Inside the Odd World of Scientology

Source: Sunday Independent (Dublin)
Date: October 15, 2005

by Andrea Byrne

Sitting on a faded green couch in a slightly decrepit room, I have rarely felt more nervous before an encounter. On the wall, a portrait of an old man is staring straight at me. I am in the Church of Scientology, on Dublin's Middle Abbey Street and the eerie figure gazing from the wall is church founder - L. Ron Hubbard.

Scientology is one of the most contentious yet fastest growing religious movements in the modern world, boasting a wealth of Hollywood celebrity members including TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes), John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley, Juliette Lewis and Lisa Marie Presley.

Proponents claim Scientology is a method of counselling that helps individuals break free from negative emotions to live more rewarding and fulfilling lives. However, Scientology's theology is somewhat shaky. In fact, the church's creation myth revolves around an intergalactic warlord named 'Xenu' who kidnaps billions of alien lifeforms, chains them near Earth's volcanoes and blows them up with nuclear weapons.

Scientology is without a deity and there is no one book that comprehensively sets forth the religion's beliefs in the fashion of the Bible or the Koran. Critics claim it is a cult rather than religion where independent thought is note ncouraged.

However, negative sentiments are stereotypically implied when the concepts of 'cult' and 'sect' are employed in popular discourse.

But is Scientology all that bad? Christianity, for example, over time has become embedded and accepted in the Western world but perhaps there was a stage when it was just another cult. Perhaps with time, Scientology will become as acknowledged and revered as Christianity.

Presenting myself as an aspiring disciple in desperate need of 'self-betterment', I was greeted by a pleasant, soft-spoken lady who asked me if I wanted a stress-test.

I said yes and was brought into a small room, told to hold two rather strange-looking rusty metal handles while being asked extremely personal questions about family, health, work and relationships. While I responded, the woman fiddled with what she said was a stress detector. Anytime I said something remotely personal, she would delve deeper, to the point where I actually felt uncomfortable.

Here was a woman whom I knew all of five minutes, posing questions my own mother wouldn't dare ask including the finer points of past relationships, the reasons why they failed, whether infidelity was involved and how this all made me feel.

When the question session ended, she said she detected some stress in my relationships. The woman then left the room and returned with a book, entitled Dianetics: The Power of the Mind over the Body, pointing out the relevant chapters in the book. Where the doctrines of most religions originate in some form of alleged divine revelation, the core beliefs of Scientology grew out of a business venture launched by a Sci-Fi writer which was based on a spiritual variation on self-help counselling.

And the original business ethic is still strong. Unlike other religious faiths, Scientology charges for virtually all of its services. It is this aspect of Scientology that has led to most criticism in the past. After paying out for the "mind" book, I was told that I should return for a free personality test. At seven that evening, I nervously returned to answer all 200 test questions.

While some questions were repetitive, many were rather random, including 'Do you browse through railway timetables, directories, or dictionaries just for pleasure?' or 'Do other people interest you very much?', and then some were just plain worrying, 'Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?'

Some 35 minutes later, I handed over my answers to the man in charge, expecting to be told to return in a few days for the results. But he simply started banging furiously on a computer for all of two minutes. "Finished," he declared. "That was quick," I responded. "I have quick fingers," he replied.

I was then presented with a detailed graph which was apparently an indicator of my personality. I noticed immediately that in the area of happiness, my score was rock bottom. Despite the fact that I had answered questions such as 'Do you make efforts to get others to laugh and smile?', and 'Do you laugh or smile quite readily?' positively, the graph somehow displayed strong signs of depression, which, in my opinion, couldn't be further from the truth.

He spoke at length about my strengths and weaknesses; the latter featured more prominently.

When he finished, silence filled the air. I don't know if I was expected to react in any particular way. What I did was shake his hand, head straight for the door and not look back.

I did, however, ring the Church of Scientology the following day regarding the cost of joining. I was told that there is no specific fee but instead you pay for the various self-help courses, which vary in cost according to duration and needs.

Having celebrities like TomKat forever in the media's glare ensures that Scientology continues to enjoy the limelight.

But perhaps Cruise's outlandish antics and Holmes' creepy path toward zombie bridedom and motherhood, will have done the sect more harm than good.

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