I find Scientology fascinating, from an anthropological point of view. The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, wrote a therapy book in 1950 called Dianetics. But two years later he lost the rights to the book, so he recast his ideas into a religion he named Scientology. Yes, a new American religion founded upon a book ― the rest is history.
The similarities and differences between Scientology and the LDS Church are too numerous to list here, but to me the three most interesting aspects of Scientology are (1) their interpersonal politics / power dynamics, (2) their theology, and (3) their practice of Fair Game.
Look, having been raised in the LDS Church on a healthy diet of teachings about Kolob and Adam being transplanted here from another world (Brigham Young, JD 3:319), I am in no position to judge another religion's space opera.
But from what I understand, Scientologists believe that 75 million years ago ― (the LDS Church has them beat, per Bruce R. McConkie, who said that God "has presided in our universe for almost 2.5 billion years") ― there was a Galactic Confederacy ruled by a person called Xenu, whose solution to galactic overpopulation was to send tons of citizens to earth and then nuke them.
The souls of the dead who had been consigned to earth (they're called thetans) were traumatized by Xenu's genocide, and humans today (the bodies that house the thetans) need to undergo "auditing" to clear themselves of the trauma.
This is accomplished through a process of holding metal rods hooked up to a device that measures a person's electrical resistance while another person (the auditor) determines what bad energy (engrams) needs to be cleared.
Scientologists consider auditing a sacred ritual (and an expensive one, to be sure ― but then, having been raised on Tithing and Storehouses, who am I to judge?).
Aye Aye, Captain
Sea Org is Scientology's core governing body, currently led by David Miscavige who holds the rank of Captain.
Apparently in 1967 Ron Hubbard had the idea to take the Church's operations off-shore on ships, away from government oversight and meddling ― much as Brigham Young led the saints West in 1847 out of the United States (ironically, the Mexican-American War soon brought Deseret back into the borders of America).
Anyway, to join Sea Org you have to sign a Billion Year Contract promising your soul to serve Scientology for this life and future ones (consider it the Covenant Path on steroids). If you think 8-year-olds don't know what they're signing up for when they're baptized, imagine a 13-year-old signing a Billion Year Contract to Scientology.
Once you're a member of Sea Org, you can marry (but only another Sea Org member, sound familiar?) but you can't have children. Or, I should say, you can have children, but you'll have to leave Sea Org until they are 6 years old ― after which your child will be raised communally and allowed to visit you on weekends.
And finally, Scientology has the famous Rehabilitation Project Force, created in 1974. RPF is a work camp that wayward members get sent to. So if a person, for example, fails an auditing session, they're sent to RPF (located within Sea Org facilities) to be rehabilitated (but hey, I served a two-year mission and had to abide by the White Handbook, so who am I to judge?).
"Think Sea Org!"
Belief systems provide the framework for understanding the world around us.
However, I think we severely underestimate how influential our beliefs are to the choices we make. Being rational creatures, our decisions grow inexorably from the soil-bed of our beliefs.
Most of us who are outsiders to Scientology cannot relate to their lifestyle, anymore than the President of the Church can relate to the non-normative, non 1950s-era standards of behavior today. "Cap those sleeves, girls!"
But LDS practices and beliefs are just as bizarre to outsiders as Scientology's are to us. We believe that God forbids coffee and dating before you're sixteen and watching Saving Private Ryan and that a person has to be sealed in the temple to gain exaltation or be damned (sorry Great-Uncle-Billy).
Our beliefs generate a series of cascading, secondary beliefs and actions that flow from the first; we are truly the incarnation of our beliefs, molding our lives into the image of whatever reality we believe in.
Hence, since I am not a Scientologist, I cannot imagine signing a Billion Year Contract to serve the Sea Org ― just as those who are not LDS cannot fathom the fact I have never drank coffee.
So what does belief have to do with discernment?
Dare I say it? We are far-too cavalier with the doctrines we espouse and teach.
Why? Because promulgating false beliefs causes incalculable harm to others who shape their lives around error.
Take, for example, the common teaching in the 19th Century by Prophets who said that, in order to obtain the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, you had to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of polygamy.
Well, the same thing is taught today (sans polygamy) ― and confusingly, we're told if you aren't lucky enough to get married in the temple, don't worry, because if you're faithful (i.e., pay tithing and follow the leaders) no blessings will be withheld from you in the eternities (which makes me wonder why any of it matters if we can vicariously and/or in a future life iron out the particulars?).
Anyway, is it any wonder that, when the truth is not found "in us" (John 1:8), our choices become corrupted? Not because we are evil, but because we have been taught to believe in falsehood. As Jesus taught:
Laying aside the commandments of God, ye hold to the tradition of men.
Isaiah taught this in his characteristically charming way, whose words always come to mind when members opine from the pulpit or in Sunday School as to the reasons others leave the Church, pointing the finger of blame (i.e. lazy learners or sinful living) like those perched atop the Great and Spacious Building:
Who are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of falsehood?
So you see the great challenge we face, which is, to learn to discern truth while having inherited "falsehood."
What Is Your Top Value?
Usually what we commonly refer to as "discernment" is nothing more than a reflection of our existing value system. If something falls "outside" of those core values, we sense (discern) it is "wrong" or "bad."
In other words, our belief system shapes our opinions on politics, religion, economics, cultural standards, and so on.
Which presents an interesting question: Are our values mixed up? Are they cross-wired and confusing our discernment?
Well, what is our highest core value? Which belief reigns supreme? Because whatever value we cherish most is likely governing the others.
Put another way, our ability to discern is heavily influenced by (and often thwarted by) the values we hold dear.
So let's hope our value system mirrors Christ's, right? What was the Lord's highest governing value? Which virtue had preeminence in His heart?
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.
(Hosea 11:4, ESV)
I would argue Christ's governing value was love. Not just any love, but a love condescending from heaven ("I bent down"), giving one's lifeforce to ameliorate the lives of others ("eased the yoke" "fed them").
Unfortunately, most organizations and churches do not place love at the top. Instead, they place obedience ("the first law of heaven") or authoritarianism ("follow the prophet").
Why? Because love serves the individual; it is exchanged between persons one-by-one.
But obedience? Authority? These serve the collective; they serve the institution and those who control it.