The Beacon takes a look at the controversial religion with strong Florida presence
By Evelyn Ticona
From behind a podium next to a big wooden cross, the mission holder begins the service saying, “Welcome to the Church of Scientology.”
After greeting the attendees, Marilyn Cocco, mission holder and executive director of the Church of Scientology of West Palm Beach and benefactor of the Scientology Ideal Organization, reads the creed of the Church. She then reads the sermon of the day written by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.
Scientologists display an eight-cornered cross, representing what they call the eight parts of the dynamic principle of existence: self, creativity, group survival, species, life forms, physical universe, spiritual dynamic and infinity.
“The cross predates Christianity by thousands of years,” Cocco said. “It has always represented some kind of spiritual symbol.”
Hubbard believed that humans should enhance their spirituality by acquiring mental, spiritual and bodily freedom through knowledge. Dianetics, scientologists believe, is the modern science of mental health that can help cure people from pain and heal themselves.
“Scientology is an exact science; you have to be trained to deliver it. If not, it’s not effective,” said Donna Noboa, basic courses supervisor and treasury secretary. “It’s a process of learning about yourself and life self-realization.”
One of the most controversial elements of Scientologists’ beliefs is the accuracy of an electrical device called the electropsychometer (E-meter). The E-meter is a “religious artifact” that can only be used by Scientology ministers. They say it identifies areas of spiritual distress or travail. The purpose of this device is to locate areas to be handled in order to progress spiritually.
Scientology usually hits the news because of the actions of Tom Cruise and its other celebrity followers, often in Los Angeles. However, the largest Scientology church nationwide is located in Clearwater, Fla.
In 1975 the church of Scientology bought the property of the Fort Harrison Hotel, which was abandoned at the time. Two years later it opened its doors, making it the land base of the Church of Scientology.
“The Church of Scientology moved to a place where they could find the opportunity to find mental development and spiritual growth,” Cocco said.
According to its official Web site, the Clearwater location has more than 12 buildings and approximately 1,200 staff members. At any given week they receive up to 2,000 out-of-town visitors that are just a small part of the 12,000-person Scientology community in the city.
“At the Clearwater church Scientologists can receive services they can’t receive anywhere else,” Cocco said. “They have people that speak almost every language and visitors from almost every country of the world.”
Many Christian leaders label Scientology as a cult. Bernie Cueto, campus pastor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, points to the group’s view of Christ.
“More important than a group’s use of a symbol is what they do with Jesus Christ, and with what the symbol represents,” Cueto said. “The cross goes beyond a mere symbol such as the lotus flower for Buddhist, the Star of David for Judaism, the crescent moon for Muslims. The crucifix became popular in the sixth century, but the symbol of the cross is seen as early as the second century onward.”
Cueto believes the Church of Scientology is misguided in its use of the cross.
“There is nothing friendly or soothing or filling about the cross,” Cueto said. “It represents the ultimate sacrifice. It is where Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world and [bore] punishment in our place. It represents salvation to all who believe.”
“They also say that Scientology is a pathway to greater freedom and that dianetics, a mental study, is the solution to mental and physical illnesses,” Cueto said. “Their religion is based on the individual and the idea that each of us can achieve ultimate truth and freedom by the study of L. Ron Hubbard’s books.”
The truth according to the Bible, Cueto said, can only be achieved through “the person and work of Jesus Christ.”