A Night with the Scientologists

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April 1, 2008 by korshi

I went on an excursion with 3 friends tonight to the Scientology Office here in Sydney. I’m going to have to be careful that this doesn’t turn into a Scientology blog with all these posts on the subject, but it was a bloody interesting experience, in a surreal way.

The Office is open until 10pm every weeknight, and in fact was still well staffed when we got there around 7pm… apparently Scientologists don’t go home. We went from work, and after a few minutes hanging outside the door, giggling nervously and working out whether or not we should make up a cover story explaining our presence, we went in. Deciding to be straight-up, we just told them that we were just interested in taking the free personality test, and maybe see some videos. The staff were very friendly, and ushered us into the main room of their 5-storey office.

We sat in a little cubicle to do the test, a table with dividers set up to hide our answers. I went through a phase during adolescence where I took every online personality test I could find, so I consider myself something of an expert on the subject, and this had to be the weirdest one I have ever laid eyes on. The “Oxford Capacity Analysis” test is its official name; needless to say it has nothing to do with Oxford University. There’s a full version and criticism of the test here, but there were some particularly bizarre features that leapt out at me.

Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?

Apparently this question was pretty important, because a few questions later it appeared again with slightly different phrasing.

Does an unexpected action cause your muscles to twitch?
Other questions were obviously referring to political issues that must have exercised the imagination back when the test was written in 1960, but seem irrelevant and almost quaint today:

Do you consider the modern “prisons without bars” system doomed to failure?
Are you in favor of color bar and class distinction?
Are you opposed to the “probation system” for criminals”

Still others showcased L. Ron’s loose grasp of grammar and liberal use of inverted commas:

Do you ever get a ‘dreamlike feeling’ toward life when it all seems unreal?

Still more were slightly disturbing insights into the questions that he considered most pressing:

Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?

Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?

If we were invading another country, would you feel sympathetic towards conscientious objectors in this country?

I’m not even sure where he’s going with that suicide one. Is he asking if we’d be likely to commit suicide, or just think about the subject? And I love the image of Hubbard, perhaps dressed in his Admiral’s outfit, maybe even leaning over a Risk board, and considering very seriously how exactly he would treat the conscientious objectors in that country.

Anyway, after the half hour or however long it took us to fill that out, I was anxious to watch a video. The walls were covered with copies of Dianetics in every language you coud think of; booklets covering every subject from effective study techniques to the secrets of marriage. There were huge posters explaining the Reactive and Analytical Minds, the Tone Scale and the ARC Triangle; all things I had only ever heard of on the ‘net. In the background I could hear a video hagiography of the founder, and I got a bit excited hearing His Hubbardness’ voice telling in his own words the story of how he broke in a fiery horse (at age 3 from memory). He seemed to have quite a good speaking manner, which went some way towards explaining how Scientology got started. It might be a load of crap, but it would have taken some charisma to convince people to hand over their money in the quantities he did.

Unfortunately, the video watching was not to be (I think it was a paid session anyway, I asked to watch it later and the guy seemed a bit reticent and said he had to ask permission). My friend Stefan had noticed there was an ‘IQ’ test on the other side of the booklet, and asked to take it. So we all got stuck into another poorly worded, tedious test. This one actually seemed to have some of the trappings of a real test, although the questions were much more ambiguous and culturally-specific than most intelligence tests I’ve seen, and the 30 minutes given was a very tight fit, I only got 78 out of the 80 questions before the buzzer went off.

We all scored very high on the IQ test, I got 144, and much as I would like it to be so, I’m fairly certain from previous tests I’m more in the 120-130 range. Testing intelligence is a controversial subject from what I understand, so there could be room for error. My research on the net hasn’t cast much light on the test’s validity. This site claims it’s valid, which seemed like a satisfactory answer, until I noticed that the “expert” giving the opinion was a second-generation Scientologist and Operating Thetan. So if anyone has any real information regarding the Novis Mental Ability test, I’d be interested to hear it.

