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Scientology is a religion (many contend that it is actually a cult) begun in 1952 and first incorporated as a religious organization in 1954 based on the teachings of author L. Ron Hubbard. Founded following the 1950 publication of his book Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health, and two subsequent volumes, Dianetics: the Evolution of a Science and Science of Survival, Hubbard eventually characterized Dianetics as a sub-study of Scientology. By the time he died in 1986, Hubbard had published hundreds of books on Scientology, and only a few on Dianetics.

The central tenets of the religion are based on the belief that a person is an immortal spiritual being (referred to as a "thetan") who has a mind and a body, but is neither of these, that he is basically good, and that he is seeking to survive. Scientology holds that man's survival depends upon himself, and upon his fellows, and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe. It is taught that a person's upsets, limitations and harmful acts can be attributed in part to a portion of his mind of which he is normally unaware, called the "reactive mind" or the "bank." This portion of the mind is believed to store impressions of past events containing some level of unconsciousness, emotional and physical trauma, which can be re-activated in times of stress. The aware portion of a person's mind is referred to as the "analytical mind."

The central practice of Scientology, and Dianetics before it, is an activity known as "auditing" (listening) which seeks to elevate an adherent to a state of "clear", that being one of freedom from the influences of the reactive mind. The practice is one wherein a counselor called an "auditor" addresses a series of questions to a "preclear", observes and records his responses, and acknowledges them. The aim is to enable the preclear to recover awareness and volitional control of the material previously stored in his reactive mind. The earliest forms of Dianetic processing, still practiced today, involved a scenario reminiscent of Freudian psychoanalysis, with the preclear reclining on a couch in a reflective state called "Dianetic reverie" while the auditor observed from a chair nearby and took notes, predicating his questions and responses on utterances by the preclear and a number of physiological indica. Some later forms of auditing employ a device called the Hubbard Electropsychometer ("E-Meter"). This is a device which measures changes in the electrical resistance of the preclear's skin by passing approximately 1/2 volt through a pair of zinc-plated tubes much like empty soup cans, attached to the meter by wires and held by the preclear during auditing. These low-potential changes in electrical resistance, known as galvanic response, are similar to those measured by polygraphs and related machines, and are believed by church adherents to be more reliable and sensitive to the preclear's state of mind than the physiological indica of early Dianetics.

Critics of Scientology point to a lack of scientific basis for the E-meter and other practices. In an interesting, if somewhat contradictory response, the church has claimed on the one hand that Scientology is a religion and not science and therefore does not seek scientific support - and on the other, that just as a polygraph may use electrical conductivity of the skin to indicate whether one is comfortable with questions and answers, so may any instrument which measures galvanic response.

Other activities of a Scientology church include Sunday services, formal classes, naming, marriage and funeral ceremonies. In addition, it funds and runs a number of community-based charitable activities aimed at such things as relieving hunger, combatting drug use, and fostering literacy. Scientology has long held that its beliefs and practices were compatible with those of other religions. Scientology enjoyed good relations with and recognition by a number of Christian, Buddhist and other sects for a number of decades before being formally recognized as a tax exempt religious and charitable organization by the United States government in 1993. It was not until 1994 that a joint council of Shinto Buddhist (Yu-itsu Shinto) sects in Japan not only extended official recognition of Scientology, but also undertook to train a number of their monks in its beliefs and practices as an adjunct to their own meditations and worship. This continues a long tradition of Eastern faiths of assimilating or adopting elements of others faiths which they find harmonious with their own. This may be a reflection of the fact that Hubbard acknowledged a strong Eastern, and specifically Buddhist influence in forming his own personal philosophy.

In addition to free Sunday services, lectures and the like, members are invited to do any number of classes, exercises or counseling sessions, at fixed donation rates ranging from free to, in some cases, thousands of dollars. Generally the higher expected donations are for the more advanced initiatory activities. Critics hold that it is improper to fix a donation for religious service and that therefore the activity is non-religious. The church points out that almost all classes, exercises and counseling may also be traded for "in kind" or performed cooperatively by students for no cost, and that members of its most devoted ecclesiastic orders need donate nothing for services and are, in fact supported in toto by the church. Other practices such as special dispensations granted for a fixed donation by the Catholic Church and fixed tithing by other denominations are held up as evidence of a long-standing religious tradition of fixed donations. In some countries, such as Germany, such donations are imposed under government authority, as a tax.

Scientology rejects the claim that mental diseases can have biological bases and holds that such diseases are caused by disturbed thought processes which can be corrected by counseling. Psychiatry is thought to be unscientific, and a sister organization, the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights has been formed to promote this viewpoint.

Critics frequently attack the organization called the Church of Scientology, accusing it of using brainwashing and intimidation tactics to influence members to donate large amounts of money in standard cult practices. Members deny that this is the case, and a number of leaders in the psychological community have published works strongly disputing the validity of "brainwashing" claims as related to any so-called "religion."

