The news that actress and baptised Catholic Katie Holmes is seeking a divorce from Tom Cruise, supposedly because of concerns about her daughter being raised within Cruise’s beloved Church of Scientology, has brought Scientology into the media spotlight in a way not seen since a 2005 episode of South Park ridiculed the organisation’s most esoteric beliefs.
As reports spread that Holmes feared she was being monitored by private investigators hired by Scientologists, something the Church of Scientology has denied, even Rupert Murdoch weighed in. “Scientology back in news,” he said on Twitter, ‘Very weird cult, but big, big money involved with Tom Cruise either number two or three in hiearchy.’ He later added, ‘Watch Katie Holmes and Scientology story develop. Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people.’
Scientology was the brainchild of science-fiction author L.Ron Hubbard, who in 1950 reinvented himself as a self-help guru by publishing Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard claimed that people could be cured of fears and illnesses through a process called ‘auditing’, which would make them ‘Clear’ by erasing traumatic memories from what Hubbard called the ‘reactive mind’.
Although scorned by the American Psychological Association, which pointed out that Hubbard’s claims were without scientific evidence, the book became an unexpected bestseller and Hubbard established several foundations to train people as ‘auditors’.
Despite initial success, Hubbard soon ran into serious financial trouble, and in 1952 he announced that he had discovered an entirely new science which transcended Dianetics. Claiming undeniable scientific evidence for the existence of the soul, Hubbard outlined ‘Scientology’ at a series of lectures in Phoenix, Arizona and in his book What to Audit.
Scientology’s central claim was that our true selves are immortal and omniscient beings called thetans, who inhabit countless bodies over trillions of years. Scientology aimed to perfect the soul by erasing traumas suffered in previous lives, thus raising individuals to their full potential, that of an ‘operating thetan’ or an ‘OT’.
Reportedly having often remarked that “if a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start a religion,” it was hardly surprising that Hubbard legally incorporated the Church of Scientology in 1953, the first local church being established the following year in California. Early tax exemptions did not last, however, and it was not until 1993, more than six years after Hubbard’s death, that the United States government recognised Scientology as a tax-exempt religion.
Scientology had by then grown into a lucrative but controversial international movement. In 1978 a French court had found Hubbard guilty of obtaining money under false pretences, while his wife and several other senior Scientologists were convicted of conspiracy against the American government.
Seemingly incapable of banishing the whiff of sulphur that has haunted it from its foundation, the Church of Scientology has had mixed success in securing international recognition. Countries such as Ireland, Germany, and Belgium have all refused to recognise it as a religion or to grant it tax-exempt status. A French government report in 2000 described it as a dangerous cult, and in 2009 a French court found it guilty of organised fraud.
It continues to face accusations that it indulges in brain-washing, urges members to ‘disconnect’ from unsupportive family members, harasses those – notably former Scientologists – who challenge the organisation, and ruthlessly milks its members of money, with the cost of becoming ‘Clear’ running to tens of thousands of Euros.
In a 1972 policy letter Hubbard had directed senior Scientologists to ‘Make money… make more money… make other people produce so as to make money.’ One can only imagine how much it cost Tom Cruise to become a ‘Class 4 OT7 Platinum Meritorious and IAS Freedom Medal of Valor Winner’.
-- Originally published in The Irish Catholic, 5 July 2012