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Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Scientology and Me

If you have ever wandered aimlessly around Times Square, the chances are you will have been offered numerous flyers; from tour operators to discount haircuts. Among the flyers offered to me was a flyer about Dianetics from the Church of Scientology. It stated:

“Introduction to Dianetics – Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health, has been a best seller for over 50 years and has over 25 million copies in circulation in 50 languages of Earth.

It is the most popular book on the mind ever written.

It contains the discovery of the “reactive mind” – the source of your fears, insecurities, pains and nightmares.

Find out what is controlling your life and how you can get rid of the reactive mind and achieve your goals.”

At the time, I knew nothing about Scientology other than the celebrity endorsements and that it’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, was also a successful science fiction writer. The church was just round the corner, 227 West 46th Street, so I thought “if it’s good enough for Tom Cruise and John Travolta, it’s good enough for me…to investigate further”. What with some of the tabloid stories about Scientology, I imagined this to be some sort of cult (whatever a cult is).

Given the surrounding area of Times Square and Broadway, I rather expected (and hoped for) a huge billboard featuring messrs Cruise and Travolta and a building adorned with a flying saucer, complete with lazer beams. However, other than the large and disappointingly tasteful sign stating “Church of Scientology”, the building looks rather like a public library. I figured that this must be all part of the plan and that inside would be a very different picture. Alas, this too resembled a library.

I was greeted at reception by a very attractive young woman. I wondered “Is this how they try to suck you in? Are women greeted by studs?”.

I told her that I had been given a flyer and was curious as to what it was and she told me that there was a 15 minute movie for me to view, but could I fill in my details on a form first. No problem, I’m travelling for a while longer yet, so even if they do decide to send me numerous letters, it matters not to me. To be on the safe side, I put an old address on the form.

She told me that the movie will be ready to begin in a few minutes, so I’m free to browse the displays. The displays covered aspects of Scientology, such as:

“Man consists of three parts. The first of these is the spirit, called in Scientology the thetan (from the Greek letter theta, meaning “thought” or “spirit”), which is the individual himself.

The second of these parts is the mind. The thetan uses his mind as a communication and control system between himself and his environment.

The third of these parts is the body. The body is not the person.

The most important of the three parts of man is the thetan, which is the spirit, or you.”

and some about the number of centres they have open, how many people they have helped all over the world, etc. My initial reaction to this was that it’s all party propaganda. All organisations, from religions to corporations to local restaurants include mentions of charitable work they do, where they have offices/centres and which celebrities have visited/given endorsement, etc.

I was ushered into the screening room. The blinds were drawn as the attractive young woman told me that the movie lasts about 15 minutes and that she’d like me to fill in a questionnaire afterwards. OK. But, as she left, I noticed that I was the only one in there. “Did she just lock the door? Are they observing me from behind the wall?”, I wondered. I looked around, but I saw no mirrors and then the movie began, so that grabbed my attention. Although, as the movie started, I did wonder if they may use subliminal messaging to get me to sign up. I made a mental note to close my eyes for a few seconds every so often.

Well, for all of the celebrities that endorse the religion, the film was very disappointing. For a start, they might think of increasing their filming budget and production values and, considering L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction background, the special effects weren’t very good either. But I guess the film does it’s job because the Dianetics theory seemed to be summed up quite succinctly. My understanding of it is that there are two parts of the mind; the Analytical and the Reactive. The Analytical comes into play when a person consciously makes a decision, the Reactive is more instinctive and based upon subconscious memories that influence decision making and behaviour. A memory held in the Reactive mind is known as an Engram. Here’s an example from the movie:

A bloke in a car crash still absorbs sights, sounds, feelings, etc despite being unconscious. Whilst in the ambulance the paramedics are discussing relationships and one of them reveals he has just dumped his girlfriend because life is too short and he doesn’t want to get tied down. I’m guessing it’s a few years later and the same bloke out of the car crash is with his girlfriend, in their car, and she is talking about introducing him to her parents soon. About this time, the bloke has to swerve the car for some reason and brakes suddenly. This is where his Engram kicks in and as they continue on their way, the bloke declares that he thinks they should break it off, as life is short and he doesn’t want to get tied down. Obviously, she is none too pleased about this and the bloke seemingly later regrets taking this stance.

I presume that these very simple examples are used to illustrate the theory rather than present direct examples. I understand the theory and I can sort of believe how previous memories, even ones that we have suppressed in some way, yet subconsciously retain, affect our reactions to situations and decision making. After all, don’t all things that we experience somehow add up to who we are right now?

So, it’s an intriguing premise to me and I mention that in my post-movie questionnaire, which again I have to put my address on and I make sure I put the same old address, in case that’s a way of catching me out. As well as this I mention my concern that Engram may not be a recognised scientific word and that, although the film mentions the issue, it does not mention the “solution”.

I guess that these comments make me a prime candidate for a one to one consultation because I then found myself in a room having a one to one consultation. Alas, the attractive young woman had passed me on to another woman who was not so young or attractive, but I guess the attractive young woman’s phase of the operation was successful – I’m here aren’t I?

I was happy to go along with the consultation, after all, not only was I intrigued by the whole concept of Scientology and this Dianetics, I also felt confident that I could handle the situation, even if it turned into a pressure sell, like going for a free television from a timeshare salesperson. It turned out to be a pleasant enough chat. She answered my questions: Part of the solution is to deal with suppressed memories and compartmentalise them as memories, so that they become conscious memories that enable an individual to choose whether to allow those memories to affect them. And, also that Engram is a scientific word. I later looked it up and indeed it is, meaning “A physical alteration thought to occur in living neural tissue in response to stimuli, posited as an explanation for memory.”

