Is Scientology Compatible With Christianity?
by John Weldon
The Church of Scientology is a controversial new religion developed by L. Ron Hubbard as an extension of his earlier psychological theories of Dianetics. Drawing on ideas from Buddhist and Hindu religious philosophy, science fiction, and Western concepts in psychology and science, L. Ron Hubbard produced a religion that sees all human beings as immortal spirits (thetans) who have forgotten their identity and become deceived by the very universe they mentally emanated in order to amuse themselves. Scientology claims it can free the thetan to realize his or her true nature and powers through certain controversial procedures that allegedly heal the mind and free the spirit. Although the church claims its beliefs are not incompatible with Christian faith, an evaluation of what Scientology teaches in the areas of God, man, the creation, salvation, and death proves this is not so. Scientology is a powerful new religion whose teachings are inconsistent with the beliefs of orthodox Christian faith.
Ours is an age of religious cacophony, as was the Roman Empire of Christ's time. From agnosticism to Hegelianism, from devil-worship to scientific rationalism, from theosophical cults to philosophies of process: virtually any world view conceivable is offered to modern man in the pluralistic marketplace of ideas. Our age is indeed in ideological and societal agony, grasping at anything and everything that can conceivably offer the ecstasy of a cosmic relationship or of a comprehensive Weltanschauung [world view]. -- John Warwick Montgomery. One of the most intriguing and controversial items found in today's religious marketplace is The Church of Scientology. The church was founded by Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (1911-1986) in California in the 1950s as an extension of his earlier nonreligious theory of Dianetics. (Dianetics is believed to deals with mind and body; Scientology with the human spirit, although they necessarily overlap in places. According to the church, technically, ''para-Scientology'' is that branch of Scientology involving past lives, mysticism, the occult, and so forth. For our purposes, the term Scientology is employed in its broadest sense.) Today Scientology boasts over 700 centers in 65 countries and is one of the wealthiest of the new religions. Celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Sonny Bono are only a few of the Hollywood faithful who actively endorse Scientology. But this new religion also has its critics, as still-circulated issues of Readers Digest (May 1980, September 1981) and Time magazine (May 6, 1991) reveal.
The Philosophy Of Scientology
The basic tenets of Scientology result from an eclectic mixture of Eastern philosophy and the personal research of Hubbard into a variety of disciplines, as well as the ''data'' uncovered from ''auditing.'' Auditing is Scientology's ''counseling'' or extensive examination of the present life and ''past lives'' of the ''preclear,'' or initiate. In one of its many definitions, Hubbard has described Scientology as ''the Western Anglicized continuance of many earlier forms of wisdom.'' These include the Vedas, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Gnosticism and early Greek civilization; and the teachings of Jesus, Nietzsche, and Freud. According to Hubbard, ''Scientology has accomplished the goal of religion expressed in all Man's written history, the freeing of the soul by wisdom.'' Scientology divides the mind into two components -- the analytic and the reactive, roughly parallel to the conscious or rational mind and unconscious or irrational mind. Experiences of extreme shock, pain, or unconsciousness cause ''engrams,'' or sensory impressions, to be recorded in the reactive mind. These mental pictures are, in turn, the cause of our emotional and even many physical problems today. They can be dislodged only through Scientology. While these memory pictures are perfectly recorded, they lay dormant in the brain until restimulated by a similar incident. When restimulated, they cause conditioned, stimulus-response behavior which is counterproductive to one's well-being. Thus, when the brain sees a similar situation to a past threatening experience -- even though it is not now a threat to survival, it responds as if it were, producing a form of inappropriate and self-defeating behavior. For example, a boy falls out of a tree just as a red car passes by and is knocked unconscious. Later, even as a man, red cars (even red things) may restimulate the episode in various ways and cause irrational reactions. This man may thus refuse to ride in a red car and may even get ill or dizzy when confronted with the possibility. In this sense, we are all more or less conditioned beings -- ''machines'' that simply respond to their operator (i.e., the reactive mind). Scientology believes this restimulation is fairly automatic. In other words, we are not free beings: we are slaves of an ''aberrated'' (reactive) mind. Scientology maintains that through Dianetic and/or Scientology therapy, we can be directly exposed to our engrams, ''erase'' them, and become ''clear,'' or in control of our behavior (''at cause'') rather than at the mercy of a damaged reactive mind (''at effect''). Unfortunately, Scientology informs us, through reincarnation we have all been accumulating engrams for trillions of years. Thus, to resolve hidden engrams, not only must the initiate be mentally whisked back to reexperience the damaging events of this life, but of many past lives as well. According to Scientology, each person is really a thetan, an immortal spirit who has been so damaged by engrams that he has forgotten he is immortal and even forgotten he is a thetan. Thetans have absolute control over their bodies, but, sadly, they think they are bodies (a terrible fate) and hence are bound by the MEST (matter, energy, space, time) universe. Each time a body dies, the thetan must enter another body, but this brings with it all its trillions of years' accumulation of engrams. Thetans thus are no longer free, but are in bondage to the material universe. Scientology claims it can free the thetan.
