CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
A war of words over the psyche
Scientology's followers take issue with psychiatry over cures and causes of mental disorders.
BY JEFFREY WEISS
The Dallas Morning News
Sunday, July 3, 2005
DALLAS – Tom Cruise's high-profile trashing of
psychiatry should come as no shocker to anyone familiar with his
religion. Scientology says that all psychological ills are a result of
a particular kind of psycho-spiritual wound, and that medications and
other tools of modern psychiatry are useless and harmful.
What kind of religion sets up a psychological theory as
sacred doctrine? A thoroughly modern one. The Church of Scientology -
no relation to Christian Science - is barely 50 years old.
Just how successful, however, is a matter of dispute.
Scientologists count their worldwide numbers in the
millions. Many religion sociologists say the real numbers are a tenth
What can't be argued is that Scientology has some
famous adherents: Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley among them.
It's also clear that Cruise's plugging of "War of the Worlds" has
raised the level of public curiosity about the religion.
The following are some frequently asked questions and their answers:
Q: Where did Scientology come from?
A: It's the creation of one man: L. Ron Hubbard. Best
known in the 1940s as a science-fiction author, he said he had
discovered essential truths about human psychology, which he set forth
in a 1950 book, "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health." The
book became the cornerstone of Scientology.
Q: What did he say was his big discovery?
A: Hubbard said all psychological problems, and many
physical ones, are caused by unresolved reactions to bad things that
have happened to us. In an unconscious process, the "reactive mind"
creates a permanent loop that ties up a bit of psychological energy.
Hubbard called those loops "engrams." He said that "clearing" the loops would improve psychological and physical health.
Q: Anything to it?
A: Mainstream psychology dismisses the concept of
engrams. But the idea that past psychological stress can later affect
health is widely accepted.
Q: What was L. Ron Hubbard's background?
A: He wasn't a psychologist or psychiatrist. He was born in Tilden, Neb., in 1911 and served in the Navy during World War II.
Hubbard died in 1986.
Q: What makes Scientology a religion?
A: Hubbard eventually asserted that engrams were not
simply produced in this life, but that everyone carries the residue of
billions of years of past lives. All people are said to have a
"thetan," something like a soul in other religious traditions.
Scientology recognizes the existence of an impersonal
supreme being, but one very different from the Judeo-Christian God
believed to be actively involved in human affairs.
Q: Is there anything scientific about Scientology?
A: It is certainly "scientistic" - it uses jargon and gizmos that seem scientific.
For instance, there's the "e-meter," a sort of
low-level lie detector. The person being examined - "audited" is the
official term - holds two metal cans connected by a wire to the meter.
Stress affects conductivity, so the auditor searches for words or situations that jiggle the needle.
Q: What's Scientology's beef with psychiatry?
A: Recall Scientology's origin - the assertion of a
perfect explanation for all psychological ailments. If all it takes to
cure someone of these ills is a noninvasive procedure, then drugs and
other tools of psychology, including electroshock therapy, just create
Q: What controversies has the Church of Scientology been involved in?
A: Some former members and others accuse the church of
coercing people to join and punishing those who leave. Reporters who
wrote critically about Scientology said they've been harassed with
lawsuits and subjected to personal attacks.
Several governments have investigated the church on allegations of cult activities.
Q: Why are so many celebrities Scientologists?
A: It's an optical illusion. In truth, no more than a
half-dozen or so celebrities have been publicly associated with
Scientology. In addition to Cruise, Travolta and Alley, you have Kelly
Preston (Travolta's wife), Isaac Hayes, Chick Corea, Greta Van Susteren.
Q: Where can I get more information?
A: The official Web site is www.scientology.org. Of the
many sites critical of Scientology, one of the most popular is
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