American religious leader and science fiction novelist L. There are few cars and almost no pedestrians. There are, however, buses — a fleet of gleaming white and blue ones that slowly crawl through town, stopping at regular intervals to discharge a small army of tightly organized, young, almost exclusively white men and women, all clad in uniform preppy attire: khaki, black or navy-blue trousers and crisp white, blue or yellow dress shirts. Some wear pagers on their belts; others carry brief-cases. The men have short hair, and the women keep theirs pulled back or tucked under headbands that match their outfits.
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American religious leader and science fiction novelist L. There are few cars and almost no pedestrians. There are, however, buses — a fleet of gleaming white and blue ones that slowly crawl through town, stopping at regular intervals to discharge a small army of tightly organized, young, almost exclusively white men and women, all clad in uniform preppy attire: khaki, black or navy-blue trousers and crisp white, blue or yellow dress shirts.
Some wear pagers on their belts; others carry brief-cases. The men have short hair, and the women keep theirs pulled back or tucked under headbands that match their outfits. They move throughout the center of Clearwater in tight clusters, from corner to corner, building to building. For the past thirty years, Scientology has made the city of Clearwater its worldwide spiritual headquarters — its Mecca, or its Temple Square. There are 8, or so Scientologists living and working in Clearwater — more than in any other city in the world outside of Los Angeles.
Scientologists own more than businesses in Clearwater. Members of the church run schools and private tutoring programs, day-care centers and a drug-rehab clinic. In July , The St. Occupying a full square block of downtown, this structure, which has been under construction since , is billed as the single largest Scientology church in the world.
Its holdings, which include real estate on several continents, are widely assumed to value in the billions of dollars. Within the field of comparative religions, some academics see Scientology as one of the must significant new religious movements of the past century. It is rooted in elements of Buddhism, Hinduism and a number of Western philosophies, including aspects of Christianity. These processes are highly controlled, and, at the advanced levels, highly secretive.
Critics of the church point out that Scientology, unique among religions, withholds key aspects of its central theology from all but its most exalted followers.
To those in the mainstream, this would be akin to the Catholic Church refusing to tell all but a select number of the faithful that Jesus Christ died for their sins. In June of last year, I set out to discover Scientology, an undertaking that would take nearly nine months. A closed faith that has often been hostile to journalistic inquiry, the church initially offered no help on this story; most of my research was done without its assistance and involved dozens of interviews with both current and former Scientologists, as well as academic researchers who have studied the group, Ultimately, however, the church decided to co-operate and gave me unprecedented access to its officials, social programs and key religious headquarters.
What I found was a faith that is at once mainstream and marginal — a religious community known for its Hollywood members but run by a uniformed sect of believers who rarely, if ever, appear in the public eye.
It is an insular society — one that exists, to a large degree, as something of a parallel universe to the secular world, with its own nomenclature and ethical code, and, most daunting to those who break its rules, its own rigorously enforced justice system. Scientologists, much like Mormons or Christian evangelicals, consider themselves to be on a mission.
Church officials boast that Scientology has grown more in the past five years than in the previous fifty. Some evidence, however, suggests otherwise. In , a survey conducted by the City University of New York found only 55, people in the United States who claimed to be Scientologists. To some observers, this suggests that Scientology may, in fact, be shrinking. But discerning what is true about the Church of Scientology is no easy task. Tax-exempt since status granted by the IRS after a long legal battle , Scientology releases no information about its membership or its finances.
Nor does it welcome analysis of its writings or practices. The church has a storied reputation for squelching its critics through litigation, and according to some reports, intimidation a trait that may explain why the creators of South Park jokingly attributed every credit on its November sendup of Scientology to the fictional John and Jane Smith; Paramount, reportedly under pressure, has agreed not to rerun the episode here or to air it in England.
This includes scans of controversial memos, photographs and legal briefs, as well as testimonials from disillusioned former members, including some high-ranking members of its Sea Organization. All paint the church in a negative, even abusive, light. But he admits that Scientology has been on a campaign to raise its public profile. More than 23 million people visited the Scientology Web site last year, says Rinder, one of the highest-ranking officials in the church.
In addition, the church claims that Scientology received , minutes of radio and TV coverage in , many of them devoted to the actions of Tom Cruise, the most famous Scientologist in the world, who spent much of the spring and summer of promoting Scientology and its beliefs to interviewers ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Matt Lauer. Shortly after Rolling Stone decided to embark on this story, Cruise called our offices to say that he would not participate.
A number of people who have spoken for the purposes of this article have done so for the very first time. Several, in speaking of their lives spent in the church, requested that their identities be protected through the change of names and other characteristics.
Others insisted that not even a gender be attached to their comments. This is particularly true in the case of members of so-called new religions, which often demand total commitment from their members. Scientology is one of these religions. This is a deadly serious activity. I t is impossible to go anywhere in downtown Clearwater without being watched by security cameras.
Cameras face in, toward the buildings themselves, as well as out at the street. A pretty girl with a long black ponytail, Natalie was born and raised in Scientology. Both of her parents and her grandmother are church members, and her involvement in Scientology centers around Clearwater. Scientology kids are raised in a very different manner than mainstream kids.
