The Church of Scientology is an entity wrapped in a shroud of mystery to most of us. As far as we know, it’s a pseudo religion that catches the eyes of a lot of celebrities. It’s considered a cult in a lot of places, more so due to the fact that the writings and thoughts of one man are revered and strictly considered than any concrete evidence. Tom Cruise, John Travolta -- they’re in on it.
Truthfully, scientology is pretty convoluted and way more involved than anyone outside the church will be able to fully understand, but I’ll do my best to break it down. We start with L. Ron Hubbard.
Hubbard founded what is now the Church of Scientology in the 1950s. It started as a series of writings, his most influential being “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health,” that discussed philosophies about life that went beyond the body and physical environment -- these tomes are what became the church’s “scripture.” When Hubbard was injured while on duty for the United States Navy during World War II, he was all but abandoned for a cripple. Seemingly miraculously, he healed himself from nerve damage using these spiritual beliefs; when he offered his findings to organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, though, he was shut down. (This, at least, explains one part of scientology: They believe all psychiatry and psychology are evil. Really, Hubbard was just bitter and petty.)
Hubbard eventually made his way to Los Angeles, where he started testing his version of psychotherapy on artistic types; he tracked down celebrities to give his findings more visibility. When he had a big enough following, he moved the organization to Clearwater, FL -- what exists there now is called the “Sea Organization,” a haven for scientologists that resulted from shady dealings that led the church to effectively take over the city. As of 2017, the church or related venues owned $260 million of property in downtown Clearwater.
The reason we most closely associate scientology with Hollywood, though, is because of the clientele that the church draws. The main focus of scientology is to better yourself and set yourself up for greater success in your relationships, career and -- a bit of a jump, here -- the universe as a whole. I mean, in this sense, scientology can’t be all bad -- they’re encouraging you to be a good person! Hollywood is such a hot bed for scientologists because these are exactly the kinds of people who are pliable enough for the church to sound attractive to: young professionals (who, let’s face it, have probably been through some sh*t) looking to better themselves and their career.
For those who aren't celebrities, the Church of Scientology is an attractive group just because they promise to rid you of your traumas. Whether it works or not is up in the air.
It’s less a faith and cut-and-dry religion and more a big group of intense therapy. So, yeah, I see the draw. Kinda.
Literally meaning “the study of truth,” scientology doesn’t have a set of guidelines anchored in faith to follow; the idea is that scientology is something you do, not something you believe in. There are, however, fundamental “truths” that the church believes in, like man is an immortal spiritual being; our experience extends well beyond a single lifetime; and our capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized in the material world.
Scientologists believe that mankind is not tethered to anything physical or limited to our environments or genes; rather, our spirits are transient, and we can achieve a sense of immortality and live through many different lifetimes if we progress through the church’s levels. If we take action along the lines of philosophy that Hubbard wrote about, we will better ourselves enough to achieve this complete freedom, so to speak.
For example, when Hubbard died -- remember, he is considered the source of scientology for “finding” the fundamentals of human existence -- it was understood throughout the church that he had “ascended” and was simply no longer bound to his body. It’s all very season 3 of “Riverdale.”
Joining the Church of Scientology requires a years-long system of what they call “auditing,” a process that requires followers to confront and get over the source of their traumas. From what I understand, the farther along in this process you get, the farther up the scientology levels and closer to that divine disembodied spirit -- or Thetan -- you’ll find yourself.
“You move up the bridge to freedom by working toward being an ‘Operating Thetan,’ which at the highest level transcends material law," says David Bromley, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. A fancy way of saying that if you get to the top of scientology, you're immortal and don't need a body. Sick.
Even while the church has a strong following, and tons of stars consider it life-changing (Kirstie Alley maintains that scientology was the only thing that helped her quit cocaine), there are others that reject it completely. Josh Brolin, for example, is not about it, having called it “f*cking bizarre.”
There is, of course, way more to go into here, but the gist of scientology is that it’s a group that adheres to a scripture of sorts, making it religious; it’s also a series of therapy sessions on steroids meant to get you more in tune with how to better your life, making it purely philosophical. This blend is exactly what scientologists pride themselves on; whether it’s legit or not is up to them.