In light of the religious claims of Scientology I will emphasize the theological presuppositions of the church in six fundamental categories -- God, man, creation, salvation, death, and the supernatural.
In the Church of Scientology the concept of God would appear to be panentheistic (believing that all finite entities are within, but not identical to, God), although monotheism could also be assumed. What the church refers to as ''the Supreme Being'' is purposely left undefined and not particularly relevant in Scientology theory or practice. It is variously implied to be, or referred to as, ''Nature,'' ''Infinity,'' ''the Eighth Dynamic,'' ''all Theta'' (life), and so forth. Usually the individual Scientologist is free to interpret God in whatever manner he or she wishes.
Scientology maintains that in his true nature, man is not the limited and pitiful body and ego he mistakenly imagines himself to be. He is a thetan whose fundamental nature is basically good and divine. He is not morally fallen; rather he is simply ignorant of his own perfection. His only ''Fall'' was into matter, not sin. How did this Fall come about? Apparently, trillions of years ago thetans became bored, so they emanated mental universes to play in and amuse themselves. Soon, however, they became more and more entranced in their own creation until they were so conditioned by the manifestations of their own thought processes that they lost all awareness of their true identity and spiritual nature. They became hypnotized and trapped by MEST. Compounding the problem was the accumulation of endless engrams throughout trillions of years of existence. The final result was a pitiful creature indeed -- a materially enslaved entity existing as a mere stimulus-response machine. Today only slavery to the reactive mind and bondage to the MEST universe (i.e., the physical body and environment) are what remain of once glorious spiritual beings. Thus, the Scientology concept of man is described in Scientology: A World Religion Emerges in the Space Age as follows: The PERSON in Scientology is (and discovers himself to be) a Thetan (spiritual being) of infinite creative potential who acts in, but is not part of, the physical universe.... The Eternal Indestructible Self (Atman) of the Hindu Upanishads early foreshadowed the Scientology concept of the Thetan.... The Thetan is also considered to be the innate source of his own projected universe, which overlaps the created universes of other Thetans in a great community of souls. Thus is formed the world of the senses, in relation to which, like the Hindu ''Lila,'' or ''Divine Play,'' each Thetan plays the Game of Life in concert with its spiritual partners.... As a Being descends...into Materiality, the manifestations of his communication become heavier and more dense, and his experience of reality deteriorates.
