A university study group in Holland was researching the Scientology religion, and wanted to get some direct answers what Scientologists – particularly Scientologist parents – think about their religion, and how their religion impacts some of their life choices.
Stephanie Croman hails from Texas, and lives on a ranch with her husband and three daughters. Her answers to these questions follow below.
1. Can you explain both how and why you became involved with The Church of Scientology?
My parents both found out about Scientology and started doing Scientology services (reading books, taking classes and getting some personal counselling) when I was about 4 years old. Everything I saw as a result from this was positive. When my parents first found Scientology they were having marital trouble and were very likely headed for divorce. Scientology saved their marriage. From my view, it positively changed the way they interacted with each other, the way they handled us kids, how happy they were, and how purposeful they were. So, I had a very good impression of the subject from a very young age. They were good about communicating to my sister and I some of the basics they were learning about life, relationships and spirituality, and all of those points of Scientology made some good sense to me even as a kid, and just seemed to be quite useful and real. They never pushed us to do Scientology services as kids, but made them available to us if we were interested.
I always considered myself a Scientologist as a kid, but I started actually pursuing it on my own, in terms of actually doing services myself at about the age of 9. I started at that age with some simple courses here and there, like one on how to improve relationships and one on integrity. Then later, in my teens I did not only courses but also some counselling (called “auditing” in Scientology), and I went on from there.
There are a number of reasons I became involved in Scientology myself, and have then continued to practice it throughout my life. Some of the most important reasons are:
(1) Scientology is a very practical religion—that is, it is completely built around the idea that it is for actual use in our lives to improve our own abilities, happiness, and state of being, and to help improve the lives of those around us.
(2) It works. I have continually found that when I learn and then use Scientology in some area of my life, or to help others, that it does actually produce results. For real. That is huge for me. It has provided information that helps me understand myself and the people and the world around me, thus improving my ability to handle all of these things better. And it has provided me with tools and with things I can DO to actually help myself and others. I find that incredibly rewarding.
2. Can you give a personal summary of what the Church of Scientology is about, and why you find it to be favourable?
Scientology is about raising one’s own level of understanding of one’s self (and others) as a human being and as a spiritual being. It’s about learning how to improve things for yourself and others around you and even the world at large. It’s about raising awareness and ability.
Scientology has two main types of services in terms of helping people to do this—courses and personal counselling. The courses cover all sorts of subjects such as how to improve your marriage, how to better use planning to achieve your goals, better understanding the mind, how to help others with painful experiences, how improve your self-confidence, and how to communicate more effectively. Personal counselling helps a person examine his own mind, life and experiences and come to his own conclusions about these, improving his outlook and raising his ability to communicate, handle problems, handle stuck attention on upsetting situations in his past, etc.
As to why I find it to be favourable, I think I covered some of that above (in the last paragraph of #1), in terms of (1) it’s practical and (2) it works. I also like that Scientology very much encourages you to look and decide for yourself about things—a person is not expected to just take things on faith or on authority, and you are not told what you are supposed to think. I could also add that it gives real hope. Let me expand on that to say that because of what I have learned in Scientology and the help it has given me and countless others around me, I always feel like there is something I can do about any situation. I always feel like it is actually possible to solve or at least improve any situation—for me personally, with others around me, and even in the world. That’s immensely stabilizing in a sometime chaotic world. Another reason I find Scientology favourable is that it focuses on raising the awareness and ability of the individual. As an example, people often use recreational or psychiatric drugs as a means of escape or in some attempt to “expand their mind” or to feel good or to “handle” unwanted feelings or behaviour—but drugs actually lower one’s awareness and ultimately one’s ability. Hypnotism is similar—one would be trying to somehow “improve” one’s self or a situation by lowering his own awareness and operating off of something under his awareness. With Scientology, one is actually seeking to increase one’s awareness, to increase one’s ability to observe and to reason and to make good choices, to increase one’s abilities in every aspect of life.
I also find Scientologists to be a generally great group of people—people interested in improving conditions, interested in helping others, upbeat, and ethical, so it is a group I like to be part of.
