I visited the Ottawa Church of Scientology today with a couple of friends, and now I am trying to put the experience in words. This is not an easy task - I have little in my experience which approaches the degree of irrationality that I encountered today. Half-crazed Fundamentalist Christian street preachers look like paragons of rational and intelligent thought in comparison. It was like being inside a bad Saturday Night Live sketch that just went on and on and on, with no punchline in sight. Nevertheless, I will attempt to relate my experiences and hope for the best, and pray that the reader does not casually assume that nothing this ridiculous could be for real.
One of my friends (Craig) was doing a research paper for an English class on the Church of Scientology. The visit was part of his research. Me and my other friend (Michael) were doing it more for personal amusement then anything else. Michael, being of religious bent, also finds the use of religious trappings to con money out of the stupid and the gullible to be thoroughly offensive, and I can not say that I find practice to me morally acceptable either.
We came prepared. A few days earlier I tracked down a copy of OTIII (Operating Thetan level III - part of the Scientologists' secret writings not vailable to the general public - at least not without spending 30 minutes looking for a pirate copy on the Internet - use one of the major Web browsers and look for "Operation Clambake" ), in L.Ron Hubbard's (founder of the Church of Scientology) own handwriting, on the Internet, in graphics form. According to that document, our spirits were placed inside volcanoes 75,000,000 years ago and had hydrogen bombs dropped on them. This was done by the Head of the Galactic Confederation whose name was Xenu. This was done in order to "implant" us with "engrams" that robbed us of our true potential.
The Church of Scientology was never clear on whether this information is for real, or whether someone was making it up to make them look stupid. Publicly, high-profile members of the Church of Scientology such as John Travolta denied knowing anything about it. On the other hand, those distributing the OTIII (and other secret scriptures) were sued for copyright and trade secret violations by the Church of Scientology or one of their affiliates. I leave it to the reader to decide whether the "being nuked in volcanoes by Head of Galactic Federation Xenu" is part of the beliefs of the Church of Scientology or not. Further, I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not this is simply the most ridiculous thing that they ever heard.
Michael tracked down a copy of NOTs - "New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans" - another set of secret Scientology Scriptures, more incoherent then kooky, although certainly not lacking on the kookiness front. Further, he tracked down a copy of the Scientologists' "Oxford Capacity Analysis Test", together with the right answers. All this we brought with us when we met at the Coffee Revolution - which offers an excellent combination of second best coffee in Ottawa with high enough background noise that private conversation is possible. Unfortunately the best coffee shop in Ottawa can get as quiet as a grave.
We met at 1 pm, and proceeded to go over the Oxford Capacity Test questions and answers.
I need to digress at this point and relate my previous experiences with the Church of Scientology. It will explain my interest, as well as my distaste for this organization.
I first encountered them in the summer of 1989, in Toronto. I was taking a stroll down Yonge Street late one fine Saturday afternoon - which took me past the Scientology building. As I walked past, a nice young lady asked me if I was interested in taking a free personality test. Having nothing better to do, I said "Sure," and followed her inside. There I was handed the "Oxford Capacity Analysis Test" - which I proceeded to take. Then the lady proceeded to go away to mark it, while I browsed through the miscellaneous literature lying in profusion in the area. It looked like bad pop psychology, branching out into bad philosophy as well. According to one passage that I read, Socrates had a demon that told him what to do. This was apparently a problem. The only problem that I could see is that this was utter nonsense.
Eventually the nice young lady came back with the results and I joined her in her cubicle, and she proceeded to explain the results of the test to her. According to her, my life was a mess. Now I was not about to argue with that. I was going through probably the worst mental, physical and spiritual phase in my life, and was to some extent aware of it. However, total and utter braindeath was no one of my problems. She told me that I could be helped by taking a "Communications" course, for $250 (I think - I do not recall the precise figure). I asked her what the course entailed and she did not go into great detail. She merely said that I should give it a try. I countered by saying that there are many different people selling different remedies for personal problems - I would need to know more before giving my money to anyone.
She responded by pointing to one of the dots on the test result, and said "Well, this is just like your test shows - you can not trust anyone". The conversation continued along these lines. When I expressed my low opinion of their literatures' grasp of Socratic philosophy, she pointed to another score and said "See, this is like what your test shows - you are critical of everything". The conversation continued in this vein, until she just told me that I can not be helped - rather rudely I might add. I wished her a good evening and left. The entire episode was rather odd, but I thought little of it - I heard that Scientology was some sort of weirdo cult, and this confirmed this opinion. On the other hand I casually assumed that they are harmless - after all its a free country and if people want to turn bad pop psychology into a religion, its their right. I knew little about the actual weirdness that they believed in, but this encounter left me with the conviction that whatever it is, it must be fairly silly.
