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.