Memphis Business Journal, July 26, 2002
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.
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.”
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 courses.
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 ethics.
“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.