Do You Really Believe That? (Xenu/Thetans)

Although past installments of “Do You Really Believe That?” have skewered absurd beliefs from other sects, I doubt any religion has doctrines as laughably ridiculous as Scientology’s beliefs about “space opera”. Today’s post will explore the most infamous of those.

Dianetics

According to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Xenu was an alien overlord who, 75 million years ago, was in charge of a “Galactic Confederacy” consisting of 76 planets, including Earth (which, according to Hubbard, was then called “Teegeeack”). This planetary confederation was desperately overcrowded, and to solve this problem, Xenu devised a genocidal plan. Luring billions of citizens to government offices under the pretense of tax inspection, he dosed them with paralyzing drugs, flew them to Earth, then unloaded their bodies around the bases of volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs inside the volcanoes, killing them all. (It’s been speculated that this story was the inspiration for the cover art of Hubbard’s Dianetics.)

The dead aliens’ souls, which Hubbard referred to as “thetans”, were then captured using an “electronic ribbon” and taken to “implant stations”, where they were forced to watch a movie containing various misleading beliefs about the existence of God, the Devil, Jesus, and so on. After this process of brainwashing, the thetans were released and took up residence inside the bodies of living beings on Earth. According to Scientology, these “body thetans” still exist in each of us, causing all the physical and mental illnesses that human beings suffer from. (You can read this story in Hubbard’s own handwriting at Operation Clambake; see also this mirror.) Naturally, Scientology claims to be able to exorcise these wayward alien ghosts – for a price.

Due to Scientology’s pervasive secrecy, it’s difficult to be certain how widespread the knowledge of this doctrine is within the church. Outside reports agree that the story of Xenu and body thetans is only told to high-ranking Scientologists, and church spokesmen have publicly denied that Scientology believes or teaches any such thing. However, when ex-Scientologist Steven Fishman submitted this material as part of his affidavit in a 1993 lawsuit against the church, Scientology lawyers claimed that it was a trade secret and protected by copyright – impossible, of course, unless it was genuine. In a rather different line of defense, L. Ron Hubbard himself claimed that anyone who read the Xenu story without the preparation of Scientology auditing would get pneumonia or some other fatal disease. (Readers are invited to judge the truth of that claim for themselves.)

Scientology’s public denial of this story potentially serves any number of different purposes. Like many ancient religions, the church depends on its possession of alleged secret knowledge to reinforce the distinction between believers and outsiders. The leak of these stories threatens to break down these barriers, and to expose for mass consumption the holy secrets that are supposed to be revealed only to trusted initiates. (Ancient Gnosticism might not have done so well if we had had an Internet back then.)

But another reason, perhaps equally important, is that Scientology higher-ups are aware of how sheerly ridiculous these stories sound to a person not thoroughly enmeshed in the church’s teachings. It’s difficult, I would imagine, to maintain an aura of imposing mystery when everyone on the street knows you believe that the Earth was once called Teegeeack and was inhabited by hundreds of billions of alien beings who dressed exactly like humans in the 1950s. The similarity of this doctrine to laughably bad D-grade science fiction is just too apparent. Perhaps only a person who’s already heavily invested in Scientology, who’s spent too much and has too much to lose by walking away, can be trusted to hear these secrets without reacting in amusement and ridicule. But that makes it all the more important that lay Scientologists hear the story of Xenu, and that’s why I ask: Do you really believe that?

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    All very giggle-worthy – but is the idea of an alien cosmic overlord with genocidal tendancies actually so strange? What if I were to tell you that I believed that an invisible tripartite super-being impregnated a virgin, who then gave birth to him (only in human form), and that he then arranged for himself to be killed but came back to life and disappeared to another dimension? What if I were to then add that said invisible super-being decreed that these events meant that humans no longer had to go to a different (rather hotter) dimension when they died? Oh, and he planted dinosaur fossils in the ground to test people’s faith.

    Yes, Scientologists hold some wacky beliefs. But then, when you think about it, so do all other religions. Scientology just suffers from a simple publishing issue; rather than staid, sombre, leatherbound tomes, their holy books tend to have badly drawn explosions and aliens on the covers… it’s no wonder they don’t get taken as seriously as the Christians.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    I agree that this sounds pretty damn silly, but I really think that the only reason it sounds any stranger than Christianity is that I was indoctrinated into Christianity as a child. Had I been indoctrinated into this brand of nonsense, I suspect that it would seem less crazy than Christianity.

