I hung out with the Church of Scientology
by Anna Denejkina
In April I dragged a friend to spend time with me in the Church of Scientology; he is still unhappy.
P.S. All names have been changed into bad fake names.
Two hours after convincing him that it was a good idea, we were standing at the front doors of the Church of Scientology.
The west end of Castlereagh Street was its usual, weekend desert. Sparse walkers clip-clopped, to and fro.
The building was silent, still. The white stone was broken with panels and panels of windows and glass, and a large, white Scientology cross sat high above the entrance pass.
I rounded my hands at the edges of my eyes to look inside.
Cleaning products stood neatly arranged; a broom, left in a corner; the terrazzo stairway, the columns and the silver railing; and shiny surfaces, all white, white; white.
I moved from door to door, peeking inside, finding nothing.
It looks rich, I thought.
I pulled the heavy door, to and fro.
I moved to the second, heavier door. It didn’t budge.
I pulled the first door, again.
I saw a face, and began to speak.
“Are you open?” I questioned through the glass with hand motions and exaggerated diction.
A young man pushed and opened the entrance, smiling, awkward. He did not seem to expect us, but he was expecting someone.
We needed to go to George Street, he explained, as a taller man slithered past me and into the building through the faintly open door. He didn’t show his face, which seemed to be an effort.
“The grand opening is next Saturday.”
“That’s great!” I replied; my performance had begun.
The little man moved back into the church, and we were left outside, unwelcomed, pre-Clear intruders.
“Perfect, let’s not do this,” said Nicholas, a bearded man of five foot seven.
“Did you have to look like a poor person today, of all days?”
Corduroy pants, two sizes too big. A dark, military green bomber jacket sat larger than the oversized pants. An old, black beanie sat on his head. His beard almost hid the whole of his neck, crimped, dark, thick.
“We look crazy!”
I didn’t know what a scientologist looked like, but I was sure they would know that we had an agenda.
The walk back to Haymarket was long and cool. Nicholas kept speaking of how unwanted the total situation was, and how he began to feel nervous.
As was I.
“I am a weak-willed man, I shouldn’t be doing this,” he said.
Two nights prior, my father spoke of the same sentiment. However in his mind I would become a Scientologist, and then a super-Scientologist by attaining Clear.
I took Nicholas’ comments in jest, but two hours later I began to see how easily swayed he was.
As soon as we could see the UTS Tower, the ugliest building in Sydney, I began to call the stretch of George Street, Broadway.
And there it was, sitting on Broadway, that little enclave, bar the endless Free Personality Test fliers; and a little table, with a little man, with a little purple machine, measuring the stress of strangers through a lie detector test.
The Scientology Information Centre was finally to my right, as was Nicholas, whose face spoke volumes.
“I hate you.”
The main entrance was beside its smaller, street-front office. And inside was unimposing, actually underwhelming. My expectations of golden drapes and embellishments, crosses, shelves of magical figurines and a devastatingly large oil painting of L. Ron Hubbard were dimmed, quickly.
I straightened my back, blasted a smile as big as Nicholas’ jacket and began my bit.
The woman at the front desk looked very young, no more than 22. I pretended not to notice the small puppy rested longways on her thighs.
“Hi, how are you?” she asked.
“We’re great! Thank you.”
A man appeared, standing to the right of her desk. Black hair, short, smiling, awkward.
Through an American accent he told me about the church and its volunteers.
“It feels like there is a great community spirit,” I said, judging myself but being impressed with my performance.
I began to tell my audience a story of a friend, a friend who once took a tour at the Church of Scientology, and suggested that I do, too. I didn’t feel bad, this was the truth; albeit I did omit his reaction post experience.
“I’ve been into the Scientology church a few times to watch the introductory video, because it is so hilarious. A-plus, highly recommended.”
Question after question littered our banter. The young woman worked with the church for around one year, as a volunteer – an arrangement seemingly made with all workers of the church: volunteer, receive free courses of Scientology.
I leant at the front desk; next to my right hand sat a small stack of fliers, advertising the grand opening of the refurbished church on Castlereagh. Not noticing the date I would never make, I was determined to go.
Getting an invitation was surprisingly easy, and free, but the ticket and ticket stub required my name, and as paranoia seeped into me, I made a decision to give my real one.
Moments later Nicholas and I were sat at a desk. Two folders were placed in front of us, a cup of pencils made available for answering; and “if you have any questions, please ask anyone for help.”
The feeling of hospitality and acceptance worried me.
We were ready to test our personalities through the Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA) test; a test, administered freely and for free by the Church of Scientology, and one that name drops Oxford for credibility, despite having no relation to the university.
The test was 200 questions long, reading like a psychological evaluation.
Question one: “Do you make thoughtless remarks or accusations which later you regret?”
Question three: “Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure?”
Question 55: “When hearing a lecturer, do you sometimes experience the idea that the speaker is referring entirely to you?”
Question 200: “Do you consider you have many warm friends?”
Turning to me, Nicholas whispered: “I am answering these randomly.” But thinking too much, he fell into honesty almost immediately.
The room smelled sweet, but I couldn’t pin the scent. Our whispers were lame attempts as we attracted more and more attention.
One after another people came up to our seats to welcome us, ask how we were and if we were well looked after.
Yes, yes; yes to all! Smiles plastered.
