Scientologists contend that belief in God or gods is a personal matter, but do accept a pervading spiritual force called Theta. Theta is present in all beings, and all humans are actually immortal spirits called thetans. Throughout time, thetans are reincarnated, not only as humans, but also aliens on distant planets. The eventual goal of Scientology is to free oneself from reincarnation through a process called auditing.
Church-accredited auditors perform audits, employing devices called E-meters to record galvanic skin resistance and conductance. They track a Preclear’s progress based on responses to set prompts called processes and E-meter data, which is thought to reflect engrams present in the mind. Hubbard stated that engrams have physical properties like mass; when a Preclear holds many engrams in mind, he can physically gain up to 30 pounds.
After a certain amount of progress in auditing, a Preclear rises in rank to Clear, then Operating Thetan (OT). There are many OT levels; higher-ranked OTs gain access to exclusive courses that reveal advanced self-auditing techniques and guarded Scientology dogma. Eventually, the avid OT will reach the final stage – Cleared Theta Clear – and unlock all of the thetan’s powers, such as controlling others; manipulating mass, energy, space, and time; and creating new universes.
The mythology of Scientology is known as the space opera. The tale of Xenu (sometimes Xemu) is one of the most widely-known space opera epics: Xenu was the leader of the Galatic Confederation who took his people to Earth in a spaceship, stacked them around volcanoes, and destroyed them with hydrogen bombs. The essence of the victims lingers on, causing spiritual harm to modern-day humanity. Though the space opera was initially shared openly, it is now privileged information for higher-level OTs; the Xenu story is reserved for OT III, but leaked into popular knowledge where it was met with much derision and exasperation.
Scientology has endured continually controversy since its inception, mainly because auditing services are quite expensive. Scientology is not recognized as a religion in many countries; the church is viewed as anything from a for-profit venture, to a dangerous cult. Despite your feelings about Scientology and its teachings, this controversy raises an interesting question: is “religion” defined by the belief of its practitioners, or a predetermined list of legal criteria?