Herbert Richardson – Scientology A New Religion

My name is Herbert Richardson. I have been a professor of religious studies at the University of Toronto since 1968. Before that time, I was a professor of theology and church history at Harvard University (1963-1968). I hold a Ph.D. degree in the history and philosophy of religion from Harvard University (1963).

I am an ordained minister of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and have served parishes in Natick, Massachusetts and Cattaraugas, New York. In addition, I have been a chaplain to university students at Radcliffe College/Harvard University and Bucknell University. My published books include:

Toward an American Theology (Harper & Row, 1967)

The Terrible Choice: The Abortion Dilemma (Bantam, 1968)

Transcendence (Beacon Press, 1969)

Nun, Witch, Playmate: The Americanization of Sex (Harper & Row, 1971)

Religion and Political Society (Harper & Row, 1974)

Anselm of Canterbury (SCM, 1974)

A Time for Consideration (The Edwin Mellon Press, 1978)

New Religions and Mental Health (The Edwin Mellon Press, 190)

In addition, I have given invited lectures at over 50 American colleges and universities and have been a visiting professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, The University of Iowa, The University of Quebec, The University of Tübingen (Germany), St. Louis University, lliff and Drew.

Since 1916, I have been engaged in research, publication, and university teaching focusing on those groups called „new religions.“ This has involved extensive reading, interviews with members and visits to the centers of new religions, organizing seminars for cooperation among scholars in this field (in Asia, Europe, and North America), and editing scholarly volumes.

One of the religious groups to which I have devoted study is the Church of Scientology. I have examined the works of L. Ron Hubbard and other publications of the Church of Scientology. I have visited Scientology centers and observe programs in Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Toronto, E. Grinstead (England), and Frankfurt (Germany). I have direct knowledge of the activities of the ministers of the Church of Scientology who give auditing and training.

In my discussion of the Church of Scientology, which follows, I shall emphasize how it resembles more the traditional, or established, churches than it does the groups called ’new religions.‘ Scientology, in the language of sociologists, is more a ‚church‘ than a ’sect.‘ The following specific characteristics of churches and sects might be noted:


Institutionalization of leadership involving separation of group from personal founder.

Ritualization and formalization of religious activity.

Members maintain their relations to the secular world. (Members have secular jobs; group acknowledges ‚world“ as realm to influence.)

Creation of internal bureaucracy to handle finances, pensions, real estate, training of clergy, and to develop and administer ecclesiastical law.

Development of theology to relate to other intellectual and social disciplines („apologetic thinking“).


Personal, charismatic, leader-founder.

Spontaneity and variety in religious activity.

Members withdraw from, even condemn, the secular world.

Fusion of religious and practical leadership functions.

Sharp separation of religious teachings from other sciences and disciplines.

On all the above points which typically distinguish churches and sects, the Church of Scientology can be seen more to resemble the „church“ type of religions. This is partly because the original founder and charismatic leader of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, removed himself from day-to-day personal leadership of the group in the 1960s and thereby facilitated the emergence of a „second generation“ organizational type. In the Church of Scientology today one finds institutionalized corporate leadership, internal church management an bureaucracy, the creation of an „Office of Special Affairs“ as a buffer between the religious life of the church and the outside world, and the formalization of training for the ministry. All of these institutional arrangements have developed since the 1960s in the Church of Scientology so that today, the relation of the Church to its former resembles that of a second generation organization to its founder.

Traditionally, churches have not had mandatory retirement ages for their high-level leadership. For example, until recently the Roman Catholic Church has not had mandatory retirement ages for its high-ranking bishops. In the 1960s, however, Pope Paul instituted a retirement age for bishops. Following this tendency, the Archbishop of Canterbury — the head of the Church of England — retired from his office at age 65. (check original for correct age) Though bishops are not ‚religious founders“ like Mr. Hubbard, these retirements do show that the ‚voluntary passage of religious leadership from one generation to another is today recognized as a necessity for good church management (just as it is for good management in large business corporations).

Another case, more closely resembling Mr. Hubbard’s, was the transferral of organizational leadership in the Christian Science Church from Mary Baker Eddy (the foundress) to a governing corporation of persons who were religiously devoted to her, but were a separate legal entity. This transition occurred during the life of Mrs. Eddy. Through this prudent institutional arrangement, the Christian Science Church was enabled to make a stable transition after the foundress‘ physical death.

