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July 13, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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The Church of the Stars

It claims it is the fastest-growing religion in the world. It also never holds back flaunting its glamorous superstar members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The Church of Scientology has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with. But while its supporters claim it holds the key to ultimate happiness, others consider it a sinister cult – ruthless in silencing its critics.

I have a friend called Jane Doe. For nearly 20 years she participated fully as a member of the Church of Scientology. She joined the church when she was 8 with her father, who had been a member for a few years.

“My father was very well respected in the Scientologist church and their community,” Jane told me.

Very little is known about the beliefs and internal workings of this elusive organisation. Members are prevented from publicly revealing aspects of the faith, and deserters have all too often felt the wrath of the church through smear campaigns and harassment. This is called ‘Fair Game’ – where enemies of the church are injured, tricked, lied to or destroyed by any means possible.

Scientology was founded by pop science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1950 when he devised a multi-layered method of gaining enlightenment, or ‘Clear’. This method is called Dianetics, and it is the core to the Church of Scientology.

To fully understand Dianetics, we must first understand the origins of the world according to Scientology (and yes, this is now the part about aliens). Eons ago, the galaxy was ruled by a galactic federation led by the malicious Lord Xenu. Xenu, on account of being evil and a general douchebag, rounded up millions of aliens from his empire and froze them. Loaded onto ships that looked exactly like jumbo jets, except with rocket engines, these aliens were flown to Earth and dumped into supermassive volcanoes. The souls of these aliens escaped from their physical form and latched themselves onto the nearest sentient beings on Earth – humans. These ‘Thetans’, as they are called, are the source of all our worry, our despair and our confusion.

 

Dianetics, Jane told me, is a practical application of their theories. It is a method for people to cope with distress. Mostly, this involves auditing. What you do is you sit with another person in a little room over a desk. You use an E-meter, which is like a lie detector. It measures stress response.

“It’s quite funny, because you end up holding these two tin cans – literally, two tin cans that have been washed out and had the labels peeled off,” Jane laughed down the phone. “When I was little they used smaller cans, so like sardine tins and whatnot. It was almost like meditation.”

The auditor then asks you a series of questions – depending on what it is you’re talking about. Their aim is to tap into the Reactive Mind, or your Thetan, by asking about specific traumatic or distressing events in your life. What they are looking for is a ‘floating needle’ – when you are not affected by the event or recollection on the E-meter.

One of the real benefits that Jane told me about this experience was that it was similar in many ways to Buddhism – a way of purification so that you can acknowledge traumatic or painful parts of your life and normalise them. The ultimate aim is to reach a state of being where you are not affected by this negativity, and you reach a field of enlightenment.

Jane also describes an absolute adoration of L Ron Hubbard as a semi-deity, where in every church there would be a room closed with red velvet rope. Inside would be a writing desk, pens and a sea captain’s hat – all waiting for the day when L Ron himself would walk through the door and start writing again – even decades after his death.

Jane left the church after her Dad died unexpectedly. “I felt very sorry for my Dad because his health deteriorated towards the end of his life and one of the things that the church promised him was perfect physical health, which obviously wasn’t true. He had devoted all this time and money into the church and it hadn’t worked,” she said. “After he died, my mother continued for a while, and she got out a bank loan to pay for the new auditing. It was thousands of pounds, which in those days was a lot of money. Basically, she decided that it wasn’t for her, and that is when we really ran into problems with them. They refused to give back the money and I remember having to really fight them. They said we could have the money back, but we would be excommunicated. So we left.”

Jane described the church as offering people a place of belonging, like any faith, but said the church was paranoid, and extremely exclusive. Whole aspects of church life centred on potential threats where people were either friend or foe.

In the 1970s, the church conducted Operation Snow White, the biggest breach of US government in history where 5000 church agents infiltrated 360 government agencies and companies in over 30 countries and conducted wiretapping and destruction of documents critical of the church. While Jane has no worries that the church would go after her more than 25 years after she was a member, she doesn’t talk about her experiences within the church just in case: “What I always learnt in the church was their official philosophy: what is true to you is true to you. You can believe what you want. But this didn’t work out in practice.”

Jane told me she still gets angry when she sees discrimination against members of the church, saying she remembers having to keep it a secret for so many years for fear of harassment.

But at the end of the day, are their ideas any stranger than Christians believing that Jesus was born to a virgin? They are trying, in their own way, to make life better for people. They also believe that people are innately good. Something that the Christianity doesn’t exactly support.

We so easily accept Scientology as being strange and sinister. The media loves to paint them in an extremely negative light. While I still regard them as a cult, and would strongly urge young people to steer clear, it is important for us to try to see what the church wants: a world without pain. For humans to reach their full potential. For us to reach for the stars.

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