Long shrouded in secrecy about its practices, leaders at the local Church of
Scientology have opened up to discuss basic processes they employ to achieve
Scientology's ultimate goal: increase stability in a person's environment
through an increase in rational, sane behavior.
Eric Everett, director of community services for the Scientology Mission of
Memphis, says Scientology is an "applied religious philosophy" appropriate for
any faith tradition.
"We live in a society under siege, bombarded by an onslaught of drugs and
toxins. No one escapes the pollution," Everett says. "The Scientology
Purification program is the solution to this drug and chemical problem."
The program uses a combination of sauna- and exercise-induced sweat, vitamins
and oils, and a diet of pure foods and water to rid participants of addictions
to alcohol and other drugs. Everett says it is also an effective treatment for
post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as those interested in freeing
themselves from the effects of environmental and workplace pollutants. Other
than its high doses of widely available vitamins, particularly niacin, the
program uses no drugs.
Developed by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Dianetics and Scientology and a
prolific author of science fiction novels, the purification program claims to
release body fat that stores residual effects of drugs and toxins, replacing it
with healthier fat. The program is the outgrowth of Hubbard's investigation
into the "spiritual nature of man," Everett says.
Hubbard first published his work in the early 1950s. He died in 1986, having
attracted more than 8 million followers world-wide to the Church of
Scientology. Followers like Isaac Hayes and Lisa Marie Presley continue to
spread his findings.
Hayes and Presley funded the mission here specifically to give Memphians access
to Scientology's educational programs.
Everett says Scientology makes three assumptions: that man is a spiritual
being, that there is a creator other than man, and that man's purpose in life
is to improve himself, his life, his family and mankind as a whole. He says
Scientology "rehabilitates a person's creative ability" as he studies and
applies the "technology" developed by Hubbard.
But before someone can begin to apply that technology, he must free himself
from the effects of accumulated toxins and traumas. The purification program
begins the process.
In his writings, Hubbard says the use of toxins like alcohol and illegal drugs
is a stumbling block to spiritual development and represents the "single most
destructive element present in our current culture," responsible for societal
violence and wasted lives. He also says that psychotropic drugs, electroshock
therapy, hypnosis and environmental pollutants are toxins.
The purification program lasts from two weeks to as long as it takes, Everett
says. Custom designed for each person, the program costs about $1,500,
depending on its specifics. That cost covers the necessary vitamins and oils,
use of the treadmill and sauna at the Scientology mission, and a program
supervisor. It also includes an estimate of the cost of a physical exam
required by the mission before a person can start the program. The individual
chooses his own private physician for the exam.
Once a person is free of chemical toxins, Scientology offers Dianetics sessions
to free him from the effects of memories of past traumas. Hubbard says
Dianetics is a "science of the mind, a technology" that "isolates the source of
problems relating to thoughts."
Claiming that the common denominator across all people is the desire to live
abundant, prosperous lives, Hubbard says memories buried in the unconscious are
the "single source of irrational behavior" in man. Like toxins, these memories
become barriers to success. He says the mind -- which is not equivalent to the
brain or its chemistry -- stores a mental picture of every event a person has
experienced and these memories are used to solve "problems of survival."
According to Hubbard, the mind has two different places to store these mental
pictures: the analytic mind, which uses memories to solve future problems, and
the reactive mind. The reactive mind retains memories of painful physical and
emotional events. Hubbard says those memories have no constructive value for
survival because they act like a "post-hypnotic suggestion" to influence
behavior in later situations that seem similar to the original painful event.
Everett says Dianetics is a form of counseling that "re-stimulates" those
memories to bring them into consciousness, allowing a person to re-experience
the past. A guide known as an auditor facilitates each Dianetics session, using
an "e-meter," a device that measures the changes in electrical resistance in
the body when a person recalls painful memories.
"But Dianetics is not psychotherapy," Everett says.
Hubbard says Dianetics allows a person to re-experience the past and move
through it to a more productive life. About 12 hours of Dianetics costs $200.
An hour of psychotherapy usually costs at least $100, depending on the
credentials of the therapist.
In addition to its purification program and its Dianetics sessions, the Memphis
mission offers "life improvement courses" costing $35 to $80 or more.
Everett admits that Scientology is somewhat controversial.
"We've taken a public stance against psychotropic drugs," he says, "because
they create a dependency. If [the purification program] is as effective as we
know it is, it reduces the value of drug treatment."
He says the medical community has a vested interest against Scientology since
drug therapy is profitable for doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
Cult, religion or something else?
Psychiatrist Steve Rice, M.D., says Scientology is "anti-standard medical
practice in general and specifically very anti-psychiatry, especially when it
comes to psychiatric medications and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). They go
to great lengths to criticize standard treatments that have helped many people.
That prevents people from getting the help they need."
Rice is sure Scientology does some good, but he questions the confidentiality
of information auditors obtain in Dianetics sessions. The exercise and
sweat/sauna portions of the purification program also can be risky for people
with heart disease, high blood pressure and other medical problems.
Rice says the Church of Scientology meets the criteria for a cult, which
typically forms around a charismatic leader whom members elevate to divine-like
status, quoting his sayings and following his pronouncements without question.
Cults also maintain a high level of secrecy about their belief systems and
evidence some degree of paranoia.
"I can't tell you what really goes on" at the Church of Scientology, says
Harvard-educated Mark Muesse, Ph.D., an associate professor of Religious
Studies at Rhodes College.
"Nobody I know has a real good understanding" of the church, although Muesse
adds that Scientology fails to meet the criteria for a religion.
Muesse says a religion must offer a comprehensive world view and belief system,
a well-developed mythology and specific rituals. As far as he knows,
Scientology has no rituals or ceremonies, has an "exceedingly vague" belief
system, has no official prayer and no specific image of a god.
But labeling a group a cult invokes stereotypes and prejudices that may prompt
the group to become even more secretive, Muesse says.
"It's not a helpful term," he says.
Scientology's reputation for secrecy serves two purposes, Muesse says: Only
initiated persons get access to the particular kind of knowledge, or faith
beliefs, that the organization touts; and secrecy "protects the money" because
access to information about the church comes only after payment for various
Muesse says Hubbard has essentially assumed the role of savior or messiah, but
he considers Scientology a form of psychotherapy, not a religion. He notes that
unlike psychotherapists, Scientology auditors are unregulated, have no
structure for accountability to a licensing authority, and have no code of
"It's not a free religion, but an industry," he says, geared to the middle and
upper classes. He says Hubbard's teachings are all derivative -- based on
findings and theories from various traditional sciences -- but given different
terminology with a "21st century spin."
By claiming to be a church, Scientology qualifies as a non-profit organization,
gaining both social and tax benefits.
Muesse likens the Church of Scientology to the Church of the Latter Day Saints,
commonly called Mormons.
"They're two indigenous, unique American religions," he says, marked by a
history of persecution because they challenge traditional Christian --
"specifically, Protestant" -- ways of thinking and because they center on a
Messiah-like figure who is not Jesus Christ.
The way members live, their ethical code, is critical to Muesse.
"The Mormons aren't quite as secretive as the Church of Scientology," he says.
"The Mormons are good, basic people with a good work ethic. From what I know
about Scientology, it seems mildly helpful to people. On the surface, it seems
CONTACT freelance writer Joan McGraw at jtmc...@bellsouth.net
And vice versa.