Outside the church
“Forgiving someone is actually an insult because it presupposes that the person you are forgiving did something wrong. It’s really just a way of placing blame.”
The Scientology pastor stood behind a podium and enlightened the 10 person congregation on the concept of forgiveness. The color of his skin was oddly pale. I suspect his dark black mullet, and matching turtle neck and blazer were partly responsible for his washed out appearance.
I convinced my two friends Mark and Lori, to take the ride with me to D.C. to check out prayer #51, The Church of Scientology. Richmond’s Carytown has a Scientology mission; however, there are no Sunday services; only a bookstore and a room to perform spiritual audits.
When we walked in, we were greeted by a well dressed man at the front desk. “Can I help you?” He asked respectfully.
“We’re here for the Scientology service.” Mark said.
“I assume you are first time visitors so please just fill out these cards. Danielle will be with you in a moment.”
After filling out the cards we stood somewhat uncomfortable for a few moments in the front lobby until we were greeted by Danielle. She was a 5’2 African American woman wearing a gold and black Scientology uniform. Both of her ears came to a peculiar spock-like point and she had a slightly un-kept afro. Think Kid N’ Play if you get the reference.
“Hello. I’m Danielle. Tell me, what do you know about Scientology?” I admitted that I knew very little but was interested in learning more. As we walked with Danielle, I realized I was incredibly uneasy for some reason. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but there was something about the place that was giving me the creeps. Within seconds of meeting her, I couldn’t shake the feeling like I was being watched or something.
Mark attempted to make a joke to cut the obvious tension, “So, is Dan Cruise hiding back there somewhere?”
I immediately analyzed the expression on Danielle’s face to see if she seemed confused or offended by Mark’s question. I quickly suspected the answer was ‘both’ so I chimed in while smiling in Danielle’s direction. “He’s being silly.” I looked over at Mark and bugged my eyes out, indicating my disapproval. “ Tom Cruise, Mark. Tom, not Dan, and obviously, no….” I gave a nervous giggle while looking back toward Danielle smiling, “…he’s not here.”
She didn’t bother to appease us by offering a fake smile, but instead, stood there awkwardly for a moment before asking us to follow her into the back area.
We slowly made our way past the marble desk to an area that resembled the Best Seller’s tables at Barnes & Noble. The only difference was every book was written by Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. To the right of the area were different little nooks that held mid-sized TV screens with tan benches.
The Scientology website indicated that a service would begin every Sunday morning at 11am and was open to all, however, I didn’t see any place where people would gather together. Too chicken to ask Danielle myself, I sent Mark over to inquire.
“Are there church services today?” He asked.
“You know, we don’t have services every Sunday. I don’t think there is one today but I’m not sure.” I was both disappointed and confused by Danielle’s vague answer. “So, is there a service or is there not? I asked myself. She then quickly changed the subject by suggesting we check out another video. This one was on Dianetics.
Mark, Lori, and I gathered around the TV screen to watch. “Do you want to be really happy?” The narrator asked. “Do you want to control your circumstances and not have them control you?” “I want to be happy!” I thought to myself enthusiastically. The narrator continued… “Well, that’s what Dianetics is all about.”
According to the short film, Dianetics uses a counseling technique known as an audit which allows people to rid themselves of negative thoughts and psychosomatic illnesses. Basically, according to Hubbard, we have two parts to our minds: our reactive mind and our analytical mind. Hubbard suggests that we can control our reactive mind (also known as unconscious thinking) by accessing the negative memories and associations we have so we can ultimately address them and erase them completely from our minds storage area.
To be honest, it sounded to me a whole lot like motivational seminar speak. I kept wondering who came first, Tony Robbins or L. Ron? The actors on the videos were best described as “super duper happy”. Almost as though they ingested a bit too much Prozac; which is kind of ironic since Scientologists are against using drugs prescribed for mental illness.
As we watched the 4th video, I decided I was officially creeped out by Danielle. And you know, it wasn’t just her pointy ears. I had a legitimate reason: She stood behind us watching every move we made. She kept whispering things to the other staff while looking over at us. If I meandered my way over to one area, she followed. If I said anything to Lori, she was right there; like reading my lips or something. I couldn’t ignore the feeling like there was something going on inside the Church of Scientology that only I wasn’t privy to, something fishy. At one point, a member of the staff even came over and took a picture of us. And where the heck was this church!? Frustrated, I decided I was ready to either get out of there or get to this alleged, mysterious church service. I sent Mark over to get an official answer. I wanted to know…was there or was there not a church service today.
