The search for a greater meaning in life has been ever-present in human culture, often taking the form of religion, and has varied from tribal nature spirit worship to huge, global, organised faiths. All faiths tend to have what non-believers could reasonably term eccentricities, but one growing religion just over half a century old has some particularly notable ones.
1. It Didn’t Start As A Religion
When founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics and his other self-help books, they were intended for serious medical review. While he defined the concept of Dianetics as being form of organised thought and spiritual healing, supporters submitted academic papers for peer review which claimed the medical and spiritual benefits of the book’s principles. Neither the papers nor Dianetics itself received backing from the medical or academic communities.
2. It Was Once A Floating Religion
In 1967, the paranoid Hubbard (who feared persecution in the US because of his ‘radical’ ideas) set up the Sea Org, a naval-based unit of the Church of Scientology which sailed around the Mediterranean in the late 60s and early 70s. Naval uniforms and leadership conventions were established, with some teenage, female members famously wearing tank tops and hot pants as their uniforms. Today, the Sea Org is mostly land-based, though high-level social and religious gatherings still take place on its flagship, Freewinds, which is based in the Caribbean.
3. The Sea Org Is For Life, And Then Some
To join the Sea Org, members must sign contracts agreeing to its original mission as stated by Hubbard: “an exploration into both time and space”. As such, these contracts last for more than one lifetime, and those joining must agree to return to the organisation when they are reborn for as long as one billion years.
4. It Is Notoriously Litigious
Spend more than a couple of minutes online and you’ll find someone saying negative things about pretty much any religion you care to name, major or otherwise. Whereas most major religions just leave these comments be, the Church of Scientology is very sensitive about anything it perceives as a slight against its reputation and has a long history of suing people who publicly denounce it. The most famous incidents of Scientology lawsuits are those it has launched against individuals and groups who have referred to the Church as a ‘cult’.
5. It Has A Track Record Of Stalking
As the Church grew in the 1960s and 1970s, journalists and Government authorities began to take an interest in its actions, particularly in cases where it appeared that initiates might be getting scammed out of large sums of money. The Church and Hubbard’s response was to issue guidance to its lawyers and followers that critics should be identified, followed, investigated for criminal or morally-dubious activity (the definition of which included homosexuality and sexual promiscuity) and then blackmailed or publicly smeared in an attempt to discredit their accusations.
6. They Tried To Harass Some People To Death
The Church’s ‘Fair Game’ doctrine allowed for the harassment and covert investigation and smearing of critics and ex-members, and was used famously to target the journalist Paulette Cooper. Cooper had written a book called The Scandal of Scientology, in which she roundly criticised the Church, not least for its anti-psychiatry stance. In response, it launched Operation Freakout, a sustained campaign of litigation, fake bomb threats in her name and harassment, all with the stated goal of having Cooper hospitalised, imprisoned or even driven to suicide.
7. It Infiltrated The US Government
Known as Operation Snow White, the Church launched a long-term plan in the 1970s to gradually infiltrate Government institutions, as well as private organisations, that had investigated or been critical of Scientology or L. Ron Hubbard. As many as 5,000 Church members managed to gain access to 136 US Government agencies, private businesses and foreign embassies, stealing or destroying records held about the Church and its activities. It remains the largest infiltration of the US Government to date.
According to the Church doctrine’s ‘Operating Thetan Level III’, Xenu was the evil dictator of the Galactic Confederacy which existed 75 million years ago. According to Hubbard, Xenu brought billions of people to earth (called Teegeeack at the time), grouped them up near volcanoes and proceeded to drop hydrogen bombs on them. The souls of the dead people then had to watch a “three-D, super colossal motion picture” which gave them false memories of Jesus, the crucifixion and all major world religions. These souls apparently now negatively affect everyone who has not had them removed by the Church. Got that? Right.
9. It Hates Psychiatrists
L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology teach followers that psychology and psychiatry, particularly that involving prescription medicine, is barbaric and corrupt, and that mental illness should instead be treated using alternative, spiritual methods of healing and treatment. Who would have thought that a religion that believes in thetans, H-bomb volcanoes and Xenu would have an issue with requiring medical care for the mentally ill?
10. All This Came From A Science Fiction Author
Yes, that’s right – the religion which teaches about an alien overlord, the Galactic Confederacy, hydrogen bombing souls and implant stations all came from the mind of a published sci-fi and fantasy author. Hubbard was well-known on the pulp fiction circuit and was even acquainted with famed authors like Isaac Asimov (I, Robot). He continued to write short stories and novels right up until the early 1950s, when he published Dianetics and began to fully explore the mythos behind Scientology.