It is formed in the tradition of ten thousand years of religious philosophy and considers itself a culmination of the searches which began with early religious writings and practices. Scientology is a gnostic faith in that it knows it knows. (Gnosticism was an ancient religion which believed that spiritual freedom came with knowledge.)
( basicscientology.com/basic-scientology.htm – [NOTE: CoS site])
In developing his doctrines, L Ron Hubbard drew from a number of fields. Buddhism, the occult, Freud and Jung, all manner of philosophies were bundled together to form the package of Dianetics and Scientology that we know today. One source which is not as acknowledged as others is the tradition, which has seen something of a revival in recent years, of Gnosticism.
Gnosticism stems from the Greek word “gnosis,” meaning literally “knowledge.” This in itself may be compared to the cult’s own definition of Scientology:
The word Scientology comes from the Latin word scio, meaning “know” and the Greek word logos, meaning “the word or outward form by which the inward thought is expressed and made known.” Thus, Scientology means knowing about knowing.
( faq.scientology.org/scientology.htm [NOTE: CoS site])
It stemmed from many sources and came to a climax in the first few centuries AD. Its major sources were Platonism – the philosophy of Plato, and its later descendants, popular in the Greek and Roman worlds at the time – combined with then-emerging Christianity. Much of the writing of early Christian theologians was devoted to arguing for what would become orthodox Christianity against the Gnostics, who they regarded as heretics.
Gnosticism differs from Christianity in that it poses an eternal, unknowable God figure which created the universe in a series of emanations, one of the lowest of which was called Sophia (knowledge.) Sophia then attempted to create for herself without the aid of her partner, resulting in the creation of an aberration. This is the God of the Old Testament, who created the physical universe and imprisoned those parts of the divine realm which had fallen to it within human bodies. The aim of Gnosticism is the rehabilitation of these divine sparks – analogous to the soul – through the revelation of successive degrees of wisdom (gnosis.) Jesus was seen as coming to bring this Gnosis to the world. A common feature of Gnostic texts is the concept of a wider revelation – i.e. that reserved for the outside world – and a hidden meaning, disclosed only to those who have wisdom.
A few points should be made before comparing the two. Firstly, “Gnosticism” is used as a general term for a number of groups, predominantly in the first few centuries AD, which held doctrines roughly as described above. However, teachings varied between groups and over time, and as such, this description will not necessarily apply to every group discussed.
Much of the information available on Gnosticism until recently was taken from the writings of Christian theologians condemning the groups. For the purpose of this article it is not necessary to investigate whether this content is true of false; in the context of Scientology if Hubbard was influenced by Gnosticism, there is no reason to assume it would only be from the writings of the Gnostics themselves. Hubbard’s willingness to borrow from diverse sources – Buddhism, psychology, faith healing, occultism – in building his teachings indicates that the writings of both the Gnostics and their detractors would be equally up for grabs.
Similarly, noting possible influences by Gnosticism on Hubbard – or, less charitably, noting where Hubbard appropriated his ideas from – does not in any way imply that Scientology per se is a Gnostic tradition.
The past tense is used when discussing Gnosticism in a historical context. There are, however, a number of Gnostic revival groups in existence.
Lastly, no condemnation of Gnosticism is intended by this article. Readers are particularly encouraged to read the Gnostic text “Thunder, Perfect Mind” for the beauty of its poetry as much as its theological significance.
The divine spark, the physical prison.
In the Gnostic world view, each person was gifted with a “divine spark,” a trace of the divine which was trapped in a material body which existed to control and ultimately imprison it. The goal of Gnosticism was to transcend this mortal prison.
(Note: in the following, Yaldabaoth refers to the creator of the material world, while his mother is Sophia as described above.)
His mother’s divine Power left Yaldabaoth
It entered the psychic human body
Modeled on the primordial image.
The human body moved!
It grew powerful!
Yaldabaoth’s demonic forces envied the man.
Through their united efforts he had come into being
They had given their Power to him.
His understanding was far greater than that of those who had created him.
