Scientology: a way to spiritual freedom

by Silvio Calzolari

Modern psychology seems to have a rather short-sighted historical view. In fact, it is commonly believed that the desire to venture into the planet of the human mind arose in Europe and America only at the end of the last century. But psychology (from the Greek “psyché”, soul or spirit and “logos”, that is: “study of”) has its roots in philosophy and in the great religious systems.

Every major religion of the world contains within it a science of the mind: in Judaism we have the Kabala, in Islam there are Sufis, in Christianity the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and the meditation of the monastic orders; in Buddhism we have instead the "Abidharma", a complete psychological system that describes in detail the various functions of perception, cognition, emotion and motivation.

There has been no philosopher or thinker who has not grappled with the dilemmas of the mind and its nature. Plato, Lao Tse, Confucius, Buddha, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Spinoza, Leibniz, just to name a few, have tried to give a solution to the problem of how man knows himself and the world. Goethe can also be counted among these precursors.

With Wilhelm Wundt (1832 - 1920), of the University of Leipzig, psychology became in a singular way a study of the spirit that denied the spirit: every link with the ancient inner science was severed and man was conceived, in the name of principle that there was no spirit, like an animal without a soul. For Wundt everything is organic, God is "a late psychic synthesis" and Christ is "a symbolic expression of religious life, which has no supernatural quality".

Things have slowly changed in part, and even if many psychologists and psychiatrists still agree with organicist theories (from epiphenomenalism to psycho-physical monism, up to the so-called emergentist materialism), there has been an attempt by many to make use of every kind of available disciplines and experiences (including religious ones, such as research on meditation and behavioral medicine) to propose new systems of mental well-being.

In this perspective should be framed "Dianetics" (from the Greek words: "dia" through and "nous" soul or mind, the preparatory study for "Scientology") presented by its founder, Lafayette Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), as the study and treatment of what the soul does to the body.

For Hubbard the mind can be an instrument of health and disease, of happiness or unhappiness, and its functioning must be related to facts that often do not seem explicable, but whose explanation must be considered immanent in the mind itself.

L. Ron Hubbard was born on March 13, 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska (USA). He was a successful writer and this allowed him to live and finance his research, but he was also a great traveler (his first trip to the Far East was in 1927), a scholar of primitive cultures, a photographer, an airplane pilot and a vessel captain. He studied engineering at George Washington University and attended one of the first nuclear physics courses in the United States.

His research on the mind, spirit and life began early. The long phase of preparation and study of his ideas had as its background the careful analysis of the mentality of as many as 21 ethnic groups, psychologies and religious traditions, from Buddhism to Christianity. These researches were later supplemented by information on molecular phenomena and scientific methodology.

On May 9, 1950, with the book "Dianetics, the power of thought on the body," Hubbard publicly presented his findings on the mind. Due to its global approach, at first almost exclusively therapeutic, the new doctrine presented itself as a real science verified through numerous experiments conducted on volunteers. The American Association of Psychologists (April 13, 1949) was also informed of the results and showed no interest in the ongoing work.

For the new science there was a symmetrical dialogue between the body and the psyche; and the mind (through memory) was manifest at the center of all activity. The body, in this perspective, was like a perfect reflection of the conditions of the mind, which had to be kept always alert and in perfect condition. Hubbard thus set out to answer why the human mind sometimes did not work, or did not function properly and why it was sometimes the cause of irrational behavior or even physical or psychosomatic disturbances. There was nothing to suggest, at that time, that Hubbard had foreseen the emergence of a religious doctrine and practice.

However, as historian of religions Bryan R. Wilson of Oxford University aptly writes: "Therapeutic practice has often manifested the ability to acquire metaphysical and religious affiliations, as, in different ways, can be seen in Christian Science, the New Thought movement and Yoga techniques" [Scientology: Analysis and Comparative Study of its Doctrines and Religious Systems, Freedom Publishing, Los Angeles, pp. 21-22].

On the other hand, it is also true that many traditional religions have at times developed activities that deal with healing and even sanity (see Buddhism).

Thus, in "Scientology, the Fundamentals of Thought," Hubbard outlined the key principles of the religion. The book, which dates back to 1956, was intended to be the most complete presentation of the basic principles of a thought aimed, as the author himself stated, at the "liberation of the soul through wisdom".

Hubbard presented Scientology in 1952 as a religion that proposed a path of spiritual elevation that sought to free the human being from the factors that prevent complete awakening and total spiritual freedom. According to the intentions of its founder, the new doctrine (as a natural development of Dianetics) starting from decoding the secrets of the human mind, had to tend towards the highest synthesis of understanding of matter, energy, space, time (the physical universe) and of life, to the point of penetrating into the very mystery that inhabits man: the infinite or Supreme Being.

The Church of Scientology, founded in 1954 in Los Angeles, aims to help people "know how to know the answers". The term Scientology derives from the Latin words "scio" which means "to know" or "to distinguish" and "logos" which designates instead the "word" or "the external form by which thought is expressed and made known".

Scientology is further defined as the study and treatment of the spirit in relation to itself, the universes and other forms of life. It teaches how to overcome the obstacles of the "reactive mind" (the "demons" of Gnosticism) to let the spiritual being recover its true innate spiritual abilities in order to have access to total spiritual consciousness.

Many thinkers of ancient Gnosticism have in common with Scientology the important premise that the psyche (soul, spirit) carries within it the potential for liberation or destruction.

The fundamental postulate of Scientology is that the human being is an immortal spiritual entity that occupies a body and controls it through the mind (the three parts of Man); this spiritual quiddity is the individual expression, the Source of Life, of Light, the Infinite.

Scientology is a true religion, in the traditional sense, with cognitive, cultural, social, behavioral and emotional dimensions, which aims to study "wisdom", "knowledge" and to lead people to a better understanding of themselves, to enter into harmony with others, with the world and with the Absolute (the "Dynamics" of life).

In his teachings it is possible to find some similarities with the great Eastern religions and in particular with Buddhism (think of the theory of the Universes as a manifestation of the mind), but other analogies could be found with the Gnostic doctrines. The ability to know comes gradually and requires commitment; the pursuit of gnosis (knowledge) engages the whole person in a solitary process, in a struggle against internal resistance (the "reactive mind" in Scientology; the "desire for unconsciousness" in Gnosticism).

From this saying it can be seen that Scientology has a very elaborate and coherent theology, cosmology, anthropology and doctrine of salvation. Although it was born in the 20th century, today this religion is present in every continent and boasts over 11,000 churches, missions and groups in 167 countries.

Silvio Calzolari

On the subject see also: The Ethics of Scientology

Silvio Calzolari is professor of History of Eastern Religions at the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences (I.S.S.R) of the Theological Faculty of Central Italy. He taught Japanese language and literature at the faculty of teaching at the University of Florence. He spent 8 years in Japan conducting research on Shamanism and esoteric Buddhism. He has published countless essays and numerous books. Among the latter, the following deserve to be mentioned: "The chained God - Stories of Saints and Immortals Taoists in Japan of the Heian Era" (Luni Editrice, Milan, 2015; and "The Principle of Evil in Buddhism” (Luni Editrice, Milan, 2020).