It’s hard to get through this world without accidentally learning a little bit about Scientology. By now, you probably know that it is a religion founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. You probably also know that it has historically been pretty popular among Hollywood celebrities, particularly Tom Cruise and John Travolta. But there is so much more to know about Scientology, from its beliefs to its practices to its history. And, not to spoil anything, but it is all really freaking weird (at least, in my opinion).
Below, read 10 facts that we’ve uncovered about Scientology. You can decide for yourself if they’re odd or not.
1. You have to pay to be enlightened
Most religions might pass around a basket for donations or ask for volunteer work, but Scientology asks its members for cold, hard cash in order to gain wisdom. Members have to pay to take courses in which the writings of Hubbard are slowly revealed to them, climbing a ladder of knowledge with multiple rungs. Only 900 people have been fully enlightened at an estimated cost of tens of thousands of dollars, according to the LA Times.
2. Scientologists believe they have to rid themselves of trauma from being in the womb
According to The Scandal of Scientology by Paulette Cooper, Scientologists spend a lot of time trying to rid themselves of “engrams” — traumatic experiences in their past that have attached themselves to the cells of their body. While it makes a lot of sense that someone could become healthier and happier by processing past traumas, Hubbard had some super-, super-weird thoughts about the traumas unborn babies undergo in the womb. Specifically, he thought people were traumatized because:
- Their mothers were beaten by their husbands while pregnant.
- Their mothers tried at-home abortions.
- Their mothers had affairs and rough sex.
- Their mothers said bad things about their husbands that the fetus overheard.
- Their mothers masturbated.
3. Scientology doesn’t believe in psychology or mental illness
Although Scientology welcomes medical help for purely physical ailments, it, like founder Hubbard, is virulently against treating mental illness with medication or therapy. In fact, the church created the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which was formed to protect people from the “abuses of psychiatry.” The group has worked to combat kids getting diagnosed and treated for common mental conditions like autism and ADHD.
This is all a bit ironic since the church offers its members “audits,” which are much like therapy sessions in which individuals talk about their lives in great detail in order to resolve their issues and “go clear.”
4. Scientologists believe in “silent birth”
You might have heard that Katie Holmes had a “silent birth” because of her involvement in Scientology at the time. John Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston, also engaged in silent births with the couple’s children, telling the Daily Mail, “L. Ron Hubbard found that the single source of aberration, of psychosomatic illnesses, stress, fears, worry, things like that, have to do with the reactive mind, and in that part of the mind is different words and commands that can come back to affect you later in your life. I’m blessed with, my kids have always been amazing, very calm, very peaceful, happy, and I absolutely know that it’s very much because of that.”
The belief is that talking, yelling or moaning during labor and delivery would cause “engrams” in the baby: moments of trauma that would later have to be processed.
5. Scientology contains a “Sea Org” that acts as a kind of private navy
Try to follow us here: Scientology has a maritime tradition and the leader of the church is called its “Captain.” The Sea Org consists of the church’s highest members, who dedicate themselves to the church by signing a “billion-year contract,” wear seafaring outfits and call each other “sir.” In the ’60s and ’70s, the Sea Org operated on four boats — though now the operation takes place mostly on land. Participants live in cult-like conditions, must follow strict rules and have to leave the organization if they want to have children. Some former members say that women who became pregnant while in the Sea Org were forced to have abortions.
6. Scientology’s origin story reads like actual science fiction
Only those who pay for and take high-level classes are given access to the full story behind the creation of humans and Earth, according to Scientology founder Hubbard. But information from former members has leaked out over the years.
The story starts 75 million years ago, when Xenu, the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy who years ago brought billions of people to Earth in spaceships, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them with hydrogen bombs. The spirits of these aliens are called thetans and adhere to human beings. Makes sense, right?
7. The Church of Scientology might have had a prison camp
According to the recent documentary Going Clear, disobedient members of the church could be taken to a prison camp where they are not allowed to leave and where they are treated harshly and forced to do physical labor. The Rehabilitation Project Force would make people work for 30 hours in a row and have them sleep on dirty, damp mattresses while they were being reindoctrinated.
8. The wife of the Scientology’s current leader hasn’t been seen for 10 years
Michele Diane “Shelly” Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, has not been seen publicly since 2007, though the LAPD investigated after a missing-persons report was filed and said that they have made contact with her. Both Shelly and David are longtime members of the church and met in the church at sea. Shelly was heavily involved in finding a suitable girlfriend for Tom Cruise in 2005, though she disappeared soon afterward. She is believed to be in exile at a Scientology compound in Running Springs, California, though no one knows for sure.
9. The church allegedly blackmails members thinking of leaving
Church members are “audited” regularly, during which they share secret thoughts, stories about their childhood and even their sexual issues. These sessions are often either recorded outright or secretly. In cases when parishioners want to leave the church, they can be threatened with blackmail and cowed into staying or at least staying quiet.
Going Clear shared that John Travolta thought about leaving the church, but the Scientologists put together a blackmail package of his auditing sessions that convinced him to stay.
10. You can’t leave the church easily — at all
Many former members of the church have shared how difficult it is to leave once you are in. King of Queens star Leah Remini has opened up about everything in her life that changed when she decided to leave, most painfully being shunned by family members who remained in the church. Scientology encourages “disconnection” with anyone who leaves the church. All ties are cut, no matter how close your relationship.
In addition, the church is not afraid of releasing scathing statements about your choices after you leave. Their statement on Remini read: “‘Given Leah Remini’s insatiable desire for attention, it comes as no surprise that for two years she has been incapable of moving on with her life and remains obsessed with shamelessly exploiting her former religion in a pathetic attempt to get publicity.” Ouch.
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