Every religious leader is concerned for the preservation of his/her work and, therefore, takes active steps before his/her physical death to insure that competent successors be trained and functioning well before his/her death. Mr. Hubbard is no exception. He has been very successful in creating a second generation of church organization and leadership that functions independent of his supervision. That Mr. Hubbard was at the time still alive and available for consultation by the Church of Scientology does not mean that the church leadership is not independent of him. The continuity of generations requires that those who lead and guide us retire from this role in order to teach us to guide ourselves. Then, after we can guide ourselves, we show them double respect — both because they taught us and because they taught us to govern ourselves. Mr. Hubbard, having done both these things, receives respect from the Church of Scientology for both these reasons. In this way, he is a powerful spiritual presence and influence in the church. But he no longer governs it in any active way. Were he to do so it would contradict his desire to establish the conditions which will allow his work to be preserved. There is, therefore, no plausible motive why he should wish to do so. I am aware that there are those who argue that Mr. Hubbard might have a motive to continue governing his church. The suggestion is made that he does so in order to attain personal financial gain. This charge is only plausible, however, on the supposition that Mr. Hubbard does not really think of himself as the founder of a religion or the discoverer of valuable spiritual knowledge that can benefit mankind. It supposes Mr. Hubbard did not gradually withdrew from personal church leadership for religious reasons — to facilitate the preservation of his work for future generations — but that he withdrew for non-religious reasons. The charge that Mr. Hubbard’s withdrawing from personal governance of the Church of Scientology does not have, primarily, a religious motivation depends upon the further charge that Mr. Hubbard’s teachings and inventions (e.g., the use of the E-meter for auditing) do not constitute a genuine religion. Because, in my judgment, the teachings and practices of the Church of Scientology do constitute a genuine religion, I judge that: there is a religious motivation behind Mr. Hubbard’s withdrawal from active leadership and I interpret the present relation of the Church and Mr. Hubbard as an understandable and typical relation of a group of believers to their first generation founder or retired bishop.

The primary activity of the Church of Scientology consists of two parts: auditing and training. Through auditing and training, a person gains immediate experiential knowledge of himself as a spiritual being whose true origin and end is beyond the world of time and space. The Church of Scientology calls this spiritual being a „thetan,“ a word coined by Mr. Hubbard in order to distinguish the definitive experience or definition of spirit. (The Church of Scientology has the same concern for precise definition found in every scientific theology — because without precise definition, there can be no law or science.) Auditing aims, in the first stages, to help a person attain the condition of Clear. This condition involves the removal of engrams, which are the effects of negative influences which continuously interfere with a person’s knowledge of himself as a thetan and, consequently, impede thetan-like behavior. Thetan-like behavior is possible only for one who knows himself to be a spiritual being, i.e., a being who has the power to act upon rather than be controlled by events in space and time. Auditing helps a person to attain the thetan-like condition of Clear. Training helps a person to understand, in a cognitive way, the world as a world in which the activity of auditing makes sense as a religious process of salvation. Training prepares a person to be an auditor for others or for himself. A structural comparison between the Scientology „sacrament“ of auditing and the Christian „sacraments“ of baptism, penance, and communion will illuminate the religious character of these activities — in Christian theology, as in Scientology, the human being is understood to have been injured, or weakened. in his spiritual and moral capacities before he has attained the power to reason or to act freely.

In Christian theology, this injury is understood to be transmitted to every person „from Adam,“ i.e., as a concomitant condition of existence in this world. The Christian sacraments of baptism, penance, and communion are understood as means of removing the effects of original sin on human beings so that they can become aware of their identity as God’s children and begin to act in a spiritual, or Christ-like way. (Different Christian groups interpret these symbols differently.)

In the Church of Scientology, the practice of auditing is precisely equivalent to the Christian practice of baptism, penance/confession, and communion. The Scientology concept of „engrams,“ i.e., negative influences that have affected (and continue to affect) a person’s capacity to do good (act like a Clear being) is exactly equivalent to the Christian concept of original sin. „Original sin,“ according to Christianity. is the effect of someone else’s wrong deed upon us before we possessed the power to think or act. The effect of this wrong deed upon us interferes with our own capacity to act as a spiritual being unless (or until) we are healed from that sin. According to Christianity, original sin is not personal sin. Personal sin is one’s own wrong act; original sin is how our capacity to act rightly has been injured by another’s wrong act.