The universe was not created by a single supreme being ex nihilo (out of nothing), thus having a separate existence of its own. Instead, the Scientology universe constitutes a subjective, mental emanation or ''projection'' of the thetans, having merely an agreed-upon (and not actual) reality. Thus, the entire physical universe is a Game, a product of thetan ingenuity (designed for escaping boredom) which apparently emanates from an original thetan consensus to ''create'' in pre-history. As a product of thetan minds, the universe is capable of endless manipulation by an aware or spiritually enlightened thetan. Thus, Scientologists may view psychic powers developed through their church practices as a confirmation of this teaching. But for a densely ignorant thetan (principally, all non-Scientologists) the universe is a deceptive and deadly spiritual trap. Ignorant thetans are bound by engrams and think they are only physical bodies. As a result, they are weak, impotent creatures enslaved to a material universe that inhibits self-realization of their nature as an immortal spirit. In essence, the material creation as we know it is not only an illusion but also a positive evil -- that is, a powerfully destructive barrier one must overcome in order to advance spiritually.
This pitiful thetan slavery to MEST and his own conditioned ignorance continued for millennia until L. Ron Hubbard discovered the secret nature of humankind and pioneered a solution to the thetan's misery by developing a universal plan of salvation. Through Scientology auditing, engrams may be neutralized and the thetan made increasingly self-aware or ''enlightened.'' By various techniques a practical methodology was developed to enable the initiate to recognize his (or her) spiritual existence, to separate from the MEST body, and to begin to exert mental control over the MEST universe. In other words, the initiate may eventually achieve a state of ''clear'' and then, by progressing through numerous levels of ''Operating Thetan'' (''OT''), increasingly achieve self-realization. (An ''Operating Thetan'' is one who is more and more aware of and ''operating'' according to his true thetan abilities.)
Death for Scientology is sometimes a blessing, for it may permit the release of the soul from the prison of the body (i.e., the evolution of the thetan [soul] into a higher state of awareness). Nevertheless, in another sense death is an event so appallingly ordinary (indeed, one which each person has passed through trillions of times) that it is, in effect, an irrelevant incident, almost inconsequential in the larger scheme of things.
The employment of psychic powers and out-of-body episodes (e.g., as a means for the thetan to re-realize his or her true powers) is indicative of the church's acceptance of the realm of the occult. Further, Hubbard's own son goes so far as to affirm that ''black magic is the inner core of Scientology.'' Hubbard himself allegedly confessed that a spirit entity guided him throughout his life and a number of scholarly researchers have verified the occult nature of Scientology.
Despite many successful attempts by the Church of Scientology to inhibit criticism, there remains a sizable literature available to the researcher. Particularly helpful are: (1) government investigations and reports, (2) transcripts of innumerable court proceedings (whether Scientology functions as plaintiff or defendant), (3) scholarly review in any number of fields related to Scientology theory (e.g., philosophy, medicine, psychology, sociology, theology, ethics), (4) analysis by the popular press and investigative reporting, in both printed and visual media, and (5) the published literature of current and former members. Scientology and/or Dianetics are certainly not without testable claims, even though the church alleges Hubbard has at no time made any claims for them. Still, Hubbard believed -- among many other things -- that his philosophy and methodology (1) are superior in mental health expertise, (2) (Dianetics) can be 100 percent successful and increase one's I.Q., (3) can solve humankind's major problems, and (4) are a rational and proven science (except where they impinge on the study of the spirit). But before Dianetics had evolved into Scientology, it had been examined and critiqued by a variety of investigators and invalidated as to its basic claims. Neither are most of the claims of Scientology established. For example, one of the great legal minds of our century is Oxford educated Lord Chancellor Hailsham. He has twice held the highest office open to lawyers in England, that of Lord Chancellor, as well as being the Minister of Education and Minister of Science and Technology. He comments, ''I do not find [Scientology's] philosophical conceptions adequate to support [its] theories...the factual basis on which they claim to have produced good results on individuals do not seem to me to be fully substantiated.'' As to its mental health claims, the application of Scientology techniques has allegedly harmed some people. Problems can arise from occult activity, Scientology processes, and auditor inexperience. They include hallucinations and irrational behavior, severe disorientation, strange bodily sensations, physical and mental illness, unconsciousness, and suicide. (As the notes will reveal, most of the above hazards were admitted by Hubbard himself, although he maintained they only occurred through misapplication of the ''technology'' of Scientology.) Hubbard also claimed that Scientology is a proven science that is rational and utilizes scientific principles. However, Hubbard's methods contradict this assertion and reveal that scientifically his research methodology is questionable or unreliable. Even his own son claims that for the multimillion bestseller Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health he did no research at all....what he did, really, was take bits and pieces from other people and put them together in a blender and stir them all up -- and out came Dianetics! All the examples in the book -- some 200 ''real-life experiences'' -- were just the result of his obsessions with abortions and unconscious states....In fact, the vast majority of those incidents were invented off the top of his head. The rest stem from his own secret life, which was deeply involved in the occult and black magic. That involvement goes back to when he was sixteen. Further, researchers who have examined the only ''scientific'' instrument in Scientology allegedly capable of producing ''data'' have concluded it is useless as to its claimed abilities. This instrument is the ''E-meter,'' an electric meter which is used to ''locate'' engrams. The E-meter accurately measures variations in the electrical resistance of the human body, like a galvanometer. But ''none of the Scientology theories associated with, or claims made for, the E-meter is justified. They are contrary to expert evidence....''