Admittedly, the discussion was mostly about me, but that was OK – I think most people’s favourite subject is themselves and, I guess, I’m no different. During the course of the chat I tell her what I’m doing (the giving up work, traveling and writing thing) and she’s very supportive, even when I mention that I will write about this experience. But, as nice as all of that was, I got the feeling that my body language was being scrutinized and that she was looking deep into my eyes at times for a sign of weakness or discomfort. I admit that this is my own inferred feeling, so she may have just been engaged in the conversation and my ridiculous cult suspicions were giving me different signals. Aside from the general chit-chat, there was a definite line of questioning and, to me, it wasn’t exactly subtle. For instance, questions like “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?” and “Tell me about a time when you did something or acted in a way that you now regret” (Yes, it took me a while to narrow both of them down to one particular thing, but I didn’t let her know that!) were thrown in when conversation flagged. Naturally, the woman believed that Dianetics and other Scientology books and workbooks could help me. So, I threw in the bit about me already receiving life coaching and that was dismissed all too readily in my opinion and a little debate followed where I thought that the areas of Scientology that she had told me about were self-help aids and surely so was life coaching. At best, I felt, she conceded just to make sure I did not react against the whole thing, although she did continue to mention that this was total self-help, i.e. I read a book, I don’t have a coaching session with another person. We left that area at that.

I was offered a coffee and declined. I jokingly thought to myself that it may be laced with something.

She then asked me if I would like to do a personality test and an IQ test. They were both free and would take about an hour in total. As well as talking about themselves, don’t people also like to find out what “type” of person they are from answering personality questions? Maybe it’s just me. I have previously completed a personality test (Myers-Briggs) where I used to work, so I thought it’d be something similar and it was. It consisted of 100 multiple choice questions covering a range of areas, e.g. my perception of others, my perception of others’ perceptions of me, my perception of me and my preferred/disliked situations, etc. The IQ test involved some basic maths, being able to identify shape patterns, word meanings, etc. The IQ test was limited to 30 minutes, which, even in an environment where it didn’t matter what the results were, added a little pressure. That must be an Engram kicking in from previous test experiences. I answered all of the questions within the allotted time. There then followed another part to the IQ test that was pretty much the same stuff, but it had a few random instructions in it, e.g. write your name in the margin and circle your last name twice and your first name once. This was also timed, but this time to see how quickly you could complete it.

Whilst eagerly awaiting the results, I continued to browse the displays. The display area surrounds a library or study room of some sort. There were several people in there reading intensely and I wondered if they were reading the self-help or the science fiction. I also noticed pictures of Scientology volunteer counseling workers at the 9/11 site in the aftermath of the attacks, Juliette Lewis taking part in a demonstration and Tom Cruise opening something or other.

The Church of Scientology was created by L. Ron Hubbard in 1953. Hubbard had already experienced success with his Dianetics self-help system and his further studies and writing formed the philosophies behind the Church of Scientology. They claim to be the only religion to have emerged in the 20th Century. Their website states that:

“The word Scientology literally means “the study of truth.” It comes from the Latin word “scio” meaning “knowing in the fullest sense of the word” and the Greek word “logos” meaning “study of.” “

Results time:

My IQ is 139. The woman told me that this is a very high IQ. I later check and it is: I’m just outside “Genius”, but I’m happy with “Very Superior Intelligence”.

Along with my IQ is a printed graph of my personality (I’ll try to get this scanned and attach it). Although I later discovered that the “Oxford Capacity Analysis” has nothing to do with Oxford University and that it is a test created by the Church of Scientology.

The graph is made up of different aspects of my personality, e.g. Depressed, Nervous, Uncertainty, etc, etc. and a score within each section which has a potential range from -100 to +100. Apparently Normal is a score between 0 and +50; anything above that is a Desirable State and anything below is an Unacceptable State. My scores were mostly in the Normal or Desirable State (phew!). The only points that weren’t and were significant enough to talk about were Nervous and Lack of Accord. This means I get nervous about things and that I’m opinionated to the point of offending others. Interesting, but only interesting in the same way that a horoscope is interesting, i.e. tell someone that they need to work on an aspect of their personality and they will probably be able to identify something within them that matches that aspect. I think that sort of thing is known as Barnum Theory.

Anyway, we had an interesting conversation about the graph and what it represented and despite her insistence that Scientology and Dianeticscould help me improve certain areas, I said that I could live with the down points on my chart for now, but I’ll consider it in the future, if I feel like it.

And with that, she left, wishing me all the best and saying it was a pleasure talking to me, to be replaced by another woman (they did not resort to bringing back the attractive one). The conversation followed a similar, but thankfully much shorter and more direct, path as before. Although she did really try to push at least one book onto me I refused it on the following grounds:

I’m not sure I need it – as much as you tell me I do.

I’ll never get round to reading it – I have a stack of much more exciting books at home that lay unread.

It’s too big – my rucksack is ram-jammed as it is.

She accepted these reasons, despite having answers to all of them and we agreed to part.

I must admit that much of the experience was influenced by my schoolboy humour presuming I was about to be abducted into a cult, but it did really open my eyes to what these people are trying to do. My cynical side suggests that they are really peddling self-help books under the guise of a religion and that’s their gimmick. But, to be honest, if it does help some people and it doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares? I don’t think I personally would consider Scientology as a future aid in the pursuit of happiness, but if someone I know said that they were looking into it, I wouldn’t actively discourage them. I’d just make sure they didn’t sign up to any book club deals before they had thought it through. I am glad I took the time just have a look at what it’s all about.

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