Meeting the Church of Scientology in San Diego

Dave Meyer, the President of the Church of the Scientology San Diego, speaks about the church, its impact and recent controversies

Close your eyes. Imagine a cat. Now make that cat five feet long. Next, let’s give it a pink tail and purple whiskers. Now point to the cat’s nose.

These were the instructions given to me by Dave Meyer, the President of the Church of Scientology San Diego in an attempt to help me understand what my spiritual being was and where exactly it resided. Scientology and its followers believe that there are three things working within and around the body: the mind, body and spiritual being.

As for the feline I was tasked with conjuring up to help better explain what my spiritual being was; the intention became obvious enough. The idea was that I would point out to somewhere in front of me as if the cat was in the room, not just in my head.

“The body wasn’t looking at the picture. You were making up the picture. You made the picture and you pointed outwards. So wherever the mind is, it’s not 167 million brain cells that are storing up content because there’s not enough neurons in the brain to store three months of material, not to mention 20, 30, 40 years of experience,” said Meyer.

Meyer elaborated on this idea of the cat being my own, singular creation and that because of my spiritual being, this cat was very much around me, rather than only inside my thoughts.

“Your eyes were closed so the question becomes, who was looking at the picture?” Meyer said. “You, the being, the spiritual being, that’s you. You just found yourself looking at a picture that you made. Nobody else made it, nobody else knows what it looks like and no one had that picture before.”

Inside the newly remodeled Church of Scientology San Diego

Part of understanding the role of the mind, body, and spiritual being for both the Church of Scientology and anyone who interacts with them is that these three things work together and are all effected by each other. For example, when a person is injured somewhere on their body, their mind has automatic reactions to that moment. “When you have moments of unconsciousness or pain, the mind stores images that you’re not aware of. So you have an analytical mind and a reactive mind. The reactive mind is trying to keep the body going, even when unconscious,” Meyer said.

Meyer explained that the reactive mind in a moment of pain, a car crash for instance, would try to keep the body alive, while the analytical mind would shut off completely. However, Scientology believes that a person in a car crash would still have all the small, detailed memories from that experience, yet they cannot access them. The smell of the asphalt and tires, the sound of other cars screeching to a halt, the call of a policeman as he runs towards you; all these memories may be locked somewhere deep down and Meyer’s and the church’s goal as a whole is to help people realize these large amounts of unconscious thoughts.

“Because of these moments of unconsciousness, you’re carrying around this baggage of illogical conclusions about the situation of raw survival that causes you to say things, do things, think things that are illogical for the current moment,” said Meyer. These suppressed thoughts can be triggered as well, according to Meyer. If the same person who was in the car crash hears car tires screech, they may remember the yell of a policeman and have no idea why.

“When going clear, you get rid of these reactive mind thoughts by playing them over and over,” said Meyer. Once this “backpack of bad ideas”, as Meyer described it, is gone from a person’s mind, they can go clear.

Going clear. This is the phrase that many people know and associate with the church and while going clear isn’t the mission of all those who come to the church, it is something that can be achieved by anyone who opens the door. The Church of Scientology San Diego was founded in 1971 and Meyer joined in 1984. His original intention for interacting with the church was the same as many people have now, the betterment of themselves.

“I was a business person more interested in how to improve my business and how I could be more successful,” Meyer said. “I was more interested in the personal improvement than the religion part when I arrived. But when I became more aware of being a spiritual being, I realized there was something there.”

Many people, often times from other religions, come to the Church of Scientology because as Meyer describes it, it’s an “applied philosophy” more than a faith based religion. “It has nothing to do with science per se, it has to do with knowing how to know and the study of life,” Meyer said. People come to the church because they believe that it can help their own personal life so that they can have more growth and success and positively affect those around them. “We help the able to be more able. We’re not trying to help the bottom rung of the ladder to get back to normal. We’re helping the able to become more able so they can help all the rest of the people,” said Meyer.

An example Meyer gave of this trickle-down effect of able-ness was when Christian ministers came to the church and scientologists helped them expand their food services for homeless people. Another example he gave was the forest fires that occur every year or so in Southern California, when the church helped pastors and other religious leaders know what to do when people came to them asking for assistance and support.

The church also works in other areas of community support, like drug education for youth. According to Meyer, two years ago the Church of Scientology San Diego published 1.4 million booklets on drug education for Northern Mexico and Southern California, outlining how youth could set themselves up to avoid the problems of addiction and rehab as they moved into college and society.

Much of these programs and beliefs of Scientology comes back to them trying to promote goodness in people.

“The fact is you’re basically good as an individual. And then how do you improve and get rid of the things that are causing you to make bad decisions, have bad relationships and make mistakes,” said Meyer. By working through the eight dynamics of Scientology, the church’s hope is that people become better versions of themselves. These eight dynamics are extremely important to the basis of the applied philosophy of Scientology. On the main Scientology web page, the dynamics are described as: “The basic command “Survive!” which is obeyed by all of life, is subdivided into eight compartments so that each aspect of life can be more easily inspected and understood.”

