Visit to Church of Scientology confirms its superficiality

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My fascination with Scientology began with the infamous South Park episode, “Trapped in the Closet,” and was recently reignited by the Emmy award-winning documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief.” The film gives an extensive history of the formation of the church and includes interviews of former members who recall their harrowing experiences. One former member described being sent to a labor camp where she worked for 30 hours straight, ate table scraps, and was forbidden to see her infant daughter. Another former Scientologist reported being physically assaulted by the leader of the church, David Miscavigne, and being asked to harass people who were against the church.  After hearing these stories of abuse, I wondered why people became involved with the church in the first place.

If the creation myth of Scientology sounds like a science fiction story, it may be because founder of Scientology, Ron L. Hubbard, was a prolific science fiction author. The origin story claims that millions of years ago, there were aliens living on a far away planet that resembled Earth during the 1950s. The planet was overpopulated, and the supreme Ruler, “Zenu,” decided to solve the problem by kidnapping aliens, freezing their bodies, and dropping them in volcanoes on the prison planet Earth. The spirits of the aliens, “thetans” were captured by Zenu and forced to watch certain images, a form of brainwashing. When a baby is born, these “thetans” latch onto its soul and are the source of all of its anxieties.

Unlike other religions like Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, Scientologists aren’t educated about the foundation of their faith until much later on in their life.  So what is so alluring about the face of Scientology that makes people join in the beginning? I decided to answer this question by going to the source: the church itself.  

I first called the Church of Scientology in Coral Gables and requested an interview. My request was denied, which wasn’t surprising considering Scientologists are notorious for their adverse relationship with the press. According to “Going Clear,” Scientologists adhere to a principle of “fair game” in which individuals viewed as a threat can be handled by any means necessary.

This policy is often targeted toward journalists and includes illegal actions such as wiretapping, harassment, and vandalism. Paulette Cooper, author of “The Scandal of Scientology,” was targeted under a plan called “Operation Freakout.” The end goal was to either imprison Cooper or commit her to a mental institution.

So in order to learn more about the church, I couldn’t approach them as a journalist; instead, I contacted the church again as someone who was interested in learning more about the faith. The church scheduled me an appointment for later that day.

When I first entered the building, I was immediately struck by how much it didn’t resemble a church. It looked more like an office building from the 1980s, with wicker furniture in shades of pale green and pink.  There were no pews or an altar, or anything else remotely resembling a place of worship. It looked like a community center where people might go to play bingo. I was also surprised to find an impressive Christmas tree sitting in the corner; apparently Christmas has become so secularized that even Scientologists don’t hesitate to place a Christmas tree in their building.

After I checked in, I was given a pen and paper personality test to take in a large common room off to the side of the lobby. Several church members walked past while I was taking the test. I answered approximately 200 questions about my social behavior, my mood and my feelings about my past mistakes. Most of the questions were normal, but some stood out. There were multiple questions that asked me about hearing strange noises and having involuntary twitches. I had a suspicion that these questions related to the “thetans” or alien souls supposedly inhabiting my body.

After I finished the test, a member of the church took my test and input the results into a computer. Afterward, another church member sat me down to go over my results.

It was then I finally understood how someone might be sucked into Scientology. As the woman explained my answers, I actually laughed multiple times at the accuracy of her analyses.  For example, she made a comment about problems in my social relationships that was eerily similar to something that my father had told me no less than two weeks ago during Thanksgiving break.  I felt like she truly did have insight into who I was; someone more vulnerable could easily mistake that insight for a sense of familiarity and understanding. 

After the session concluded, the woman handed me a brochure for a seminar called, “How to Improve Relationships with Others.” It was a 10-hour program that cost $50. Although I was impressed with the woman’s ability to describe my personality, I was instantly reminded of why I despised this organization. My first day in the Church of Scientology, and they were already asking me for money.

At the end of the day, the Church of Scientology isn’t about helping people; it’s about fooling people into meeting their bottom line. My experience with this organization showed me that we need to critically evaluate the groups that we associate ourselves with, or else we could become a victim of an organization that may claim to do good, but only brings about abuse and injustice.

Rachel Berquist is a senior majoring in English and psychology. 

Feature photo courtesy Pixabay user Unsplash.

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24 Comments

  1. I went to some of those briefings. They usually told people they couldn’t leave, though I always left anyway. Point is they had no right to do or say that. I saw them raise 20k from like 10 or so people already regged tons and tons. I also saw them push peopke to get family to borrow against their homes.

  2. I must take issue with Edward’s 3rd point, scn is all about the money – they had $300k out of me before I woke up. Every time they have a briefing they have whiteboard with a financial target written on it which everyone in the room is expected to reach before they are allowed to leave. When the so called Basics came out in 2007 I was followed by 2 staff members to ensure I didn’t leave the premises with out purchasing my set. He is either incredibly naive or more likely working on behalf of the ‘church’ he claims not to be a part of

  3. As a former Scientologist, I confirm that this so-called religion is all about the money. I’m fortunate as I walked away having spent only $100,000. We came close to losing a child to Scientology’s Sea Organization but s/he managed to escape and rejoin our family.

