Most people are fascinated by other religions and customs, and this is especially true when it comes to Scientology. Because its beliefs differ so greatly from other modern religions, there’s understandably a lot of confusion around Scientologist traditions, particularly around funerals.
What exactly happens at a Scientologist’s funeral service? How do they differ from other funerals we might be more familiar with?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Do Scientologists Believe About Death and the Afterlife?
- Scientology Funeral Service Traditions
- Scientology Burial Customs
The Church of Scientology has a wide variety of practices and beliefs. These mostly focus on the idea that humans are immortal, spiritual beings who once belonged to extraterrestrial cultures. How does this belief in neverending reincarnation relate to funerals and traditions around death?
In this guide, we’ll pull back the curtain of Scientologist’s funeral services. How do these events take place, and what significance do they hold within the Church of Scientology?
What Do Scientologists Believe About Death and the Afterlife?
Because Scientology differs so greatly from other major religions, it’s important to understand their specific beliefs about mortality, death, and the afterlife. While religions like Christianity believe that souls go to God after death, things are a bit different in the Church of Scientology.
At the core of Scientology is the belief that humans are immortal. These immortal souls are known as thetans, taken from the Greek letter for Theta. Thetans reside within human bodies, and the bodies are mortal.
While other religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam think the body and the soul are similar concepts, the Church of Scientology sees them as completely different entities. The thetan (or spirit) is entirely separate from the body. While the body is mortal and must die, the soul goes on.
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Life after death
In Scientology, the spirit is said to leave the body at the time of death. A person’s true life and personality live on, though their physical body ceases to function any longer. Death isn’t something to be afraid of because the spirit is unable to die.
Instead, after death, the spirit acquires another body. There is no such thing as salvation or damnation. Life is not something that exists only in one lifetime. In Scientology, the individual comes back again and again. The only goal is to live in the present and improve one’s spirit here on earth.
Because the Church of Scientology doesn’t believe that life ends after death, there isn’t a lot of sadness or mourning around the funeral service. There is no need to host a ceremony to honor the dead, but they do so as a way to soothe family members and friends after a loss.
Scientology Funeral Service Traditions
Every person’s thetan, or spirit, is believed to be thousands of years old. They’ve passed through human lives through reincarnation, and there’s no need to have any special ritual or ceremony. Reincarnation happens naturally at the time of death.
However, a funeral service is held as a way to praise or acknowledge one’s life accomplishments and attributes. It’s a way to say final goodbyes to a loved one, and they are wished well in their future existence. These are typical in-person services, but they can also happen as virtual funerals.
Order of service or program
The Church of Scientology is incredibly private about its funeral customs. There is no one-size-fits-all service, and you’re likely to find different practices depending on the individual chapel and the beliefs of the deceased.
It’s important to note that Scientologists are welcome to have other faiths in addition to the Church of Scientology. They are encouraged to have their own beliefs about God and a greater power, so additional religious elements might be included in the service.
In general, an officiant within the Church of Scientology leads the service. These typically take place at a chapel within the church, but they can also happen at home or in another venue. The deceased person is spoken to directly as though they’re present. The officiant, friends, and family thank the individual for their time on earth and note their accomplishments.
There might be funeral songs or a graveside burial service, but none of this is required. It is up to the individual families and the specific church group to determine how to proceed with the order of service.
Like other mainstream religions, music might be included within a funeral service. These songs can be either secular, from the Scientology faith, or from another religion. Common Scientology songs that might be chosen for a funeral service are “We Stand Tall” and “Thank You For Listening.”
Music is not usually the main focus of the funeral. However, it’s music that outwardly gives the Church of Scientology funerals a similar appearance to more mainstream religions.
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Readings or eulogies
Readings and eulogies are the most important part of Scientology funerals. As mentioned above, the deceased individual is addressed as though they’re present. It’s important to thank them for their time on earth and any attributes or accomplishments. For example, the minister might say, “Thank you, Grace, for your kind personality and friendship.”
These words are a powerful way to celebrate the life of someone who has moved on to their next body. At the end of the service, a message from L. Ron Hubbard is shared. L. Ron Hubbard is the founder of Scientology, so his words carry great significance. They are:
“You are a spirit
You are your own soul
You are not mortal
You can be free.”
Though simple, these words give the deceased person’s soul “permission” to continue to their next life. Though no ritual is needed for the reincarnation process, these words are a way to bring closure to their life as they continue on their journey through time and the universe.
Duration of service
These services can vary in their duration. There are very few necessary components, so this funeral service can be a quick, efficient process.
However, for well-known Scientologists, the funeral could be a longer service as a way to honor someone’s significant time spent on earth. The specific duration is left to the family and the minister.
Like all beliefs, it’s important to follow proper etiquette at a funeral. Scientology funerals are open to people of all backgrounds, even those outside of the church. All friends and family are welcome to attend.
There are no standard rules around funeral dress, but it’s generally considered respectful to wear black or neutral colors. Flowers are also an appropriate gift to show sympathy to the family. Last but not least, the Church of Scientology does not allow any recording devices. That means no videos or photos may be taken of the service.
Scientology Burial Customs
What are the burial customs within the Church of Scientology? Do they allow flexibility with both cremation or burial options, or is there a specific tradition that’s meant to be followed?
Again, with so much confusion around this belief system, it’s normal to wonder how Scientologists lay their mortal bodies to rest. Like other modern religions, Scientology actually allows a lot of freedom of choice when it comes to one’s final resting place.
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Do Scientologists get cremated or buried?
Founder L. Ron Hubbard was famously cremated, but there is no required or forbidden treatment of the body after death. Scientologists are welcome to either bury or cremate the dead.
If buried, the family might choose to have a viewing of the body. It’s also common for some Scientologists to not use grave markers if they’re buried since there’s no need for the mortal body after death.
How do Scientologists remember and honor the dead?
There are no specific ways that Scientologists remember and honor the dead. They consider the grief families experience after the loss of a loved one to be “engrams,” or trauma on the body. All traumatic experiences are harmful, and they limit the thetan. These are expelled from the body through a process known as “auditing” which is a spiritual practice.
Scientologists often undergo auditing to help with the grief after a loved one dies. Other than this, the family is encouraged to think fondly upon their deceased loved one and focus on living their own lives. Death is not something to be feared, and most people feel comfort knowing their loved one lives on in their new life.
Scientology and Reincarnation
Unlike other modern religions, Scientologists believe that humans are immortal. They live forever through reincarnation, and there’s no judgment placed upon the soul after death.
Since reincarnation is automatic, there is less emphasis on the role of the funeral. While this is still an important way to say goodbye and thank someone for their time on earth, there is no spiritual component.
Because the Church of Scientology protects its privacy, it’s natural to be curious about what goes on at these services. This guide above offers an insider glance into how Scientologists honor the dead.