  • Tom

    The beliefs of all religions are usually pretty wacky when viewed objectively, but mystery religions like Scientology have one distinct advantage over more open ones like Christianity – since the patently absurd tenets are only revealed after the subject has invested significant amounts of money, time, faith and effort in the religion, this investment builds up a barrier of denial that makes rejection of those kooky tenets less likely than if they’d been up front about it. Basic cult techniques of isolation from the rest of society, constant grooming and reinforcing submissive behaviour patterns will also have cumulatively weakened the subjects ability to criticise by this point.

    Even if they do reject the absurd claims when eventually exposed to them, many will find their lives are so deeply entangled with the cult by this point that it would make extrication very difficult, and they have no choice but to toe the cult line – particularly so in the case of Scientology, which is extremely proficient in acquiring near total control of every personal asset of its members – finance, property, personal identity, etc, and also has no qualms about using its devout legions to intimidate or force the waverers into compliance. Still others may find it beneficial, after reaching middle ranks and learning the truth, to continue to propagate tenets they don’t believe in to maintain power over the lower mob.

  • Stephen

    No mention of the Fishman affidavit would be complete without also mentioning Karin Spaink’s epic legal battle against the Scientologists. It was she who definitively established the legal right (at least as far as the Netherlands is concerned) to place these materials on the Web. Thanks are also due to her ISP, XS4ALL, which backed her up admirably.

  • http://eyeblister.blogspot.com David Dvorkin

    What often astonishes me is that people can convert to a religion without the wackiness of its beliefs being hidden from them – in fact, because of those beliefs. You’ll hear of a convert saying that when an evangelist from Sect X talked to him and explained the sect’s beliefs, it all made sense to him and so he exchanged the wackiness he’d been brought up in for the new wackiness.

    I’ve always thought that there’s a need deep in such minds that those of us who have escaped from religion didn’t have.

  • Christopher

    When I was younger I took one of the “free e-meter exams” – just for kicks. Basically, they have you hold on to metal rods and answer questions about yourself: they tell me that I “have a serious problem becoming a part of things greater than myself, condemning me to a future without purpose.”

    Of course, I failed to see how this was a “bad” thing – by this time, I had already gotten rid of such concepts. Thus I did nothing but laugh at their “diagnosis” and walk away with decent chuckle.

  • http://dimension-less.blogspot.com Brad

    Hey EM, I remember reading your two posts on II about your encounters with Scientology! I have to say, of all religious organizations that I have actual hate for, the Church of Scientology is way up there. I really can’t tell if I should see it’s leaders and figureheads as victims or villains. Exactly how self-aware are they?! I wonder, for example, if those people know about Hubbard’s statement (- the only sources of which I could find are Bent Corydon and Stewart Lamont, unfortunately -) about unprepared readers of Xenu becoming ill, and also know about how much of the general public has already heard from leaked information online, then how to they assuage their cognitive dissonance of the fact that nothing bad is befalling those who hear about Xenu? Stuff like that which directly contradicts Hubbard’s own words should have a lot of mental breaking power, and yet the CoS survives.

    Of course, most people in the CoS don’t know about this stuff at all. Consequently, those on the lower levels that defend the church delude themselves into believing the public (or some conspiring internet communities) make up stuff about the Church and then give it a bad image. Even more sadly, those who are sufficiently trapped into the organization are literally not allowed on the internet! Children can’t escape their own families! Scientology is a walking testament to the evils of religion; from absurd scriptures, to authoritarian hierarchy, to financial parasitism, to all forms of psychological manipulation, bullying, and control.

    Yes, this post was about the beliefs specifically, but my concerns go with the Church and its activities.

  • http://dimension-less.blogspot.com Brad

    (Ah, my second link was bad.) Oh, and no comment on Scientology can be complete without mention of Operation Snow White and the Fair Game doctrine.