    Again, we were lucky and didn’t personally suffer many of the problems, injustices and crimes suffered by others, although we witnessed some.

    There is nothing you can say to an active Scientologist to open his/her eyes to the reality of their current situation because to them it means “losing their eternity” in addition to the loss of family, friends and possibly their job. I know because that’s how I reacted when someone tried to convey factual information to me about my “religion”.

    I considered myself an analytical thinker and certainly not vulnerable to cults. It took me several years to fully realize that I had been a member of a cult, which is certainly the current state of Scientology.

  4. Pingback: The Childrens' Book Hubbard Wrote Is Vile (And Probably About Himself, Ed)... Amnesty International Has No Idea Scientology Is Using Their Logo For Promotion - Scientology Bollocks

  5. Rachel,

    What you have reported is correct. Scientology and David Miscavige are really only interested in getting money and have no regard whatsoever about helping people. It is a scam that has been going on now for 65 years. Thankfully there are less and less people involved in it every year as their membership dwindles.

  6. If you can see Edward’s IP address you’ll probably see that it’s owned by the Church of Scientology.

  7. I love the ‘I am not a scientologist but, I know many’ stories. That just shows the fear Scientology has for the press and social media of all stripes. Trolls got to troll, but Scientologists have to lie.

    to In the end, it is all about the money. Money that goes to the headquarters in Clearwater Florida or Los Angles, it doesn’t stay local or in the pockets of those selling services.

    In one thing Nancy Regan was right, just say no. But no to Scientology and other cults. They want your money and your servitude.

    Too bad Rachel didn’t have the time or perhaps money to further explore the scam. I’d donate to a gofundme for any real journalist who wants to explore the way Scientology tries to bend new recruits to their will. That would make an excellent series. Hint, hint, wink, wink…..

  8. As an indication of the complete fabrication of this “article,” the writer couldn’t even get Mr Miscavige’s name right:

    “the leader of the church, David Miscavigne” (sic)

    This article is rather like a person blind from birth trying to describe a sunset.

  9. James Fieldlight on

    Edward could have easily pointed to a Freedom Magazine article that exemplifies those journalistic standards.. oh wait, nevermind;)

  10. Avid Miskaridge on

    Rachel, this is a good read and most accurate account of predatory behavior. You are quite correct in asserting that Scientology is not after the good in people but rather their money. I’d like to respond to the comment left by “Edward” about ethical journalism. Edward, if you are truly hurt and dismayed about journalism ethics, then I’d like to point you in the direction of http://www.Freedommag.org and see Scientology’s journalistic ethics firsthand. You’d be hard-pressed to find any sort of journalism or ethics on the “Church” sponsored magazine purporting to have news credibility. Edward, if it is your primary objective to try to discredit Rachel’s opinion by pulling the journalism ethics card, you’ve failed miserably. I don’t see you as a crusader for journalistic ethics but rather a cognitive dissonant Scientologist who is in conflict with the world for NOT believing the horrible lies Scientology Inc. dishes out on a daily basis. Edward, it is going to be a painful wake up.

  11. Rachel takes a personality test, and agrees she’s screwed up in certain areas. The church offers her a $50 dollar course intended to help her. Then she writes an article dissing the church as to how they are greedy. $50 dollars is greedy? Really?
    Rachel is not only psycho but definitely needs the help of Scientology. But of course her minor is psychology and, of course, she believes that 440 volts of electricity surging through her brain and killing brain cells can cure her psychosis. Now that treatment cost a lot more than $50 dollars.

  12. Tornville Esplanade on

    Their scam is all about the money. Hubbard was so crass he referred to gullible recruits as “raw meat,” that is, people susceptible to buying into Scientology’s answers for everything. The costs quickly escalate into the hundreds of thousands, once they have you under mind control. Then they think they are superior beings with super powers, who are here to save the planet.

    I think you’d love Leah Remini’s book, if you haven’t read it yet.

    It’s not only personality Scientology wants to help you with, but your business, your relationships (preferably getting as many into the cult as possible) and disconnecting from the ones who won’t join, your health, and your entire life. The Sea Org workers are worked so hard and lacking sleep that they end up like zombies.

  13. Edward, I knew lots of well meaning Scios, too. I was one, too. That’s how cults work! They take well meaning people then take advantage of them. The church of Scientology is no exception.

  14. I’m an ex Scientologist. I definitely agree with the article’s premise that Scio ends up being sll about the money. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it.

    But just to look at a factor from another perspective, I will point out that it starts out as a self help thing. Self help courses and such generally cost money. In and of itself, it’s no big thing. Suppose all the cult ever did was to say look, we offer self help services. They cost money. If that’s all it ever did, it wouldn’t be controversial. Families woukdn’t be destroyed, members forced into servitude or bankruptcy.

    I am saying this because it being the first day and already they’re asking for money is not the problem. The problem is the cultic structure, indentured servitude, enslavement, harassment, invasive practices…

    Heck, if all they ever did was suggest paying for a self help course, that would be nothing. Problem is, that’s not all they do.

