Translation of a Spanish article posted on Sunday, June 28, 2015 on the website of the Bogotá daily newspaper El Tiempo
La Cienciología aterriza con fuerza en Colombia
La Cienciología aterriza con fuerza en Colombia
Scientology lands in force in Colombia
by Diego Alarcón
June 28, 2015
El Tiempo, Bogotá
People who pass by 19th Avenue and 100th Street in Bogotá have noticed a modern eight-story building that rises over the northwest corner of this major intersection. Although its construction began in 2012, nothing special had caught anyone's eye until a couple of weeks ago, when the building's owners lit up a huge vertical sign on the building's façade that says: "Scientology."
This is Colombia's National Ideal Church of Scientology, the religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and which has become famous for numbering among its adherents Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and for being the target of accusations of brainwashing and fraud.
On July 6, when its doors will open to the public, the new building will become not only the religion's main temple in the city, but also the "headquarters" of Scientology in the country, where 40,000 persons have become members, have participated in courses or have benefited from the services that this community offers, according to Paola González, president of the Scientology Colombia Association.
Next Monday, this religion will take a great leap, moving from a 1,200 square meter location at the corner of 15th and 87th streets, near El Virrey Park, to a more than 7,200 square meter modern structure that will be open from 9:30 am to 10 pm every day of the year.
The 19th Avenue building is the most visible face of an ambitious growth plan in our country, the first in South America to have a national establishment. The numbers provided by the church's headquarters in Los Angeles justify this commitment. According to the Mexican Reverend Jonathan Rico, Scientology International's official spokesperson for Latin America, "The growth of the number of members in Colombia is between 100 and 150 percent per year; if today there are 40,000, our aim is to have 80,000 by the end of the first year of this new project."
About 2,500 Colombian Scientologists, as well as guests from ten nations of America and Europe, are invited to the opening ceremony, scheduled for Sunday July 5. Actor Tom Cruise is rumored to be the guest of honor, but the organizers have not confirmed his presence.
El Tiempo visited the site and saw book stands in the reception area, television screens displaying messages and images, and an eye-catching emblem from Los Angeles with a cross and the inscription "Church of Scientology Bogotá." The ground floor features the permanent exhibition, as González calls it, where a poster invites visitors to a nearby room for 30 minutes of video offering an introduction to the religion.
"There are over a thousand hours of video that explain every aspect of Scientology," adds the spokesperson, "as well as its social betterment and community aid programs (human rights, volunteer work, rehabilitation of moral values, drug prevention and rehabilitation, etc.)."
The second floor houses the chapel, a spacious 300-seat auditorium adorned with a quotation from the founder: "Never regret yesterday. Life is in you today, and you make your tomorrow." This space will also be used for promotional events concerning the church's activities.
One of the neighboring rooms, of a much smaller size, is Mr. Hubbard's office, which, as in all churches of Scientology around the world has a portrait of Hubbard, a typewriter, and decorative flowers.
On the other floors are a library, a café with a terrace, a kind of spa called a "purification center," and 14 rooms for the courses that the church provides and whose price varies between 25 and 180 dollars (between 63,000 and 460,000 pesos, approximately), except if they are free.
Regarding the total cost of the building, González says she is not authorized to reveal it. However, El Tiempo was able to determine that the finishing work alone cost about 5 million dollars (around 12,700 million pesos).
Much more than fiction
For the Reverend Jonathan Rico, who traveled from Los Angeles to assist with the opening of the National Ideal Church, the founder of their religion, L. Ron Hubbard, is much more than a writer of science fiction, a genre in which he published more than 500 titles. He wrote for a living because he needed money to support himself in the difficult times that followed the Great Depression. He was, according to his followers, a man with an inventive vocation, concerned about spirituality and the peaceful coexistence of human beings, who traveled to the East and learned, from its mysticism, teachings that he examined in the light of Western knowledge and technology to try to understand life.