1. Does Scientology impact any decisions you make in terms of education?
Scientology hasn’t been directly responsible for any educational decision I’ve made, but I think some of the concepts I have learned in Scientology have influenced some of those decisions, yes.
For example, I feel strongly that psychiatric or behavioural drugs have no place in our schools. I feel that education should not be authoritarian—that it should preserve the self-determinism of the student, and improve his ability to think with and evaluate the data. I feel that education should be aimed at proficiency and ability to actually use the information, not for regurgitation for a test. These viewpoints are things shared by Scientology teachings and that I learned to one degree or another within my Scientology studies. However, these viewpoints are not exclusive to Scientology and are shared by many educators and students out there in the world. I would imagine that I would have these same viewpoints whether I was a Scientologist or not. These viewpoints have influenced some of my educational decisions both for myself and as a parent.
First regarding my educational decisions for myself. I went to both private then public schools growing up. Although there were certainly some positive aspects of my public school education and experience, there were many non-optimum aspects as well. I was a straight-A student and in all honors classes; I enjoyed learning and I got along well with my teachers. However, I was not really living up to my potential and I knew it. I was starting to not care about my classes or studies so much, was coasting along and going downhill. The teachers that cared didn’t really know what to do with me, and just shook their heads sadly in disappointment. And all through public school I was made an outsider for being smart or working hard, or outright ridiculed or criticized for these things. It didn’t exactly make for an environment conducive to learning or growth or increasing my ability.
Late in my freshman year of high school, I became aware of a school that, though not a Scientology school (i.e., they don’t teach Scientology as a religion—they have students of all different faiths and backgrounds), did use L. Ron Hubbard’s methods of HOW to study. This school was about the most ideal scenario for an education that I have ever found. It is proficiency based (where learning is the constant and time is the variable, not the other way around), the students are taught how to study effectively and with purpose, they study independently on laid-out courses for each given subject, they study on customized programs based on their own interests, goals, strengths and weaknesses, they study at their own pace, love of learning is fostered, students are challenged and encouraged to push their own limits, ability to actually use the information is stressed, ethical standards are extremely high, community service is encouraged, and personal responsibility is developed. Seeing the difference of environment and opportunity, I ultimately decided in the middle of my sophomore year in high school to leave my public school and go to this school for the remainder or my high school education. Thankfully my parents supported my decision and helped me to go. It was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself.
Now, as to it’s influence on my children’s educations. Based on my own experiences, and valuing what I have laid out above in terms of education, my husband and I chose to send our 3 children to private schools at first, then chose to homeschool. In homeschooling we do use L.Ron Hubbard’s study methods to help the kids overcome any barriers to learning they run into (such as making sure they understand what all words mean as they are studying.) Then recently after spending a summer at my alma mater (described above), my two older daughters decided they wanted to go there as well, and we chose to let them go, feeling this is the best education we could provide for them.
2. Are children provided with a mainstream education? Does a person’s education consist of infant and primary school, lower and upper high school, followed by the option of attending university or continuing on with tertiary education if desired?
This of course totally varies from person to person. Just because one is a Scientologist doesn’t mean that he has some particular educational route or makes some set educational choice. I’d say most Scientologists’ children do get a mainstream education. I’ve seen Scientologists that sent their kids to public school, others that did private Christian school, others that did secular or nondenominational private school, others that did Montessori, others that home schooled, and even a few that let their child leave school early and get a GED. This would totally depend on their own desires, finances, and what was right for their child and family. Some of these go on to university or trade school, others do not, just like any people.
In my own family, my sister went to private school part of her childhood, and public school for the rest. She graduated from public high school. She chose not to go on to university, but went right into her field of interest. I went to private school from Kindergarten through 5th grade, then public school from 6th through 10th grade, then finished high school in private school, graduating with honors. I then went on to a major university, but ultimately chose not to stay to get my full degree. My own children have always gone to various private schools. It is very important to my husband and I that they complete high school and get an excellent education. As far as higher education, in my family they will be encouraged to go on to university as long as this is what they want and aligns with their career goals; if they choose to take a different path, we will give them the freedom to make that choice.
