Daily Brew

What does the Tom Cruise – Katie Holmes split mean for Scientology?

Observers of the Church of Scientology think the impending divorce of actors Tom Cruise, perhaps its most famous adherent, and Katie Holmes is part of a major crisis in the movement that's officially a religion but critics call a cult.

The Village Voice, which has been probing Scientology for many years, reported Friday that Israel's Dror Center has announced it's rejecting the leadership of Scientology chairman David Miscavige.

It's the latest in a stream of defections from the official church, the Voice said.

Center founder Dani Lemberger said his group is not rejecting Scientology but becoming part of the growing "independent Scientology" movement.

"Our mission is one of the few on the planet that's actually expanding," he said in an interview with the Voice. "We have left the church."

The church, in turn, served Lemberger and his wife with papers declaring them "suppressive persons," the equivalent of excommunication.

So Scientology is at least a church in one way; it's experiencing a major schism.

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Scientology was founded 60 years ago by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and a group of friends. Its first official church opened in 1954 according to a backgrounder by the Britain's Telegraph.

There's no official figure for the total number of Scientology members worldwide but estimates range from 100,000 up to eight million.

The church has tax-exempt religious status in the United States but not in Canada and several other countries, where it is regarded as a cult.

Scientology is basically a self-help philosophy that starts with the assumption that human beings are spiritually immortal and live many lives. But their capabilities remain untapped because they lack self-knowledge.

What lifts it into the religiously metaphysical is that humans have within them the spirits of Thetans — ancient aliens who came to Earth millions of years ago.

Scientology claims that by studying and using its practice of "auditing," people can become self-aware, ridding themselves of painful past experiences to attain their full potential as Thetans.

In counselling sessions with members, the church's auditors use a briefcase-sized device called an E-meter, which measures small changes in electrical resistance in the body via two electrodes known as "cans" held by the member.

Scientology claims by questioning the member and watching the E-meter's response, the auditor can help rid a person of negative engrams according to a lengthy Wikipedia article.

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Critics assert the fees the church charges for auditing, plus member donations, have allowed Scientology to amass vast wealth.

Scientology might be consigned to the religious fringes were it not for its list of high-profile followers, many of them Hollywood celebrities.

Besides Cruise, John Travolta, his wife Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie and Priscilla Presley and TV host Greta Van Susteren are among claimed adherents.

But Cruise has been something of an evangelist for Scientology. His combative 2005 interview with NBC's Matt Lauer over the value of anti-depressants channelled Scientology's virulent opposition to therapeutic benefits of psychiatry and mood-altering drugs.

So Cruise's marital split with Holmes is seen as hurting Scientology, according to the MailOnline.

The British paper reported rumours the divorce was triggered by Cruise's desire to enrol their daughter Suri in a Scientology boot camp. That prompted church officials to send a "panicked" email to followers on how to counter the negative press fallout.

Marty Rathburn, a former high-ranking Scientologist who defected from the church, predicted the Cruise-Holmes divorce would lead to exposure of the highly secretive organization's practices in court, MailOnline said.

Rathburn on Thursday posted an email on his blog he said came from the church's Office of Special Affairs on how to police media discussion of the split.

"When will David Miscavige (supreme leader of corporate Scientology and Tom Cruise's best man) ever learn that attempts to suppress communication and expression only make more news than the news he attempts to censor?" Rathburn wrote.