With that out the way, we sat around on chairs and had a read of some free literature. Actually, it wasn’t free, as I found out later; what seemed to be booklets each would have cost $7 to take home, and an awesomely strange book on Scientology Theology that contained exactly the sort of scientistic-metaphysical gems I was looking for (“Axiom 38: Stupidity is the unknownness of time, place, form and event“) was not even for sale; apparently it was given as a gift to “Premiers” and such. I thought of mentioning that I was an influential blogger, but I didn’t think it would fly. After about ten minutes (and a trip to the toilet which involved finding my way up a set of steps and through a labyrinth of books, CDs, cassettes and more posters) we each were assigned to a Scientologist for a debriefing.

I don’t remember my Scientologist’s name, I think it was Wendy or something similar. She was an English woman who had been in the church for about 35 years. I quite liked her, she seemed genuine and friendly, although her insistence that I should take a $32.50 course or buy a $26 book as my first exploratory steps made me a little concerned that her interest might not have been without ulterior motive. She explained the personality test and my results; although it wasn’t my worst point she seemed to focus in on my score in communication, which she promised that a week-long course could improve. I tried to shift the focus onto her and what she got out of Scientology; she responded with an explanation of Auditing, how working with a Clear I could empty out my reactive mind and become a happier person.

I’ll admit that I was tempted to try the course. Not because I was particularly convinced, but out of curiosity; I was starting to understand the appeal of Scientology. They had identified needs for personal growth and an understanding of the world, and come up with a superficially convincing answer, cloaked in scientistic language. My Theory of Cults (and religion in general I suppose) is that they suck you in by first of all coming out with Truths- insights about the world and human nature that have some real validity- here the idea of a Reactive Mind which, well, reacted blindly, and would have to be scrubbed clean to achieve happiness. Which seems pretty much cribbed from Buddhism, where I think (and I haven’t read up on it for a while) the idea is expressed in terms of blind clinging, aversion and craving. It’s far less nuanced than the Buddhist version, and once it gets dressed up in invalidated Psychological terms like Engrams & c. it become pretty unconvincing. But I could imagine that if I didn’t already know so much about Scientolog I might have been interested enough to try a session. Of course, once the cult gets you in with their initial insights, you’re expected to swallow the rest, whatever belief system they’ve built up, which in Scientology’s case involved parting with a lot of money and eventually believing in alien emperors and bodily thetans causing disease. Once I’d made it clear that I wasn’t up for that kind of thing (and maybe it was also related to my asking her if she’d met Tom Cruise), Wendy let me go, and I had to wait until my friends finished their debriefings.

Mansha seemed to get the most out of it; when the guy realised she was Indian, and had some Hindu in her, he let her know all about Scientology’s reincarnation stuff, which they were probably saving for later with us Westerners. He let her know that Hubbard actually based Scientology on Hinduism and Buddhism, and even gave her a free DVD (he may also have been hitting on her.)

While we sat patiently waiting for Mansha to finish, another friendly volunteer was trying to explain the ARC triangle and tone scale to us. He got into Scientology for the human insight, since he was in managing and needed solid People Skills. ARC stands for Affinity, Reality and Communication, the three parts that make up Understanding. Our guide spent a long time trying unsuccessfully to explain how knowing about them helped facilitate Understanding, but I was none the wiser by the end. Then he moved onto the Tone Scale, explaining that everybody could be given a number from 0 (Body Death) to 1.1 (Covert Hostility) to 6 (Aesthetic?!!). People could move either up or down, and could move one or more points (ie. pretty much anything could happen). I was left with the impression that this, like the rest of Scientology, was a mess of impressive-sounding phrases and diagrams that actually meant exactly nothing; Hubbard’s verbiage reminded me of nothing so much as the elaborate fantasies of a schizophrenic, more like Cubic Time than any coherent science or religion. And through it all the man explaining it tried to assure us that it was based on “discoveries”, on “science” and on “experiments”.

Mansha finally freed herself from her solicitous debriefer, and we left, accidentally going downstairs into what may have been a Secret Area for the speed with which they chummily shooed us out (the actual exit is quite well hidden, and far from obvious). I said goodbye to the bust of L. Ron, and we had a debriefing of our own on the way home.

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