Scientology has quite the mystique around it and this week I decided to peek behind the curtain. I didn’t know a lot about Scientology, but I figured this was my best shot at becoming a celebrity or at least holding one of those weird machines (they’re called E-meters and they did have one but I wasn’t invited to touch it). I booked an appointment for a tour of their space at P and 16th St. NW followed by a personality test.
When Saturday morning rolled around I was inevitably running late so I had to grab an UberX rather than brave whatever the Red Line had in store for me. I couldn’t risk being late because I didn’t know how much emphasis Scientologists put on punctuality, and I wanted start out in their favor. I’m pretty sure my UberX driver smirked when he saw our destination of “The Founding Church of Scientology,” but by the time we rolled up out front with “Rude Boy” blaring on the speakers, he had concealed his judgement.
The receptionist greeted me with a massive smile and had me fill out some forms. I filled out 6 forms and answered roughly 300 forms throughout the day. She showed me how to work the video screens in the information center and then left me to my own devices for about 25 minutes, telling me that eventually someone would come and administer my personality test.
Wandering the information center was quite educational, particularly since I’ve never seen any of the documentaries about L Ron Hubbard or Scientology that almost everyone else has. Did you know he had a license to captain any seafaring vessel? Or that according to the church he was really good aviator?
I also learned that Scientology sees survival as the ultimate human goal. Everything is about conditioning you to be the best survivor you can be. Survival is meant both in the sense of how long you live and how well you do while living. One of the video screens was dedicated to explaining the eight dynamics that contribute to, or inhibit, your survival. In addition to the video screens, there were a ton of free pamphlets and DVDs, as well as bigger DVDs and books that you could purchase. This was the first of many times Scientology would try to sell me something.
I grabbed as much swag as I thought reasonable and watched a few clips about their prison reform systems and anti-drug programming until someone came to test my personality. I didn’t know exactly what the test would be, but I knew it couldn’t be too crazy because this is a major religion.
Before I get too far into this I want to say that the woman who helped me was nice and non-pushy. It was clear she really believes in the powers of Scientology and Dianetics, as she’s been a part of the church for 10 years. At the end of my visit, her husband and tiny children ran into the building and surrounded her which made me a little uncomfortable and her super happy.
The personality test consisted of 200 standardized test statements to which I replied +, s, or – which essentially mean yes, sometimes and no. The statements ranged from “Sometimes I chew on my pencil” to “I think about death and sickness a lot” with a whole lot in between. It took me about 25 minutes to complete the test and then I left to get my hair dyed because I’m bad at scheduling. Before I left I promised I’d be back within 2 hours to get the results of my test. The woman chuckled and said “If you don’t, I can call you,” and gestured to one of the sheets I had filled out. I don’t think she meant it in a sinister way at all, but it creeped me out.
In hindsight, leaving in the middle of something, promising to come back, and then coming back promptly is a great way to build trust. She was happily surprised to see me and was very ready to give me my results. Jenn at BYT had told me that they would tell me I’m suicidal based on her experience with Scientologists in LA. She was right. They handed me a chart that correlated the results and, sure enough, on the line between “happy” and “depressed” my dot was right down in the -75 percentile. When I told the woman that I’m pretty sure I’m not depressed and am actually really happy with life she tried to work out what was making me so depressed. She asked about my parents, “We talk almost every day,” friends “I’ve got some,” the future, “Gonna go to grad school,” and my boyfriend “Nope, nothing serious.” That’s when she realized that my lack of a serious boyfriend is what’s causing me to be so depressed that I don’t even realize it.
She was concerned when I said that I’m very much in the quality-over-quantity camp when it comes to friends and no, acquaintances don’t ask me for solutions to their personal problems because that sounds like a nightmare. This led her to believe that I don’t know how to make friends or interact with people, which is worrying when paired with my generally off-putting nature. She was even more concerned when I mentioned that I had said yes to the questions regarding thinking about death, but that it’s not a problem because I think about it in a positive way, because we all do it so I don’t fear death. That really threw her.
The point on the chart that confused me the most was the line that spanned from “Appreciative” to “Lack of Accord” because I really don’t see how those relate. She tried to explain it, but I think that point confused her as well, though she did her best to hide it and whipped out a massive binder filled with examples. Apparently I’m really good at being active (85th percentile!) so at least I have that going for me, but according to the test, I’m bitter because I feel like all my activities are forced on me.
A theme in Scientology literature is the feeling of being out of control. The tests and results are meant to highlight unhappiness so that they can empower you to happiness. The promise of happiness and control isn’t unique to Scientology, it’s present in one way or another in most religions, but it does feel more aggressive here than the strict Irish Catholicism I was raised with.
If the chart was meant to make me feel bad about myself then the accompanying description and analysis was intended to be the final blow to my self esteem. Here are excerpts from the descriptions of my character:
A (stable/unstable) – You have an unstable character.
B (happy/depressed)- You are extremely dejected, depressed and unhappy…You see no real reasons to live as your life is full of problems and difficulties that your despondent attitude prevents you from solving.
C (composed/nervous) – You are in a complete state of nervousness. You have no reality to control yourself even under ordinary circumstances.
D (certainty/uncertainty) – You can be dependably realistic about yourself but have some difficulty being so.
E (active/inactive)- You are very active as a person, able to establish what it is you want to do (*this was accompanied by a disclaimer that this only applies sometimes and that a lot of the time I’m inactive and unhappy)
F (aggressive/inhibited) – You are capable and overt as a person but probably not to a degree that you should be or would like to be (I think aggressive and inhibited are weird opposites to highlight, I don’t really want to be aggressive).
G (responsible/irresponsible)- You are completely irresponsible. You accuse others of having ruled your life an made it what it is but this is actually your own fault as you at no time have really accepted your share of responsibility. You frequently feel sorry for yourself and feel that life has victimized you.