Scientology maintains a strong position outwardly on ethical issues:
The practice of Scientology results in a higher level of ethics and integrity....
Millions already believe the Ethics of Scientology carry more weight and honesty than the traditional and confused laws of nations.
The Church of Scientology International memberships -- your link to other honest ethical people.
Unfortunately, Scientology does not always live up well to its own ethical confessions, partly because its ethics seem to be valid only for those it deems worthy of them. For example, critics of the church may be treated as enemies. We should also note that Scientology has its own unique definitions for terms. Thus words used in the above quotations -- such as ethics -- carry not only accepted meanings but also Scientological ones.
Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
This brings us to a related problem in Scientology: its subjective use of terms so that data is manipulated to conform to the alleged discoveries and truths of Scientology. Perhaps the most fruitful area to begin with is by noting Hubbard's expertise as a science fiction writer. In fact, many of the themes one finds in Scientology can also be found in his science fiction works. For Hubbard ''life is a game,'' and this is about the only thing that gives it any real meaning. The various exploits of thetans in the past trillions of years are their lila (or sport) -- the games they play to keep eternal boredom at bay. Certainly many critics would contend that the adventures of thetans -- as chronicled in, for example, Hubbard's A History of Man and Have You Lived Before This Life? -- should be ranked among his science fiction work. From the latter book consider one alleged ''past life'' incident of a Scientology counselee as uncovered by a Scientology auditor using his E-meter: The preclear was on Mars without a body 469,476,600 years ago, creating havoc, destroying a bridge and buildings. The people were called by an alarm to temple. PC [preclear] went and broke the back pew, and the Temple tower. He wandered in town and saw a doll in a window, and got entrapped [inside the doll] trying to move its limbs. People seized it, beat it up, and threw the doll out of the window (30 ft. drop). The doll was taken roughly to the Temple, and was zapped by a bishop's gun while the congregation chanted ''God is Love.'' When the people left, the doll, out of control, staggered out and was run over by a large car and a steamroller. It was then taken back to the Bishop, who ordered it to be taken (in a lorry with others) to dig trenches or ditches for 2,000 years. (The whole incident took nearly 2,000,000 years.) Then it was taken and the body was removed and the PC was promised a robot body. The thetan (PC) went up to an implant station and was put into an ice-cube and went by flying saucer and was dropped at Planet ZX 432. Hubbard himself confesses that truth is so strange one cannot actually distinguish between science fiction and science fact (a revelation he also found useful for rejecting or manipulating the ''illusions'' of conventional knowledge). For example, Hubbard once noted, ''One of the closest pieces of work to a thetan is Alice in Wonderland....He can mock up [invent, make] white rabbits and caterpillars and Mad Hatters. He'd find himself right in his element.'' And, ''When you look at man's location in the MEST Universe and what he has or has not been through the picture is just incredibly wild...it's just too fantastic for words, so of course, nobody would believe it.'' If we recall Hubbard's teaching on the material creation we remember it is an illusion: ''The MEST universe can be established easily to be an illusion....'' It is not that the universe does not exist, rather, it has no objective, independent reality. It is a frivolous mental game created and played by thetans. Conventional reality simply results from the primordial thetan agreement (''mock-up'') and no more. Thus, ''objective'' reality is simply a temporary subjective manifestation of the mind of thetans. Such a universe, of course, cannot give true objective knowledge about things, for things per se have no independent existence and are capable of endless manipulation by an aware thetan. For Hubbard, only an unaberrated thetan (i.e., one who by means of Scientology is truly enlightened) knows things as they really are and, apparently, Hubbard was the most enlightened thetan of all. Thus, for Scientologists who agree, that which Hubbard says is true is that which really is true, no matter how fantastic or disharmonious with currently accepted knowledge.