Danielle looked uncomfortable when he asked again. A bit reluctant, she walked over to another gentleman, whispered something in his ear and came back to the area where we sat. “It seems there’s a service. It’s upstairs. I’ll take you.” Feeling vindicated, we all got up from the video area and followed Danielle to the elevator. She then passed us off to another gentleman. On the way up, he mentioned that the church has services EVERY Sunday. Lori asked me later why the man said there was a service when Danielle was so incredibly cryptic about the whole thing, suggesting there weren’t services every week? Something wasn’t adding up.
I took a few minutes to look around the sanctuary and noticed a large cross that hung on the wall. I wondered why something that has nothing to do with Christianity uses such a familiar symbol. Danielle later explained that there was no relation. “Sure there isn’t.” I thought to myself. I couldn’t help but assume that they chose the cross in an attempt to convince others that their belief system was actually a religion by using a symbol that represents the largest religious body in the world.
After we went back down the secret elevator into the bookshop, we spent the next 20 minutes with Danielle who was now desperately attempting to sell me some books. Every time she asked a question about my life, she’d follow it up with, “I know the perfect book for you!” She’d run over, grab it and put it in my hand. Only to have me hold onto it for a brief moment awkwardly and then place it back where she got it from. She then asked another question, “So, what do you do?”
“She’s a writer.” Mark said.
Mind Reading Machine
I spent the last few minutes trying to figure out how to get out of there without being overly forceful. Apparently the several “So, we have to head out now” statements I offered up just weren’t enough for her. And she was holding our coats for ransom in the back so we couldn’t just run out.
After Mark asked what an audit consisted of, Danielle did everything in her power to get us to take one. I wanted to try it out, but it was an hour long so I refused. Mark then asked if I could test out the equipment, referred to as a “thought reader” without actually doing the hour long audit and Danielle agreed. Apparently, I was supposed to just hold onto this machine which resembled an old school telephone with two metal cups attached as she asked questions about my past. If the meter pointed in one direction it indicated I was stressed, if it pointed in another direction it meant my thoughts were happy and therefore didn’t need to be erased from my memory.
I held onto each cup and Danielle asked me to think about anything I wanted. I decided to think about something I knew would impact me emotionally. While grasping firmly onto the two metal cups, Danielle said, “WHOA! This is showing some major stress. What are you thinking about?” I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting her question. I paused.
“I was thinking about my dad.” I said.
Danielle smiled from ear to ear as if she had just detected a real source of trauma that I would clearly need to have erased from my memory by taking her very expensive spiritual audit. “Why does your dad stress you out?” She said with a new found energy.
“Well.” I paused for a moment to compose myself while Danielle, Lori, and Mark all stared at me. “He’s dead.” I laughed nervously at the uncomfortable moment and we quickly moved on to something else.
I have a few words for you Don (Tom) Cruise…. You were so cool in Top Gun. What the heck happened, man?
A few things I found interesting about the Church of Scientology:
- Scientologists think humans were derived from clams. Yes, like the bivalve molluscs
- Scientologist believes that souls (thetans) reincarnate and have lived on other planets prior to earth.
- Scientologists believe that psychiatry should be abolished.
- Jerry Seinfeld used to be a Scientologist. Heartbreaking.
- Members are required to make donations in order to take study courses and auditing. The more money you have, the more you can move up the spiritual ranks. So people like Tom Cruise are really, really spiritual.
- In the upper levels of Scientology (higher places along the Bridge, otherwise known as sacred teachings for the really, really rich) stories like the one of XENU, which was leaked on the internet in 1995 by a previous member, are revealed to the Scientology members. According to this story, 75 million years ago Xenu (tyrant ruler of the Galactic Confederacy) brought billions of people to Earth in a spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Scientologists at advanced levels place considerable emphasis on isolating body thetans and neutralizing their ill effects.
About the thetan:
- The thetan (soul) is the true identity of a person – and is intrinsically good.
- Thetans created the universe for their own pleasure. The world exists because thetans believe it exists.
- Thetans fell from grace when they began to identify with their creation, rather than their original state of spiritual purity. In this process, they lost their memory of who they were and how creative and spiritual they were. Now they believe they’re just beings, but basically they’re really alien gods who don’t recognize it.