  15. Rachel – I thought your article was extremely informative. Please disregard Edward’s comment below as he appears to be a scientologist and intentionally created a long response to divert the purpose of your article. That is what the few scientologists who are allowed to go on the internet are required to do for the OSA (Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs). Keep up the good work.

  16. The funniest thing about the rambling, sanctimonious post from “Edward” below is the part where he uses that most predictable of Scientology tropes, “I’m not a Scientologist, but…[insert pro-Scientology propaganda here].
    Does it ever occur to the Scientologists assigned by their “church” to try to rebut critical articles like this one why they can’t find more impartial defenders of their abusive, deceptive, profit-driven organization?

  17. Dear Rachel,

    ONE

    Let’s start with the foundation for ethical “Journalism,” as defined on spj.org:

    Seek Truth and
    Report It

    Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

    Journalists should:

    – Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

    – Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

    – Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

    – Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.

    – Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.

    – Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

    – Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.

    – Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

    – Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

    – Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

    – Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

    – Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.

    – Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.

    – Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.

    – Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.

    – Label advocacy and commentary.

    – Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.

    – Never plagiarize. Always attribute.

    TWO

    As you will note if you read the above, your agenda laden piece and approach violates a number of ethical journalism principles. This is ironic as you criticize a religious organization for not being ethical, no?

    THREE

    To characterize the religion as only being interested in money is wildly incorrect. While I am not a Scientologist I have known Scientologists and “Sea Org” members for years, (Sea Org is a monastic group within Scientology), and I can tell you without exception that these people are driven by their sincere interest in helping people live better, more fulfilling, peaceful, happy and spiritual lives. Period. Never, not once, have I ever heard anyone talking about making money from a perspective of greed. Never. The conversations I hear are the same you’d hear from any other legitimate religion concerned with helping people and making the world a better place.

    FOUR

    The building, materials and staff you describe cost money in today’s world. Why do you fault a religion for needing to cover costs for their efforts? Is this different then any other religion? If you research it, you’ll discover that the answer is no.

    FIVE

    While you admit in your article that the personality test correctly identified areas of your personality that could benefit from improving, you simultaneously deem the results worthless by seeing no value in taking a course to improve them. This is not a Church’s fault, though you present it that way.

    It is a shame that you, as a journalist, missed an opportunity to provide an unbiased pro/con view on the Scientology religion and instead filled the page with a dogmatic attack piece. This approach offers little true insight, does not foster true discussion/debate and serves only to feed the hater trolls. I hope that you will some day realize the responsibility you have as a journalist and attempt to cover future stories, whatever the topic may be, with a balanced perspective that adds to insight around that particular topic. If you read the principles of journalism on spj.org, you’ll find that such is the goal for journalists.

  18. It just blows my mind how this criminal organization uses the business model of McDonald’s to sell enlightenment and salvation and can so easily manipulate and make a mockery of the United States 1st Amendment…

  19. Great article Rachel. You have only touched the surface of this hydra’s monstrosities. But you experienced first hand the true motivation of this cult: to ensnare you and grab your money. All the rest of their BS is directed toward these two goals. Hope to see more from you in the future.

  20. Tom's Little Brother on

    Thank you for your thoughtful article.

    Scientology, Inc. uses a “personality test” that they associate with Oxford by using the name Oxford Analysis. The test is in no way related to the famous university.

    The only reason anyone knows about Scientology’s formal, written operation to silence Paulette Cooper is because in 1979 the FBI raided Scientology offices, and Operation Freakout was found among other papers seized that day. See Tony Ortega’s 2015 book “The Unbreakable Miss Lovely” for the whole story.

    Oh, and after the FBI raid, 11 top Scientologists went to jail – including L Ron Hubbard’s wife – for their part in the largest infiltration of US government offices by an intelligence agency in the history of the United States. How many churches do you know that need a bullying intelligence arm?

    It’s not about the beliefs, it’s about the behavior of the organization, and the written practices and policies that are scripture only when it’s convenient.

    And Rachel? I think your article shows that you were willing to give due diligence to find out the truth. John is trapped in a world where his body is infested with alien beings that he will pay thousands and thousands of dollars to spiritually remove. Who’s the one with fixed ideas?

  21. Rachel, you lied about who you are. At the end of the article you reveal you despised the subject before you made contact and then you state they were accurate in their assessment of your personality. Here is the link to the Society of Professional Journalists Code Ethics. Review it with your Journalism Prof.

    http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

  22. Yep – all true, and well done. Just one minor thing, the creation story in Scientology is referred to as Incident 1, and can be looked up on the internet for anyone interested. Its only about 30 words long. If a person insists on equating Scientology to religion, then the Xenu story is more like “the fall”.

    As it happens, however, Scientology is not a religion at all. It only cloaks itself with religious garb in order to avoid paying tax. Its actually a very clever ruse. Officially Scientology presents as a religion, unofficially it is known as a kooky but largely harmless UFO cult, but in reality it functions as an on-going, international organised conspiracy to defraud, and has been since the day in 1950 L Ron Hubbard said he used Dainetics to cure war injuries.

    AVOID.

  23. Rachel thanks for a fantastic article. The more people that highlight the dangers of this disgusting cult the better!!