People continued to appear from doors, darting in and out, coming from the church on Castlereagh, and leaving to the church of Castlereagh.
Children, too, were there.
“There may be microphones,” Nicholas mumbled, eyes wide open.
Our whispers were littered with jokes that turned into whispers of paranoid truths.
An old laptop sat under our table, and I began to browse through the mass collection of Hubbard’s teachings and writings. It stood in front of me, on a mantelpiece, the mass collection. Unreasonably prolific, all sat shiny and countless, the DVDs and books available for sale to better myself.
What felt longer than one hour went by as we carefully coloured in little circles to signify our answers with our lead pencils. Some questions seemed decisively confusing, and my yeses began to mean no. And I didn’t read the instructions correctly. And my pencil broke. And my sheet was covered in streaks of eraser and lead.
As Nicholas finished his test, an older man popped up to collect the answer-sheet, now marked with a fake name, but a fake first name only: Joey Jackson.
The older man smiled and hovered over my right shoulder as I felt pressured to hurriedly shade in the last three circles of my last three answers.
Despite my real name inked into the ticket stub for the grand opening on Saturday, May 3rd, I became flustered and chose my partner’s last name for the examination: Anna Hart.
We will go to the front to run the reports, the older man explained, motioning for us to follow him past the puppy, which was now on the floor; past the front desk, and the young woman of no more than 22; and through the exit, outside, and into the entrance to our right, walking under a roller door.
Please, take a seat.
We took a seat.
Five minutes passed – nothing.
Ten minutes passed – nothing, still.
Some minutes later we were welcomed by the older man to take another seat in front of his desk and across from him and our profiles.
He wore two Scientology pins, one on the collar of his sports jacket, and one on the collar of his shirt.
Before we sat down the older man introduced himself, and as Nicholas shook his hand, he also forgot the new name with which he had christened himself only minutes earlier:
“Great to meet you, I’m Nicholas!”
I swallowed a laugh, feeling my face drop behind a wonderful grin.
A loud “fuck” resonated inside my head as the older man looked stunned, pointing to a report reading Joey Jackson.
“Nicholas is my middle name, but I like to go by that.”
I was sure he knew that we were lying, and began to feel terrible for it. My guilt was triggered by the older man’s face; he was giving us his real time, and real name, after all.
Somehow, the jig was not up and we began discussing our results.
The profiles were negative, so very negative, and very similar in the drops and the highs.
Nicholas was noted as depressed, active and critical. Attention Urgent, it read.
I was noted as depressed, irresponsible and critical. ATTENTION URGENT, it read.
Casually, the older man gave an anecdote of up-and-down profiles concurring with school and university shooters; my profile matched these profiles, casually.
Nicholas was the first test subject, and as his personality was analysed, his face lifted from confidence to worry. The will began to disappear, and the mind began to buy the criticism, to buy the offer, to buy the dogma, to buy the help offered by scientology.
The concept of bettering oneself is reasonable; the conversation was reasonable; the welcome and hospitality were all reasonable; but for a stranger to tell a stranger that multiple mental issues are present, and that problems are present, and that you are a problem who needs urgent attention, is dangerous.
Like a psychiatrist, a therapist, psychologist or a rehab facility using a process like the traumatic experience of the Trauma Egg, Scientology begins with its want to uncover suppressed traumas of childhood; and then it wants to break you down; and then it wants to build you up, rebuilding you in its image.
But, instead of a professional examining your mind, Scientology does this through Dianetics.
To save our souls, we were offered:
One Personal Values of Integrity seminar: $55.00;
One book on Dianetics: $30.00;
One DVD on Dianetics: $30.00;
A saving of $20 if we purchase the book and the DVD in one transaction.
“I have to say.”
“Don’t say it! I’m thinking the same thing,” Nicholas answered.
“I have to say… It all seemed reasonable.”
The walk to my apartment was a contemplation of the last few hours. I contemplated how easy it was to be sucked into the church; Nicholas contemplated how the church could help him.
“How do you feel?”
“I fucking hate you.”
His answer was also reasonable.
Smoking a cigarette on my balcony I began to learn that I could not remove a strange feeling which seemed to envelop me, and days would pass before a subtle guilt moved on and on.
Nicholas was lying across my old, brown leather couch, still, stuck in his mind.
“This is what a sect does: they tell you that you have a problem, they break you down and make you believe that they can fix you.”
A 1971 report “Enquiry into the Practice and Effects of Scientology” by Sir John Foster, K.B.E., Q.C., MP outlines that the OCA has previously been investigated. This included investigation by a Working Party of the British Psychological Society, made up of a clinical psychologist, a consultant in psychological selection, and a university lecturer in psychology.
All three took the test; all three answered the questions randomly and in a pre-determined fashion; and all “three methods produced remarkably similar profiles, in which the scores on the first three scales [stable/unstable; happy/depressed; composed/nervous] were in an extreme position in the range marked “unacceptable” … All profile results then rose into the “normal” or “desirable” range over the next 2-4 scales [certainty/uncertainty; active/inactive; aggressive/inhibited; responsible (causative)/irresponsible] and showed a return to “unacceptable” over the remaining scales [correct estimation/critical; appreciative/lack of accord; comm. level/withdrawn].”
Nicholas and I produced remarkably similar profiles to the Working Party of the British Psychological Society, some four decades on.