Letters from TZ

The Church of Scientology hits the headlines again

After reels and reels of ugly tabloid images that showed the actress looking tired, dishevelled and zombie-like, 33-year-old Katie Holmes has filed for divorce from superstar Tom Cruise. They had been married for 5-years. Rumour has it that Holmes finally made the decision to dissolve her marriage due to her husband’s unnatural devotion to Scientology, a religion that was incorporated in 1954, in New Jersey, US.

Created by pulp-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology is advertised as something one does, not something one believes in. Still, the official position of the church is that it addresses the spirit, not the body or the mind. Writing in The Science of Survival, a book he published in 1951, Hubbard speaks of faith saying: “A man without an abiding faith is, by observation alone, more of a thing than a man.”

The religion also claims a belief in God even though church literature states that there is no set dogma concerning God that is imposed on members. Doctrine is clear that Scientology does not ask individuals to accept anything on faith alone but rather through spiritual awareness, church counseling and training. In Scientology, the concept of God is expressed as the ‘Eighth Dynamic’. The notion of a supreme being is described as the urge toward existence as infinity. Believers will tell you that their concept of God rests at the very apex of universal survival.

Survival is the key principle of ‘Dianetics’, the methodology Hubbard employed to create Scientology, and one that he claimed could help alleviate unwanted sensations and emotions, irrational fears and illnesses caused or aggravated by mental stress. Framing the theory of ‘Dianetics’ L. Ron Hubbard claimed that the purpose of the mind was to solve problems relating to survival.

All told, Scientology is comprised exclusively on the teachings of one man: Hubbard’s theories, assumptions, techniques and practical applications inform all the church rituals. Those rituals are sometimes called the “Spiritual Technology,” or simply “the Tech.”

Confused? Who wouldn’t be? Scientology presents like a two-edged sword but instead of piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart, it seems to quite obviously obscure the intentions of its creator. It is difficult to determine where Hubbard was going with it. Officially, the church’s ultimate goal is a “civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where Man is free to rise to greater heights.” To that end, the basic tenet of the religion is survival, which in the Scientology context is divided into eight ascending dynamics: Self, creativity, group survival, species, life forms, spiritual universe and finally the ‘Eighth Dynamic’, or infinity, which is the urge toward infinite existence or ‘God’.

Hubbard desired that all humanity would avail itself of his teachings and to that end the church has a well-developed outreach programme. In fact, in the past few weeks Scientology ‘missionaries’ conducted a Volunteer Ministry Course at the Lord Baden Powell Memorial High School in Bagamoyo. Speaking to The Citizen, Form Three student Patrick Renat, who was one of the trainees said that the training taught him how to deal with problems such as disasters, drug addiction, education, morals, relationships and trust. Vestina Kasaju, also a student, said she was happy with the training because she has acquired guidance and counselling skills to deal with psychological problems like emotional stress.

On the face of it, Scientology appears helpful and non-threatening, the kind of religion that would heal the world and as Cruise famously put it “unite cultures.” The actor has also claimed that Scientologists are the only ones who can really help their fellow man. Obviously, critics do not agree.

Ex-scientologist and American musician, the late Jim Beebe gave an interview in 2007 explaining why he left Scientology saying, “It is a very slick, mind control system posing as a religion so that it can evade taxes. Members practice quack, psychotherapy. It is also a UFO cult with a world domination scheme.”

Others have criticised the church for a practice called “disconnection” where members are instructed to sever all ties with friends and family who are critical of Scientology. Its practices have been branded totalitarian and abusive, aimed at creating religious zealots rather than a body of the faithful. Indeed, in France and Germany Scientology is classified as a cult. Time and time again, the group has engaged in intimidation and unethical or unlawful practices against those who have criticised or publicly opposed it.

In 1991, Time Magazine in an expose called ‘The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power’ lambasted the religion calling it, “a hugely profitable, global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner. Scientology is quite likely the most ruthless, the most classically terroristic, the most litigious, and the most lucrative cult the country has ever seen.” The church has long been accused of brainwashing members and defrauding them of their money. Senior scientologists like Tom Cruise, Will Smith and John Travolta are said to have bought their way to the top. Worse still, according to the expose, founding father Hubbard was skimming millions of dollars from the church, laundering the money through dummy corporations in Panama and stashing it in Swiss bank accounts.

And then of course, there is the spectacular Scientology claim that humans are re-incarnated aliens who used to live on other planets. Given all this, it is no wonder that Katie Holmes finally made the decision to leave the church’s celebrity boy wonder in her dust.