Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Is Scientology a Religion?

I contend that other domains have encroached on religion, or religion on them, such that the native fauna in religion’s own garden is scarcely recognizable. In this essay, I distinguish psychology from religion using Scientology as a case in which the two domains have been obfuscated. In other words, I want to remove the troublesome category mistake that allows psychological matters to be reckoned as religious. 
After living on the Divinity School quad at Yale for a year, I ventured off-campus to a small apartment. The contrast was stark; as I was unloading my mattress off the U-Haul truck, an old prostitute came over and offered to help me. “And then we can use it,” she said. I politely declined. Once I had moved in, the building’s janitor introduced himself and informed me that the building was owned by Scientologists and he was one as well. Hearing that I was a divinity student, he quickly came up with a thick book on Scientology for me to read, which I did. My reaction was that the substance of Scientology is psychological rather than religious.
The core practice in Scientology is the audit, in which one person helps another in getting rid of hurtful memories. The aim is freedom. Scientologists would say that such freedom is spiritual, but I contend that being free from the pain of certain memories is a psychological freedom because the freedom is mental—of the mind. My aim is not to be critical of Scientology; helping people to dissolve traumatic memories is highly laudatory, even though it is not religious.
Part of the problem has to do with getting carried away with wording. In advance of the launch of Scientology’s television network in March, 2018, a promotional video featured an e-meter. This piece of equipment is described in the ad as ‘the cutting edge of spiritual technology.”[1] The expression, spiritual technology, seems odd, even oxymoronic. “According to Scientology’s website, the electronic instrument is used by auditors in sessions with members to check [sic] they are addressing ‘the correct area in order to discharge the harmful energy connected with that portion of the preclear’s reactive mind.”[2] In other words, the device measures how nervous a person is while bad memories are being targeted for dissolution. Lest energy signal something spiritual, the correct categories are physiology and thermodynamics (i.e., natural science).
Even in terms of cosmology, God is believed to be the source of the universe, including its energy, rather than the energy itself (which would be pantheism). God, in other words, transcends the limits of the universe, rather than being its energy. The harmful energy being picked up by the meter is a physiological effect of a psychological state or change. Such energy, and the audit process itself, lie wholly within the created realm and thus do not satisfy the divine attribute of transcendence. Not even “getting deep” psychologically counts as transcendence theologically speaking, which involves yearning for a beyond that lies beyond the limits of human cognition, perception, and sensibility. The latter term includes emotional feeling. So Augustine’s very emotional erotic pining for God can be reckoned as human, all too human, rather than of a wholly other quality reflecting the transcendence that is distinctly theological. In other words, theological love is not emotional feeling. I suspect that we are so used to conflating psychology with theology that the nature of distinctly theological yearning eclipses our understanding and practice. To transcend emotion, being free of it, may be a freedom surpassing that of the emotional freedom from bad memories.

For more on weeding category mistakes out of religion, see the booklet, Spiritual Leadership in Business.

1. Erin Jensen, “Scientology Makes Debut with Its Own TV Network,” USA Today, March 13, 2018.
2. Ibid.