The Scientology concept of an engram is equivalent to the Christian concept of original sin. An engram is the negative effect of a wrong deed upon us, a deed which took place while we were unable to think rationally and choose freely. For Scientology, to rid a person of engrams and bring him to the condition of Clear is equivalent to Christianity’s ridding a person of ‚original sin‘ so that he can have the capacity to know himself as a child of God.* The process of auditing removes engrams; the process of baptism, penance. and communion removes original sin. This is why auditing is a sacrament-equivalent and why the E-meter is equal in the religion of Scientology, to the baptismal water and the bread-and-wine which Christians regard as the body and blood of Christ.

To compare Christianity to Scientology on the above points is not to imply that their doctrines are the same.

In fact, the doctrine of Scientology regarding the nature of life is more closely related to Eastern religions — especially Buddhism — than to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hubbard’s concept of the thetan, his denial that the physical body belongs to one’s essential identity, and his description of the quality of Clear all resemble certain emphases in Buddhism (Hubbard draws explicit attention to these resemblances in his Phoenix Lectures.) Hence, Hubbard’s originality is less the religious doctrine he teaches — which resembles the doctrines of other established religions. Rather, Hubbard’s originality is his invention of the technique of auditing which he presents as a religious exercise through which a person’s spiritual life can be developed. On the basis of this invention alone, Hubbard could be described as the genuine founder of a religion.

The preliminary stages of auditing raise a person to the condition of Clear, making him capable of spiritual acts. To attain this level, a person requires an auditor to guide him. But, having attained the condition of Clear, a thetan now can use auditing himself („solo-auditing“) to make further discoveries of a spiritual kind. In Scientology, solo-auditing to explore the spiritual world resembles certain higher mystical exercises well known to those who study spirituality. The mystical experiences of Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, the Hassidic rabbis, the ascetics of Tibet, and others, constitute a testimony that may seem absurd to non-mystics. In the same way, the explorations of the spiritual world through solo-auditing are uniquely individual, imaginative, and fantastic. But, such qualities are the very evidences of their authenticity; another evidence of their authenticity is the insistence by all mystics (including Scientologists) that the higher levels of spiritual exploration are not matters for public discussion. religions, such mystical experiences belong not to the secret, but to the private, religious realm.

In addition to training and auditing, the Church of Scientology resembles other churches in having both individual and social ethics. The ethical doctrines of the Church of Scientology emphasize issues common to all religions, e.g., the value of chastity before and fidelity within marriage, and the importance of social justice. There is, however, a tendency in Scientology’s ethics to place special emphasis on actions which maintain or develop reason and freedom against whatever would injure or interfere with them by creating engrams. In Scientology, acts which harm the capacity of a human being to act in a spiritual! way are especially to be avoided. One such wrong act, on the individual level, would be the use of drugs (or forcing another to use them). Another such wrong act, on the social level, would be for the government to conceal or to withhold information needed for people to make rational decisions.

The scope of Scientology’s ethics has influenced its social reform activities. Scientologists have supported anti-drug programs and anti-deprogramming organizations.

They have worked to establish and use the freedom of information laws. They have promoted legislation that prohibits (non-elective) brain surgery. They have published investigations into the activities of secret groups. such as Interpol. They have created better reading programs for school children. These, and other social reform activities, are more consequential expressions of their fundamental religious beliefs than are the reform activities of many Christian groups (which often profess to take their criterion of ‚relevance‘ from the world).

Scientology extends its notion of sin as an engram which disturbs the free rational action of an individual person to the social order itself. Those things in society which interfere with the possibility of reasonableness and freedom in politics and society are „social engrams,“ and it would not .be a stretching of language to describe Scientology’s social reform activities as „social auditing,“ for these social reform activities are an intrinsic part of Scientology’s specific religious vision. In Scientology, the distinctive criterion of social „relevance“ is taken from the Scientology doctrine itself.

