Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the following column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Collegian or its editorial board.
Since the rise of the Internet, the Church of Scientology has been getting a bad reputation. Many books and documentaries have surfaced that reveal the religion as a money-hungry cult that science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard started in 1955. While the message of these books and documentaries are important and true, they give the impression that Scientologists are generally evil people.
I recently visited the Church of Scientology in Denver to decide for myself if Scientologists are as evil as I have seen on television.
The first part of my tour was the E-meter test. This test is designed to measure a person’s stress level. I held the cylinder handles of the E-meter tightly, but not too tightly just as my tour guide instructed. I watched the needle go back and forth vigorously until it finally settled as far right as it could go.
“Wow, you must be stressed. Why do you think you’re so stressed?” my tour guide said.
I answered him honestly, “I’m a college student who just moved to Colorado from Illinois. I don’t know many people here. I have doubts about the future and doubts that I’ll able to land a good job.”
“What is your dream job?” he said.
“Well, I’ve always had dreams of being a touring musician,” I said.
My tour guide said he was also a musician. Before he became a Scientologist, he gave up on becoming a famous musician. After he joined the church, he gained confidence and creative ability that he never had before he became a member. He said he is now up for a Grammy. I congratulated him and did not ask questions, but it felt like he was just targeting my interests and trying to humor me.
The next stop on my tour was a small private theater. I had never had the pleasure of watching a movie in a completely empty theater, but unfortunately it was not the new Power Rangers flick; it was a film about the Scientology bible, “Dianetics.”
The somewhat well-produced twenty-minute film was less about “what ‘Dianetics’ can do you for you,” but more “x many people bought ‘Dianetics’ and you should too!” The film seemed like an advertisement for “Dianetics” rather than information on why the book is important.
I walked out of the theater and my tour guide led me to a bookshelf stocked with copies of “Dianetics” and other books written by L. Ron Hubbard. My guide gave me a preview of the book by flipping through the pages and told me the price. I politely declined his sales pitch.
After the film, I had an appointment to take the Oxford Capacity Analysis, a two-hundred question test that is, according to the church, one-hundred percent accurate in telling me my personality. Some of the questions include, “do you smile much? Are you in favor of color bar or class distinction? Do some noises set your teeth on edge? Is your opinion influenced by looking at things from the standpoint of your experiences, occupation or training? Are you aware of any habitual physical mannerisms such as pulling your hair, nose, ears or such a like?”
After answering the odd questions that seemed to have no connection, a friendly woman led me into a room to go over my results. According to the test, I was extremely nervous and depressed.
I said I did not feel nervous or depressed, to which the recruiter replied, “well, this is what you said. You took the test.” I explained that I go through highs and lows like everyone else and I asked her if she could relate to my feelings. She looked me in the eyes, smiled, shook her head and simply said, “no.”
She said I could immediately enroll in a class to help me with my depression for fifty dollars. Again, I politely declined.
I left the Church of Scientology with a bad taste in my mouth. I felt dirty, like I needed to take a shower. Overall, I did not sense any evil. I thought they were nice people, but the sleazy car dealership sales techniques rubbed me the wrong way. However, after talking to ex-Scientologists, I learned that individual Scientologists are generally well-intended people who are misguided.
According to ex-Scientologist Dave Palter, Scientologists are under a great amount of pressure in carrying out their duties.
“The Church of Scientology works very hard to project an appearance of being warm and friendly, hoping to gain new members thereby, but there is a deep hostility that lies just below the surface appearance of friendliness,” Palter said. “Scientologists are constantly being accused of having failed in their obligations toward Scientology. There is a fundamental policy letter entitled ‘Keeping Scientology Working,’ which explicitly says that if you fail in any aspect of Scientology, the fault is yours for not having done it correctly, rather than being a fault of Scientology, which is infallible. It is a horrendous social environment of constant paranoia.”
Ex-Scientologist Pete Griffiths was heavily involved in the Church of Scientology when he was a member between 1987 and 1994. He said Scientologists are aware of the problems within the church.
“If you could talk to a Scientologist and they were honest with you, they would admit there’s a load of things wrong, but Scientology is meant to be perfect,” said Griffiths. “They have the answers for everything, so they can’t even admit to themselves that something is wrong. Even when it was so obvious to me that there was something not right, I couldn’t admit it to myself.”
According to Griffiths, Scientology recruiters do not try to bring people into the church with ill intentions. They truly believe they are helping people by getting them involved in Scientology. While Griffiths was in the church, he ran an entire Scientology organization or franchise. He was kicked out for not following through with his sales.
“I got people in, I sold them books, I sold them courses,” Griffiths said. “I even did some auditing. I was running basically a Scientology organization all on my own, so I did everything. I don’t think I did anything particularly dishonest. I feel a bit guilty that I pushed people further up into the Scientology world, but that’s what the point was. My job was to contact people to get them interested in Scientology so they carry on and do more Scientology.”
Griffiths said that individual Scientologists are not bad people, but they are misguided.
“Everyone felt that they were doing something worthwhile because you buy into this idea that Scientology has answers that console the problems of the world,” Griffith said. “That is the most evil part of the whole trick. Everyone wants a world where there’s no crime and no war. That was all bullshit. What Hubbard wanted was to make millions. The individual Scientologists are just a little bit misguided. They could do with a good waking up.”
Collegian reporter Jonny Rhein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonnyrhein.