Written by: J. Gordon Melton
Scientology emerged in the middle of the 20th century and therefore had no pre-modern phase; it has grown up in the modern world, a fact that has significant implications.First, Scientology has known nothing but a religiously pluralistic world and emerged as the United States was experiencing a significant increase in of the emergence of new religions. It found itself in a highly competitive situation, within which it had to justify its creation by communicating its own unique perspective while distinguishing itself from other religions founded about the same time.In this regard it has been successful and has taken its place as one of the larger religious groups to appear in the West since World War II.
The creed of the Church of Scientology reflects its need to find a place for itself on the larger religious landscape. The statement deals more with the assertion of the right to exist than with the traditional content of creeds in western societies that summarize a group's theological perspective.Thus it begins: "We of the Church believe:That all men of whatever race, color, or creed were created with equal rights; That all men have inalienable rights to their own religious practices and their performance. . . That all men have inalienable rights to conceive, choose, assist or support their own organizations, churches and governments; That all men have inalienable rights to think freely, to talk freely, to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others."
Esoteric groups are notoriously ahistorical, but as Scientology has struggled to tell its own history, it has confronted a world of rich religious diversity.Like all religions in the West that operate outside of the Christian context, it has had to articulate the ways it differs from Christianity while accommodating a culture highly influenced by Christian forms of religiosity.It has distinguished itself quite clearly from Christianity, increasingly so to members as they rise up the Bridge, but at the same time it has accepted a Christian designation (church), used a symbol that resonates with Christianity (the eight-pointed cross), and allowed ministers to wear the familiar Christian clerical garb. At the same time, many of Scientology's legal battles with the Internal Revenue Service, which challenged the church's tax-exempt status, derived from its unwillingness to adopt Christian patterns for church organization or finances (i.e., Sunday worship and voluntary giving).
As they emerged, lacking a familiarity with their own roots in the esoteric tradition, Scientologists looked for roots in more familiar world religions.Because of Hubbard's travels in Asia, Buddhism seemed a logical source at first.In the end, however, the church has seen that different ideas held by Scientology resonate with different ideas from all the world's religions, while their basic perspective follows that of western esotericism.Given that many in the dominant Christian community still view esotericism with some skepticism, Scientology has chosen to emphasize those points of agreement with the larger religious communities.