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The Church of Scientology - Religion or traveling medicine show?

Title: The Church of Scientology - Religion or traveling medicine show?
Date: Sunday, 28 August 1977
Publisher: Valley News
Author: Brian Alexander
Main source: link (389 KiB)

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The Church of Scientology offers a free personality evaluation to persons interested in its counseling services. Valley News staff writer Brian Alexander took the test at the Sherman Oaks Scientology center, posing as a college student and using an assumed name. As the second segment of a four-part series on the church, he tells what happened.

The Church of Scientology's free personality test is like a warm handshake, but the grip is too tight.

The counselor who evaluates a potential parishioner's answers to a 200-item questionnaire deftly turns an insightful psychological dialogue into a high pressure sales pitch.

Some critics of Scientology say the church's counseling techniques are over-rated and over-priced. Some say it's hard to say no to the minister's hard sell, that once you're drawn into the web of courses and counseling offered by the church, the exit is well hidden. In an effort to find out, a reporter posed as a college student and took the test.

"Is your life a constant struggle for survival? " asks the questionnaire, which visitors to any of several storefront Scientology centers may complete on the premises or take home and mail in.

"Are you so sure of yourself that it sometimes annoys others?"

"Do you sometimes throw things away and then find that you need them?"

"Would you make the necessary action to kill an animal in order to put it out of pain?"

After the test is scored by a counselor, the receptionist calls the applicant to arrange an appointment to discuss the results. In this instance, the reporter's counselor is a 47-year-old minister named Mike.

Mike ushers the reporter into a tiny office and closes the door. He asks how the applicant learned of Scientology, what attracted him to it, whether he has any questions. He listens attentively, and answers questions thoroughly.

The minister than places a piece of paper on the small desk, facing the reporter. On it is a graph which supposedly represents the results of the questionnaire. This is the "Oxford Capacity Analysis," which psychology and psychiatry association spokesmen are later to tell the reporter they have never heard of.

Mike makes overall comments before evaluating each part of the graph specifically. Many of his observations seem insightful and accurate. He says such things as: "Here I see that you're an extremely active person," or, "You're a fairly aggressive person but your activity level is higher so you are what we call 'dispersed.'"

He solicits feedback from the reporter. Sometimes, when the reporter balks at a particular interpretation, Mike apologizes for "misreading" the chart. He revises his evaluation.

The chart deals in quantities such as "reliability," "composure" and "friendliness." When Mike points to the part of the graph indicating an extreme "unhappiness" (too extreme, the reporter feels), he asks what is causing the condition. He suggests various alternatives, based on points he has made earlier and to which the reporter has agreed.

Mike narrows the discussion to one specific cause for the alleged depression, carefully seeking agreement from the reporter at each step of the rationale. While each step of the progression is accurate, the reporter feels that the overall trend is simplistic and inaccurate. He says so, and Mike patiently retraces the earlier logic. When he has finished, he asks how it can be interpreted otherwise.

"Now the question is," he asks, "do you want to do something about it?"

He produces a loose-leaf binder and opens it to a page describing several benefits guaranteed by a Scientology course in personal communications. The benefits include acceptance and control of personal relationships.

The reporter asks if, given the variety of the human species, the results can be so certain. Mike turns to a page containing a small photograph of the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and a Hubbardism in large print: "We deliver what we promise."

The minister emphasizes the point, repeating it aloud and pointing to the page. Then he describes the course briefly: Two weeks long, three hours each weekday evening, seven hours each weekend day. The cost is $50. The class involves reading two books and engaging in a variety of communications drills with other students.

"It's fun," he promises.

He places a contract on the table while the reporter is still mulling it over. All during the pitch, the reporter has remained hesitant, raising several objections: He'd like to think over, talk to a friend about it; the time commitment may be a problem.

Mike dismisses each objection briskly, even revising the schedule so that one weekend day is left free. He warns against letting the "problem" go, and accuses the reporter of dealing with the decision too intellectually — one of the failings "revealed" by the test.

As the reporter assigns his assumed name to the form, Mike casually asks whether he will pay by check or cash. Having already told the minister he is subsisting on a student loan, the reporter asks to be allowed to pay on the evening of the class, the following Thursday.

Mike seems disturbed. "It makes it more real for you if you pay now," he says. "More real for you and for us, because we have to schedule these things."

It is a Friday, about 4:30 p.m. The reporter insists he has only enough money for weekend activities. Finally, Mike suggests a deposit. How much can the young man spare as a deposit on the $50 fee?

"Gee," replies the reporter, "I can really only spare about five bucks or so, hardly anything. Otherwise I'll be broke for the weekend." Besides, he says, his wallet is in the car.

"You could go to your car," Mike says.

The reporter suggests he be allowed to bring in the money on Monday. Mike is hesitant. "It makes it more real, that's all," he says. He looks at his watch. Can the young man still get to the bank before it closes?

The reporter says his bank is located in Hollywood, a half-hour drive away. Mike gives in. The young man can bring the money in on Monday.

The young man never returns.

On the evening of the first class, Mike calls the reporter at home. He asks if the reporter will be coming to class. He asks why not. He listens as the reporter says he felt pressured, that Mike was not responsive to his need for time to think about the course.

Mike apologizes. "Sometimes I get a little carried away," he says, "but you know I don't get anything out of this. It all goes to the church."

The reporter thanks Mike for apologizing.

"This is it, then?" Mike asks. Yes, the reporter replies. They thank each other, and hang up.

(Tomorrow: More inside information, from past and present members of the church. The pressure grows with time, in the ranks of Scientology.)