September 23, 2020

BY BRAD COUGHLIN

Plenty of controversy revolves around the Church of Scientology, a religious movement founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1950. But, with a new location opening in Cambridge on Feb. 16, the church hopes to silence the rumours.
“Our philosophy is mainly based on practicality,” said Catherine Kristensen, a staff member of the church, referring to the church’s teachings of self-improvement in the modern world.
“Scientology is a religion in the true sense of the meaning … our main commodity is knowledge about life.”
According to Wikipedia, Scientology teaches that people are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature. The church attempts to use methods of spiritual rehabilitation, in which practitioners aim to consciously re-experience painful or traumatic events, to aid followers in freeing themselves from the limiting effects of their past. Study materials and auditing are made available to members in return for specified donations.
Scientology is a legally recognized religion in a number of countries, including the United Sates. However, Canada is among the countries that does not recognize the movement as a tax-exempt religion.
The new, multimillion-dollar facility, located at 1305 Bishop St., offers a wide variety of courses to aid anyone of any creed looking to address problems in particular areas of their life.
“We have life improvement courses that address different areas – the rearing of children, communication in relationships, even finances – and they’re knowledge you can take away,” said Kristensen.
However, Dr. Lorne Dawson, chair of religious studies at the University of Waterloo and an expert on new religious movements who’s studied Scientology for decades, said fees for these courses are part of the controversy.
“It eventually started to become quite expensive as the courses started to multiply and the fees started to increase,” said Dawson. “American evangelists and televangelists certainly are running large business enterprises … but Scientology is a little more explicit about it.”
In addition to life improvement courses, the church sells Hubbard’s books, printed in-house, for those interested in the teachings of Scientology.
“More and more people nowadays are wanting to find out for themselves and make their own opinions as opposed to living in an environment that is very dogmatic,” said Kristensen. “We’ve done everything we could to make it accessible.”
Published in 1950, Hubbard’s book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, was the book that started the movement and remains the most popular today. But, as many books and concepts followed it, so did the controversy.
“They violated a lot of the traditional assumptions about how a religion’s supposed to operate,” said Dawson. “It started out much more as a kind of psycho therapy than a religion with Dianetics, and it evolved into Scientology in bits and pieces with various inventions and revelations by Hubbard.”
“They are combining notions coming from a wide variety of sources, secular and religious, eastern and western religions and that, of course, causes some controversy,” he said.
“Their core beliefs are plausible and systematic and they’re as plausible as the beliefs of any other religion. If you want to press the core beliefs of Christianity, they’re equally as absurd from a modern scientific perspective.”
Kristensen, a Scientologist for 14 years, said, “When you look at any big movement and anything for the good of the people, it always ends up having controversy.
While the Church of Scientology is open to people of all faiths, it’s paranoid in its interactions with the world, said Dawson. Having received a tremendous amount of critical attention from the media and distorted material about Scientology, Dawson believes some of their paranoia to be justified.
“They overreact to critics by becoming very defensive and offensive,” said Dawson,” meaning the church will … try to intimidate (people).”