Scientology and Christianity
Despite the fact that as late as 1971 (close to 20 years after the Church of Scientology was founded) at least one book by Hubbard carried the straightforward claim that ''Scientology...is not a religion,'' it has become a religion and one in competition with the Christian church. Consider a survey conducted by the Church of Scientology itself. This poll, which involved over 3,000 members, determined that the background of Scientologists is predominantly Christian (roughly 40 percent Protestant and 26 percent Catholic). A full 70 percent of those with Christian backgrounds affirmed that they still considered themselves practicing members of their Christian faith, which means that almost half (47 percent) of those polled still consider themselves Christian. These findings combined with the additional facts that 37 percent of those surveyed had received college degrees and 80 percent were from the middle class indicate that Scientology constitutes an appealing and powerful organization with an educated class of people, most of whom have been recruited from Christian churches. And yet the response of Christianity to this situation has been almost nonexistent. Just as the Scientologist who considers him or herself a Christian does not recognize the inconsistency of that position, the Christian church has not yet recognized the risk Scientology poses to its own fold. In a rational universe two contrary religions might be false, but both cannot be true. Thus, if the Christian world view is true (and I have shown elsewhere how this may be reasonably established on revelational-empirical grounds -- using the strict measure of legal criteria ), then that which contradicts it cannot be true. In the area of theology, there are several key issues that people have pondered most consistently -- and most personally. They concern the area of theology proper (the existence and nature of God) as well as the questions of revealed theology (does God exist for me?), anthropology (who or what am I?), soteriology (how can I be saved?), and thanatology (what happens when I die?). These questions raise the issues of the nature of God, man, salvation, and death. No issues are more fundamental or important -- for to answer these questions in error will, like a philosophical leaven, spread corruption throughout one's world view. Below we will briefly compare and contrast Scientology's answers to the questions with the answers provided in the Bible.
As noted, Scientology is fundamentally panentheistic. It teaches that there are a multitude of thetans who, ''collectively'' with all life, could be said to comprise the Supreme Being (see note 9). This contradicts the biblical teaching that there is only one sovereign and perfect Creator God from all eternity -- without beginning or end, immutable, who exists in three Persons, and is infinitely holy, just, and loving (e.g., Gen. 1:1 ; Isa. 43:10-11 ; Acts 5:3-4 ; Isa. 61:8 ; Mal. 3:6 ; 1 Tim. 2:5 ; Titus 2:13 ; 1 John 4:8-10 ).
