Scientology staffers enter a clannish world of authoritarian rules and discipline based on Hubbard writings. His works govern every detail of the operation, from how to disseminate his teachings to how to cook baby food.
To break the group's rules or fall below work quotas can subject even top Scientologists to grueling interrogations on a lie detector-type device called the E-meter, and perhaps land them in the Rehabilitation Project Force, or RPF.
The Rev. Ken Hoden, a church spokesman in Los Angeles, once described the RPF like this: "You just do some grounds work for a few weeks. That's all."
Others, however, have called it in hindsight the most degrading ordeal of their lives--although one that they believed at the time was leading them to spiritual salvation.
RPFers, as they are called, are separated from their family and friends for days, weeks, months or even longer. They cannot speak unless spoken to, they run wherever they go and they wear armbands to denote their lowly condition.
The RPF provides the church with a pool of labor to perform building maintenance, pull weeds, haul garbage, clean toilets or do anything else church executives deem necessary for redemption.
Former Sea Organization member Hana Eltringham Whitfield said in an affidavit that she once saw an RPF work crew eating like "unkempt convicts," digging their hands into a large communal pot of food because there was no cutlery or plates.
"The Church of Scientology, which was dedicated to saving the planet from insanity, had succeeded in turning these human beings into savages," said Whitfield.
Bill Franks, the church's former international executive director, said that he once lived in a crowded garage for seven months while assigned to the RPF.
"We were indoctrinated on a continuous, daily basis that we were suppressive people, that we were anti-social people, that we were criminals," said Franks, who had a falling out with the church in the early 1980s. He was accused by senior Scientologists of engineering a coup to wrest control of the church from them.
The Church of Scientology says the RPF was established in 1974 so that errant Sea Organization members would have a place to both work and study Hubbard's writings without distractions or substantive duties.
But Hubbard's former public relations officer, Laurel Sullivan, testified in a Scientology lawsuit that Hubbard told her the RPF was created because "he wanted certain people segregated" whom he believed were "against him and against his instructions and against Scientology."
In Scientology, a staff member is evaluated based on his or her productivity. Hubbard made it clear in a 1964 directive that there is no excuse--short of death--for missing work.
"If a staff member's breath can be detected on a mirror," Hubbard said, "he or she can do his or her job."
Measuring weekly productivity, Hubbard said, eliminates personality considerations from staff evaluations. Critics, however, say the system is dehumanizing.
"There is no time for anything else, for compassion, for talking or going out," said Travers Harris, who left the Sea Organization 1986 after nearly 14 years. "The only communication is about work. When work is finished you are too tired (and) you have to go to bed."
Several years ago, some branches of the church initiated a program to boost productivity even higher.
Under the so-called Team Share Program, staffers who repeatedly failed in their jobs could be exiled to cramped living quarters called "pigs berthing" and fed only rice and beans. Those who kept their productivity up would be afforded special privileges and the distinction of wearing a silver star.