3. What is different or the same about the education of Scientologist youths?
There is no set difference or similarity among the education of Scientologist youths. Parents and families make their own individual choices. I would say that most Scientologists do teach or expose their children to L. Ron Hubbard’s study methods, to help them in their studies and to help them handle any barriers to learning. But at what age they do this or to what degree they do this varies widely.
Some Scientology children also do courses at their local church, learning about their own religion, and Scientology materials on the spirit, the mind, and life. But this is it’s line of study, separate from their normal academics. Some start simple courses very young, others in their teens, others don’t really study Scientology much on their own until they are themselves adults. Again, this is highly variable and depends on the family and the child.
4. What are the reasons behind this?
The differences in educational choices are just due to the differences in needs and opinions from individual to individual and family to family.
That most Scientologists try to impart some of the study methods to their children is largely due to the fact that they know it helps people study more effectively, in order to be able to understand and use what they learn, and that they wish to see their children succeed and learn, and so want to give them tools to help them do so.
1. What hobbies/interests are common to people who follow Scientology? Is there anything specific which most people partake in?
I wouldn’t say there are any hobbies that are common to Scientologists, just as there are probably not hobbies common to Christians—they are individuals and their hobbies are their own. I would say that most Scientologists do like to help others and like to help their church—I feel it is a common part of the ideals within the group. It is a common trait among Scientologists that they want to make the world a better place and that they want to improve conditions around them. But the ways in which people do this, and to what degree they do this, again varies.
Many Scientologists attend church events and gatherings, supporting each other and the church group and enjoying each other’s company. Many Scientologists volunteer in their community in some way or another—examples: helping people that are ill, helping on toy drives for underprivileged kids, helping give aid after natural disasters, helping build or repair homes for the poor, cleaning up litter or planting trees, helping on drug education campaigns, helping criminals do correspondence courses regarding basic morals, tutoring or taking part in literacy programs, etc.
As a separate point, as Scientology is a practical religion and offers a lot information about life and how to handle it better, most Scientologists are to one degree or another pursuing the main activities of their religion—that is, their studies in Scientology and/or getting personal counselling. But this is just taking part in the their religion, rather than a “hobby”.
2. Do your Scientology beliefs impact the medical choices you make in your life?
To a very limited degree. Based on my Scientology beliefs and what I understand about the mind and life, I know that there is actual help available for the trouble people have with their minds and life. As such, I do not agree with masking symptoms with drugs where there are underlying mental factors that should be handled. So I would not take medical drugs aimed at behavior modification or for other psychoactive purposes. If it’s purely mental or emotional difficulty, I believe it should be addressed and handled as such, not medicated.
Otherwise, not particularly. I absolutely feel the medical field is valuable and of course use doctors, medicines, even surgery, if it is a physical problem and there is the need. We get medical checkups, do dental work as needed, use antibiotics for infections, etc. I did get basic vaccinations for my children (some Scientologists choose to, others don’t—it’s a personal choice). One of my daughters actually got childhood cancer and we tackled this with the traditional medical methods and saved her life.
We do also tend to use Scientology techniques to help ourselves spiritually and mentally when we are ill or hurt, but alongside medical practices, not instead of.
One other point that influences my decisions to a degree—because of my desires to remain as aware and alert as possible, and to not negatively influence my health or state of alertness through a lot of drugs or drug residuals, I do tend to minimize the drugs or medicines I take, if possible. For example, if I had a headache, I would try to handle it first with other or natural remedies if possible, rather than jumping right to painkillers. If I need a dental procedure, I choose to get local anesthetic, rather than nitrous oxide or sedation. When I had my children, I chose to have completely natural childbirth, with no drugs or intervention. You get the idea. For me this is the right choice. Not all Scientologists make those same choices—it would depend on the person.
3. Do you have children? If yes, do you believe that your children (and the beliefs of their children) should be kept within the Church of Scientology. Inclusive of who they choose to marry.
Yes, I have 3 children.
I don’t feel anyone should be “kept” in the Church. Being a Scientologist and taking part in Scientology services has to be one’s own choice, based on what one believes and what one find works. My husband and I are Scientologists and use it in our daily lives, so obviously my children are being raised around Scientology, exposed to Scientology, and we share Scientology principles with them to help them in their lives or to help them deal with situations. This is much the same as it would be in any religious family of whatever background or denomination. I find Scientology to be very helpful and very useful, and I have gotten immense benefit out of studying and using it, so of course I would like to see my children have the same successes and happiness. However, at some point each of them has to make their own choice about being a Scientologist (or not). I hope they will take advantage of what is available to them in the subject. But I will love them either way.
