You may also have read the various articles in the press regarding this group. Some of the articles have been written by the Scientologists themselves, others by outsiders (which have not been nearly so positive about them!).
I was invited to debate the subject with the Scientologists themselves recently on Gabz FM. I was there in my role as a sceptic who has no personal complaint with them but who has heard a little about them elsewhere. The experience was fascinating!
I was keen to learn what it is that the Church of Scientology actually believes and teaches. At great length, these visitors from South Africa explained some of the supposedly good works they undertake around the world but were curiously evasive about their core beliefs. They were keen to make claims about what they do, but very unwilling to explain their creed.
So what exactly is it that Scientologists believe? Ask a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu or indeed followers of any normal religion what they believe and they will tell you honestly and with pride. Ask a Scientologist and they simply won't tell you. They make claims about what they do, but not what they believe. Why are they so shy about their beliefs? The answer is simple. What they believe is ridiculous. The secret is that once Scientologists reach a level of study called "Operating Thetan Level 3" they are finally told one of the core discoveries of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. This is that 75 million years ago, Xemu, the head of the Galactic Federation, decided to cure his over-population problems by murdering excess aliens by bringing them to Earth and killing them with hydrogen bombs. The souls of these people now haunt us all and cause us all our mental health problems.
Now can you see why they are so reserved about their beliefs? Of course, they refuse to give a Yes or No answer when you ask them about this. Wouldn't you be embarrassed explaining this nonsense?
L. Ron Hubbard was, coincidentally, a science fiction writer before starting his own religion as well as a convicted felon with a history of substance abuse and who consistently lied about his academic record.
The Church seems occasionally to have a curious grasp on truth. For instance, they repeatedly refer to a famous article in Time magazine in 1991. This was the first really influential expose about the Church and some of their activities. Needless to say, the Scientologists were appalled at their secrets being exposed and sued Time for libel and claim that a retraction was published. This is widely repeated by the Church to anyone who will listen. However, they seem to forget to tell the complete story. When I contacted Time in New York to ask their opinion of this suggestion I was told that, "TIME won the lawsuit brought against it by the Church of Scientology. The court granted our summary judgment motion, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. We did not retract the story or any part of the story".
That's not quite what the Scientologists would lead us to believe is it?
Curiously, the Scientologists neglect to refer to this loss. Just as they suggest that the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) who campaigned against the Scientologists were somehow discredited because they later went bankrupt. If they are suggesting that we shouldn't trust a bankrupt I think that they should also point out that the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard was, according to his FBI record, also a bankrupt.
To be fair to the Scientologists, they do undertake a lot of community outreach work that attempts to address a number of key social issues such as crime and drug abuse. However, these schemes (Criminon and Narconon) have both been criticised as being no more than recruiting mechanisms for the Church. Also, the Church makes some rather strange claims about these schemes when the only evidence from external researchers shows that these schemes simply don't work.
In 1989 Everett R. Rhoades, M.D., the US Assistant Surgeon General, said of Narconon that it "cannot be considered medically sound". In 1991 the Board of Mental Health of the State of Oklahoma declared that Narconon "is not medically safe".
Despite this, the Scientologists continue to suggest that their schemes are incredibly successful.
The list of claims made by the Church doesn't end there. Hubbard himself stated that their techniques can cure leukaemia, arthritis and radiation burns. In 1975, he said that "Scientology is used to increase spiritual freedom, intelligence, ability and to produce immortality".
They make various claims about their membership. The most recent claim was that 8 million people worldwide are members of the Church. However their definition of "member" includes anyone who has attended a course, even if just once. The bad news is that if in the past you've attended a Scientology course and even if you left halfway through because you thought they were talking nonsense, well, sorry, but you're a Scientologist. You're one of the 8 million!
Hubbard and his successors (he died in 1986) are notoriously sensitive to criticism. They have resorted to a number of techniques to dispose of and distract their opponents. Critics have been slandered and libelled. In the early 1980s, Hubbard's wife and a number of top Scientologists went to jail in the United States for burgling and bugging over 100 private and governmental agencies and who dared to oppose them.
Interestingly, the most common response from the Church when criticised is to sue their critics not for libel but for breach of copyright. They see their teachings as commercial secrets, which, in a sense, they are. To get to high levels in the Church, you must undergo endless courses which put you in touch with yourself (and the aliens no doubt). All of this costs money and the amounts apparently increase astronomically the further you go. At the big yellow tent in Gaborone you can buy an initial booklet for P10. To get to the Tom Cruise stage (the Scientologists love celebrity endorsements) some people suggest that you need to spend sums approaching P4 million.
My final point is a personal one. Unlike the suggestion made to me on the radio show that the critics of Scientology have some sort of vested interest in opposing them, I have no such interest. I'm not selling products in opposition to them. I'm not evangelising for an alternative set of beliefs.
If you want to believe in Scientology, then good luck to you. But at least be open with us about what your belief. Allow critics to criticise. And don't think you can come to Botswana and solve all our problems with a distinctly dubious set of beliefs and techniques. We're not that naïve.
One last quote from Hubbard. In an internal policy letter written on 18 October 1967 he instructed his followers to deal with opponents as follows:
"May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any
Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist.
May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed."