All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.
Disclaimer: Dianetics and Scientology are trademarks of the Religious Technology Center (RTC.) These pages and their author are not connected with the Church of Scientology or RTC, or any other organization residing under their corporate umbrella.
This site is best viewed using a highly standards-compliant browser
You either swear by it or at it. Writer Mike Cowley joined Toronto's Church of Scientology and found it a super sales job — and it costs
AN UNINSPIRING, four-storey converted house on Avenue Road in Toronto is the headquarters of the Church Of Scientology in Canada, a branch of the world-wide religious cult which has been banned by two Australian states and condemned by British Health Minister Kenneth Robinson as "socially harmful ... a potential menace to the personality" and "a serious danger to health".
Yet here in Canada, Scientology is flourishing and claims that its rapidly expanding membership exceeds 5,000 after being fully operational for only two years.
Just what is this Scientology that can come under so much international criticism and yet continue to thrive and grow almost unnoticed in the heart of this teeming metropolis?
Scientology is concerned with the inner mind of man. In brief, it is a form of psychotherapy combined with personality assessment and training.
While it is directly related to some aspects of psychology or psychotherapy, scientologists refuse to accept any direct reference to these disciplines.
However, it is based on the removal of blocks or inhibitions which scientologists say prevent man from living his life and developing his mind to the fullest capacity.
This, answer the critics, is nothing more than dangerous dabbling by amateurs in a field where even highly trained psychologists tread with utmost caution.
In an attempt to discover the truth for myself, I joined the Toronto church and for nearly two months became an active member of the Org — the name scientologists give to their local headquarters.
I had to adopt a cloak-and-dagger role as scientologists have a history of being, to say the least, unfriendly towards inquiring journalists.
This was impressed upon me by a statement of British MP Peter Hordern, who said: "The public has been hampered in its knowledge of Scientology by the fact that on every occasion the organization has been named by a newspaper, that newspaper has been served with a writ of libel."
Rod McTaggart [eventually declared Suppressive Person], a former Toronto advertising company vice-president and new public relations director for the Toronto Org, further lent weight to this when he told me: "We don't like reporters and that's that."
This anti-press feeling has been compounded over the years since the groundwork for the movement was first laid in the United States. One day in the late 1940s, a group of science fiction writers were meeting in New York when a discussion started on the weakness of orthodox religions. It was decided that a new religion was needed to recapture an apathetic public and that this new religion should draw liberally from science fiction and psychoanalysis.
This story has been told many times and details of the actual conversation were never recorded, but one man's name always crops up. Today that writer, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, is the undisputed leader of the cult of Scientology.
Since he launched Scientology in the United States in 1950, Hubbard has written hundreds of thousands of words about his religious movement, which appear riddled with schoolboy psychology. They contain a highly repetitious presentation of ideas and claims written in breathless fashion and depending entirely on the authority of Hubbard.
His epics even contain elements of pure science fiction with references to the Thetan — the closest thing the church gets to acknowledging a spirit. This Thetan is omnipotent and usually resides in the skull or hovers near the body. Scientologists claim Thetan controls the body. Thetans have apparently been going for all eternity, moving from body to body when physical death occurs.
Just how thousands of people, many with high IQs, have been able to accept this dogma has astonished critics of the movement. The answer probably lies in the personality of Ron Hubbard.
He was born in Nebraska in 1911. Beyond this his biographies tend to get hazy. He is not a nuclear physicist as he claims in a number of his books. The Ph.D. he once printed after his name was awarded by the Sequoia University in California, an establishment described as "a degree mill of the most basic kind, offering fancy bits of paper to all comers for reasonable sums".
Hubbard did attend engineering school in Washington, D.C., for 18 months but never graduated. During the war he saw active service as a naval officer. He was severely wounded and discharged on physical grounds. [L. Ron Hubbard was no war hero] During the period of recuperation he formulated the theory of Dianetics, a new science of the mind.
|The Dianetics fad took America by
storm, eagerly embraced by university students and large
numbers of faculty. "For a brief but definite moment,
the world of psychology quaked,"
Dr. Christopher Evans,
an eminent British psychologist, wrote in his study on
"However, public opinion forced Hubbard to produce a Clear (the ultimate stage of enlightenment reached by scientological processing) and in what must have been one of the major tactical errors of his life, he introduced one Sonia Bianca, a college student, as a real life example before an audience of 6,000 in Los Angeles.
"Alas, Miss Bianca failed even to answer some simple questions on physics, the subject she was majoring in, and here the audience began to walk out in an explicit manner.
"From here on in the promised miracles failed to materialize as temporarily improved neurotics found their neuroses again, and as the press clamor came to a halt, so the bubble burst."
Two years after the Bianca episode, Hubbard announced the birth of the Church Of Scientology, "an applied religious philosophy" which retained most of the basic features of Dianetics.