As to whom they marry, that is their choice too of course. I can say that I think marriage is easier when the marriage partners are aligned in their general goals and beliefs and viewpoints about life. Scientologists generally tend to be pretty involved in their religion and pretty dedicated to their pursuit of personal improvement, so if both marriage partners are on the same path to improvement, it probably makes for a smoother, more enjoyable journey. However, as long as both people in the marriage shared some basic ideals and respected the other’s religion or beliefs, it could be a successful, happy marriage. Though not generally the norm, I have known Scientologists with non-Scientology spouses, just as I have known of marriages where one spouse was Jewish and one Christian, or where one spouse was fairly religious and one didn’t practice any religion at all. My husband and I are both Scientologists and met through our church activities.
4. Do your beliefs impact who you form social relationships with?
To some degree, yes, of course, in that people of the same religion, similar ideals, similar goals, and similar activities tend to build social relationships.
So of course I form social relationships with many of my fellow church members, just as anyone else might tend to form social relationships with others in their church or others of the same faith. Some of my best friends are Scientologists. However, it certainly doesn’t limit who I form social relationships with. I have many good friends, as well as more casual acquaintances, that are not Scientologists. I formed these friendships at school, through jobs I’ve held, through other friends, at restaurants I frequent, etc. I have friends from a number of different backgrounds and religions besides Scientology–various Christian denominations (including a couple that are extremely devout), atheists, Mormons, Jews, people who don’t have much in the way of religious beliefs at all, etc. I love people! They don’t have to be Scientologists for me to like them or to be my friend.
1. Do harsh comments/perceptions about the Scientology religion affect you and your everyday life? How? Do you ever feel that you should hide your religion because of it?
Obviously I don’t like harsh comments about my religion or weird ideas some people have about my religion—I don’t think anyone of any religion would. However, it doesn’t have any major effect on me or my everyday life. I know what Scientology is actually all about—I’ve studied it personally and I use it all the time. So just because someone else is mis-informed (in some cases) or rude or malicious (in other cases), is no reason for me to get too upset. If anything, I occasionally just get tired of it. Generally if the person just doesn’t know about Scientology and has run into some false information, I’ll try to sort it out or give them some correct information. There are some people that are happy to spread lies or enjoy passing on sensational bad news. If the person just seems malicious, I tend to ignore them—they’re not likely to be very open to actual discourse on the subject or open to other ideas anyway, and are likely just trying to prove me wrong or be nasty. If it’s in the media, I generally just ignore it. Occasionally it’s discouraging I suppose, mostly from the viewpoint that I find Scientology to be very practical and down-to-earth, and I find Scientologists in the main to be a pretty great group of people. it’s disappointing that many people aren’t willing to actually find out about it themselves before listening to rumors or passing judgement. But that’s the world we live in sometimes—just means there’s more work to do to make it a better place in my opinion. And all the more reason to make Scientology better understood.
This does not make me hide my religion or that I am a Scientologist. There were times when I was young and a bit less self-assured in dealing with people, when it sometimes made me a bit reticent about telling a stranger I was a Scientologist, because I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I’d get. But honestly I very, very rarely run into someone that is harsh, malicious or disrespectful. Most of that stuff seems to come more from sensational media and internet sources. I am honest and open about being a Scientologist; it is a big part of who I am.
2. Do you believe Scientology is a culture/sub-culture and how do you think the constructs of a culture potentially affect the Church’s ability to be recognized as a religion?
