Scientology: A Religion in South Africa

David Chidester

University of Cape Town

South Africa


     For Scientology, religious experience is basically a matter of achieving understanding. The nature of understanding is represented as a triangle – the ARC triangle – comprising three component parts: Affinity, Reality, and Communication. As the first corner of this triangle, Affinity signifies the degree of closeness, affection, or love that is experienced in relation to another person. The second corner, Reality, indicates an interpersonal agreement about what appears to be the case in any situation. At the third corner, Communication defines the interchange of ideas. As the most important part of this ARC triangle, clear communication can provide the basis for creating interpersonal affinity and mutual agreement about reality. However, since all three aspects of understanding are interrelated, the ARC triangle is described as growing as understanding increases. As a formula for understanding the nature of understanding, the ARC triangle operates as a measure of expanding awareness.

     Religious experience in Scientology progresses through a series of graded levels. Having achieved the necessary “releases” from the conditioning of the reactive mind, a person can attain the experiential state of being Clear. According to the Church of Scientology, the “full glory of the state of Clear has no comparable description in any literature existing in the culture, religious or otherwise.”30 Like mystical experience in general, therefore, the experience of being Clear might be described as ineffable, as a state of consciousness that is beyond words. However, also like mystical experience, that state of consciousness is characterized by a heightened awareness in which new knowledge and insight are gained.

     Beyond the state of Clear, Scientology provides techniques for achieving even higher levels of spiritual freedom and ability. As an Operating Thetan, a person experiencing these higher levels is said to become a “knowing and willing cause over life, thought, matter, energy, space, and time.”31 Extraordinary abilities are claimed for the Operating Thetan. Like a shaman, for example, an Operating Thetan is supposed to be able to experience conscious awareness independent of the physical body. At these higher levels, however, the major ability recovered by an Operating Thetan is the experience of eternity. Through that experience, the person attains knowledge of immortality and freedom from the cycle of birth and death. The spiritual knowledge, freedom, and power represented by the Operating Thetan is the ultimate goal of the religion of Scientology. Essentially, these abilities represent the culmination of a religious quest for spiritual salvation and immortality.


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