“Axiom 1: SURVIVE!” Thus declared L. Ron Hubbard, delineating the Primary Axioms of Dianetics in 1948. A few years later, in 1951, he described the Eight Dynamics which are foundational for Dianetics and Scientology. Here he stated, “The FIRST DYNAMIC is SELF. This is the effort to survive as an individual, to be an individual. It includes one’s own body and one’s own mind. It is the effort to attain the highest level of survival for the longest possible time for self.”*
Lately I have been studying Scientology in preparation for a seminar on the group coming up next week. Scientology is a complex system, with a very convoluted process of advancement and an equally complicated belief structure. But wading through books by Hubbard and books about Scientology I have come to see that Hubbard’s declaration in 1948 is a fundamental, if not the fundamental, concept of the entire system of Scientology. It is all about SURVIVAL.
Survival drives Scientology and the Scientologists. In their odd and unusual belief system, they are seeking to achieve a type of spiritual and psychological enlightenment through a graduated series of techniques to rid themselves of the influences of their past (which show up as something called engrams). This includes dealing with emotionally charged experiences in this life, including pre-natal experiences, as well as residual traumas from previous lives. (They are committed to the idea of reincarnation.) In addition, as they advance across “The Bridge” to person liberation they have to rid themselves of the influences of negative spiritual beings called “body thetans” that have become attached to their individual souls (also called thetans.) Getting rid of engrams and body thetans enables a person to be free from the past and equipped to achieve great personal success, in this life and in future lives. So for the Scientologist, life is all about living as well as you can, as long as you can, and then doing it all over again… and again… and again… ad infinitum. In other words, survive.
So salvation (or liberation, or enlightenment, or freedom, or whatever you want to call it) is all about the individual. There is no true sense of communal life. Indeed, although they call themselves a “church” and have a clergy and services, the church aspect of Scientology is not really significant, nor stressed. It is all about the individual self, not a community of faith. No wonder Scientology has had such great appeal in this country for so many decades. In our individualistic, self-absorbed, me-oriented culture, Scientology has the perfect prescription for personal bliss. Survive as the best “you” you can be.
It is also no wonder that we often see Scientology and Scientologists involved in vicious defensive assaults on persons who leave the group, criticize Scientology, or seek to expose the errors or wrongs of the organization. SURVIVING is the first and most important dynamic in life. So Scientology itself MUST survive. Therefore, they can countenance no genuine or perceived attacks, criticisms, defections, or exposés. This is why Scientology is probably the most litigious cult found anywhere. It is also why they have been guilty of huge conspiracies to infiltrate the U.S. government. And it is why they have often engaged in aggressive smear campaigns against journalists, authors or clergy who have dared to criticize them. Scientology too MUST SURVIVE!
Sad to say, there are probably far too many people who do not understand my disapproval of this philosophical position. “What is wrong with striving to survive as the best ‘me’ I can be. It’s my life, let me live it as I choose.” So says contemporary postmodern man. And alas, so says many a postmodern Christian. Thus what I write today is not just an indictment of Scientology. Rather, it is an indictment of most of our society.
But contrast this focus on the self, this attitude of survival as being the summum bonum, with the values of the Christian faith. What is the highest ideal in our belief system? What is considered the greatest good? Is it not love? Yes, it is. Our faith stresses the priority of love.
Indeed, consider our very understanding of the most fundamental doctrine of the faith—who is God? Christianity teaches that the Deity has revealed Himself as a Tri-Une Being. He exists as a loving fellowship of three divine Persons, and has done so from all eternity. Our God is not a monolithic, absolutely alone being. Our God is a Trinity of Persons, each of whom lives in loving relationship to the other two divine Persons. Simply put, God is love.
And since we are created in His image, we are created to be in relationship, to exist in love. Love is our origin, and our goal. It is why we live, and how we live. Love is what life is all about. It is not about some existential compulsion to survive. Rather, life is all about living for God, living for others, as well as living for self. Indeed, the greatest fulfillment for the individual self is living in community, with other individuals… with all their wants and needs and hurts and victories, as well as my own wants and needs and hurts and victories. Life is meant to be lived together… in love. For us, this is axiomatic. Not survival.
In all of human history, we see one outstanding example of this fundamental “dynamic” in life. It is found in the Cross. The Cross where Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, died for the sins of the world. Survival was not His goal. Living for self was not His compelling ambition. Self-fulfillment was not His purpose for existing. Not at all. Indeed, He sought the very opposite of survival. He voluntarily sought death that we might live. He chose suffering that we might be set free. He chose to deny His own self that we might experience redemption… redemption from our sin, our bondage, our selves.
Now consider the options… self-serving survival or sacrificial love. Which would you consider the highest ideal?
* Quotes from L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology 0-8: The Book of Basics. Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, Inc., 2007, pp. 17 and 87. Also note: “Scientology” and “Dianetics” are registered trademarks of the Church of Scientology.