What you need to know:
- It is a religion that denies the existence of sin, death, hell or heaven.
- To most Kenyans, it is a religion practised in the distant USA by Hollywood celebrities.
- Instead of a Sunday service, members have “auditing”, which is basically counselling between the church member and a qualified “auditor”
There is a new religion in town. It recognises no sin, pays homage to no one, has neither angels in heaven nor fire and brimstone in hell and whose members say they can create miracles at will.
Its head office in Hollywood, California is set in a white, seven-storey modern building that resembles a castle set among palm trees.
To most Kenyans, it is a religion practised in the distant USA by Hollywood celebrities. It is called Scientology.
A year ago, it was introduced quietly in Nairobi. Its offices are tucked away on the third floor of an unremarkable building along Ngong Road between two Christian churches; a far cry from the mother church.
The stairway is dark. It is hard to reconcile this image with that of millionaires Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Will Smith who are all Scientologists.
A sign on the door reads: Office of the Scientology Mission in Nairobi. A bookcase in the reception area is loaded with the works of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
“Welcome to the Scientology Mission of Nairobi,” says Lydiah, a staff member and Scientologist.
Christians have the Bible, Muslims the Koran, Hindus the Bhagavad-Gita; Scientologists follow the teachings of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, a book by Mr Hubbard that grew from a self-help bestseller to Scientology’s final word.
It contains fragments of philosophy, management techniques and teachings of the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus. The author claims to be a qualified engineer, atomic physicist and is a prolific science fiction.
According to Ms Esther Macharia, the executive director of Church of Scientology Nairobi Mission, Scientology is not a dogmatic religion that imposes beliefs.
“The truth only holds if it makes perfect sense to you. It is not what someone else thinks it to be. If you believe something is true, and you have seen it work for yourself, no one else can discourage you from that,” she said.
In most other religions, the faithful go to a service expecting their souls to be nourished with selected words from their respective holy books.
But for Scientologists, there is no preaching or singing of praises in honour of a deity. What goes on during their Sunday meetings is “auditing”, which is basically counselling between the church member and a qualified “auditor”.
Before one begins the auditing process, one takes IQ and personality tests. Often, the person is not fully utilising his potential, so through a series of “auditing” sessions, an individual will be able to work on the elements of his personality like happiness, responsibility and composure that may be dragging him down.
This, according to the Scientologists, also increases your IQ. A fee has to be paid for all these sessions; a 10-hour audit costs Sh2,400. As long as your personality is not balanced, you will need to go in for more sessions until you attain the perfect balance in your spiritual life – a state Scientologists call “operating thetan”, or the ultimate man.
The final stage can be reached after years of “auditing”.
Regain our freedom
Scientologists believe that all men are good, and that sin does not exist.
Whatever people believe to be sins are only negative pictures that are stored in man’s brain. These negative pictures prevent man from fulfilling his true potential. Scientologists say all this can be erased through the counselling (auditing) sessions. Consequently, hell, to them, is a state.
“We have been told from an early age that if we do wrong, we shall die and go to a frightening place called hell. We believe that what others perceive as sin are just the negative memories stored by our brain. Once we confess and confront them, they cease to haunt us and we regain our freedom,” said Ms Macharia.
For a church member to be sure he has done away with all his “sins”, his emotional stability is measured. It is only after a series of readings that the congregant can be certified as having become an “ultimate man” – spiritually.
At this state, they believe, man can acquire telepathic ability and move things that are miles away with the power of his brain. Getting to this stage takes years.
“When Christians say you can move mountains by faith, they are not far from the truth. Once you unlock your spirituality, you will be able to do exactly that.
Scientologists recognise God as having created man in his own image. So man, too, is a creator and an immortal. At death, he only sheds the vessel through which he lives and acquires another body.
And the Scientologists’ view on heaven? They say heaven is already with us. All we need to do is liberate our spirit and live it.