I don’t really think of Scientology as a “culture” or “subculture”, and I think different individuals might have different ideas or connotations to what those words even mean. Scientology is certainly a group of relatively like-minded individuals (but so are many other religious, scientific and social groups). Scientology has some beliefs and ideas that are maybe not mainstream or common, but it also has many, many ideas and beliefs that are shared by other religions and groups all over the world (as examples, the concept of “do unto others as you would have done to you”, the idea that we are ourselves spiritual in nature and that there is existence and identity beyond just the body, the idea that we should help one another and try to make the world a better place, are ideas shared by many of the major religions of the world.) Scientologists are generally happy to tell people about the subject and answer questions where possible, and the writings and information of Scientology are pretty easily available through any Church and even many libraries—it’s not a hidden subject. I don’t consider any of this particularly has any bearing, or shouldn’t, on the Church’s ability to be recognized as a religion. If a philosophy or practice deals with spirituality and the relationship of spiritual beings to themselves and the universe, it’s seems to me that qualifies as a religion. Whether that religion or spiritual philosophy is mainstream or not should have nothing to do with it. There was a time when Christianity was new and even fought—that made it no less a religion in the sense of what that word means. It ultimately became one of the world’s great religions and arguably a major civilizing force in the world—but it was always a religion, even from it’s very beginnings. Different religions are structured differently, believe differently, practice differently—it makes them no less a religion.
3. Scientology is legally viewed as a commercial enterprise in Switzerland. Do you think this is rational, plausible and fair? Why/why not?
I think I probably covered this above. Scientology is a religion in every sense of the word. Some countries have limited definitions in the eyes of the state I suppose, or just don’t know much about what Scientology is or its teachings or practices. Scientology has been given full religious recognition by a number of countries, including the United States.
Buildings have to be paid for, electricity has to be paid for, staff have to eat and live, etc.–there are operating costs for any activity. So it was set up as a donation system, with donations given by those that want the religious services. Thus the church has sufficient money to operate. I don’t think that makes it a commercial business. (There are also some services for which there is no donation expected.) Most every religion I know of requires or asks for donations from its parishioners in order to survive, maintain its buildings, pay the pastor enough to live, etc. One of the Christian churches right next door to me has the task of raising 3 million dollars from its parishioners right now, to repair the exterior of their building and pay debts. Some churches tithe. There are different structures perhaps, from religion to religion, but they are donations aimed at keeping churches there and operating, not for profit.
4. How are those who chose to leave the Church of Scientology treated upon departure and once they have left? Reasons behind this? Do you agree with it?
A person has to be doing Scientology because he himself wants to do it and actually wants personal improvement. These are personal religious views. So if someone decides Scientology is not for him or that he doesn’t want to be involved, that is ultimately his own choice. When this occasionally happens, I’m usually sad to see the person go, but that is their choice and their right. However, if they publicly and loudly depart Scientology, this is looked upon differently by Scientologists in the church. Someone publicly departing and making a fuss about it is factually trying to damage the church and to damage our group, and that is not acceptable to us. I don’t think one should have to pretend someone is a friend when that person is actually attacking one.
5. Scientology is often viewed as demonstrating a cult-like culture. Why do you think this is so?
Different people have different ideas about what a “cult” is, but I’ve never actually run across anyone that calls my religion a cult that isn’t using that word just to try to defame or degrade it. “Cult” is a deprecating word with bad connotations. That word is used purposely, by those who use it at all. I don’t find that most of those people are willing to actually find out what Scientology is for themselves, look into the actual materials of Scientology, or look at it objectively. No one has to believe a certain way, and my beliefs or practices may be different from someone else’s; but that doesn’t mean one can’t show some respect toward other religions or belief systems.
Outside of that, there could be a few factors I suppose. First, Scientology is a fairly new religion compared to most other religions and belief systems. It is not one of the major, accepted, been-around-forever, well-known religions that exist out there. Although Scientology shares many similar beliefs with other religions, it also has some definite differences. So people, in the main, don’t really know all that much about Scientology yet and they don’t understand it. It’s not secret — Scientology information and books of the subject (i.e., the actual materials of Scientology, not someone else’s ideas or criticism of the subject) are made very available by individual Scientologists and the churches themselves, as well as being available in many libraries. So people can find out or get their questions answered or study Scientology for themselves, but if it’s not well-understood, of course there can be interesting ideas that form up about it.
