Since the sudden death last weekend of John Travolta's son, many questions have been raised about the views of the Church of Scientology about treating illnesses.
The Travoltas are among the best-known Scientologists.
Jett Travolta died at the family's vacation home in the Bahamas of what an autopsy showed was a seizure disorder. He was 16.
A memorial service was to be held Thursday in Florida.
On The Early Show Thursday, co-anchor Julie Chen asked Scientologist spokesman Tommy Davis to comment on many of the notions about the church that have been raised by its critics in the days since Jett passed away, and to explain some of the church's basic beliefs.
Davis, who says he's known the Travolta family for more than 18 years, told Chen, "The thing you have to understand is Scientologists, like many people, like anybody, we go to doctors if somebody's sick, some sort of physical ailment. We go to the doctor. You get a prescription. You know, whatever the course of treatment that would be recommended by a doctor, you're gonna do that. You know, it's very important. It's not -- I mean, really, it's actually something that's mandatory from the church's viewpoint. If someone has some sort of physical difficulty or problem, something's happening with them, they're ill, go to a doctor. Get it checked out. Find out what's going on. If it involves a prescription, or whatever treatment the doctor recommends, they're gonna do that."
What about psychiatric drugs?
"There's a difference. We're talking about a medical condition. When you have a medical condition and there's something happening with the body, there's some sort of illness going on..."
"But people think," Chen pointed out, "you know, a medical condition can be a chemical imbalance, take antidepressants, but Scientology doesn't think that's a medical condition?"
"That's not even a viewpoint as far as Scientologists are concerned," Davis responded. "That's something that's really clear, you know, just even in the medical community. You have physical ailments, there's something wrong with the body. There's something happening. That can even involve, you know, malfunctions of the brain or these kinds of things. And those things are treated. Like seizures, for example, you're gonna, if there's an anti-seizure medication recommended by a doctor, you're gonna do that."
Chen asked about the notion that Scientology doesn't acknowledge there is such a thing as autism, and Davis replied, "To the degree you have a medical condition, like there's something going on like, you know, seizures or some sort of physical problem that's happening with the body, you know, that's gonna get treated by a doctor. But the church doesn't involve itself in diagnosing or classifying medical conditions. I mean, it's just not -- as a church, we deal with the spirit. In terms of bodies, and the handling of physical problems, that's something for the medical community."
"But," Chen pressed on, "will you acknowledge that autism does exist in the world, not so much, you know, I'm not saying you'll diagnose it, but is there such a thing as autism in the world of Scientology?"
"I mean, yeah, to the degree that you have the medical community acknowledging that there is this thing called autism and that it requires treatment and doctors treat it and so on and so forth, yeah, absolutely," Davis said. "I think I would go the other way from it. There's this misconception or this thing that I've certainly seen, that the church doesn't, quote, unquote, recognize autism. It's just not true. It's not -- we don't recognize or not recognize anything. I mean, we're a church. And if you're dealing with medical conditions, that's doctors. Doctors do that. We tell Scientologists, you have something going on physically, you have to go to a doctor, you have to get that properly treated."
At that point, Chen turned to Scientologist views on the hereafter.
"The best way to understand that," Davis explained, "is, in Scientology, you, the individual, are an immortal spiritual being. ... living forever. It's like you don't have a soul or a spirit. You are an immortal spiritual being. That is who you are. So you lived before. You'll live again. The concept of past lives. And it's really in the older, you know, Asian sense in terms of that, in terms of Buddhism or Hinduism. Different from reincarnation, because that gets into what you're gonna come back as. It's really a much simpler process, you know. You inhabit a body, but you aren't your body. So, as a spiritual being, you're gonna come back in a new body. You've had lives before, you'll have lives in the future."
"If Jett comes back in someone else's body, will it be someone that the Travoltas know? What's the belief there?" Chen asked.
"It would never be anything so specific," Davis answered. "Really, the point is as a general rule, and this would apply to anybody. If you go back to that basic idea that the individual himself or herself is an immortal spiritual being, you're living lifetime after lifetime after lifetime, and that's your existence, you know, through time. So, when the body dies, you would go and pick up a new body, really, to sort of put it in a simple sense. You know, whatever, whoever that may be."
What's a Scientology funeral like?
"It's pretty conventional in terms of what most people would be familiar with a funeral. You have a minister, an ordained Scientology minister that would conduct, you know, the service. And often, family or friends will talk about the person who's passed away. You could have a eulogy, you know, these kinds of things."
Is there a lot of people grieving and crying, or does that defeat the purpose of what you believe in, that they're not really dead?
"Well, here's the thing," Davis observed. "I mean, you know, whenever anyone experiences a loss, I mean, it's a huge emotional loss for anyone to be gone. And to the degree -- I mean, of course ... the concept (is) that the person themself and who they are as a person that you know is never gone. And so, to that degree in a Scientology funeral service, it's really a celebration of the person's life and acknowledging them for the life lived and wishing them well in their next. So, it's really a celebration of their life. Anyone's going to grieve with that kind of loss. And anyone would."
Davis described the Travoltas as "doing great. You know, I think it's really -- this is a time for them and their family and their friends and, you know, like anyone, we would wish them well."
"So," Chen followed up, "what would the proper thing be to say? Do you say, 'So sorry for your loss?' What would be the appropriate thing to say? 'He goes on?' I don't know."
"Sure. What you just said, of course," Davis replied. "You know, for any Scientologist, it's really no different than anyone else, you know, anyone grieves the loss of a loved one or a friend or, you know, anyone that they know."
So it is a loss?
"Sure, of course. Of course."
But Jett will live on later in someone else's body, but we don't know who and when?
"Yeah. To that degree, exactly. I mean, I think just from a simpler concept, you know, Scientologists are like anybody else. You know, you have your family and you have your loved ones. And to the degree that they're there with you, you know, that's a wonderful thing. And when they're gone and they're not around anymore, you know, that's a loss. And -- but I think as a general rule, people the world over definitely, you know, have the concept that we're spiritual beings, and that we have a future, and there's life down the road, and there's more to look forward to no matter what. And we know, you know, that our loved ones are always with us in some way."