Scientology was absent from my mind until the Time magazine article in 1991, which had a great many bad things to say about the Church of Scientology. This article reminded me of the above encounter, and I related it to my friend Michael. We discussed the personality test, and I made a guess about the nature of the "right" answers - they would have to be the sort of answers given by people who are stupid, extroverted, cheerful and simply have no clue. Eventually we decided to visit the Ottawa Church of Scientology.
We decided to use my formula for correct answers - with him trying to score as low as possible, and with me trying to score as high as possible. We did so, and although our guesses were imperfect, we largely got the results we wanted. A good personality test should not have been that easy to hack, but the Scientology Oxford Capacity Analysis Test is not a good personality test. We were then taken into separate small offices to discuss the results of our tests.
The gentleman dealing with me looked at my results and said that they are pretty good, that I have no major problems with my life although of course I have some. However, a lot of people had serious problems with their life and their mental health, and of course I could help them - and to better be able to do that I had to take their Communications course - for which I had to pay, of course.
In the meantime Michael was being told that his problems - which were large in number - could be solved by taking the Communications course. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine if there is a pattern here, and if so, what the nature of that pattern is.
We thanked the Scientologists politely, told them we would think about it and left. For several more years Scientology and Dianetics entered my mind only on brief and rare occasions. This changed a few months ago when Michael came across an extensive collection of information about Scientology and Dianetics on the Internet - much of it very unflattering. Not only did it accuse them of being essentially a money-grubbing operation, but also of various unsavory activities from frivolous lawsuits directed at their opponents to harassment of their opponents and even murder. The information came from a large number of sources - including mainstream press - all of which seemed to agree on major details. The information on Scientology's website (http://www.scientology.org) created more questions then it answered.
The rather silly OTIII course was the same regardless of source - and one of the sources, Dennis Erlich, was being sued by the Church of Scientology for copyright and trademark violations for distributing it. My own research on the Internet lead me to further my conclusion that at best Scientology involves beliefs in utterly ridiculous things and giving the Church lots of money and at worst it is a dangerous and criminal organization.
Several months passed as I did more reading on the subject of Scientology. Nothing that I encountered provided any cause to improve my opinion of it. One day I described Scientology to Craig, who, upon hearing the name "Xenu" thought that this must be a joke. I recommended to him that he takes a look at the Scientology web site if he thinks that my description of them is unbelievably ridiculous. This he proceeded to do - and this developed into more then merely casual interest. Soon he was writing a research paper for his English class on the subject of Scientology. Of course, a first hand account would not hurt - hence our trip to the local Scientology org.
I return now to our 1pm meeting at the Coffee Revolution, a minute walk away from the Church of Scientology.
We went over the answers and questions to the Oxford Capacity Test, and discussed, in general terms, our strategy. Having done so, and having seriously caffeinated ourselves, we proceeded to the Church. In front was a lady offering a free film - we did not even get to tell her that we were there to take the personality test. We followed her to a small movie theatre, where the three of use were shown the first film - "Problems of Life".
The film featured a couple that were overcome with problems in their life. The film never provided any specific information about the precise nature of their problems - it seemed that despite working hard they never seemed to get ahead, but no more detail was provided. They proceeded to go around asking different people "How do we handle life?"
First they went to their college career counselor, whom they apparently regarded as extremely wise. The counselor, looking extremely wise, looked over his reading glasses and solemnly told them that "You just have to handle life". "How do we do that?" the whiney couple asked. In response the professor looked very sheepish and said nothing.
Next they went to a biologist - apparently a friend of theirs. His solution to handling life was to put it in a test-tube and throw in some chemicals to kill it - he proceeded to do just that, with what presumably was a bacterial culture, on camera by way of explanation. He then proceeded to laugh and cackle in the best 1950s horror flick mad scientist fashion. Indeed, this was one of the best mad scientists laughs I have heard for a long time.
Their next stop - although I hope that my reader forgives me if I get some detail out of its proper sequence - was a civil engineer. His solution to handling life - in this case a lone tree left in what was to become a subdivision - for now a mess of dirt, rocks and bulldozers, was to blow it up and laugh maniacally (a popular theme in the film).
Next they proceeded to visit a psychologist, but on the way there had an encounter with a police officer who told them not to cross the street on the red light. They proceeded to ask him how to handle life. His solution - hit it with a nightstick, and if that does not work, shoot it, followed by maniacal laughter. Perhaps he was a mad scientist before he became an actor. The policeman would not be out of place in any of the "Police Academy" movies - but this film was not intended as a comedy.
The film at this point had the feel of a comedy sketch took a very long time getting to the punch line.
