Some years back, I worked as a sauté cook in a restaurant that was close to where I lived. As such, I would frequently walk to work. Now, between work and my house, there was a Church of Scientology. One night, I got off work a bit early, and as I passed the church, I noticed a red neon "open!" sign in the window.
By that point, I had heard all about the South Park Scientology episode, but I am not one to get my news from South Park. I find things out for myself. I cracked a half smile and walked in.
Pictures of Hubbard were hung on the wall. A large cardboard 'Dianetics' display was to my left, advertising a special price for the entire collection of Scientology books. There are about ten books in all, and all for the special price of just under $150. At the desk in front of me were two women just past middle age, chattering in hushed tones – much the same as you would expect in a library. One of them quickly finished what she was saying and ran out of the room, while the other one turned to help me. I was welcomed, greeted... but the air of courtesy this woman was projecting felt just a little too forced. I put this thought out of my mind, determined to make an objective assessment.
One of the first things she asks me is "What have you heard about Scientology?" I insisted that I hadn't really heard much at all, and that I was merely curious. I had no desire to put her on the defensive. Once I assure her of this, I am quickly taking a personality test. It was about 200 questions long, ranging from questions such as "Do you ever experience nervous twitches for no apparent reason?" to "Would hurting small creatures make you feel bad?" Now, quite often, very similar questions will be asked, for example "Do you tend to be careless?" and "Do you often make tactless blunders?" I penciled my way through this and handed it in.
I was led to a side office with a computer, and several pictures of Hubbard on the wall. Now, note this – I was paying attention. In just two rooms, there were at least seven pictures of our friendly founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
The lady typed my information into the computer, which promptly spit out a convenient little graph, rating each aspect of my personality on a scale. She explained to me that by using their methods, I could raise my squiggly line on this graph – all I had to do was come in and pay for sessions. My understanding of these sessions is that I would sit down with one other person, and they would ask me questions over a period of eight hours – with no breaks. What is the basis of this graph? "Well, psychologists have said that if we can really get these results, then, well, we must really have something!" I never was clear on the 'results' she was talking about, and to tell you the truth, she seemed to hardly know what she was talking about. She was just pushing buttons and spitting out graphs – she had no clue as to the process involved.
She asked me if there was anything about myself I would like to improve, and I responded "sleep." She then recommended that I take a specific vitamin complex that would make me stop dreaming. Yes – stop dreaming. If that doesn't disturb you, it should.
At this point, I asked here what, exactly, Scientology was supposed to be about. She replied that she had a video, just to teach me! I was led to a separate video viewing room. She started the film, closed the doors, and left me alone to watch.
Now, the video was a good half hour long, all under the heading "What is Scientology?" I can sum it up for you in three easy bullet points:
1. L. Ron Hubbard was fucking amazing. My God, was he ever amazing. He was like Indiana Jones + Gandhi + MacGyver – all multiplied by awesome.
2. Scientology IS a religion. The government even says so. Everyone says so. But, at the same time, it is compatible with every other religion! Definitely a religion though.
3. Scientology has lots of big buildings! And a cruise ship! Ooh – famous people are Scientologists. Lots of them. The famous people visit the really big, expensive buildings.
Throughout the film, Hubbard is referred to as "L. Ron" (No, not Elrond) – and endearingly. It was all that "My good buddy L. Ron over there" sort of nonsense. Not only that, but the video disclosed that every church of Scientology had a dedicated "L. Ron's office." Yes – each church dedicates a shrine...I mean.... office to a dead man. "Because he used to travel so much, you'd never know when he'd stop in – and he always needed an office!"
The video ended with a man in a suit, standing well framed amidst large oak doors, adorned with Scientology symbols. He gave his wrap up speech, starting with "I hope that answers all your questions about Scientology..." Which was downright rediculous. But here's the thing – he kept talking. Then, I'd think he was about done, but he'd take a step closer to the screen, and keep talking. Almost done? No. Another step closer. This kept up until his face dominated the screen. It felt like he was leaning out of it, and that is when he dropped the kicker:
"You could leave, you know. You could turn around, walk out those doors, and never think about Scientology again." He chuckles "You could also go jump off a cliff."
Wait – What?!?
"...Or, you could stay, and turn your life into something beautiful and amazing, and know all that Scientology has to offer you!"
So, to paraphrase: "If you aren't going to join Scientology, you might as well go kill yourself." Even before that, I'd spotted some manipulative speech tactics (and I hadn't even studied rhetoric at that point), but this?? Truly quite amazing.
The woman at the desk invited me to a brunch the following Saturday. I probably would have gone out of curiosity, but I was busy. That being the case, I turned around and walked out those double doors, with the intent of never thinking about Scientology again.
For some strange reason, when I was hiking the next weekend, I had this really strong compulsion to throw myself over the edge of a cliff. Fortunately, a friend was there to restrain me.