Feb 8, 2008

A religion for the 21st century: Scientology

Ruth Marvin Webster, Staff Writer
North County Times (CA)
February 8, 2008

Questions of faith and religion aren't usual topics of Hollywood buzz. Drug use, infidelity, weight and cosmetic surgical procedures are.

But any tidbit about the Church of Scientology or its high-profile celebrity believers seem to be the exception, attracting attention at every turn.

First there was the controversy in Germany, which in December declared Scientology unconstitutional and banned it. Then there was the release of Andrew Morton's unauthorized biography of actor Tom Cruise, which coincided with the broadcast of a nine-minute video of Cruise extolling the virtues of the faith, viewed by millions of people around the world before it was pulled from YouTube.

But more than material for late-night talk hosts, the Church of Scientology is the belief system of more than 3.5 million Americans, including more than 18,000 people in the San Diego area, according to Dave Meyer, president of the Church of Scientology of San Diego.

Scientology has been called by some the only major new religion to emerge in the 20th century with no heritage from any mainstream Judeo-Christian faiths. Nor is it connected with the churches of Christian Science or Religious Science. Others, however, say Scientology is not a religion because of its methods, including the practice of charging for some of its services.

'We so respect him'

Scientology grew out of a best-selling book called "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health," published in 1950. The book includes a concept of God expressed as the urge toward existence as infinity or the supreme being.

The author of "Dianetics" was L. Ron Hubbard, a filmmaker, aviator, adventurer, photographer, philosopher and expert mariner. The founder of the Church of Scientology, he is considered a genius by his followers.

Among those followers are Kathy and Ed Marsh of Escondido. The library in their guesthouse is home to thousands of first edition and signed volumes, many written by Hubbard. The room also contains pieces of Hubbard memorabilia that Ed Marsh, a Scientologist since 1969, has collected over the years, such as a package of Hubbard's favorite Kool cigarettes and his early aviator helmet.

But Scientology is not about worshipping Hubbard, said Meyer, who has been the president of the Church of Scientology of San Diego for the last two years.

"We so respect him (Hubbard) for his deeds and accomplishments ... and for his caring factor," said Meyer.

A new religion

Born in Tilden, Neb., in March 1911, Hubbard was a prolific author of fiction and science fiction, including his best-known science-fiction novel, "Battlefield Earth." Guinness World Records lists him as the world's most published and most translated author, with 1,084 fiction and nonfiction works translated into 71 languages. Hubbard died on Jan. 24, 1986, at age 74.

But "Dianetics" remains his most enduring work. On The New York Times best-seller list for 26 consecutive weeks the year it was published, followers contend that this book, with Hubbard's other writings and recordings on Scientology, collectively constitutes their scripture.

"Hubbard took a scientific approach as to 'what is man,'" said Marsh. "He untangled the web of knowledge and came down with the things that work and the technology for doing that."

Reading and studying the book, followers believe, is the first step in resolving the problems of the human mind, which include unwanted sensations and emotions, irrational impulses, and psychosomatic (mind-caused) ills.

'A state of Clear' 

At the core of such problems of human existence is what Hubbard calls the reactive mind, defined as that portion of the mind that works on a totally stimulus-response basis. Stored there are so-called engrams ---- mental records of times of physical pain and unconsciousness. These engrams are "the source of all human failings."

Using his techniques, Hubbard writes, a "state of Clear" and spiritual peace can be accomplished, and the whole of the reactive mind is erased.

"The cases are legion, documented and startling: a homicidal maniac returned to normality in a matter of a few dozen hours; an arthritically paralyzed welder returned to full mobility in roughly the same; a legally blind professor whose vision was restored in under a week; and an hysterically crippled housewife returned to perfect health in a single three-hour session," write the "Friends of Ron" in the book "L. Ron Hubbard, a Profile" (1995, published by the Church of Scientology).

Marsh said he was a troubled 17-year-old when he stumbled into the Scientology office on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. "It said they had a free personality test, and the test that I took later confirmed what I already knew, that I was a mess. It was crushing."

Marsh said he took that personality test in San Diego after being hospitalized with hepatitis. "I was in convalescence. A friend came in with two 'Dianetics' books and a bottle of cheap Cold Duck."

Marsh said Hubbard's message spoke to him. "There's no belief involved," he said. "He says to look and evaluate for yourself to become more of you. Don't just believe because I said it."

Meyer, the San Diego Scientology Church president, explained: "He (Hubbard) doesn't give answers. He says to look, understand and decide what that means for you."

Meyer added that Scientology is a religion, not a method of self-help, because it focuses on the spirit, not just the body.