H (correct estimation/critical)- You are a critical person. Others find it difficult to be with you… you are unable to see much of the good…
I (appreciative/lack of accord)- You are quite coldblooded and heartless. Your complete inability to project yourself into another persons place or situation and thus better understand that person causes a great deal of difficulty for you in your associations with people in your life. You place too much importance on yourself and opinions to be considerate to others (This is my favorite by far.)
J (comm level/withdrawn)- You are badly withdrawn. This could be as a result of the fact that you are either shy or you dislike people or both. Also the fact that you are so out of communication with people reveals there are certain things about yourself that you prefer others not to know and which you wish to hide. Your inability to communicate freely is a very great hindrance to you in life.
We’re told to present each negative with a positive, but here any positive, no matter how minute, must have a very sizable drawback. If you don’t feel too good about yourself, you realize how much you need Scientology. They’re a bit like horoscopes in that they present generalizations that anyone who wants to identify with, can. I can see parts of myself in some of these descriptions, but I don’t want to turn to Scientology for the answers since they’re the ones who pointed out my flaws in the first place. Until now I thought I was perfect.
My Scientology spirit guide didn’t leave me hanging in negatives. We discussed each colossal flaw in my character, and the guide offered an explanation of how Scientology could help fix it. Almost all of the solutions were courses offered right here in the Scientology building. The way she described it you sit around, reading a textbook for about 3 hours, ask a supervisor any questions that arise, and learn at your own pace. She recommended one for making friends, one for trust and one for depression, before handing me the booklet with a little, vague synopsis of what to expect from each. She asked which one I liked best and I mumbled “Trust” so she replied “Great, let’s reserve your spot.” I said no.
A small smile broke across her face as she could hear my doubt and thinking she had the solution, asked, “Don’t you at least want to know how much it is?”
“Yeah, only $50! Are you sure you don’t want to reserve your spot?”
“I’m good for now. Thanks.”
And with that she dropped the subject. By this point I had been in the building on and off for two and a half hours and hadn’t eaten since breakfast so I was getting a bit hangry, but hid my feelings as best as I could. I thought we were winding down when she had realized I’m not a big spender, but then she asked how much I knew about Dianetics as a science. I said not much. She told me that it would really help me understand myself and my problems.
“I want to show you the Dianetics video. You’re going to love it,” she told me as she gestured to stand up. I followed her back towards the information center, assuming that she would plop me on one of those couches with an interactive screen and start up one of the 8 minute clips that the receptionist had first pointed out. I was wrong. I underestimated the reverence with which they treat the theory of Dianetics. The private screening room had three rows of chairs and a moderately large projector screen. I assumed the video would be ten, fifteen minutes max, a bit longer than those in the common area. Wrong again. When the movie finally ended I thought it had been a little over 30 minutes, but then I checked the text I sent my friend as it had started and realized that an entire hour had passed. Time flies when you’re learning pseudo-science, I guess. The film was uneventful and is filled with a lot of over-the-top transitions and dramatic stares into the distance.
There was, however, one moment that haunts my memory and has led to the conspiracy theory of all conspiracy theories.
Scientology is a front for Burt’s Bees or vice versa. It could work either way. For in the middle of a scene with some people yelling,which is most of them, it cuts to a sink and the only thing on the basin is a bottle of Burt’s Bees Garden Tomato Toner. Explain that! It could be simple product placement, but why would a successful company like Burt’s Bees randomly agree to place their products in a video to be shown only at Scientology centers unless there was a deeper connection? Is Burt’s Bees is another form of income for the Church of Scientology? Is Burt is an identity L Ron Hubbard has adopted and he now runs a natural cosmetics company in addition to a celebrity-filled church?
After the film she picked up the BluRay of a Dianetics movie (maybe the same) as well as the original book (based on 30 years of research!) and told me she thinks I really need them. I said I don’t own a DVD player and I have no time for pleasure reading (if you can call it that), which is 100% true. She then grabbed a small booklet entitled “The Emotional Tone Scale” and told me this would at least help me figure out how to make friends.
She opened the book to the final page which is a fold out table that is a 4-point grading scale for humans, created by Hubbard himself, of course. The scale includes criteria such as “Hypnotic Level” and “Literalness of Reception of Statement.” Despite my desire to give Scientology exactly none of my money, this book is clearly worth $5, so I bought it in cash and then made my way out of the building only after being stopped to shake hands with two other Scientologists who looked forward to seeing me again soon.
When I got home I graded my friend on the human grading scale, and she came out to a 3.9 but that might be biased because I let her partially grade herself and I clearly think very highly of her since we’ve been best friends for 8 years. I’m not sure how you could ever objectively grade someone, especially early on in the relationship, but Hubbard/Mr. Burt’s Bees seemed to think you can, so maybe it’s for better people than me.
My Scientology guide had suggested I use this when meeting new people, but I’m not sure how accurate my guesses about someone’s survival potential or receptiveness to hypnosis would be after small talk. I’m also pretty sure this booklet was originally intended for psychopaths, or maybe sociopaths, whichever one can’t recognize human emotions. There’s a page with emotion words written under images so that you can learn to understand how someone’s expression relates to their emotions.
Both my Scientology guru and some of the other Scientologists in the lobby asked when I’d be back and I gave a non-committal reply. I expected an email or phone call saying how nice it was to meet me and how they look forward to seeing me again soon. I gave them all my real contact information, but no one has contacted me. Not a call, not an email, not a postcard. Nothing. Scientology has ghosted me. All I’ve got from this failed relationship is a ton of pamphlets on purification, success, and happiness, some DVDs in cardboard sheaths and a whole lot of memories. And a really depressing analysis of my personality.