All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.
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In the summer of 1950, an unusual book burst onto the best-seller lists and almost instantly became the focus of a national cult. "Dianetics," an extraordinary blend of Eastern philosophy, psychoanalytic technique and futuristic theory, had been concocted by Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, a sometime explorer, engineer and science-fiction writer. The book offered a self-help answer to all manner of psychic and bodily ills, and the medical and psychiatric community responded with alarm. Partly for protection from these attacks, Hubbard in 1954 formally incorporated his theories into a religion: the Church of Scientology. More than 1,500 Scientologists recently gathered in Los Angeles for their first National Conference on Public Action and Social Reform, and in many ways the meeting marked the church's coming of age.
Scientology today claims to have more than 3.2 million adherents around the world—many of whom maintain membership in other churches as well—with 22 major churches and 100 missions. World headquarters is in Los Angeles and includes a "celebrity center" that coordinates church activities for such Scientological luminaries as actress Karen Black, the Incredible String Band and former San Francisco 49er quarterback John Brodie. Hubbard himself, now 63, has all but dropped from sight; he still sends his words of advice to his disciples but spends all his time cruising international waters with a fleet of boats that Scientologists call the "Sea Org."
Scientology teaches that man is a spiritual being descended from an omnipotent race of "thetans" who deliberately gave up some of their spiritual powers to experiment with life on earth. Everyone, the church teaches, is capable of reawakening his primordial thetan powers, but to do so he must first overcome all the mental blocks—"engrams" in Hubbard's jargon—amassed during mankind's eons of existence in the material universe. The process for getting "clear" of these psychic blocks is called "auditing," and can cost members of the church as much as $5,000 in fees. During auditing, a "preclear" (novice) subject is wired to a device called an "E-meter," while a more advanced Scientologist cross-examines him about his personal life. Much like a polygraph, the E-meter measures, electrical impulses in the skin to reveal, according to the church, the subject's most deeply seated hurts and hangups.
Today, Scientologists view the auditing process as a religious exercise akin to confession in other churches. But in the past, its inflated claims (Hubbard once asserted that his meter could even pick up signals from tomatoes) threatened the church with extinction. In the 1960s, government officials in both Australia and Great Britain declared Scientology a menace to mental health, and only in 1971 did the Scientologists win their fight for survival in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration had seized 100 E-meters and had charged that the Scientologists fraudulently ascribed curative powers to the devices. But a Federal district court ruled that Scientology was in fact a religion, protected by constitutional guarantees; the church could have the E-meters back as long as officials attached disclaimers of any therapeutic power.
Repression: In recent years, the church has become deeply involved in social concerns. "We realized that psychiatry was treating humans like animals, and we began to look at what else was wrong with society," explains Jane Kember, a 37-year-old native of Kenya who serves as Guardian (official leader) of the world church. At the Los Angeles meeting, representatives of the California Legislature presented a special commendation to Narconon, Scientology's program to fight drug abuse. Church task forces on alcoholism and mental retardation reported on their work. And investigative, teams announced progress in combating the enforced confinement of mental patients and in exposing cases of political repression. After exhaustive examination of State Department files, for example, one team claimed to have turned up evidence of Nazi connections in Interpol.
Scientologists believe that this social activism, plus the technology of auditing, can lead mankind to spiritual freedom. "We're like other churches in pushing the fact that man is a spiritual being," says Kember. "But unlike them, we have a technology through which one can achieve that status."