While the often-seen rumor that Hubbard made a bar bet with Robert Heinlein that he could start a cult is almost certainly false, others have claimed direct knowledge that during 1949 Hubbard did make statements to other people that starting a religion would be a good way to make money. Writer and publisher Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, for example, reported Hubbard saying "I'd like to start a religion. That's where the money is." Writer Theodore Sturgeon reported that Hubbard made a similar statement at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. The Church of Scientology denies these claims, and has in fact sued publishers for making them. Members hold that the truth or falsity of such claims is irrelevant in judging whether the church meets their spiritual needs.

Another point of criticism has been that church officials have asked one adherent or another to break contact with family and friends who are antagonistic to their religion (a habit shared with many sects). In response, the church has pointed out that there used to be a policy, since cancelled, called "disconnection", aimed at securing the peace of mind of adherents in the face of persons who criticized them for their membership. The current church practice is pointed to; that of requiring members who have significant turmoil in their lives stemming from the antagonisms of family and friends to cease participation in church services and not resume them until differences with those close to them have been ironed out.

Critics similarly complain of a perceived secrecy about Scientology teachings, in response to which the church acknowledges that at the very most rarified levels of initiation, there are teachings which may be understood as "mystical", and fit only for the most enlightened and serene souls. On the other hand, the public is invited to purchase or seek in libraries more than three hundred different books laying out in painstaking detail every belief and practice of the church except these few secrets. In the Church of Scientology vs. Fishman and Geertz case, former scientologist Steven Fishman introduced for his defense some of these purported secret "Operating Thetan" documents attributed to Hubbard that describe beliefs such as extraterrestrial intelligence, and an evil galactic overlord who oppressed free spirits with science fiction-like tactics. The church dropped the case against Fishman and petitioned the court to seal the documents. The Church has also used copyright law to sue others who have published portions of these and other documents.

Scientology organizations have a history of dealing forcefully with critics (which the organizations may call "suppressive persons"). It has spent large sums on lawsuits filed against individuals, newspapers, magazines, television studios, internet service providers, government agencies and others. Publicly available court records, for example, document a "fair game" policy established in 1967 (though subsequently officially revoked) which stated that critics "May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed." The Church is one of few organizations to have been convicted of barratry, the willful use of frivolous lawsuits for the purpose of harassment. The Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains an archive of documents related to the church's efforts to interfere with online critics. The organization replies that this is the only way the church has been able to survive in a sometimes hostile environment. In an earlier era, for example, Mormons took up arms and organized militia to defend themselves from those hostile to their faith. Scientology, it would seem, has taken up the civil complaint in place of weaponry.

Some avowed enemies of Scientology have accused the organization of covert "black bag" operations against opponents. Certainly, it would seem the church did not help its own cause in this regard when, in the mid-1970s, an admitted agent of the church was caught covertly pilfering documents on Scientology from IRS intelligence files. Following this episode, offices of the church in Los Angeles, California and Washington, D.C. were broken into and ransacked in massive pre-dawn raids by FBI agents. Eleven church staff, some highly placed, pled guilty or were convicted in federal court based on evidence seized in the raids, and received sentences from two to six years (some suspended). There is disagreement over how much official church approval the covert actions enjoyed. It is known that a "rogue" branch of the church was closed on the heels of the event, gutted of its staff, and dozens of personnel expelled or subjected to lesser sanctions. The church claims that it has since been reorganized so that no branch enjoys similar autonomy to the former "rogues".

Scientologists have been accused over the years of dealing with their environment in a paranoid manner, claiming conspiracy by governments and the medical and psychiatric establishment against its continued survival. In 1993, contemporaneously with its official recognition of Scientology as a bonafide church, The United States Internal Revenue Service released and circulated to the press and to foreign governments a body of documents covered with an explanatory letter. It acknowledged that, in violation of their authority and in a more or less coordinated campaign stretching back to early 1953, the IRS, FBI and other government agencies had forwarded significant amounts of information on Scientology which they knew to be false and defamatory, some compiled without any factual basis by medical and psychiatric sources, to foreign intelligence agencies abroad. These agencies had also urged foreign governments to take action against the church. The motives for these actions were not explained. The cover letter requested removal of the false data from foreign government files, but it is unknown if this request had any effect. Critics claim that the agreement to recognize the church and renounce its earlier covert campaign against the church was extorted from the IRS. The IRS flatly denies this claim.

In some countries, especially in Europe, governments and/or courts agree with critics -- with negative effects for Scientology. In a very few cases the organization is banned; more often there is less far-reaching obstruction, such as non-recognition as a religious organization or steps to make it difficult for Scientology to get outsiders to take their classes.

Examples for Germany: