Is Scientology the religion of the rich

Is Scientology a Religion?

In 2009 a book with the simple title "Scientology" was published. It was edited by James R. Lewis, a renowned - but not undisputed - specialist in so-called new religious movements and the sociology of religion. The book contains contributions from international researchers on various topics related to the movement known as Scientology, which ranges from works on history to current debates about the relationship with the media or the film world.

It is now interesting that this book received a public perception far beyond the circle of the narrower group of specialists, which - to put it mildly - was highly controversial. There is now even a separate Wikipedia entry for this book, which you can use to follow the discussion. The debate was based on a fundamental question, which in the good Austrian tradition with the question "Yes, are they allowed to do that?" can be summarized.

The problem with the concept of a sect

May one have - mind you - a religious-scientific opinion on this community, especially since Scientology seems to be the synonym for "sect" in the public perception and especially in German-speaking countries, which usually implies that the community has "nothing to do with religion" would have? In addition, the term sect, which has been more or less eliminated from the religious studies specialist discussion, indicates a number of other elements that are currently associated with this community: member manipulation, exploitation, "just" a business enterprise, attempted infiltration of political, economic and social decision-makers and so on and so forth.

In the meantime, another well-known scientific publisher has published a "Handbook of Scientology" by the same author and with absolutely the same line of argument: Scientology is the subject of religious studies research or must also be worked on in this context. And in fact the community, which in its self-image actually presents itself as the "Church of Scientology", is a very interesting area, which is often confronted with borderline questions of religious studies, which finally end up with the core topic itself: What is it actually? , "a religion" or "a religious community"?

L. Ron Hubbard and the Beginnings

It starts with the history of this community. At the beginning there is an undoubtedly charismatic and colorful personality: L. Ron Hubbard, who in the portrayal of Scientology had almost superhuman abilities and is said to have led a great life accordingly. Apart from the massive exaggeration by the community, little is certain in this context. What is certain is that after various stages in his life, including in the US military, before his career as a founder of a community, he was a thoroughly successful writer of various science fiction stories in various pulp fiction magazines that were popular at the time - such as "Astounding Science" Fiction "or" New Mysteries Adventures "- was an aspect that will remain important for later development.

As early as 1950 he went public with a program that focused on something like personality optimization - today you would probably find him among the ranks of psychologically more or less sensibly trained personality trainers, counselors or (psycho) therapists. His basic concept was actually quite simple: every person would have so-called "engrams" engraved in their personality through a series of traumatic experiences, which were created through a series of traumatic experiences and would inhibit their development. To put it more precisely, he speaks of the fact that the "analytical mind", which is perfect in itself, would be blocked by a "reactive" mind, because the latter always throws a kind of "circuit breaker" on as soon as it is activated he recognizes situation analogies that were associated with traumatic experiences in previous situations.

In this context, Hubbard speaks of "key in", with which he originally refers in a very mechanistic way to quasi-jammed letter carriers on a typewriter. In order to remove these "engrams" and to help people to fully develop their "analytical-rational" intellect, he developed a "technique" called "Dianetics" - note the terminology that is still used today - which was published in May 1950 in Book "Dianetics - The Modern Science of Mental Health" was presented to the public.

Dianetics as a way to liberation

The Dianetics book was a great success, probably also because in many respects it corresponded to certain expectations of its time. The promise to be able to get rid of traumatization and to lead a disturbed and inhibited personality on a "road to total freedom" fell in the post-war period with the still very vivid memory of the horrors of World War II and the many, often severely physically and mentally impaired war veterans on fertile ground.

This promise was also linked to a regular and precisely defined technology. The state that would be achieved in this way is not called "Clear" for nothing in this continuously applied, progress-optimistic technical analogy, and is connected with the promise of extensive personality development, extensive freedom from all diseases or similar obstacles. These specifications also include the design of the so-called "E-Meter", which was officially only introduced in 1957. In Scientology, this is understood to mean a technical device with which one can track down the said engrams and finally "delete" them through intensive questioning within the framework of the so-called "auditing".

There is absolutely no question about Hubbard's undoubted talent for presenting his ideas to the public and in front of an audience. His original wish to succeed in academic science with this concept was unsuccessful, however, because nothing could be done with his fantastic concept. In the medium term, this led to a massive rejection of psychiatry or psychology in general, which is still alive in Scientology today. Hubbard, who was convinced of his abilities, did not let this refusal stop him from further developing his concept. With maximum confidence in his charisma, he was able to gather an ever larger following in the following decades.

The "teaching": Immortal souls and a lot of science fiction

As early as 1953, an additional design and exaggeration through components can be recognized, which together then make up the actual teaching of Scientology. Here a quasi immortal part of the soul is postulated, which Hubbard - probably in clear reminiscence of his science fiction past - referred to as a "thetan" and with which an idea of ​​rebirth was connected. Consequently, not only the engrams of this life would have to be erased, but those of all previous lives - here on earth or in distant galaxies - which are stored in a tape or film-like thetan memory on a "time track".

In the medium term, these ideas finally led to a veritable mythology, which is supposed to be part of the secret content of Scientology for higher "initiates" at the so-called "OT" levels ("Operating Thetan") - but is de facto documented by many documents that are now easily accessible and is public commons. It is the fantastic story of the evil space ruler Xenu, who would have banished all thetans of this universe section here to earth 76 million years ago, which is connected with a long history of oppression and suffering with characteristic science fiction content.

What is religious about Scientology?

