives. “After receiving auditing, one will start to recognize for oneself the change, that one’s outlook on life is improving and that one is becoming more able,” Scientology.org says.

Auditing is similar to counseling, except there’s also something called an electropsychometer that detects how you are feeling by resting on your skin, Scientology.org explains. The device is not FDA approved; but, it is legally considered a religious artifact, according to Scientology.org.


The leaders and celebrities in Scientology

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born in Nebraska in 1911 and spent his childhood in Helena, Montana.

Best known in his early adult years as a successful science fiction writer, he also fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II as an officer in the Navy.

He is seen as a holy figure by those in the faith after he spent his remaining years post-WWII spreading Scientology around the globe. He used his fleet of ships colloquially called the Sea Organization to accomplish this.

He returned to his ranch in California in 1975 and lived in seclusion there, according to the New York Times.

Hubbard was found guilty of vulgar fraud in France in 1978, TIME reports. Author Susan Palmer details Hubbard’s trial and trials of other Scientologists in her book, “The New Heretics of France.”

He died in 1986 at age 74 of a stroke while living in a trailer on his estate.

David Miscavige has led the Church of Scientology since. Scientology.org states his official title as Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center. He’s also the Captain of the Sea Org.

He got his start as a "12-year-old prodigy who served as the youngest professional auditor at Saint HIll's famed Hubbard Guidance Center in England, according to Scientology.org. When he was 17, Miscavige worked directly under Hubbard on Scientology’s training films.

By the early ‘90s, after 20 years of trying, Miscavige succeeded in getting the Church of Scientology recognized as a religious organization - and a nonprofit charity - by the IRS, reports the New York Times.

He continued to grow the organization, and soon Scientology churches were popping up in cities around the globe, like the one in Denver on Blake Street near Coors Field.


The communal religious order of Scientology

Founded in 1967 and based on a series of ships, Scientology’s Sea Org is now mostly based on land.

“As volunteers and members of a religious order, Sea Organization members work long hours and live communally with housing, meals, uniforms, medical and dental care, transport and all expenses associated with their duties provided by the Church,” Scientology.org says. “ They do not live cloistered lives, but are very much a part of society.”

According to Scientology.org, Sea Org members sign a Billion-Year Contract, which is strictly symbolic. The document “serves to signify an individual’s eternal commitment to the goals, purposes and principles of the Scientology religion.”

Those who decide to leave the organization may be labeled as a “Suppressive Person.” According to Scientology.org, publicly renouncing the faith is considered a Suppressive Act, which results in the person being labeled as a Suppressive Person.

Those who have been labeled an SP are expelled from Scientology.

“To be declared a Suppressive Person is extremely rare and results in expulsion from the Scientology religion,” Scientology.org states. “When someone has been expelled from the religion, that person loses both his or her fellowship with the Church as well as with other Scientologists.”


From run-ins with members to court cases against nations

While Scientology.org says being labeled an SP is rare, a good way to achieve that status is to speak out against the church after leaving.

Marc Headley, who wrote a book about his experiences and spoke to 9NEWS’ Jeremy Jojola, was labeled a Suppressive Person. Scientology created a detailed website to discredit him.

Leah Remini, best known for her starring role as Carrie Heffernan on the sitcom King of Queens, also has a website dedicated to her created by the church.

She helped create and hosts a reality show called Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. The show focuses on allegations of abuse and harassment members experienced while in the church and after leaving it.

A group inside Scientology called “Scientologists Taking Against Against Discrimination” has been trying to get advertisers to pull out of Leah Remini's show on A&E. The church says her show is full of “slanderous fabrications.”

Remini is the biggest name to speak out against the church.

Other celebrities like John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Laura Prepon and Tom Cruise are still a part of the church.

In 2015, HBO released Going Clear, a documentary film by former church member Alex Gibney. It sums up the history of the church and documents allegations of abuse and harassment against members of the church.

In turn, Scientologists have criticized film’s content, going so far as to criticize movie critics who liked the film. Church members also took out full-page ads in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times denouncing it and comparing it other journalistic mistakes.

The church has also had run-ins with several foreign governments.

In 2012, France officially labeled Scientology a fraud and not a church, according to Public Radio International.

While it is formally recognized as a religion in the U.S. since 1993, it’s been only very recently that other countries have given it that distinction.

It wasn’t classified as a religion in Switzerland until 2000, 2004 in Brazil and 2013 in the U.K.

It’s also had its status challenged in Belgium back in 2016 when state prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to label Scientology as a criminal organization. The case was thrown out in court, according to Flanders Today.

In Germany, Scientology’s status is murkier. While the religion has been in the country since 1970, members face restrictions, according to Tablet.

In 2007, a poll showed that 74 percent of German citizens would like the religion banned in the country, Reuters reports.

The U.S. has formally criticized the treatment of Scientologists in Germany, the New York Times reported.


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