Stanard: Church of Scientology combines psychology, theology

Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Sylvia Stanard, deputy director of the Church of Scientology National Affairs office, speaks at the Hall of Philosophy Friday.

Space and freedom, both iconic of the American West, are the pillars of the Church of Scientology, said Sylvia Stanard, deputy director of the Church of Scientology’s National Affairs Office.

Stanard described how the West influenced the birth of Scientology in the 20th century and gave Chautauquans a snapshot of what is one of the world’s newest religious expressions. Her 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Friday in the Hall of Philosophy, “Scientology’s Place in the American Religious Landscape,” concluded Week Five’s theme, “The American West: Religious Evolution and Innovations.

The church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, grew up in the state of Montana. There, he learned to ride horses and appreciate the vast open spaces in the West, Stanard said. He also befriended the Blackfoot Indians, who first sparked his interest in spirituality.

Hubbard traveled through much of the United States and other parts of the world, such as Asia, as a young adult. He began to study the different people he met, always keeping an open mind and looking at them without the parameters of race or gender, Stanard said.

Quoting Hubbard, she said, “To know life, you must be part of life. You must get down there and look. You must get into the nooks and crannies of existence, and you must rub elbows with all kinds and types of men before you can fully establish what man is.”

Through his travels and his studies, Stanard said he was looking for “a common denominator of man.”

Questions gnawed at him: What motivates man? What is the mind? Where is memory stored?

Hubbard went to school to become an engineer, but Stanard said he started using science to try to answer these questions.

“He got involved in using the scientific method to conduct experiments on the structure and function of the human mind,” she said.

Experiments included using different counseling techniques on former prisoners of war to study what the mind could do to the body. Stanard said these eventually led Hubbard to write Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the stepping stone that led to Scientology. The book detailed counseling methods and focused on a combination of psychology and philosophy.

Dianetics dealt in a new way with past negative memories and how those can affect you currently,” Stanard said. “In Dianetics counseling, he found that the earliest traumas effected the person the strongest. Therefore, the standard technique is asking if there is an earlier time when a person had a similar pain or emotional trauma.” 

Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Chautauquans listen to Stanard’s Interfaith Lecture on Scientology.

Because the book received such positive feedback, Hubbard continued his research. Through his counseling, Stanard said, his patients were able to remember things that occurred in past lives.

“He realized this led to an understanding that there’s some immortal, spiritual being. There’s an immortality of the human spirit, which in turn led to Scientology,” she said.

The Church of Scientology first manifested into a religion in Phoenix in 1952. Stanard said the basis of the church’s beliefs lie in Hubbard’s conclusion that “the person is not a mind or a body, but that a person was in fact a spiritual being.” It includes all of Hubbard’s counseling practices, and uses all of his texts and recorded lectures as a form of scripture to study from.

Stanard said the spiritual being exists beyond the confines of the mind and the body in the sense it inhabits the body when a person is born and gives the person personality, creativity and all of the traits that make up a person. That spiritual being will live on past the life of the body — Scientologists believe in reincarnation.

This spiritual being is referred to as the “thetan,” which, Stanard said, is “you.”

“So in Scientology we don’t say, ‘my thetan,’ or, ‘I have a thetan,’ but, ‘me.’ I, myself. Meaning you, the spiritual being, not the body — the body just being a shell that you have,” she said.

Scientologists concern themselves with a set of concentric circles, Stanard said. Like ripples in a pond extending outward, the Scientologist is first concerned with this concept of the thetan. The next circle is the family, followed by the community and any interest groups the person may be involved with. Following that is all of humankind, then the environment, including all plants and animals. Circles for the physical and then the spiritual dynamics make up the outer ring, encompassing passions such as art and music, things that enrich life.

Stanard said the final circle is the concept of “the Supreme Being.” All of these circles have to be aligned and nurtured by the person in order to reach the outer level.

“We’re different than other religions in that we’re very self-determined,” she said. “Mr. Hubbard said that’s for the person — it’s very personal, it’s very individual to determine what is the Supreme Being for you.”

The Church of Scientology is still very new when compared to other religions, like Catholicism, that have been around for centuries. Stanard said that, while its methods and beliefs are unorthodox, and while it is sometimes attacked by the media and shunned by portions of society, it is important to remember that “throughout history, every new religion gets attacked.”   

It’s also important to remember “every religion is a minority somewhere,” she said. An interfaith model of acceptance would allow room for everyone, like the wide-open spaces of the West.