Sacred Narratives

While Scientologists have an understanding of cosmic history, they build their sacred universe around their vision of the future when the aberrations that weigh down human life and cause the great social ills -- from war and crime to drug addiction and simple human unhappiness -- will be erased and the spiritual essence of the individual will be free to assert itself.

For Scientologists, L. Ron Hubbard was the person who discovered the way out of the human predicament, and as the founder of the church of Scientology he deserves the accolades they place upon him. Though not formally trained (he was a college drop-out), he was a genius destined to do great things outside the box of the academic world. In an age of specialization, he was the Renaissance man who did everything -- he wrote music, he thought deeply on the best way to educate the current generation, he explored unknown lands, he elucidated the way to properly organize any endeavor, and he was a philosopher and ethicist who proposed a workable ethical code for contemporary society. Along the way he promoted the arts, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and became a successful fiction writer -- all quite apart from his crowning achievement: discovering Scientology and establishing the structure to deliver it to humankind.

The many stories of Hubbard's accomplishments reach back into his childhood and youth where he encountered the Blackfoot people and learned of Native American ways, traveled to the far east and met with learned teachers, and explored island cultures in the south Pacific and Caribbean. Another set of stories concern his interaction with the medical and psychological community. These reach back to his childhood encounter with Joseph C. Thompson (an office in the Navy's Medical Corps who had studied with Sigmund Freud), his observations of the problems doctors had in treating war veterans, and the closed-minded refusal of the medical and psychiatric establishment to recognize Scientology for the breakthrough it was. Hubbard's life is celebrated in a series of booklets, the Ron Series, each volume of which highlights one aspect of his life.

The stories of Hubbard's accomplishments blend into the accounts of the movement's success in spreading Hubbard's thought to humanity. The church sees itself as the wave of the future, and believes that, like its founder, it is overcoming obstacles because it has the Ultimate Truth that humankind will accept as soon as it takes the time to consider it and test it out. Though still relatively new and small, its history is punctuated with forward movement and an annual set of accomplishments, spoken of as "wins" for the cause. The wins begin with the publication of Dianetics: The New Science of Mental Health, and its sudden movement on to the bestseller list. The movement grew spectacularly in its first decade, sweeping through the English-speaking world and then jumping the language barrier. Step-by-step, while Hubbard was alive, the full content of Scientology teachings were released, and in the years since, the church has continued to grow and expand worldwide.

The expansion of the church has happened amidst a storm of controversy, the controversies punctuated by numerous court cases. Scientology has been tenacious in pursuing its legal options, and has eventually won the majority of the court cases in which it has been involved. Each favorable judgment in court has been celebrated as a new win, while the major events, such as the settlement of all the tax cases in 1992, have become a moment for a movement-wide celebration at all levels of the church. A multi-million dollar judgment against the church in one of the brainwashing lawsuits in the 1980s became the occasion for the organization of the International Association of Scientologists, an group designed to unite church members and others to defend the faith. The first mass demonstrations became an element in winning a reversal of the judgment. The legal wins have also been highlighted by the reversal of government actions against the church in a number of European countries and the removal of blockades to Scientology's expansion, such as Scientology gaining the right to perform marriages in Sweden (a significant recognition of the church's religious status throughout northern Europe).

At the individual level, the church has really made its impact as individuals have taken Scientology training and auditing and found it not just helpful but a life-changing experience. A few of the dramatic stories, such as the account of the prisoner William Benitez who straightened out his drug- and crime-ridden life that occasioned the creation of the Narconon and Criminon programs, and the accounts of various Hollywood celebrities -- Kirstie Alley, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and others -- have become well known even beyond the church. The church's literature, especially its many periodicals, is filled with accounts of people whose lives have been changed by their early encounters with Scientology and markedly improved as they move up the "Bridge to Freedom," that is, as they progress through the Scientology program. Such stories revolve around popular themes such as people being able to straighten out a disorganized life, improve family relations, move forward with a career, and discover hidden talents, but also include more dramatic accounts of recovering from dependence on alcohol and drugs, abandonment of a life of immorality and crime, and recovery from lives filled with depression and failure.

Within the church, the story of Scientology wins becomes the basis of the religious rhetoric of everyday life, and does much to deal with the often oppressive reality of a negative image in popular media, attacks on the church by government agencies, and the vicissitudes of life to which all religious groups are subject.

Study Questions:
     1.     Why are Hubbard's writings considered to be Scientology's sacred texts?
     2.     What is the relationship between society and Ultimate Truth? Why is this awareness a goal of Scientology?
     3.     How was the International Association of Scientologists developed? What purpose does it serve?
     4.     What is the “Bridge to Freedom”? Why is it popular among followers?

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