  • http://liquidthinker.wordpress.com LiquidThinker

    Add in the fact that the history of how Hubbard invented his religion has been fairly well documented and it further adds to the mystery of how anybody can believe this stuff. That is actually one difference between this and Christianity. Although the doctrines of Christianity do seem a bit, well, strange and magical if you haven’t been raised in it, the origins remain somewhat shrouded. We can make some fairly reasonable analysis of it to assemble some part of the story’s history. There are obviously elements borrowed from other myths around that area. Who was the first to come up with the kernel of the Jesus story and his or their motivation we don’t really know for certain (although Paul certainly was one of earliest advocates). We don’t know who wrote the gospels. But we can through literary means trace the development of the story (Ebonmuse himself has done some of this elsewhere on this blog’s parent site). In contrast, Scientology’s development is rather clear cut. It basically boiled down to Hubbard wanting to make money. Some of this story can be found here.

    On the other hand, this story about Xenu and thetans does seem pretty reasonable. I’ve always suspected as much. *cough* *cough* Oh no, now I feel a bit of a cold coming on. Thanks a lot Ebonmuse!

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    South Park, of course, did an episode about Scientology. And when describing the story related by Ebon above, the caption at the bottom of the screen would read “Scientologists really believe this!”

  • yaab

    Disagree. In the hands of the right writer or director, you could probably make decent science fiction out of this material. :)

  • John

    I bought Hubbard’s book a very long time ago during a time in my quest for God. As with all books I read and don’t like, I gave it 100 pages and promptly threw it away. Some books I may return to when nothing else is around, but Hubbard’s book ended in the garbage.

    Happy New Year everybody

  • Christopher

    Disagree. In the hands of the right writer or director, you could probably make decent science fiction out of this material. :)

    If you refer to “Battlefield: Earth” that movie was so fucking horrible that it’s not fit to be fire fuel!

  • http://verywide.net/ Moody834

    Seems to me that Scientology’s closest relative is Mormonism. Some single kook comes up with a cultish con, finds victims, and voila!–a new religion is brought into the world to plague the sane and rational people within a greater or lesser geographical area.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    As with all books I read and don’t like, I gave it 100 pages and promptly threw it away. Some books I may return to when nothing else is around, but Hubbard’s book ended in the garbage.

    Same here, John. I remember I started to read Dianetics, either in high school or early college, and I remember I didn’t get past page 100.

  • prase

    yunshui, vjack: This story is much sillier than Christianity. At least than contemporary Christianity. (I was not indoctrinated into Christianity as a child, so I think I am not much biased.) And it’s not a question of book covers. To claim that the aliens 75 millions years ago were looking exactly as humans today, dressed according to 1950s fashion (perhaps even speaking standard American English?)… This is a much stranger than some abstract ideas of omnipotent gods and their sons. At least for me. Of course, we don’t know for sure whether the story is put exactly in this way, but if it is, the believers must be insane. The details make it even more absurd (tax inspection, electronic ribbon, films about Jesus 75 millions years ago). Mormonism is maybe comparable in its absurdity.

    I wonder if the scientologists deny evolution, which is clearly incompatible with the story of Xenu. And can anybody say what happened with Earth after the genocide? I am getting interested in scientologic version of history of Earth.

  • nfpendleton

    Now here you see, I’ve fallen into the trap. After reading on this subject again, and especially after following the link to the wiki article on Battlefield Earth, I now have the very strong desire to go out and rent this film. The clincher was seeing that absurd photo of Travolta and Whittaker in their Psychlo constumes, standing all gigantically before Barry “the Barbarian” Pepper.

    This just HAS to be watched.

    Thanks a lot…

  • KShep

    Tommykey:

    South Park, of course, did an episode about Scientology. And when describing the story related by Ebon above, the caption at the bottom of the screen would read “Scientologists really believe this!”

    I have repeatedly read that theirs is the best layman’s explanation for scientology you’ll ever hear:

    http://www.idkwtf.com/videos/latest-videos/south-park-explains-scientology

    It’s pretty damn funny, too.

  • Eric

    Scientologistists have nothing on these guys:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kScJB63PBOI

    Watch part II and you’ll understand the Moonies are way stronger than the Scientologists. The Scientologists never had a crowning ceremony in a congressional office building.

    I don’t know what a Scientology auditing is like, but it might be something like the the weird stuff at the beginning of this vid. Perhaps the Scientologists get all their members convinced they are child molesting thieves:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnC7Nwqw5Dg&feature=channel_page

  • staceyjw

    Yunshui,
    Somber books help, but nothing helps like thousands of years seperating the often kooky originators of a faith. I bet the reason Xtianity took so long to be popular was because the first ones were so obviously nuts. Hubbard only seems more out there then Jesus because he was our contemporary…..