Most of them, like Natalie, have been educated by special tutors, and enrolled, as Natalie was when she was younger, in private schools run by Scientologists that use a Hubbard-approved study technique. Natalie was put on course, upon her own insistence, when she was seven or eight years old.
It is a steamy night, and Natalie is dressed in a sleeveless black Empire-waist blouse and tight jeans; her short, bitten nails are painted red. She lights a Marlboro Menthol. Like all Scientologists, Natalie considers her body to be simply a temporary vessel.
It has a lot of the same moral beliefs as others. Hubbard was a prolific writer all his life; there are millions of words credited to him, roughly a quarter-million of them contained within Dianetics, the best-selling quasiscientific self-help book that is the most famous Scientology text.
Most auditing is done with a device called the electropsychometer, or E-meter. Often compared to lie detectors, E-meters measure the changes in small electrical currents in the body, in response to questions posed by an auditor.
Scientologists believe the meter registers thoughts of the reactive mind and can root out unconscious lies. Natalie has just begun her path to Scientology enlightenment, known as the Bridge to Total Freedom. So far, Natalie has gotten much of her auditing for free, through her parents, who have both worked for the church. But many Scientologists pay dearly for the service. Unique among religious faiths, Scientology charges for virtually all of its religious services.
Auditing is purchased in When asked about money, church officials can become defensive. Mormons, for example, expect members to tithe a tenth of their earnings. Still, religious scholars note that this is an untraditional approach. Other Scientologists can wind up spending family inheritances and mortgaging homes to pay the fees.
OTs can allegedly move inanimate objects with their minds, leave their bodies at will and telepathically communicate with, and control the behavior of, both animals and human beings. At the highest levels, they are allegedly liberated from the physical universe, to the point where they can psychically control what Scientologists call MEST: Matter, Energy, Space and Time. It is here that Scientologists are told the secrets of the universe, and, some believe, the creation story behind the entire religion.
It is knowledge so dangerous, they are told, any Scientologist learning this material before he is ready could die. Beforehand, they are put through an intensive auditing process to verify that they are ready. They sign a waiver promising never to reveal the secrets of OT III, nor to hold Scientology responsible for any trauma or damage one might endure at this stage of auditing. Finally, they are given a manila folder, which they must read in a private, locked room.
They assert that 75 million years ago, an evil galactic warlord named Xenu controlled seventy-six planets in this corner of the galaxy, each of which was severely overpopulated. To solve this problem, Xenu rounded up Scientologists later learn that many of these entities attached themselves to human beings, where they remain to this day, creating not just the root of all of our emotional and physical problems but the root of all problems of the modern world.
What Hubbard seems to be saying is that human beings are really something else — thetans trapped in bodies in the material world — and that Scientology can both wake them up and save them from this bad situation. But there are numerous science-fiction references in Scientology texts available to members of all levels. This material is available to lower-level Scientologists. But the details of the story remain secret within Scientology.
When I ask him whether there is any validity to the Xenu story, he gets red-faced, almost going into a tirade. But it is carefully guarded. Scientologists on the OT levels often carry their materials in locked briefcases and are told to store them in special secure locations in their homes.
They are also strictly forbidden from discussing any facet of the materials, even with their families. Once there, Christman was shocked. You know, I really feel it. And Natalie appears to be the poster child for Scientology as a formula for a well-adjusted adolescence. Articulate and poised, she is close to her family, has a wide circle of Scientologist and non-Scientologist friends and graduated from high school last spring as a straight-A student. You decide what is true.
T ruth is a relative concept when discussing the life of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. He was born in , and, according to his legend, lived a life of heroic acts and great scientific and spiritual accomplishment until his death, in Photos of Hubbard in robust middle age — often wearing an ascot — hang in every Scientology center.
The son of a U. As a lieutenant in the Navy, Hubbard served, briefly, in World War II, but never saw combat and was relieved of his command. He spent the last months of the war as an outpatient at a naval hospital in Oakland, California, where he received treatment for ulcers.
A sci-fi buff, Parsons was also a follower of the English occultist Aleister Crowley. Parsons befriended Hubbard and invited him to move onto his estate. Soon afterward, he fell out with Parsons over a business venture.
Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion
Small wonder that L. Ron Hubbard had the creative chops to parlay his s self-help system, Dianetics, into a worldwide religion — and a very lucrative one at that. Hubbard was, after all, a science-fiction writer, a dreamer, a charming teller of tales and the inventor of much of his own history: He fabricated or embellished aspects of his military service, education and personal adventures, not least of them his purported run-in with a polar bear in the Aleutians. That Scientology has endured for six decades, attracting generations of devotees despite a legacy of secrecy and widespread allegations of intimidation and abuse of its own members, is in itself remarkable. These altered thetans later glommed on to human bodies, the story goes, causing spiritual harm and havoc for mankind.
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She published an article in Rolling Stone about Scientology the next year and continued her research for five years. The book covers the history of Scientology and discusses prominent Scientologists such as L. Ron Hubbard and Tom Cruise. The book devotes some attention to Scientology's broader teachings. After its release the book was criticized by the Church of Scientology. A spokesperson for the church alleged that the book was poorly researched and contained numerous inaccuracies.