The question of whether this should be perceived as a religion is still controversial and must always be tailored to the respective background of the question. It makes a difference whether one speaks of religion in the legal, political or religious-scientific sense, for example. The position of the German new religion researcher Andreas Grünschloss provides an orientation for religious studies: "There are certainly religious aspects in Scientology's conception of the world and of man, but Scientology cannot be fixed on religion as the primary characteristic of its nature and actions: therapeutic is much more fundamental oriented train, to be able to recode behavior patterns through targeted, guided 'working through' and to be able to 'treat' traumatic disorders - in the sense of 'psychotechnology'. "

Green man therefore speaks of an ideologically inflated "behavior modification program" that in some places has certain religious traits. These include, for example, ideas of an immortal spiritual principle of human beings that need to be liberated, which are clearly reminiscent of various religious concepts, as they also appear in ancient Gnostic and modern esoteric teachings. The rites of passage, which are gradually becoming more and more important, for example the well-known and often caricatured wedding ritual of Scientology, and their ritual coverings refer to religious elements.

And last but not least, the self-image of many Scientologists who understand their program as a religion. This, too, cannot simply be disregarded in a religious studies-oriented survey, even if it cannot be automatically instrumentalized, for example to obtain state privileges, be it tax relief or the like. Which brings us to a very important point: Even if one asserts the religious character for Scientology, that does not change the fact that a large number of questions and problems arise with this community.

For example, the fact that Hubbard's program has a clear historical development and has evidently been gradually charged with religious elements is also part of the criticism of Scientology. Hubbard invented all of these things only "to" anchor his system more firmly in the minds of his members and to make maximum capital out of it. This brings us to two further central questions that cannot be disregarded when dealing with Scientology: the highly problematic development of the "Church of Scientology" under the aegis of Hubbard and his successor and the financial aspect.

Scientology's Problematic View of the World

An important element in considering Scientology is the further story after it came to the explicit justification of the "Church". Hubbard grew more and more into the role of the charismatic teacher who is revered by his community, and developed a tight hierarchy which he tried to direct. There is absolutely no question that this community had a very hermetic structure from the beginning, which was associated with a maximum rejection of the outside world. This is not uncommon for community formations of this type, but it evidently acquired special features in Scientology. So the idea soon arose to mark all persons who express themselves in any way critical of Scientology with different code words. For example, there is the label "SP" for "suppressive person" for outside critics. Or "PTS" for "potential trouble source" for internal problem candidates. This finally culminated in the "fair game" policy that has been practiced for a long time: This declares every "opponent" to be fair game, which is shared with everyone Means and at all levels to fight.

Here one can see an almost paranoid-looking worldview, which Hubbard apparently experienced even more in the last years of his life. The impression cannot be denied that one was often more concerned with protecting the content than with the content itself, in other words, community building and its preservation became something like an end in itself in their supposed protective function. There is also absolutely no question that all of this was intensified after Hubbard's death in 1986 in the course of the takeover of the community by David Miscavige, who intensified all of the highly problematic aspects just mentioned to the maximum.

Business instead of religion?

The second aspect already mentioned above is also heavily criticized in relation to Scientology: the financial one. To date, one of the basic charges against Scientology is that it is "only" a commercial enterprise that would mercilessly exploit its members in order to achieve maximum profit maximization. Indeed, there are considerable sums of money to be paid to the organization in moving only to the lowest levels of "Knowledge", not to mention the higher ones. And in Scientology, this flow of money is not based on voluntary donations - as is the case with many other religious communities - but on the basis of relatively clearly defined tariff tables. The number of dropouts who are currently complaining about their financial exploitation is unmanageable. But one must also ask the question to what extent the often associated assumption of "manipulation", of "brainwashing" - to quote well-known key words of the discussion that would probably no longer be used today - can be used so lightly.

Indeed, people in difficult life situations are probably more open to such programs, but it seems almost impossible to draw a clear line between manipulated and voluntary decisions. This is also evidenced by the many, mostly unsuccessful attempts on the legal level to get (alleged) justice against Scientology in this regard. In addition, it must be taken into account that not everyone who leaves Scientology becomes a classic dropout who may even address his role as a victim in the media. The number of those who got to know Scientology and then left it is probably much larger than expected. And precisely this is an important argument against the above-mentioned argumentation with regard to a quasi-automatic manipulation, which in many cases seems to be a retrospective explanation for life decisions once made.

Scientology dispute

As has already been stated, all of these elements are not so atypical for many religious communities, especially those that are still in the formation phase, where it is a matter of defining and defining clear boundaries. In this regard, Scientology appears to be an extreme case of such a community building, which developed to an ever greater extent into the self-image of being a religion. Incidentally, it is perceived as such in many countries, while some, conversely, actively take action against Scientology as a "sect". The German-speaking region in particular, but also France, is particularly exposed to extensive criticism of Scientology, which is repeatedly played out in the media. The question of whether this is in relation to the actual influence or even the real number of members must remain unanswered in the absence of studies.

This also has a lot to do with the fact that scientific engagement, especially with Scientology, is not a very grateful undertaking, because you inevitably get caught between the fronts: for your opponents you become an apologist of the community, for the community you become an (involuntary) ally, but the latter with the smallest critical comments it becomes "SP". And who wants to be? (Franz Winter, November 15, 2017)

Literature tips

  • Andreas Grünschloss, "To get Ethics in". Scientology ethics and organization. In: Jan Hermelink, Stefan Grotefeld (ed.), Religion and Ethics as Organizations - Squaring the Circle? 2008
  • James R. Lewis (ed.), Scientology, 2009
  • Roy Wallis, The Road to Total Freedom. A Sociological Analysis of Scientology, 1976
  • Gerhard Wilms, Scientology. Cultural Observations Beyond Deviance, 2005


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