And greater than that of the Chief Ruler himself.
When they realized that he shone with light
And could think better than they could
And was naked of evil,
They took him and cast him down
Into the lowest depths of the material world.
(The Apocryphon of John, http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/apocjn-davies.html )
Similarly, in Hubbard’s worldview, the human soul – or Thetan – was a being of ultimately godlike power which was constrained in the MEST (Matter, Energy, Space, Time) universe. These beings had an ultimate divine nature which, through Scientology, could be restored. Compare the following:
Therefore Gnosis is the redemption of the inner man; and it is not of the body, for the body is corruptible; nor is it psychical, for even the soul is a product of the defect and it is a lodging to the spirit: pneumatic (spiritual) therefore also must be redemption itself. Through Gnosis, then, is redeemed the inner, spiritual man: so that to us suffices the Gnosis of universal being: and this is the true redemption. (Adv. Haer. I. 21,4)
(Valentinus, prominent Gnostic teacher, quoted in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies)
Scientology further holds man to be basically good, and that his spiritual salvation depends upon himself and his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe. In that regard, Scientology is a religious philosophy in the most profound sense of the word, for it is concerned with no less than the full rehabilitation of man’s innate spiritual self — his capabilities, his awareness and his certainty of his own immortality. Furthermore, as religion deals with the spirit in relationship to itself, the universe and other life, and is essentially the belief in spiritual beings, Scientology follows a religious tradition that is at least as old as mankind.
(The Religion of Scientology, theta.com/goodman/religion.htm [NOTE: CoS site.])
Degrees of revelation.
Gnosticism taught that wisdom would be taught in progressive stages, each elaborating on that before it. In this excerpt from the Acts of John, Jesus appears to John the Apostle while seemingly lying elsewhere. He explains that this is how it appears only to those who are “outside the mystery”:
100 Now the multitude of one aspect (al. of one aspect) that is about the cross is the lower nature: and they whom thou seest in the cross, if they have not one form, it is because not yet hath every member of him that came down been comprehended. But when the human nature (or the upper nature) is taken up, and the race which draweth near unto me and obeyeth my voice, he that now heareth me shall be united therewith, and shall no more be that which now he is, but above them, as I also now am. For so long as thou callest not thyself mine, I am not that which I am (or was): but if thou hear me, thou, hearing, shalt be as I am, and I shall be that which I was, when I thee as I am with myself. For from me thou art that (which I am). Care not therefore for the many, and them that are outside the mystery despise; for know thou that I am wholly with the Father, and the Father with me.
(Acts of John, 100)
Scientology, meanwhile, is well-known for its initiatory structure – the outer wisdom of Dianetics and the route to clear gives way to not one but eight further levels of enlightenment, each of which comes about through the practice of various rituals (i.e. auditing.) Tertullian, in “Against the Valentinians,” could well have been talking about Lafayette and his merry band of sailors:
The Valentinians, who are no doubt a very large body of heretics— comprising as they do so many apostates from the truth, who have a propensity for fables, and no discipline to deter them (therefrom) care for nothing so much as to obscure what they preach, if indeed they (can be said to) preach who obscure their doctrine. The officiousness with which they guard their doctrine is an officiousness which betrays their guilt. Their disgrace is proclaimed in the very earnestness with which they maintain their religious system. Now, in the case of those Eleusinian mysteries, which are the very heresy of Athenian superstition, it is their secrecy that is their disgrace.
(Tertullian, Against the Valentinians, http://home.newadvent.org/fathers/0314.htm )
The demonic infestation.
Perhaps the most famous teaching of Scientology is its belief in Body Thetans. Just as a Thetan is effectively a Scientology analogue for the soul, Body Thetans are clusters of alien souls, which latch onto human beings and cause our worries and problems.
Compare this to the Gnostic teaching, again of Valentinus, as follows:
“For many spirits dwell in it [the body] and do not permit it to be pure; each of them brings to fruition its own works, and they treat it abusively by means of unseemly desires. To me it seems that the heart suffers in much the same way as an inn: for it has holes and trenches dug in it and is often filled with filth by men who live there licentiously and have no regard for the place because it belongs to another.”