Finally the hapless couple made it to the Institute of Psychology, where a man in white was dragging a straight-jacketed screaming woman inside. Eventually they made it to the office of a bearded psychologist who spoke with what was presumably supposed to be a German accent. In it he was busy with trying to get a mouse to run through a maze. He used a largish serrated hunting knife to prod it along.
Apparently mistaking the couple for someone from "the government" he proceeded to explain how they (psychologists) are doing an excellent job destroying the mental health of the people and making them easier to control - by controlling education and mental health care with government billions. He then noticed that the mouse was not cooperating with the experiment, and proceeded to repeatedly stab at it with his hunting knife - although the actual stabbing was done outside of the screen. Presumably no mice were hurt in the making of the movie.
Michael seemed to have some difficulty containing his laughter and this point. I leaned over and whispered "I am going to have to hurt you, Pinky!" - a reference to "Pink and the Brain", a cartoon about laboratory mice out to take over the world. It is a credit to his self-control that he did not collapse in uncontrollable paroxysms of laughter.
I fully realize that my narrative is too ridiculous to be true - and yet it is true. If my reader doubts that what I am describing in the truth, I would urge him to visit his local Church of Scientology. The entertainment is well worth the money - as long as you do not sign up for any courses or buy any of their books.
The film did not end there, of course. While sitting on a park bench discussing their next move - and clearly losing hope for a satisfactory answer - they are approached by a man in a suit who invites them to a free lecture about Scientology. Needless to say, that that lecture they find out that Scientology has all the answers to handling life.
The second film - "Orientation" - was just as interesting, although less filled with obviously wacky stereotypes. It covered the structure and organization of the Church of Scientology, and for some reason emphasized the fact that all the different Scientology organization are legally independent entities. I can not even being to speculate why they mentioned this - it seems like just the thing to set off alarms. The film also quoted a number of court decisions in different countries confirming that Scientology is a bona fide religion - the message being apparently "nine out of ten courts agree Scientology is a religion", and went on at great length explaining how evil the government, in concert with psychiatrists, is. It concluded by telling us that with Scientology, we can take control of our lives for the next trillion years, and compared not taking up Scientology with blowing your head off with a shotgun. (I am not making any of this up.)
That someone could take either of the films seriously is hard to imagine. Yet we must presume that some do. Late night psychic infomercials make more sense. Half-crazed Christian street preachers make more sense.
After the films were concluded we had the opportunity to ask questions. I wanted clarification on the statement that one can be a Scientologist and follow any other religion at the same time. "The Christian doctrine," I said, "states that one can gain eternal life - effectively taking control of ones life for the next trillion years or more - though belief in the redemption through the death and suffering of Christ. Why would, say, a Christian have any need for Scientology?"
The answers were interesting, although I use the word "answer" in a rather loose sense, since my question was not actually meaningfully answered. I was told that Scientology guarantees eternal life. But of course so does Christian doctrine, and further according to it nothing else does. The Scientologists were lying on the compatibility issue - the same can be said of most religions and Scientology. Their explanation that Scientology is compatible with Christianity because Christ is Truth, and so is Scientology so they are pretty much the same - is patently ridiculous. If true, it would also mean that Scientology is incompatible with religious that are not compatible with Christianity.
They said that the only thing that they insist on is no drugs. I asked if alcohol is a drug and they said yes. Could a Catholic partake of the Holy Communion, then? Yes. Alcohol in moderation is OK. How about Rastafarians? They did not know who the Rastafarians were, so I explained to them that they smoke pot in their religious ceremonies. Then they said that one could not be a Scientologist and a Rastafarian. Michael asked if this applies to certain American Indian religious practices that involve ingestion of peyote - would this be incompatible with Scientology. Yes, it would be, we were told.
In short, the claim that one can be a Scientologist and still practice one's own religion is a lie. Not an evasion, not a half-truth, not an exaggeration. It is a blatant, 100% lie, one of many blatant untruths at their disposal.
I asked about clams. In specific, I told the gentleman we were talking with - Martin - that I was reading the Internet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, and that it often referred to Scientologists as "clams", using that word in a derogatory way. He explained that this may have something to do with L. Ron Hubbard's book "The History of Man", which explains humanity's evolution, which involved, at one stage, being clams. I pointed out that this goes contrary to all established scientific knowledge, since clams are not even vertebrates, and belong in a very different branch of the evolutionary "tree". Martin's explanation was extremely convenient - he meant spiritual, not necessarily physical revolution. The reader should be aware that according to "The History of Man", the Piltdown Man was also one of the stages in our evolution - and I am not sure how evolution, whether physical or spiritual, could go through a being that never existed - L.Ron Hubbard did not know that the Piltdown Man was a fraud.