Scientology attributes to Hubbard knowledge about philosophy, theology, architecture, aeronautics and physics. "He wrote seven million words of science fiction literature. The other part of his work, on which the knowledge of Dianetics and Scientology is based, consists of something like 45 million words, including books and recorded lectures."
The typewriter that is present in all churches symbolizes the foundational work and writing from which this knowledge was born; today, the spokespersons say, Scientology spans 172 countries (with 11.5 million active members).
These include Colombia, where the doctrine arrived in 1976, when a group of 12 people founded the Church of Scientology of Colombia. They had learned about this religion in other countries and in Hubbard's books, which were brought to Colombia by Venezuelan Oggy Pinto.
This community, which over the years took up residence at the corner of 15th and 87th streets, was the seed for the new project – funded by the International Association of Scientologists – and will be integrated there after the inauguration.
Today, the Scientology Colombia Association appears in the records of the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce as a non-profit entity, registered on June 26, 2012 with assets of one million pesos.
According to González, "All the resources of the national church are derived from the contributions and donations of Colombian Scientologists as well as of Scientologists in the 172 nations where Scientology is present."
Jonathan Rico confirms that the Bogotá National Ideal Church will be the first in South America of such importance, because in no other country of the region has Scientology's advance been so remarkable.
"Part of our project is to build up Colombia as a dissemination center for the Southern Cone of South America," he adds.
Why did you decide to undertake a project of this magnitude?
In 2003, we began experiencing a huge expansion, which has been accelerating ever since. The members of the Scientology community decided to establish a national representative church. Of course, we hope the expansion will continue. There will surely be more churches in Colombia in the future.
Why is Scientology not registered as a religion by the Interior Ministry?
We simply have not completed the registration procedure. If we are given the opportunity, and if the community in Colombia so decides, we will register for the special legal status granted to religious entities.
What would you say to those who take a dim view of Scientology's growth in Colombia?
That they come and learn for themselves by visiting our new facilities, and take advantage of our services. Even if they just want to have a good time in an aesthetic and friendly place, they can have tinto coffee in our spacious café. All are welcome!
What do your followers believe?
Throughout all the doctrine written and recorded by L. Ron Hubbard and studied by his followers in courses, books, audio recordings, and videos, there is one principal goal: a civilization without crime, war, or insanity. To attain it, believers see spiritual growth as a necessity. This is a religion that considers man an eternal being that has lived before, will live again, is basically good, and is seeking salvation. And this is only possible through scientific knowledge of oneself, of the mind, of the universe, and of God.
However, its concept of God is wide, because it's a multi-denominational church that equally accepts Catholics and Muslims, Buddhists, or any other belief. There's no worship of a deity, but it does recognize the existence of a higher being, a creative force that each person interprets in his own way.
For this reason, says Reverend Jonathan Rico, there is no name for the higher being and no "genesis" to explain the origin of the world. But there is a path to find salvation that consists of spiritual learning and growth through courses and "auditing." Auditing involves sessions in which a Scientologist guide comes in contact with the believer using an "e-meter," a device whose pulses are interpreted by the expert to direct the processing of every parishioner. Rico says that an intensive series of 12 hours of "auditing" costs 838 dollars.
The work and knowledge of the spirit, they say, will lead to the conquest of freedom. But this point cannot be achieved without adherence to a moral code that does not accept promiscuity, drug use, or excessive alcohol consumption.
Scientology is complemented by Dianetics, a discipline that was also created by Hubbard and which focuses on the mind rather than on the spirit.
Regarding the criticisms for extracting money from their followers, the investigations into tax evasion that have begun in France and in Spain, and alleged physical and psychological abuses, among other issues – illustrated in the movie The Master and the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, based on the book of the same name – Rico says they no longer trouble him and that they stem from the lack of information about a religion that is only beginning to develop.
"Anyone can find out about Scientology, get to know it, and resolve any doubts. I've been asked about aliens and 'intergalactic commanders' that populated the Earth, and other stories. They are not part of our creed, but even if someone believes this, that does not prevent him from being a Scientologist. There are also Catholics who believe in extraterrestrial life," says the Mexican reverend.