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Religion Library: Scientology

Afterlife and Salvation

Written by: J. Gordon Melton

For Scientologists, the true self is the spirit, the thetan, the eternal essence of each individual.For millions and millions of years prior to this life, the thetan has existed and inhabited numerous bodies.This process of moving on and being reborn as a baby in a new body, called reincarnation or rebirth in some eastern religions, occurs as a natural and normal part of the universe.Scientology's understanding of the process of moving on to a next life is quite in accord with Hinduism in many respects.It would resonate with the image in the Bhagavadgita of dying as analogous to someone shedding clothing (the body) and putting on new clothing (a new body).At the same time, it also differs in important respects from eastern ideas.For example, there is no belief in karma nor is the thetan seen as experiencing any kind of moral judgment between lives that has any role in determining its next incarnation.Also, Scientologists reject any notion that a thetan would be reincarnated as an animal or in any state less than human.

This view is reflected in the liturgy used in Scientology funeral services, where it is noted:

We look
We find we live
Not once
But on and on
From body's birth to
Body's grave and then
To birth again
And yea to grave again
So to dispose possession
Oft come undone
With livingness.
From century to century
From age to age and on
We go to march along
The path that leads
Forever up the countless
Tick of time.

Following a member's death, the body is thought to be relatively unimportant.Funerals may or may not be held, but where requested, a relatively brief and simple funeral service will be conducted by a Scientology minister.Such services may be requested by the family and are designed to speak to the needs of the attendees rather than to have any say about the deceased (an increasing popular idea about funerals generally).In the service, the minister will address the deceased, leading those gathered in bidding farewell while affirming the notion that the thetan will take up a new body and live a new life though there is no way of knowing when or where.

Scientology has left the matter of the disposition of the body to family and friends, and does not dictate the manner.Church founder L. Ron Hubbard was cremated, and that has become a popular option.The creation and location of any memorial marker are the family's prerogative.

The belief in the afterlife is nowhere more dramatically symbolized than in the billion-year covenant (formerly contract) that members of the Sea Organization (and other dedicated Scientologists) have signed.To those who do not believe in reincarnation, the contract is somewhat meaningless (and critics have pointed that fact out in attempts to ridicule the church).For Scientologists, however, it is a sign of both commitment to their faith in this life (not unlike that made by a person joining a religious order) and an affirmation of belief that they will be born on earth again. They promised that when that happens they will again work toward the goal of spreading Scientology and freeing, or clearing, the planet.


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