The Ideal Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, California. Tabloids assert… (Paul Buck / EPA )
The tabloids tell us that Scientology was at the root of the breakup between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. If the "sources" fueling the entertainment media's frenzied coverage of the divorce are correct, Holmes realized Suri was reaching an age where her religious instruction would begin in earnest, and could not bear it. Neither Cruise nor Holmes nor their representatives are confirming any of this.
Regardless, the rumors and related coverage raise the question: What is Scientology?
Critics portray Scientology as a cultish religion brought to the masses via science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, one that allegedly encourages its members to part with the contents of their wallets in order to achieve higher levels of spiritual awareness.
But what about the other side? There are plenty of people who believe Scientology has helped them achieve great personal fulfillment and happiness -- and no shortage of celebrities who say Scientology gave them the emotional foundation they needed to withstand the rigors of Hollywood.
PHOTOS: Famous Scientologists
We asked Laurie Hamilton, a second-generation Scientologist and ordained Scientology minister who does consulting work, to talk about her experiences with Scientology and to offer readers a primer on it from her point of view. She declined to reveal specifics about where she lives or works for fear that some clients might hold her beliefs against her.
What follows is an edited transcript of an interview conducted via email at Hamilton's request because she wanted black-and-white clarity to her answers.
What is the reaction within the Scientology community to the Cruise/Holmes breakup?
That's a little like asking what the reaction is in the Catholic community. Catholics as individuals may have opinions, and may know that Katie is Catholic, but I doubt that as a "community" they have an opinion. Scientologists are nothing if not individualistic.
My own personal reaction to the break up was threefold. As a fan: "Bummer -- they looked really happy together." As someone over halfway through the 37th year of my first and only marriage: "Wonder why they couldn't make it work?" As a Scientologist: "Oh, great. Here comes all the BS, prejudice and ill-informed commentary again."
Does Scientology consider itself a religion?
Yes. We believe in a god and in a supernatural origin of the cosmos -- and that by doing Scientology, we can regain our direct awareness of the ultimate truths of things for ourselves.
What is Scientology? (Admittedly, this is tough to answer in brief. But we're trying to give readers a primer on its basics.)
Scientology is a religion. It is a philosophy. It is a way of life. It is a hella-big toolbox full of ways to deal with life, success, failure, and life's vicissitudes. It approaches life and living from the idea that there are root causes and mechanisms for all natural, spiritual and human events, issues and states of affairs. Scientologists as a whole tend to agree that L. Ron Hubbard (whom we refer to almost exclusively simply as "Ron,") had a unique insight and a particular knack for figuring out these root causes and using them to develop a useful methodology for dealing with life, preparing for the hereafter, and achieving mental and spiritual clarity, strength and equilibrium.
What Scientologists are trying to do by way of their study and use of the subject, and by being counseled according to its methods, is to become more themselves, jettison mental and spiritual junk that they have accumulated over time, and to become happier and more effective in their lives so that they can retain mental and spiritual clarity and grow as individuals -- not backslide and fall back into traps and misery that they knew before, and which is all-too-commonly the human lot.
We take the view that we are not bodies or minds, but that we are spiritual beings who have bodies and minds, and that the hierarchy is: Spirit is greater than mind is greater than body. This is a natural outgrowth of the idea that the physical universe is here only because we (spiritual beings in general, including you) are here, rather than the other way around. Theoretically, you and I are the ultimate cause of everything, though we have fooled ourselves over time into believing that we are not, that it is all being done to us, that the universe is the ultimate reality and we are just muddling through.
Can you talk about the role of Hubbard's teachings to today's Scientologists?
Part of being a Scientologist is the agreement held in common with other Scientologists that Ron had it right, that as to Scientology we will do it the way he said and not some other way, and that we won't try to develop or change Scientology to be different or "better," but we will adhere to Ron's teachings on the subject.