The eight dynamics are: self, creativity, group survival, species, life forms, physical universe, spiritual dynamic, and the urge toward existence as infinity. “So those are eight areas that you’re surviving in and if you’re doing well in one, that tends to affect the others,” said Meyer. The church works with people to find any problems they may have in each particular dynamic, then focuses in on those issues until they go away. For Meyer, the goal of helping all these people is because “a world without war, without insanity, can prosper and people can attain their own spiritual awareness for whatever that is for them.”

Outside the Church of Scientology in downtown San Diego

This notion of the church allowing their followers to discover and follow their own general path is an important distinction between Scientology and other faith-based religions. “It’s not a checklist of things you need to do. It’s a pathway to your own evolution and you can come to your own conclusions and we’re not sitting there judging if it’s right or wrong,” said Meyer. This ambiguous trail to going clear also ends in vagueness to some degree because the church doesn’t define exactly what the last dynamic has to be. “The eighth dynamic is infinity, god, the allness of all, whatever you want to call that,” said Meyer. Scientology doesn’t define what their god or “allness of all” is because they do not expect every member of the church to arrive at the same image of what their infinity is. This ideology rules out a figure like Jesus or any male or female of any race truly being “god” in the Church of Scientology.

“You talk to some people, god’s standing in the corner with a staff and he’s in a white robe and he’s a white guy,” said Meyer. “But that wouldn’t be the allness of all because he couldn’t be all if he was a man because he wouldn’t be everything.”

Part of Meyer’s struggle to help people move through the dynamics and rid themselves of their personal problems is combating the influences of society.

“In the last forty, fifty years, TV, mass merchandise, the media, movies, have basically been degrading man and trying overtly not to have them think of that because freedom would be contrary to managing the public,” said Meyer.

He believes that the marketing and advertising that people see each and every day affect and control how they act, what they buy, and how they perform in their work and personal life. “You become a pawn in a game of mass merchandising and making money for a lot of people because you get hit with millions of marketing messages,” he said.

The process of removing these influences from people’s lives is somewhat similar to a confessional in a Christian church. Scientology utilizes auditing to move people through the dynamics. “Auditing is a process of listening. You ask a question, get an answer, and then evaluate the answer and then you ask another question,” said Meyer. He explained auditing as what it really was, a conversation, and how the goal of it is to speak with someone until they eventually realize why they do the things that they do. “You already know everything, you’re rediscovering something you already know that is clouding or burdening your life,” said Meyer.

Through auditing people can go clear, but afterwards, they have different options for how to proceed. Some people join the staff and audit others; some go back to running their own businesses while others continue to climb ranks within the church. “There’s a path that keeps going up this bridge to total freedom, and you can keep going and I kept going. So I’m working on a higher level and continue to do that,” said Meyer. Though Meyer chose to stay within the teachings of the church and continue higher up, he and others still work both within the community of San Diego and the country as a whole. “We combat the drug companies and psychiatric community with vigor. That’s a major focus for us because they’re the people that are letting other people down,” said Meyer. “Kids didn’t take psychiatric pills when I was a kid. We didn’t have guns in school. We didn’t have police in school. We didn’t have locks on our lockers in school.” He continued on this point of problems in society, and how Scientology could help people oust themselves of common issues that plague communities. “Now we have a policeman with a gun in the school and they’re protecting the kids, or protecting the kids from the kids or protecting people from the kids and you kind of don’t know who the enemy is anymore,” Meyer said.

Meyer admitted that as the church has grown and become a bigger presence around the world, there has continued to be controversy surrounding Scientology. In response to films like the HBO documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, in addition to other recent negative content about the church, Meyer disagreed vehemently. “These people, they really hate our guts. They put out a lot of bad PR about us and help fund shows by people that are antagonistic. So if you watched the movie Going Clear or read some stuff on the internet, you’re getting this garbage about how we’re a cult,” said Meyer. “But really, a cult is a religious group. The Christians were a cult in the year zero and they were fed to the lions by the Romans.”

Meyer believes that the church creates controversy and garners attention because of how much they champion individual people. “There’s a lot of garbage out there, but that’s just because we’re standing up for your rights as an individual and the next person’s rights and even people who don’t like us. We stand up for their rights too,” said Meyer.

While the church has been through some ups and downs, Meyer believes Scientology is in a good place. “Maybe we’re controversial, but the fact is, we’re not being fed to the lions. So relatively speaking, we’re a little better off,” he said. As Scientology continues as the fastest growing religion in the world, more and more people will be confronted with these new, strange ideologies and controversial content online. And as this happens, Dave Meyer will continue in the Church of Scientology San Diego, believing each person that walks through his doors has their own, unique version of a five-foot long cat with a pink tail and purple whiskers ready to be realized.

University of Oregon