On this day in 1954, the first Church of Scientology was established in Los Angeles. The Church was originally incorporated in December 1953 but the first church appeared a few months later. Scientology is a religion (though some have labelled it a cult) which was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its main teachings are that humans are in fact immortal beings who have lost their true nature and need help to recover it through counselling. Members have to pay for these sessions during which they recount painful memories, which is intended to be therapeutic.
The higher up in the levels a member gets, the more teachings they are told. One of the most famous of these is the belief that millions of years ago the intergalactic tyrant Xenu dropped people into volcanoes on Earth. The thetans (souls) then stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do so today. The organisation has a considerable celebrity following, with actors such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta as famous advocates of the Church. Scientology is very controversial; those who claim it is a cult maintain it exploits its members for financial gain, whereas its defenders insist it is a valid religion.