Since then Scientology has hit the headlines with spasmodic bursts of notoriety. In 1965, the state of Victoria in Australia branded Hubbard a "fraud" and scientology "evil, fantastic and impossible, its principles perverted and ill-founded, its techniques debased and harmful".
In Britain, where Hubbard set up his international headquarters near East Grinstead, Surrey, the axe fell on Scientology last year. The Home Office announced that 800 scientologists arriving from their 22 centres in six countries would not be allowed in to attend the international congress.
Of the many factors that led to this official condemnation, one case stands out. This involved one of the constituents of Peter Hordern, a Miss Henslow, who had a history of mental illness.
Miss Henslow was accepted as a fee-paying student of Scientology early in 1966 and took lodgings in East Grinstead. She became confused and her mental state deteriorated.
The MP revealed that Miss Henslow had written a letter to her mother repudiating her and how, at the end of July, two scientologists had brought Miss Henslow to her mother's house late one night "dressed only in a nightgown and in a completely deranged condition".
Despite the furore, international headquarters are still in Britain. And it is from there that instructions are sent around the world, including Toronto. Hubbard has taken to floating around the Mediterranean in a yacht. I was present at a scientology service when a message from the founder was announced. It read: "CLEAR THE WORLD NOW" and was signed "RON".
Anyone who wants to become a scientologist in Toronto can walk in off the street, as I did, and get the free personality test. (This is about the only free thing I found in scientology.)
|After I had answered the 200 questions
— similar to ones found in any standard psychology test
— the results were translated into a graph. According to
a slightly built youth, adorned with a
Zapata moustache moustache and psychedelic tie, my
answers showed I lacked the ability to communicate. In
detail it revealed I was impulsive, depressed, nervous,
subjective, critical (I'll go along with that one),
lacking in accord and withdrawn. In fact, it was
suggested I wasn't in very good shape.
"Would you like to change any of these points?" asked a tall, statuesque brunette in a mini-skirt and black net stockings. She was Susan Prieur, a musician's wife and secretary to the Toronto Org.
"If so," she added, "you might try starting with the basic communications course. Scientology works and it can work for you."
Scientology services bear very little resemblance to those in orthodox churches. Basically they are half-hour lectures by members of the organization.
The ministers of the church are known as "auditors" and are graded according to their successful completion of Scientology courses.
At the first service I attended, the 40 members present seemed particularly excited as Lisa Tate, the wife of the head of Scientology in Toronto, Rory Tate, was scheduled to give the lecture. Lisa, the only Grade Eight auditor in Canada, had recently returned from a special course with Hubbard himself on board his yacht known as the Sea Org. A slim attractive girl, she bubbled with enthusiasm about her trip, informing everyone that Ron had announced his technology was now 100 percent effective. She didn't explain how or why this had happened, but this didn't seem to concern anyone but me.
Afterwards the members, ranging from housewives to hippies, drank coffee and chattered incessantly about the wonders of their movement. The intensity of their sincerity is staggering.
There is an aura about a scientologist, particularly one who has progressed lo become an auditor. At first I couldn't put my finger on it, then I suddenly realized it's because they seldom blink. This may seem unimportant but it does convey a tremendous air of frankness when the person you are talking to can stare you straight in the eye with minimal eyelid movement. I learned later that this, to put it crudely, is a trick of the trade. As part of the communications course, scientologists stare into each other's eyes for prolonged periods to achieve what they claim is a state of beingness.
My confrontation with pure scientology methods came when I undertook an intensive five-hour course, designed to complete what are known as the three sub-zero grades, costing a cool $150.
This brought me into direct contact with the mysterious E-meter — the scientific device which plays a vital role in Scientology processing and is described by the organization as "a confessional aid". It is actually a couple of wires, two tin cans for handgrips with electrodes attached, a resistor dial for measuring changes in the electrical circuit formed by the participant taking one grip in each hand. Changes in the electrical conductivity of the skin, caused by sweating, squeezing the cans etc., cause spectacular jumps in the needle which look exciting to anyone unfamiliar with simple electronics.
To the auditor operating the device, jumps in the needle suggest points in the session where the Pre Clear (the term used for a student) is being faced with an engram or repressed memory. It is the purpose of the processing to erase these engrams.
This simple, and far from foolproof tool, has been around psychological laboratories for years.
When I presented myself for processing, my auditor, Larry Wilbur [eventually declared Suppressive Person], asked me whether I had taken drugs recently, consumed alcohol in the last 48 hours, had a history of mental illness and a variety of other questions. I was able to answer in the negative, which is expected of all Pre Clears before sessions.