Auditing and e-meters

Auditing is the term given to the spiritual counseling that is the central practice of Scientology.

A trained auditor uses a set of questions to help a person examine otherwise unknown and unwanted sources of difficulties. "The procedure is predicated on the fact that if the true source of what troubles us is fully viewed and understood, then the trouble would no longer be," explain Scientology materials.

Part of the auditing process involves the electro-psychometer, or e-meter, which is said to help the auditor and the subject locate areas of spiritual distress existing below the person's current awareness. The subject holds a metal cylinder in each hand, which are hooked up to the electronic components of the meter as the auditor reads the dial. The meter is said to send a small electrical current (approximately .5 volts) through the body, about the same as the average battery-powered wristwatch.

Marsh has collected dozens of vintage e-meters that are displayed in his Escondido study. He and Meyer are both trainer auditors. That is, they are trained in certain techniques and governed by an Auditor's Code that demand they show kindness, affinity and patience while confronting areas of upset or difficulty in the subject.

Each follower's goal of spiritual advancement is delineated by the Scientology Bridge, which charts the levels and certificates showing auditing classes from zero to 12 as well as training steps. The "Clear" stage is the goal and end result of Dianetics, which requires hours of auditing to attain.

Taking the training, as outlined in Scientology materials, is the way to learn the spiritual technology of Scientology. Study programs range from introductory to advanced, and programs exist at Scientology centers throughout the world as well as books, materials and video presentations.

According to Scientology materials, it is through this study that followers can learn to hone their ability to control each of what are called the eight dynamics, eight distinct divisions of every individual's drive for survival.

'New answers needed'

"Scientology has never been more relevant than today," said David Miscavige, an important leader in the church, in an introductory address given at a celebrity event in Los Angeles a few years ago that was videotaped for the public.

"Man lives in a world increasingly interested in science, and yet even with all that science, there is an abyss, a chasm of humanity ... the answer cannot be found in chemicals or science ... we think new answers are needed. People need real solutions to real problems, and Scientology offers that help ... and inherent in that is that each of us takes responsibility for themselves and the world."

Scientologists estimated that there are 3,000 Scientology churches, missions, related organizations and group ministries in more than 133 countries.

According to the Religion Newswriters Association, a nonprofit trade association founded in 1949 to advance the professional standards of religion reporting, Scientology has been investigated in the past by certain governmental agencies around the world, in part because of its practice of charging fees to members in order for them to receive auditing. Costs for auditing vary, and according to the Scientology materials, for those who cannot afford a donation, every church has a center where they can receive auditing from ministers in training.

Meyer said Scientologists have made a positive impact on the local community with numerous social programs, including helping at an evacuation center at MiraCosta College for victims of last year's wildfires.

Among the organization's community projects are programs such as Criminon, run in more than 300 prisons and penal institutions in 39 states, and Narconon, a drug rehabilitation program in 70 nations and which is said by Scientologists to have "successfully freed more than 100,000 individuals from drug dependence."

"There are a plethora of ways to contribute," Meyer said. "We encourage people to read and watch the materials, see if it makes sense to them and participate. The truth is usually very simple."

Commonly asked questions about the basics of Scientology

Thetan: According to Scientologists, man consists of three parts: thetan, mind and body. The thetan is the spiritual being or soul. One of the basic tenets of Scientology is that man is an immortal spiritual being whose experience extends beyond a single lifetime and whose capabilities are unlimited.

Auditing: Term given to the spiritual counseling delivered by an auditor who is trained in the techniques of Dianetics and Scientology. No use of hypnosis or drugs is said to be used. During the auditing session, the auditor asks questions that are meant to help the individual examine his own existence and
find a higher level of spiritual awareness and well-being.

Engram: The stored mental images of the Reactive Mind, or that part of a person's mind that works completely on a stimulus-response basis.

State of Clear: The goal and end result of Dianetics is the state of Clear when the reactive mind is wiped clean.

Operating Thetan or OT: The spiritual state of being above Clear. An OT is able to control matter, energy, space and time rather than being controlled by such things. This state is said to be attained in a series of steps and classes.

E-meter or electropsychometer: Used in the auditing process, the e-meter is called a religious artifact. It is said to measure and change the mental state of the individual being audited. Movement of the needle on the dial is said to indicate an area of upset or trauma and help the individual uncover truth.

Source: Reference Guide to the Scientology Religion: Answer to Questions Most Commonly Asked by Media. Pamphlet is presented by the Church of Scientology International (2000).

Contact staff writer Ruth Marvin Webster at (760) 740-3527 or rwebster@nctimes.com.

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