Scientology teaches that man is an immortal spirit like the atman in Hinduism. As in Hinduism, man may be considered a deity of sorts who has forgotten he is divine. The Bible rejects the idea that man is an ignorant god who needs only enlightenment or self-realization. Man is a creation of God, made in God's image. His problems do not result from engrams or boredom, but from sin and self-centeredness (Rom. 3:10-18 ; Eph. 2:1-3 ). If there is one supporting pillar of Scientology upon which everything rests, it is the concept of thetans. Nearly everything of importance in Scientology is predicated on the existence of thetans and their conforming to the status Hubbard has given them. Obviously, if there is no thetan as Hubbard defines it, the practices of Scientology are without justification. Consider the biblical view. There is only one eternal God in the universe (Isa. 43:10-11 ). He created man (body and spirit) as a finite creature at a point in time (Gen. 2:7 ). Hence it is impossible that divine beings such as Scientology's thetans can exist. Biblically then, Scientology's philosophy, techniques, solutions to problems, and final goals are based upon underlying presuppositions that are inherently incorrect. Put more simply, if no thetan exists, then most of Scientology is based on error. For ''almost the entirety of Scientology consists of discovery and refinements of methods whereby the Thetan can be persuaded to relinquish his self-imposed limitations.'' Nevertheless, because Scientology deals with the mind and certain practical considerations (e.g., communication skills) it may also use or discover relevant information about human psychology. Unfortunately, if such data is placed into an overall world view that is false or questionable, even though the data may be true, it may be misused in support of an errant philosophy. For example, during Scientology counseling, the auditor (counselor) may extract certain feelings or information from the initiate that indicate an irrational fear of falling and a problem with vertigo. This observation may be true. But because the more enlightened auditor has already interpreted the initiate as a thetan ignorant of its many lifetimes, and because his E-meter has supposedly ''located'' an engram (the incident related to experiencing dizziness) from ten trillion years ago, the auditor may interpret such information wrongly -- as a past-life incident where the person is falling out of a spaceship. If we realize that the entire purpose of Scientology is to help a (biblically) nonexistent thetan realize its true nature, we must conclude that it does not deal in the realm of reality. If no thetan exists, what else may a Christian inquirer into Scientology conclude?
Salvation in Scientology progresses from personal ignorance and bondage to matter into gnostic enlightenment and freedom from the MEST body and universe. At an ultimate cost of tens of thousands of dollars, one is progressively ''saved'' from engrams by knowledge (Scientology beliefs) through good works (Scientology auditing and practice, etc.) to arrive at the highest state of ''operating thetan.'' The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that salvation is a free gift. One is redeemed from sin on the principle of grace, simply through faith in Christ's atonement (Eph. 2:8-9 ; John 6:47 ; Heb. 11:1 ; 1 John 2:2 ).
Scientology claims that death is endlessly repeatable through reincarnation and is hence almost inconsequential. Death, however, is at least potentially beneficial in that it may permit the release of the soul from the prison of the body. Biblically, death is a one-time event that carries either the most sublime of blessings (eternal heaven) or the most horrible of consequences (eternal hell). Death leads to an irreversible fate for both the saved and the lost and thus human beings have one lifetime only to make their peace with God (Heb. 9:27 ; Matt. 25:46 ; Luke 16:19-31 ; Rev. 20:10-15 ). In conclusion, Scientology does not conform in basic world view or particular teaching with Judeo-Christian revelation in any sense; indeed, examined as a whole, it fundamentally rejects Christian faith. Hubbard rejected Christ's deity and mission as figments of unenlightened minds and therefore Hubbard's philosophy ''is not interested in saving man, but it can do much to prevent him from being 'saved.''' We may observe that Scientology does entertain a fine goal in attempting to improve the world and man's lot within it, whether materially or spiritually. Many practitioners are dedicated and selfless in seeking such ends. Nevertheless, each Scientologist must weigh the scales of his or her own conscience to determine the best manner in which to achieve such goals. If man is not a thetan as Scientology claims, but a fallen being in need of redemption as Christianity teaches, what will have been the fruit of a lifetime of work? It would be wise for Scientologists with a Christian background (indeed, for all Scientologists) to listen to the words of Jesus afresh: ''For what will a man be profited if he gain the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'' (Matt. 16:26 ) And, ''This is eternal life, to know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent.'' (John 17:3 )
Originally published in the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1993, page 20
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