What's a Scientology Funeral Like?

    John Travolta, Jett Travolta Splash News

    Given the sad news about Jett Travolta, I got to wondering: What is a Scientology funeral like?
    —Deb, Skokie, Ill.

    There are funerary customs specific to Scientology, the longtime religion of John Travolta and his family. (FYI: Other superfamous Scientology adherents include Tom Cruise, Beck and My Name Is Earl castmates Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee.) A hallmark of Scientology is the belief that humans are immortal spirits, or thetans—beings who have lived many lifetimes and whose potential is unlimited.

    A funeral, therefore, focuses on the departed like this... addressing him or her directly during the service, urging the departed to move on to better times. Tommy Davis, spokesman for Church of Scientology International, told me today that a Scientology service "addresses the person as a spiritual being and is meant to acknowledge the life they lived and their right to move on." Scientologists also believe that Jett's thetan will move to a new home in another human body.

    On the official Scientology website, a news release includes a passage from a typical church funeral service. If used to memorialize young Jett, it will go like this:

    "We do not contest your right to go away. Your debts are paid. This chapter of thy life is shut. Go now, dear Jett, and live once more in happier time and place. Thank you, Jett."

    A sociology professor offered more insight to me today about what might happen at the funeral. According to Stephen Kent of the University of Alberta, "It's a pretty basic ceremony. Scientologists like to hold them in Scientology chapels, officiated by a Scientology minister."

    Other details, confirmed to me by both Kent and Davis:

    • Someone will likely offer readings from Scientology founder and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

    • The 16-year-old's body may lie in state, or his ashes may be present, or perhaps just a photo will be displayed. The church is flexible on this point, Kent says, because, "the body is relatively unimportant. It's the thetan that is attached to the body that is the focus. The purpose is to wish the thetan well on its future journeys and luck in future incarnations."

    • Nonmembers of the church are not banned. If the funeral is private, the family may extend invitations to people who are not Scientologists.

    Afterward, Scientology ministers will be available to counsel the Travoltas if needed.

    • There will be no talk of a heaven, as Scientologists do not believe they go there after death.

    A funeral service is expected to be held in Ocala, Fla.

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