Bryan Wilson, Ph.D.
Published by The Institute for the Study
of American Religion
I. HUMAN RIGHTS & RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
20. Diversity among religions: a modern example. The variety of conceptions of godhead, worship, salvation, and other religious concerns becomes even more apparent when extended beyond the ancient major ancient religious traditions to modern religions. New religious movements are not only numerous but also widely diverse among themselves. Some derive from Christian traditions; some have oriental origins; other seek to resuscitate mystical traditions; yet others embrace the spiritualistic metaphysics of "New Age" teachings. For immediate purposes, simply to underscore the range of expressions of religiosity, we may consider one particular new religion which differs from all of these -- Scientology. In some aspects, Scientology appears not unlike Buddhism, Jainism and the Sankhya tradition in Hinduism, but the premise on which its soteriology rests is that of practical and systematic therapeutic techniques. It offers adherents a graduated path of spiritual enlightenment. It claims to disencumber adherents of the untoward effects of past traumas, whether experienced in the present or in past lives. It is free from dogmas, and whilst, in abstract terms, as the "eighth dynamic", Scientology acknowledges a supreme being, it draws short of attempting to describe his attributes. Nor is that being the object of supplication or devotion. Man is held to be a spiritual entity, a thetan, which occupies material human bodies in successive lives. Although not part of the physical universe, the thetan is said to have become entangled with it, and in the process to have acquired a reactive mind which responds irrationally and emotionally to anything that recalls painful and traumatic experiences. Salvation is the process by which that reactive mind is reduced and finally eliminated, allowing the individual to live to his full potential. Thus, whilst in the Buddhist karmic scheme of things, unrecalled past deeds are said irrevocably to determine present life experiences, the techniques of Scientology are held to enable the individual to recall, confront, and overcome the baleful effects of untoward events of the past. The ultimate goal is for the thetan to exist outside the physical realm and so outside the body -- a condition which has analogies with the Christian conception of the saved soul, albeit a condition achieved by very different procedures and expressed in very different terms.
Scientology differs radically from both Christian and Buddhism soteriological schemes, in that it claims to standardize and rationalize the techniques leading to salvation. It applies modern technical methods to spiritual goals in the attempt to introduce certainty and a pragmatically justified system into spiritual exercises. Emerging in a period in which the secular world has been increasingly dominated by science, Scientology is also committed to the idea that man needs to think rationally and to control his disturbing emotions as a means towards spiritual enlightenment and salvation. It represents one important current in the contemporary diversity of religious expression in our pluralistic religious culture.
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