(Valentinus, quoted in The Hubbard Is Bare, http://www.xenu.net/archive/lrhbare/lrhbare08.html )
The Crowley Connection.
L Ron Hubbard was involved in the occult subculture of the early 20th century, although the extent of his involvement remains unclear and controversial. He was alleged to have joined a Rosicrucian fraternity in California; more concretely, he is known to have lived and worked for a time with Jack Parsons. Parsons, a rocket scientist, was also an occultist and devotee of the notorious British magician Aleister Crowley. Together, Hubbard and Parsons carried out the Babalon working, an attempt to invoke the goddess Babalon.
Within the occult subculture of the time, Gnosticism was seeing great popularity. Crowley himself founded the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (Gnostic Catholic Church). While Crowley’s form of Gnosticism differed significantly from that of the ancients, it came as part of a general surge in interest in the subject from a number of sources – counting William Blake and Carl Jung as some of its more notable adherents.
Some schools of Gnosticism taught a version of reincarnation. The Gnostic Catechism, created and used by modern-day Gnostic groups, states the following:
149. Does the Gnosis hold to the teaching of reincarnation?
Many Gnostic scriptures are silent on the subject. Others state that reincarnation exists as a hell, or as a purgatorial suffering involved in being attached to the fleshly body and to the turbulent mind or soul.
150. Does reincarnation merit the enthusiasm often lavished on it?
By no means. This teaching was long unknown to Western cultures and when rediscovered from Eastern sources, its value came to be exaggerated. Gnostic teachings have always regarded reincarnation as a calamity to be overcome by liberation.
(The Gnostic Catechism, http://www.gnosis.org/ecclesia/catechism.htm )
Scientology similarly teaches a form of reincarnation, in which the Thetan after death is taken to a re-implanting station housed on Venus before being sent out into the universe to be imprisoned in another MEST body. In his North Coast Journal article “Petrolia’s New Neighbours,” Joe Cempa describes Scientology’s reincarnation doctrine as follows:
Scientology’s central belief is of an immortal soul, called a “thetan.” The thetan passes from one body to the next by reincarnation and can “live” for trillions of years. When a person dies, according to Hubbard, his or her thetan goes to a “landing station on Venus,” where it is re-programmed with lies about its past life and its next life. The thetan is told it will return to earth and be placed in the body of a newborn baby.
“What actually happens to you,” Hubbard told his followers, “is that you’re simply encapsulated and dumped in the gulf of lower California. To hell with ya! If you can get out of that, and wander around through cities and find some girl who looks like she’s going to have a baby or get married, you’re all set. You eventually just ‘pick up a baby’.”
(Petrolia’s New Neighbours, http://www.lermanet.com/scientologynews/cst-petrolia-vault.htm )
Interestingly, this aspect of Gnostic teaching was referred to a number of times by Hubbard. For example, the introduction to Hubbard’s book “Have You Lived Before This Life?” – which contains accounts from people during auditing describing past-life experiences – states the following:
The concept of reincarnation and Man’s belief in the past and future continuum is as old as Man himself. It can be traced to the beginnings of thirty-one primitive cultures and has dominated almost every religion through history as a pivotal belief.
The Egyptians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, Sikhists, Brahmans, NeoPlatonists, Christians, Romans, Jews and Gnostics all believed in reincarnation and the rebirth cycle.
It was a fundamental belief in the Roman Catholic Church until 553 AD when a company of four monks held the Synod of Constantinople, (without the Pope present) and decided the belief could not exist. They condemned the teachings of reincarnation as heresy and it was at this time that references to it were expunged from the Bible.
(Introduction, Have You Lived Before This Life?, quoted in The Road to Xenu by Margery Wakefield, http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Library/Shelf/xenu/xenu-07.html )
Similarly, an article in Advance! Magazine in 1987 entitled “The Surprising Christian Tradition of Reincarnation” relied heavily on Gnostic sources.