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The Church of Scientology's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida
As the separation of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes brings scientology into the limelight once again, the Telegraph attempts to separate fact from fiction.

What is scientology?

According to their official literature: "Scientology is a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one's true spiritual nature and one's relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being."

What are the origins of scientology?

It claims to have roots in the beliefs of "all great religions" and thus encompasses "a religious heritage as old and as varied as Man himself" and could be considered 50,000 years old.

What are the actual origins?

It was founded by a man named L. Ron Hubbard, from New Jersey, US, who wrote a book on "dianetics" in 1950. Four fans, described as an attorney, a publisher, a doctor and an engineer, then formed a Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation.

The first Church of Scientology was established in February 1954, with more than a dozen new churches springing up over the next decade.

What is the basis of their beliefs?

Scientology begins with the concept that man is "basically good, and that his spiritual salvation depends upon himself, his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe."

The fundamental principles are threefold:
  • Man is an immortal spiritual being
  • His experience extends well beyond a single lifetime
  • His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized.
What is the appeal of scientology?

According to the church, people believe in scientology because of an "absence of answers" from science. They claim scientology supplies "workable methods of application, that made it possible for Man to reach the ancient goal he has been striving toward for thousands of years: to know himself and, in knowing himself, to know and understand other people and, ultimately, life itself."

What does scientology mean?

Scientology means "knowing how to know". It is a contraction of the Latin Scio ("knowing, in the fullest sense of the word") and Greek logos ("study of").

Do they celebrate any holidays?

Yes: L. Ron Hubbard's birthday in March, the Anniversary of the first publication of Dianetics in May, and Auditor's Day in September.

How do they deal with pain?

They believe the spirit can alleviate "injury, trauma or discomfort" by "putting the spirit in communication with the body". The church advises a method of detoxification involving saunas, exercise, vitamins, the drinking of oils, as well as light jogging."

It was reported Katie Holmes was not permitted to made a noise during childbirth, for fear of having a negative affect on her newborn daughter.

How do they view human beings?

They believe life is compartmentalised into eight "dynamics". The First Dynamic, experienced by babies, is explained as an "urge towards existence" and the Eighth is an "urge toward infinity". They call a spiritual being "Thetan", meaning "the source of all life or life itself".

Do they believe in God?

They have a concept of God or Supreme Being, but no set dogma. They explain: "Scientologists take the maxim quite to heart that God helps those who help themselves."

Do they believe in reincarnation?

They believe in "past lives", with a person being born again. One cannot progress unless "aberrations" from past lives are dealt with. The concept of heaven or hell therefore relates to a future life, with experiences being earned by behaviour.

"In other words, the individual comes back," they say. "He has a responsibility for what goes on today since he will experience it tomorrow."

Do they believe in charity?

Tentatively, and with caveats. They explain: "Some form of exchange is necessary in any relationship. If a person only receives and never gives, he will lose his own self-respect and become an unhappy person."

How do they raise children?

Scientologists believe children are spiritual beings occupying young bodies, and should be given the same respect as adults.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are reported to treat their daughter Suri as a young adult, allowing her to make her own decision.

Can they cure drug addicts?

They claim so. They have established rehabilitation centres in more than 40 countries practising "narconon", meaning "no drugs".

Can they help criminals?

They also have a rehabilitation programme called "criminon", or "no crime".

What is their relationship with the media?

They say: "In recent years, church representatives have met with the editorial boards of major media outlets to brief them on Scientology, its policies and its activities. These meetings help dispel the rumors and false allegations that have gathered in reference files over the years. Such meetings have been very beneficial for both the Church and journalists."

The media says:

"Very weird cult... Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people." (Rupert Murdoch)

Do they believe in aliens?

It has been reported that scientologist believe in xenu, an extra-terrestrial dictator who brought billions of people to Earth in a spacecraft 75 million years ago before killing them. The essence of these people remains, causing spiritual harm to those in the modern day, it is claimed.

An official statement from the church, however, says "absolutely not. Scientology holds no such belief. Any suggestion otherwise is as absurd as asserting that those of the Christian faith believe themselves descended from aliens because they believe there is a Heaven."

How is it funded?

Through donations from members. The church explains: "Scientology does not have hundreds of years of accumulated wealth and property like other religions; it must make its way in the world according to the economics of today's society."

Are there any famous scientologists?

Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley and Will Smith have all been said to believe in scientology.

Has it been involved in any controversy?

Yes, a lot. Among the numerous court cases, reports and rumours involving scientology are allegations of human trafficking, holding people against their will, members cutting ties from their families and forcing a woman to have an abortion.

The church says: "Like all new ideas, Scientology has come under attack by the uninformed and vested interests. The so-called controversy of Scientology is merely the bitter old resisting the ambitious new."

The Church has its own cruise ship, the MV Freewinds, based in Curacao, for the most committed members. A former member claims she was held against her will on board for twelve years, and forced to perform hard labour.

An Australian senator called Scientology a "criminal organisation" and acused it of embezzlement and blackmail.

Does it require any commitment?

The official scientology website says that members sign a "a one-billion-year pledge to symbolize their eternal commitment to the religion."

Where can I learn more about scientology?

There are more than 15,000 pages of technical writing and more than 3,000 taped lectures on scientology. The church claims: "Its truths are self-evident, its principles are easily demonstrable and its technology can be seen at work in any Church of Scientology."

Or you could look at their official website here.