Bridge to Total Freedom a lifetime commitment

Sunday, July 24, 2005

By Alana Semuels and Virginia Linn, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Some say it's the only true way toward a happier existence. Others label it a new religion that soon will be accepted in society, like the Mormon Church. And then there are the people who call it a cult.

Scientology has been called many things in its half century of existence, and even now, it is a controversial organization.

The word Scientology is taken from the Latin scio, which means "knowing in the fullest sense of the word," and the Greek word logos, meaning "study of." It literally means "knowing how to know."

Scientology teaches that a human is made of three parts, the body, the mind, and the "thetan," which is a spiritual being that has lived through many past lives, the memories of which can cause problems to the human. While man is basically good, his past experiences have led him to commit evil deeds. These "mental image pictures" from past-life traumas, or "engrams," can inhibit human development.

The human mind consists of two parts, the analytical mind, which observes data and resolves problems, and the reactive mind, which stores engrams and takes over in moments of intense pain, according to the church book "What is Scientology?"

A Scientologist moves up the Bridge To Total Freedom to a state of "Clear" -- when he has freed himself from the reactive mind -- and beyond by taking therapy and training sessions, called auditing.

For many, this quest involves a lifetime commitment. Clears, according to the book, are self-confident, happy and generally successful in careers and interpersonal relationships.

Beyond the state of Clear, Scientologists move through several auditing steps called Operating Thetan levels, or OT levels, the most sacred religious activity. An operating thetan is able to control matter, energy, space and time rather than being controlled by these things. In other words, an OT is a state of spiritual awareness in which an individual is able to control himself and his environment.

If you ask most academics if it is a religion, they'll ask whether the group acknowledges a transcendent power of some kind, said David Bromley, a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Scientology does so.

He said a number of other religious groups had radical and confrontational styles early in their history, and added that Scientology is now becoming less controversial.

On the other hand, many academics also talk about Scientology as a cult, said Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta.

Another controversial belief in Scientology is its dislike of the psychiatric community, which grew from its opposition to procedures such as lobotomies and electroshock. The church says psychiatry is not a science, and Scientologists object to the use of antidepressants and other drugs to treat mental conditions.

People who become Scientologists do not have to convert or give up their own religion.

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