  • staceyjw

    I only wish I had thought of it first, I could use the money. Ha Ha

  • http://www.yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    Somber books help, but nothing helps like thousands of years seperating the often kooky originators of a faith. I bet the reason Xtianity took so long to be popular was because the first ones were so obviously nuts. Hubbard only seems more out there then Jesus because he was our contemporary…..

    So in the year 4000, our descendants will have to put up with Scientology being a major world religion? Bleak outlook, staceyjw… very bleak.

  • Tom

    So in the year 4000, our descendants will have to put up with Scientology being a major world religion?

    Entirely possible. If we’re lucky and it follows the Christian model all the way, though, it’ll probably end up mostly as benign*, moderate denominations, the equivalent of the modern Church of England tea & cake crowd, with the obsessive lunatic fundamentalists consigned to the sidelines, ignored and impotent through lack of numbers. I’m not sure how likely that is, however – schisms seem less easy within mystery religions, for the simple reason that most of the members don’t actually know any of the important tenets and so can’t fall out after debating them, though of course the cult could probably schism over the very issue of whether or not to be so reticent towards the neophytes.

    *relatively, that is.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Of note, the Church of Scientology already has its own form of Protestantism: an offshoot group whose members call themselves Freezone, who believe all the space opera wackiness but without the authoritarian pallor of the official CoS.

  • STM

    Disagree. In the hands of the right writer or director, you could probably make decent science fiction out of this material. :)

    Daft Punk’s 2003 music video-movie-thingy Interstella 5555 certainly appears to incorporate many elements of the Xenu story, and given DP’s evident affinity for obscure pop-cultural weirdness and kitsch I wouldn’t put it past them.

    Oddly enough, having watched it I think I can almost see the appeal that such a mythos might have for wealthy, popular, yet miserable entertainers.

  • STM

    Of note, the Church of Scientology already has its own form of Protestantism: an offshoot group whose members call themselves Freezone, who believe all the space opera wackiness but without the authoritarian pallor of the official CoS.

    They even take a stance on the official Church of Scientology that parallels hard-line Protestant attitudes toward the Catholic Church.

    They believe that Hubbard was a profoundly noble and benevolent man (*cough*) whose works hold the key to the freedom and happiness of the human race, but that his organisation and teachings have been perverted by the current Church hierarchy to serve their own selfish ends. This, then, is what that accounts for the cruel and autocratic environment that they experienced as members of the CoS. Their purported goal is the restoration of the benevolent “true Scientology” established by Hubbard before it was corrupted into its present vindictive and authoritarian form. (How it was that the wise and noble Hubbard hand-picked such villains to succeed him is not something I’ve ever seen satisfactorily explained.)

    An interesting sidenote is that when a CoS copyright suit shut down a Freezone sect led by Enid Vien, a Church spokesman hailed it as a victory for freedom of religion, since the Freezoner’s had been infringing on the “real” Scientologist’s freedom of religion by practicing “their” faith in a manner they did not approve!

  • http://dimension-less.blogspot.com Brad

    How it was that the wise and noble Hubbard hand-picked such villains to succeed him is not something I’ve ever seen satisfactorily explained.

    From what I gather, he manipulated and brainwashed his initial members, and from there I infer it was merely a matter of artificial selection in keeping the authoritarian leaders at the top.

  • TBGR

    travolta. need I say more?

  • Scotlyn

    They believe that Hubbard was a profoundly noble and benevolent man (*cough*) whose works hold the key to the freedom and happiness of the human race, but that his organisation and teachings have been perverted by the current Church hierarchy to serve their own selfish ends.

    I never investigated this man’s religion, but I went right off his fiction after dipping my first toe in one of his works, which, until I threw it at the wall in disgust, depicted its hero as a man who only had to show his male “credentials” to a lesbian to turn her into a raving hetero… absolute rubbish! Have no idea how anything credible could have come from such a filthy and warped mind!

  • Caiphen

    No wonder a fellow Australian, Nicole Kidman, divorced Tom Cruise. Damn, if only I moved in before Keith Urban! Double damn!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Well, you should’ve learnt the guitar. :D


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X