Scientology in spotlight after Cruise, Holmes split

Religion shrouded in mystery

Published On: Jul 10 2012 09:57:34 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 10 2012 10:00:00 PM CDT

Scientology remains in the spotlight after the split of one of its most famous couples.

"It is the newest of the world's religions and it is happening in the 21st century," said Jill Carroll, Ph.D., religion expert and author. "Scientology is an American home grown religion and it comes out of that American religious freedom and it seems weird to people and so we are a culture interested in that."

There is speculation the religion may be to blame for the break up of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. In a joint statement about their divorce, the former couple said: "We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs."

Cruise may be the most famous member of the controversial Church of Scientology.

"I think that is actually part of the church's design, is to thrust forward it's prominent members, like John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Jenna Elfman, Kirstie Alley and people like that, and have them up front and center and show maybe part of their success is being part of Scientology," said Carroll, the former director of the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance at Rice University.

The religion was founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and is based on Hubbard's insights.

"There is actual audio and video archives of Hubbard's ideas and so there is no guessing what his ideas were because he spent decades flushing them out on audio, video, and in his own writing," added Carroll.

Local 2 went to the Houston Scientology mission, the oldest Scientology mission according to their website, to find out more about the faith.

Scientologists there would not talk on camera but gave us pamphlets and videos about their beliefs. Religious experts say secrecy is a large part of the organization.

"There is a real secrecy motif in Scientology. The church will say it is because of the concern to protect the authenticity of Ron Hubbard's teachings. It lends a sense of mystery to it and people are like, 'Well, what are you trying to hide?' and so it doesn't always work for them," said Carroll.

As more ex-members of the religion come forward, those who study religion are getting a better perspective of what goes on in Scientology.

"They use very aggressive tactics to protect the image of the church when people leave it, and this is concern with the divorce between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes," said Carroll.

She added that while Scientology remains a mystery to many, there are an estimated 20 million people around the world who are practicing members.

"It has really progressed quickly at lightning speed. It has mad missteps and is making missteps but it is making them in the glaring light of the 21st century media," said Carroll.