18 February 1954

The first Church of Scientology is established.

L. Ron Hubbard established the first Church of Scientology in Los Angeles on February 18, 1954. Ever since, the religion has attracted a number of followers and has grown into a global institution. It also has its fair share of critics and whistleblowers.

L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology was born in 1911. Growing up, Hubbard took a keen interest in studying various classical systems of philosophy such as the ancient Greek religion and as the son of a naval officer traveled extensively across America, interacting closely with the natives of various regions. Hubbard studied Freud’s psychoanalysis and traveled across Asia, learning the various schools of thought that formed the spiritual basis of ancient Asian religions. Hubbard then started to form this theory – a self-help system that he called Dianetics. In May 1950, he published his first book about the system, slowly evolving it into a full-fledged religion over the next four years. On February 18, 1954, the first Church of Scientology opened in Los Angeles, California. Through the following decade, Scientology spread across the world to various regions and the number of church members started to swell. Apart from the US churches were opened in many parts of Europe, South Africa, and Australia. Scientology also faced its own set of challenges in many countries including France and Australia. With its growth in popularity critics have grown in numbers and criticism in strength. By 1966 Hubbard had relinquished his responsibilities at the Church of Scientology to a group of executives and oversaw the growth of the religion alone. He passed away on January 24, 1986.

The Encyclopedia of American Religions describes Scientology as a religion which is “concerned with the isolation, description, handling and rehabilitation of the human spirit.” The Church of Scientology, headquartered at the Church of Scientology International, Los Angeles, says one of the key purposes of the religion is to achieve certainty about one’s spiritual nature and discover the spiritual bond between each person and God, the ‘Supreme Being.’ Hubbard based the metaphysical foundations of Scientology on the principle that each human being is in essence a Thetan – an intelligent conscious being – moving through time and space, gathering spiritual experiences in the body. To achieve one’s full potential as a Thetan a number of ritual practices such as reliving past traumas and difficulties is practiced with other practitioners; this is called Auditing in Hubbard’s theory of Dianetics. Scientologists believe that a practice of their prescribed processes allow the mind to unlock hidden powers and grow beyond the ordinarily imagined goals of people.

Some of the most famous people who are members of the Church of Scientology include the superstar Tom Cruise, actress Kirstie Alley, singer-entertainer Sonny Bono, the famous ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, actor Jeff Conaway, Nancy Cartwright who lent Bart Simpson her voice, and Priscilla Presley the wife of Elvis Presley. The author and poet William S. Burroughs, footballer John Brodie, author Neil Gaiman, and singer Lisa Marie Presley are among the celebrities who are erstwhile members of the Church of Scientology. Some of the people who left the faith have eventually become staunch critics of the church and its practices. Apart from the church at Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology has important offices in Sussex, England, Florida, and other parts of the world.

Scientology has faced the brunt of very severe criticism – most of it coming from the fact that it is far more a cult and a commercial enterprise than a religion. Scientologists need to pay for much of the reading/viewing material available to educate new initiates. Hubbard, the founder has also faced a number of accusations – some claim that he falsified many details about his background including education and his former occupation – setting up the church as a means to earn much money. Hubbard has been convicted of fraud in France, in absentia. Hubbard had outlined a Fair Game policy for dealing with enemies of the Church. According to Fair Game, such enemies “may be deprived of property or injured by any means…May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed”, bringing it under much criticism. A number of instances have also been cited by critics where Scientologists have been involved in murders and heists, whereby denouncing Dianetics as an effective tool for self-help.