Also, Scientologists aren’t an especially passive group. Scientologists are often a very close-knit group in their community, and are pretty active in their church and activities. Scientologists are often pretty passionate about their religion and their activities to try to make the world a better place. I’d say they generally really love their religion and group and think the efforts of the religion are very important. Many Scientologists are also pretty dedicated to religious activities, more than probably most people out in the world are used to.
In terms of relgion, most people are probably used to people that go to a church service once a week on Sunday morning, or maybe people that meditate a few times a week. Many Scientologists (not all) spend several evenings a week, or all weekend, to do Scientology courses of study. Or they may take a week or several weeks off to work on personal improvement through counselling services. This is an unusual level of dedication to religious services compared to the world at large perhaps. But I think just about any Scientologist would say that they do this because they think it’s important. They’ve found something that they see works for them, they’ve found ways to really help people, and they feel like they are continually getting better and better personally and spiritually as a result. They really want to make the world around them a better place too. So they work at it, and are sometimes pretty dedicated to the task. I suppose I can see that people are not used to this, don’t understand it, or that it somehow makes them uncomfortable that people would spend so much time or effort at something, especially in the area of religion. I’m personally proud to be hard-working and dedicated at something I’m involved in though—I’d much rather be too industrious for someone’s taste than only dabble in something or not make a difference or not care. I’ve known a Christian gentleman that took months off of work for a religious sabbatical, I’ve known Mormons that gave 2 years of their life to missionary work, and I’ve known doctors and engineers that spend 80 hours a week working at their jobs. I respect them and their choices.
One other point on this may apply. Scientology has as part of the religion that when it comes to religious procedures or the religious data itself, it is not to be altered. L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of the religion) approached things pretty scientifically and did a lot of research to find out things that seemed to pan out as truth and that actually worked and produced results for people. The idea is: it works, so don’t change it. If it is altered or mis-used, it might not work or improve conditions. With many alterations or mis-applications, you could end up with something that is far from actual Scientology. So as Scientologists we really try to maintain the viewpoint and discipline point of not changing the materials, using Scientology exactly, and insisting others do the same. We don’t allow others’ interpretations or changing religious practices based on someone’s opinion. This may seem conceited or “fanatical” or something to some, but it is actually our way of protecting our religion and its exact writings into the future and making sure it remains effective.
Again, Scientology is a very practical religion—we DO things, there’s a lot of action involved—so it really is a point of keeping a standard of quality in our actions.
With a somewhat smaller religion, without sufficient understanding about it, seeing a high level of dedication to the cause, and seeing a strict adherence to the religious materials, some might get some ideas about it. But I think the subject is pretty understandable for those that seek the actual information.
6. Something about celebrities and their endorsement of Scientology. Do members of the Church agree or disagree with this? Why or why not?
It’s funny, people ask me about Scientology celebrities fairly frequently. I think that’s just part of the whole fascination with celebrities that we have as a culture—that’s why they’re celebrities right? Because they’re famous and get lots of attention. However, in terms of my religion, it’s not something that really factors in that much for me, or something that I think about much. Basically, celebrities are people—they are Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Scientologists, or not religious at all; they are liberals, republicans, gay, straight, upstanding moral types, playboys, drug addicts, and anywhere and everywhere in between. There are of course celebrities that are also Scientologists—I’m happy that they are Scientologists and that they feel that Scientology is helping them and that they find Scientology valuable, just like I would be happy for any other Scientologist. They are celebrities, so then Scientology gets more press, good or bad. Being a Scientologist is something that is perhaps unusual about them and interesting, so it gets picked up by the press. And of course some Scientology celebrities like to talk about Scientology, to let people know more about their religion or to tell how they feel it has helped them. More power to them. Some Scientologist celebrities keep quieter on the subject, just like they do on various other aspects of their personal lives, because they want the attention to be on their work, not on their religious preference, etc. That’s fine too. Scientology also gets some bad press in relation to celebrities, in that the media tends to seek out or create sensational or “controversial” stories to catch people’s interest. That’s the media for you. I just don’t think it’s that important one way or another. I guess the biggest “plus” to Scientology celebrities talking about Scientology, or the fact that they are Scientologists, is that it makes more people aware of the religion and in some cases gives them more information about it or why people pursue it. I like that aspect of it, in that I like my religion to be better known and better understood.