Then I wanted to know why Scientologists have secret scriptures that they do not want the general public to have knowledge of. Martin explained that some of that material is so much in advance of current scientific knowledge that those insufficiently knowledgeable would just think its kooky. This was one of the few things that Martin said that was neither a lie nor an evasion. A member of the general public reading their secret scriptures would indeed think that its entirely kooky - with good reason: it is entirely kooky.
I then asked if it is true what I read on the Internet - that the Scientologists believe that 75,000,000 years ago we were all placed in volcanoes, at the behest of the Head of Galactic Federation Xenu - and nuked. He said that its not. I then reached into my bag and produced a printout of the OTIII materials, in L.Ron Hubbard's own handwriting. I asked him if this was a forgery, and he said that it probably was. He showed it to his associates, who confirmed what it was bogus, but one of them seemed to react rather strongly to something that is merely forged information about them - especially when Michael pulled out his printout of the NOTs (New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans). Much activity followed on the part of one of the Scientologists present, which involved looking up phone numbers and calling people. They - especially this one lady who was never introduced - seemed rather disturbed.
Martin said that he is not actually going to look at the material, in case its for real, in which case he should not be reading it - he was not up to that level yet.
Next was the personality test. We decided in advance to try to score perfectly, but our memory was not up to the task - our results were good but not perfect. We were taken one by one to talk to someone about our results. I ended up talking with a pretty young woman name Katherine. She did not appear to have the self-confidence that the Scientologists claim is one of the results of their training. If anything she had something of a frightened little girl aspect. She told me that my high score indicated that I was concealing some problems about from myself, and Scientology training would help me to uncover it. You just can't win with these people.
I asked her some questions. Was my OTIII printout a forgery? It was. Why was the Church suing people for copyright infringement for possession of this information? She did not know. She was not at that level. Would anyone in their right mind believe in the Xenu and being nuked in volcanoes thing? "No. But I don't know, I am not at that level." No straight answer again, but she seemed very uncomfortable as a result of this line of questioning. "What was the amount of damages in the lawsuit against Time ($500 million) based on?" She did not know - but she looked very uncomfortable being asked all these questions.
How much does it cost to get become a Clear (a person with no reactive mind - a completely mentally healthy individual)? "Its expensive - about $15,000. But you really can't put a price on something like that."
Up to this point the afternoon was fun, but faced with Catherine the fun was quickly disappearing. She was trying her best - but that simply was not nearly enough to answer my questions. The looked more like a scared child then a crazed cultists - and I went there expecting to deal with the latter. I had no heart to proceed with a thorough attack.
In retrospect, I should have known better - crazed cultists are less common then merely lost souls. Deranged cultists can be fun. Mindless pathetic dupes can not.
I did not press with further questions. I thanked her politely, told her this was all very interested and that I will be sure to read "Dianetics". She asked me if I was interested in a sample auditing session and I said yes, and she said I could come in with my friend Craig next Saturday at 1 - she will try to find another auditor. She also asked me for my phone number - I gave a fictional one. She said that I would be called during the week to confirm the appointment.
I went back to the front office, chatted with Craig as Michael went to Katherine's office. Craig said that he is coming next Saturday for an auditing session, and that he gave them his phone number - at this point he winked. Martin asked if he could have the printouts - I gave him mine, saying I have another copy (he did not look happy to hear that), but as to other stuff, he'd have to ask my friend.
When Michael was done, he cheerfully agreed to hand over his printouts also, saying he can always print out more. Martin did not look impressed at that either. Through the tail end of this, more and more people - most of them looking like more senior members of the organization - arrived, many of them looking very unhappy. One of them, looking very serious, headed immediately for the office labeled "Ethics Office". While we can not be certain that our printouts were the cause of this, it seems likely, given the frenzy of running around and phone calls they produced.
We did not provide our real names or phone numbers - given the information we had about the Scientologists we did not want to have them know we had OTIII and other secret material - while at the same time knowing our names and phone numbers.
We thanked the Scientologists politely and left, heading again for the Coffee Revolution.
In retrospect, I should have given them my real name, and gone to the auditing demonstration. Having decided to make this narrative available to the public, I need to use my real name to provide the maximum credibility. This would also allow me to provide a first hand account of auditing. For those who are interested, but not interested enough for a personal visit to a local Scientology org, I would highly recommend the video "Dianetics". There is a good chance that your local library has it. In this video you will see poorly understood and badly applied psychoanalysis used in combination with the popular interrogation and brainwashing technique of repeating the same question over and over and over again.
For the OTIII and NOTs fans I have to add that there is plenty of anti-Scientology material even in their public offerings - material that may have been underused. OTIII is not essential for discrediting Scientology when we have "Orientation", "Dianetics" and mouse-stabbing psychiatrists.
Michael Voytinsky firstname.lastname@example.org Ottawa Ontario Canada http://www.igs.net/~michaelv/