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Hands off my brain

Title: Hands off my brain
Date: Sunday, 22 July 1984
Publisher: The Sunday Times (UK)
Main source: link (70 KiB)

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LAFAYETTE Ron Hubbard's face stares down from practically every wall in the Church of Scientology's headquarters in East Grinstead, Surrey. It is not especially prepossessing. It is the face of a foxy charlatan and begs the question: would you buy a used cult from this man?

In previous years an insult like this to the great Hubbard would have been enough to guarantee perpetual harassment and investigation by his Scientology sect whose code of honour states: "Never fear to hurt another in a just cause."

Now, of course, scientologists are anxious to project a less threatening, less creepy image. They are no longer fighting 176 legal actions against the world's press: they no longer start malicious rumours about their enemies and at all times they bear smiles of quite sickening happiness.

They are still, however, as persistent as ever. Eighteen months ago, on the occasion of L. Ron Hubbard's reported death (not true, say the sect), I wrote an article about my experiences with the sect in Amsterdam.

Briefly, I was approached by a young man and asked if I would help him in a consumer test. He gave me the impression that I was going to try a new brand of beer. It turned out to be a rather long and repetitive personality examination which proved, as they always do, that I was an emotional and intellectual cripple.

A woman who appeared to be in the same, if not worse, psychological state as me, tried to persuade me to take one or two of the special courses to sort out my problems. I did not.

The external affairs department of the cult took exception to the article and while they did not sue, they did spend many fruitless hours trying to talk to me on the telephone.

They left it for a while and there suddenly out of the blue invited me down last week. Much of the estate, where Hubbard's obedient followers are building a medieval-style castle, is given over to the teaching of between 400-500 students of advanced scientology. Room after room is filled with men and women poring over Hubbard's books (he has sold 20m copies), staring into each other's faces and fiddling with the E meter.

This rather bogus piece of electronic gadgetry is used by the sect to help people eliminate the nasty images we all carry round in our minds and which prevent us from fulfilling our potential. It works on the same principle as a lie detector and registers stress.

My guide from External Affairs suggested I had a go on the meter and proceeded to ask me a series of questions designed to expose moments of anxiety in my life. This it conspicuously failed to do until I looked up at Hubbard's mug and the needle went haywire.

Despite the absurd simplicity of Hubbard's path to clean-living harmony, on the whole I do not feel that people I saw at East Grinstead looked especially happy, despite the smiles. The place has about it the air of an institution: there are too many rules (Don't walk on the grass, Out of bounds, Do not enter, Silence, Pastoral Counselling in Progress), there are too may uniforms and despite the pleasant country surroundings, there is something ineffably depressing about East Grinstead's Saint Hill Manor.

Cynical I may be, but should you be asked by a pleasant young man to taste some beer or help him in a psychological survey, just walk on.