I spent a week as a Scientologist
Basically it’s a crash course in L. Ron Hubbard
I have always been fascinated by cult-like systems. After I watched the Louis Theroux Scientology documentary, I became obsessed with understanding more of the workings and ideologies behind this secretive religion. When I realised that there was a Scientology centre on Tottenham Court Road, a stones throw away from UCL, I decided to toddle over to do investigating.
English scientology is kind of different and not as intense as the Californian Mother Church. When I walked into the Centre, I was greeted amicably and instructed to watch a variety of short movies that gave very ambitious details of the scientific workings of the brain and the life of the founder L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology is rather at odds with modern science, it claims human memories actually go back 76 trillion years, something I’ve never seen in any other scientific journal.
In a nutshell, Scientology claims that our past painful experiences (even those before we were born) help us do bad things and get sick; the aim is to be ‘clear’ of these. Everything is explained in ‘Dianetics’, Scientology’s equivalent of the bible. I tried to ask some questions but realised that the people working there weren’t so clued up either and left feeling rather confused.
I mused on my Scientology experience for a while, but wasn’t satisfied. After remembering the large sign for the ‘Testing Area’ downstairs in the centre, I returned. Once again I was firstly instructed to watch movies (this time in a more snazzy cinema upstairs) before then inquiring about this ‘test.’ The 18 year old boy working there told me it was a personality assessment from Oxford (I asked ‘the university or the place?’ He had no idea) and gave me a business card with the website – which when I got home I realised was just an email address.
So after some extensive research I found out I could do the personality test online. 200 probing questions later, including ‘Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged 10 if it refused to obey you?’ I had taken the Oxford Capacity Analysis; a scientific and factual assessment of 10 key personality traits that determine success and happiness in life.
This was only just the beginning.
I immediately received an email inviting me for a meeting at the main Scientology centre to receive the results of my test. An hour later (after not replying) my phone starts vibrating in my lecture. 2 missed calls, a text and an email later I start to think maybe giving all my personal details was probably not the best idea. Remembering the Scientologists heckling in the documentary I started to fear that maybe I had come too far to go back to my normal pre-Scientology life.
Finally I plucked up the courage to reply and set up a meeting. Even this was not simple, I received a message back asking me what plans prevented me from arriving an hour earlier than the time I suggested (My friend insisted I wait until after her lecture so she could with to report if I was kidnapped). Maybe slightly invasive? I decided not to dwell.
The big day came and after a heavy night out, an individual assessment was the last thing I wanted to trek across London for. But I made it to Blackfriars and couldn’t miss the large building with the scientology flag looming over. It began to feel a little too real and scary, had my fairly innocent investigation instead lead me to being embroiled in a cult?
I walked into an extremely elaborate building and was met by a middle-aged lady who led us up a grand staircase to once again… watch films. After watching Ron Hubbard’s life story for the 100th time she offered to take us a tour around the building. The Church is a huge elaborate maze and as we walked around I couldn’t stop glancing back at my friend in fascination at this surreal Scientology world.
There are offices, libraries (full of people studying – who doesn’t want to improve their life at 3pm on a Friday afternoon?), auditing rooms (scientology equivalent of therapy – in one weekend you can become an auditor), it seemed never-ending. As we walked past a room with glass walls and treadmills inside I casually asked ‘oh so this is the gym?’ I was met with a stone cold face, and a few seconds later a man emerged firmly stating, ‘This is not a gym, IT IS A PURIFICATION CENTRE.’ My mistake.
The man attempted to explain the difference, using a rather ambiguous analogy: It is similar to a car apparently – when the car isn’t well oiled and does not work well, it therefore irritates the passenger. Our minds are the passenger. Putting ‘street drugs’ and alcohol (at which point my giggling became uncontrollable) into the body is toxic and prevents us spiritually. The solution is to ‘cleanse’ the body by putting in oil and walking (I was told firmly its not the same as ‘not working out’) on their treadmills. I therefore would have needed about a gallon of olive oil – a prospect that didn’t seem too appealing.
An hour and a half later it was crunch time –my one-on-one meeting to receive the results of my test. I was handed a graph with a rather jagged line. This was then broken down and explained into the 10 key personality traits. Quite bluntly I was told I have trust issues and am irresponsible.An interrogation into my entire life story followed, to which I replied mutely and repeatedly glanced at my friend through the glass panel with a desperate ‘HELP ME’ face. To improve these issues I of course needed to take the first step and read ‘Dianetics.’ But the troubling thing about this graph is that ideally everyone is the same straight line; one ideal personality.
So after getting an invite to Ron Hubbard’s birthday celebrations (the only Scientology festival of the year) and 3 hours inside, I was more than ready to leave the realm of Scientology and re-enter the outside world.
It was an enlightening experience, and an interesting free day out, but I think for now I will accept my issues and not blame my mum for experiences in the womb, and stick to the gym (to the relief of my family and friends)