Founded in 1954 by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology is notorious for its nonsensical belief system, inhumane treatment of its members, and, for whatever reason, celebrity involvement. And while the majority of the world dismisses Scientology as a joke at best and dangerous cult at worst, it remains religion’s biggest money maker, bringing in approximately $500 million per year. (It is even reported that celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise has donated over $25 million to the church throughout his lifetime.)
But what do Scientologists believe anyway? What is its appeal to members? Below are five astonishing facts about this anomaly of a religion.
1. The Origin Story of Scientology: the Story of Xenu
Every religion’s got an origin story, which seeks to provide answers to life’s greatest questions: Why are we here? What purpose does our existence serve? And while “fantastical” could be used to describe such stories within most religions, Scientology’s origin story is simply insane.
According to Scientologist mythology, approximately 75,000,000 years ago, there existed an otherworldly civilization that closely resembled 1950s America. This civilization was called the Galactic Confederacy. A dictator named Xenu ruled it. Due to overpopulation within the Confederacy, Xenu froze billions of his own people and stored them in boxes, which he had flown to a lonely planet called Teegeeack (now known as Earth).
He had these boxes dropped into volcanoes. And for good measure, he also hit them with hydrogen bombs, which caused the spirits of his people (called “Thetans”) to fly out of their bodies. The Thetans were then sucked into “vacuum zones” and brought to a cinema. Here, they spent 36 days watching films that contained what Hubbard described as “various misleading data.”
Now, when a child is born, Thetans enter their bodies and become the root of all mental illness. The Scientologist’s goal is to overcome the influence of these Thetans, a task accomplished by purchasing official courses from the church.
We have no words.
2. L. Ron Hubbard Was a World Record-Holding Author
Such a bizarre origin story should come as no surprise. Especially when you consider the fact that L. Ron Hubbard wrote it himself. A real-life Kilgore Trout, Hubbard was a prolific science fiction writer and currently holds the Guiness World Record for the most published works by one author. (He has 1,084 published works.) And while there is something to be said about a writer who was able to flush out such a massive volume of work, the quality of his writing never earned him as much praise.
3. The Real L. Ron Hubbard
Hubbard’s real life is mysterious. It’s difficult to know what’s true and what’s not. He greatly exaggerated, and in some cases even lied about, his accomplishments. For example, the Church of Scientology perpetuates Hubbard’s self-professed claim to be a war hero who earned a purple heart, amongst other medals. They describe him as “a much-decorated war hero who commanded a corvette and during hostilities was crippled and wounded.”
Hubbard’s official Navy service records tell a different story, describing him as “substandard.” Also, he never earned a purple heart.
Despite Hubbard officially dying of a stroke in 1986, the Church claims that he was healthy up until his death: in fact, he chose death because, according to the Church, he had “reached the highest level of OT [Operating Thetan].”
“At this level of OT,” the Church claimed, “the body is nothing more than an impediment.”
Still, what we do truly know about Hubbard’s life is undeniably fascinating; long before Scientology’s founding, he was involved in cult-like practices through his little-known association with Aleister Crowley.
4. Being a Scientologist Is Expensive
In order to ascend “the Bridge to Total Freedom,” one must buy a plethora of expensive courses from the church. And aside from the money you’ll be throwing down the drain, such courses will also cost you your time. Some courses require members to study from 9am to 10pm seven days a week.
According to ex-Scientologist Leah Remini, there are 12 basic books in Scientology. Purchasing them all together will cost you around $4,000. Additionally, required courses are around $650 each. Even after a member has ascended the Bridge, they must repeat the courses and repurchase texts, as the Church constantly makes small updates to their contents.
You may now be wondering, what is this Bridge to Total Freedom? The Bridge is a series of steps that Hubbard created. One can ascend these steps by attending the expensive courses described in the previous paragraphs. Supposedly, ascending the Bridge is the only way for members to achieve spiritual enlightenment and “cure the cancer” within themselves.
5. The Church of Scientology Makes Every Effort to Prevent You From Leaving
SPs (suppressive persons) are people who leave the church. Scientologists must remove the supposedly toxic SPs from their lives. Associating with them will supposedly hinder spiritual development.
Therefore, if one exits the Church of Scientology, their family members who remain within the Church must cut all ties with them. There are numerous public accounts of this happening, perhaps the most famous being the story of Ron Miscavige. He is the father of current Leader of Scientology David Miscavige. Since leaving the Church in 2012, Ron has had no contact with his son or the rest of his family.
Many are blackmailed into staying in the Church. When one joins, they are “audited” by a higher-ranking member. The auditing process involves the new member (referred to as a “pre-clear”) answering questions regarding intimate details of their lives. The church records these answers and holds them on file for the remainder of the member’s life. If this member ever tries to leave, their answers may very well come back to haunt them.
While he himself denies this, it is reported that this is what’s keeping John Travolta from leaving the Church.