Then he questioned me on what I had eaten during the past 24 hours and didn't seem satisfied my consumption was high enough. He told me to go out and get something to eat, explaining this had something to do with my metabolism as far as the processing was concerned. When I returned he asked me to hold the cans while he took a reading on the E-meter. Then he almost floored me with his first question.
"Are you here for any other reason than what you say you are?" he asked. The needle must have jumped as he indicated he was not satisfied when I answered, "No". He repeated the question and this time I achieved what is called the "floating needle", a free-flowing action of the needle which indicates no repressed memories. This, in itself proved the inaccuracy of the machine as I definitely had a purpose in being there other than the one I had told them.
He then asked a series of personal questions on the lines of whether or not I enjoyed good relationships with my parents.
Later, under his prompting, we tackled my engrams or repressed memories. I was asked to recall an incident that had been painful to me. I selected a death in the family. He asked me to recall the year, the month and the exact date. After it had been pinpointed, I was asked to relive it in my memory. Moments later, I was asked to recall it again as he took a reading on the E-meter.
"You have a floating needle," he said, and that was that. The needle had indicated to him that it was no longer a repressed memory and so would not cause me pain.
The session, interspersed with rest periods, lasted approximately three hours — although it is billed as a five-hour course — and at the conclusion he announced I had come through with flying colors and had achieved my three sub-zeros.
Strangely enough, I felt a little uplifted at the conclusion of the session. It was as though I had achieved something and yet I hadn't a clue as to what it was. This sensation lasted only long enough for me to gather my thoughts.
At the end of each part of the session, I was taken into another room where examiner Bob Nagy tested me on yet another E-meter. Finally, he shook my hand and congratulated me. Then he presented me with my certificate which was nothing more than a sheet of plain typing paper with a gold foil seal, looking suspiciously like a milk bottle cover, affixed to it.
|"I can see by your face you have been
successful," Janice Jourdin, a scientotogy official,
commented on seeing me. "You are shining in the dark."
Despite the build-up, I had no illusions when Susan Prieur requested I sign a contract to carry on with the processing.
One clause stated the church could insist that I disassociate myself from any person, including members of my own family, it deemed unsuitable during processing.
I objected to this and — asked how Scientology could claim to offer freedom, yet place such restrictions on members. A few days later when I discussed the contract again, she told me instructions had been received that this particular clause be dropped.
In addition lo this contentious clause, the contract reserves the right for the church to continue the processing beyond the contracted time. Any person who signs such a contract faces the possibility he might have to go on paying indefinitely.
As a result of these findings, I came to the conclusion that this was nothing more or less than an excellent sales job for a bogus cause.
And apparently, I'm not the only person who has visited the Toronto Org and left with that feeling. Michael Hands, a Toronto insurance consultant, paid two visits to the church at the request of a neighbor.
"My neighbor's daughter had expressed an interest in Scientology and he asked me to go and have a look at it and give him my opinion.
"As far as I was concerned, it was like walking into a used car lot, except there were no cars, just enthusiastic salesmen. As far as the religious side goes, maybe I'm cynical, but I just couldn't swallow it. The whole atmosphere in there worried me and after I read one of their books and saw the cost involved, I just felt sick about the whole business."
The price of salvation at this church comes high. Each grade, and they offer four in Toronto, costs $150. In effect, the cost of the grades plus additional supplementary courses, can run into thousands of dollars. And yet the members I spoke to have few qualms about the prices.
"If it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars it would still be worth it." Rod McTaggart told me. "Anything that works the way Scientology does should not be considered in financial terms."
Dinah Christie, one star of the now-defunct This Hour Has Seven Days TV show, is a scientologist and says she has been "thrilled by the results".
I contacted her by phone in New York where she told me: "As far as I'm concerned, it's done me nothing but good. I've been into Zen and many other things but this is the first time I've had anything really tangible to show for it.
"It's helped me both professionally and personally.
"I see Scientology as a movement which enables people to drag out the garbage they have accumulated in life and throw it away. It's really a groovy thing.
"I find it a little shocking that something so fulfilling can happen to a person so quickly. I feel very sad that people can see something awful in it. I haven't seen anything bad in it yet. If I had, I'd be long gone."
It is this kind of positive reaction to Scientology which has caused some sociologists to consider that the movement can make a contribution, no matter how dubious, to society.
John Jackson, a lecturer in sociology at the University Of East Anglia in the U.K., wrote of Scientology recently:
"It may have a therapeutic value in the fact that it allows the individual to come to terms with himself inside society. If in fact this cult offers a socially possible alternative to psychological breakdown, we can regard their activities with more tolerance — while still perhaps viewing with serious doubts any pretension to truth."
Yet this compromising position ignores the basic danger in scientology. The danger that zealous members, unskilled in the complex field of psychotherapy and convinced of their technology's infallability, could subject seriously disturbed people to hours of mind-blasting processing.