No true religion is a purely individual matter. Every religion (religere means „binding together“) forms a community. This is because a religion forms character from one generation to the next; then it sustains character through cooperative community enactment. A religion, therefore, requires not merely individual belief and action, but also the institutionalization of action in a community or „church.“

There can be no community without institutions. Therefore, every church includes, as an essential part of its life, all the institutions which make life in community possible: law, property, records, management practices, finances, and working arrangements. Such things are the visible institutional forms of every religion. In fact, whenever an anti-religious movement seeks to destroy a religion, it does so by attacking the things that make it viable as an institution. Without its institutional forms, a religion cannot be communicated or practiced. To destroy them is to destroy it.

The institutional prerequisites of individual religious practice are claimed by most religious groups to be part of that religion by direct gift from God. For example, such temporal things as the right to control property, specific „Sabbath“ times, specific spheres of action (governed by church law) are claimed by many Christians to belong to the essence of ‚the church.‘ (Some Christians, such as Lutherans, do not hold this view.) But, the Church of Scientology, like the Catholic Church or Judaism, seeks to hold property in the name of the church, seeks to establish management practices that express its own character, seeks to train its clergy in its own way, and seeks to establish laws to govern certain spheres of life for its believers (‚canon law‘). The Church of Scientology, like the Catholic Church or Judaism, regards these concomitants of institutional life to be not only essential! to its existence as a religion, but even as essential parts of its religion.

The notion that certain properties or practices which appear secular in form are ‚religious‘ because of their being dedicated to God can be understood from history. When, for example, an ancient Hebrew gave one lamb from his flock to God, that lamb became ‚holy‘ and set apart. It looked like other secular lambs, but it was ‚religious‘ or ‚holy.‘ It no longer belonged to the secular world and could not, therefore, be treated in a secular way. In the same way, when an ancient Hebrew gave wealth to God, it was no longer secular but ‚holy.‘ It was set apart for a religious use and no longer counted as part of private or state property.

What makes an institutional artifact or practice holy is not the kind of thing it is, but the use to which it is dedicated. Those who attack religion sometimes suggest that religion deals with certain kinds of things and not with others. They sometimes suggest that „belief“ is religious, but property, law, records, or jobs are secular. Religion deals with all of the things that can be dedicated to God, not merely with such spiritual things as faith and prayer, but also all the visible things that can be dedicated to God and used for the sustenance of religious life. To take away these visible institutions and properties, which are holy because of their dedication to God, is to destroy religion.

My own Presbyterian Church — like the Catholic Church and the Church of Scientology — does not admit that it possesses the institutional prerequisites for the exercise of religious living by sufferance from the State. The Presbyterian Church regards the property and law and times it uses to order life religiously as given to it directly by God for this purpose. Hence, the Presbyterian Church — like the Church of Scientology — regards care of church property as no less a part of religious life than prayer itself.

As evidence of this fact, it should be noted that both the Presbyterian and Catholic Churches assign ordained clergy to the ministries of overseeing property, exercising legal functions, managing personnel, or maintaining financial order. These tasks are no less valid ministries than the work of pastors who lead worship or do counselling.

Churches, because they sustain human religious life within a complex society, always include a multiplicity of ministries. The Presbyterian Church includes several specific ones: in addition to the teacher/preacher of this religion, it also includes the ordained ministry of an „elder“ (like „vestryman‘ or ‚trustee‘) who has responsibility for the material affairs of the church and of a „deacon“ who is responsible for social reform activities and care of the poor.

Recently, churches have created new functional ministeries to relate to society such as „Washington lobbyists“ (My Presbyterian Church maintains a Washington lobbyist). The Church of Scientology, like other modern churches, has developed a variety of such functional ministries most particularly through its Special Affairs Office. As earlier pointed out.the Church of Scientology has an increasingly differentiated structure of organization and ministry. The Church of Scientology contains in its doctrine, practice, and organization the same characteristics which are found in other churches whose genuine religious nature is not under dispute. For this reason, I judge it is a bona fide religion and should be treated as such under the law.

Herbert Richardson

Professor of Religious Studies,

University of Toronto

*Scientology believes that some persons are born Clear because they have been audited in previous lives. (Scientology has a doctrine of reincarnation.)