What is religion? Religion is a set of beliefs, practices, and values that are focused on the worship of one or more deities and a domain of supernatural things. One finds in religion transcendent entities, such things as angels, demons, and souls. These are things of such a nature that they resist falsification using scientific methods. Their truth depends instead on authority, charisma, and faith.
Religion finds people seeking ecstasy and euphoria, often in contrast to the state of their current lives, where they experience despair and dysphoria. As a philosopher suggested long ago, religion is a painkiller. But religion is not only rapture and opiate. The content of religion includes ethical codes and moral principles, as well as rituals and ceremonies that guide and shape the way individuals live their lives and mark transitions across statuses. Religion also creates the statuses.
Religion can be found in different forms, including organized faiths with established institutions and structures, cults with religious-like characteristics, and individualized and personal spiritual practices. Religion provides a framework not only for understanding the meaning and purpose of life, as well as providing guidance for personal and societal morality, but establishes meaning and purpose. We are told that religion causes people to do great things. Religion also causes people to do horrible things.
Scientology is a religion founded in the 1950s by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its beliefs and practices are based on Hubbard’s book Dianetics, which theorizes that negative experiences called “engrams” are stored in the mind but can be removed through a process called “auditing,” allowing the subject to achieve personal; freedom and spiritual enlightenment. Scientology teaches that individuals have in them an entity known as “thetans,” which is their true identity. By relieving the emotional and psychological stress caused by engrams, the person may realize his authentic self.
The organization has faced controversy over the years, with former members alleging abusive practices and financial exploitation. The church has also been accused of engaging in aggressive legal and extra-legal tactics to silence its critics. The church is also known for recruiting celebrities and using them to push the faith. Despite the controversies, there are tens of thousands of adherents of Scientology found throughout the world.
Imagine you and your seven-year-old meet with his second-grade teacher for a parent-teacher conference. You enter the room and notice flags and placards with symbols on them. Also, the teacher is wearing a button with one of the symbols. And a necklace with a pendant. You ask her what the symbols are, and she tells you that they are symbols representing Scientology. She tells you that she wishes to create an inclusive and safe space for children who are drawn to the ideas Hubbard presents in Dianetics. An increasing number of students express interest in these ideas, she tells you. She shows you a picture book in the classroom based on Dianetics.
It’s not that you don’t know what Scientology is. But you did not know its symbols. You are surprised to see a religious system being promoted in this way in your child’s school. You don’t want to fly off the handle until you know more. So, when you get home, you open Google and do some research.
You soon learn that one of the two major parties that governs your country, the Democratic Party, has taken up Scientology and is aggressively institutionalizing the religion across the administrative state. You learn that bureaucrats in the technocratic apparatus are required to undergo mandatory training in the doctrine, its jargon, and the practices of dianetics. You knew already that members of this religion were in the entertainment business, especially Hollywood. Given the relationship between Hollywood and the Democratic Party, the advocacy of Scientology among Party members makes sense, you guess. But you had no idea of the depth of the association.
You keep digging and find that, over the last several decades, Scientology has been taught in American colleges and universities. Graduates of institutions of higher learning leave with at least an appreciation of the religion, if not feeling drawn to it, some converting. You learn that graduate students are trained in dianetics and carry it into their professional careers. You also learn that the health care industry has taken up the theory of engrams and has been engaged in auditing children with the goal of removing the engrams so that the children can achieve personal freedom and spiritual enlightenment.
You learn from your second grader that the school has been inviting members of Scientology to come to the library and read books about Scientology and encourage the children to explore the religion by having them engage in exercises. Some parents, you learn, take their kids to fun events hosted by Scientologists. There is one coming up, in fact. There is a flier in his backpack. Your child asks you if he can go. Definitely not. He tells you he hates you and runs to his room and slams the door.
The world you thought you knew now feels very strange. How did this happen? Doesn’t the United States have a rule that separates church and state and prevents public school teachers from using the classroom to teach students about Scientology?
Is Dianetics in the middle school and high school libraries? Is so, how did it get there? You ask your older daughter about it, and she tells you that Hubbard’s book has always been there. You can tell that she wonders what’s wrong with the book. What about it, she asks. Everybody is talking about the ideas in that book, she tells you. She tells you that she discusses the ideas with her friends in chat rooms on social media. You think to yourself: What’s going on here?
She asks if you are a “suppressive person.” What is that? That’s the term used by Scientologists to describe a person who is considered an enemy of the religion and its goals. According to doctrine, a suppressive person is someone who actively seeks to impede or undermine Scientology’s progress, as well as the progress of its individual members. She tells you that Scientology views suppressive persons as a negative influence on society and encourages its members to avoid contact with them. They are also encouraged to harass and ostracize those who are critical of Scientology.
You go back on Google and learn there are indeed reports from former members of the religion that they were encouraged or even required to go no contact with family members deemed antagonistic towards the faith. You learn about how Scientologists harass and ostracize people they see as enemies. It’s all very scary and you think about your son sulking in his room and the way your daughter looked at you when you asked these questions. You start to feel threatened.
You start talking to others about it and they look at you like you’re a space alien. You didn’t know about this? No. You were cause unaware. Why would you think something like this could happen? You trusted your institutions to protect you and your children.
Then you make the mistake of arguing that it is improper for public schools and the government to push a religion. This is a theocratic arrangement, you argue, and we live in a secular society. Is this even a religion, they wonder. Isn’t this sound science? Aren’t these valid categories? Aren’t thetans real? Doctors are auditing children, are they not? Why would the health care industry do anything to hurt children? The Democrats are progressives. How could they harm children? This is the same party trying to take guns off the street. The Democrats care about people.
You compound your mistake by pointing out how absurd Hubbard’s thesis is and how many young people will be harmed by being pulled into a system known to engage in abusive practices and financial exploitation. You’re informed that you’re out of step, that you’re either ignorant or bigoted. Literally everybody disagrees with you. They tell you that, far from being abusive and exploitative, auditing has saved many young people from the engrams that kept them from realizing their true selves and living authentic lives.