Being from the UK, my experience of the concept of Scientology comes exclusively from media such as the internet, TV, and films. As far as I know, before coming to the USA I had never even met a real life Scientologist and everything I did know about it was negative or portrayed in a comedic manner.
This ignorance brought with it a certain amount of naivety, so much so that when I was in Los Angeles, USA and I saw my first ever church of Scientology I wrongfully assumed that it was a museum. I couldn’t believe how this commonly-mocked ideology could be so prevalent in the USA.
So the story begins with my curiosity, my friend’s initial reluctance, and a man offering a free personality test.
“How long does it take?”
“Depends on how fast you answer the questions, it shouldn’t take long. You also get a certificate at the end showing your complex personality results”
I looked at my friend; he was not interested in the slightest (we had been almost tricked already on this trip so his cynicism wasn’t unfounded). I told him that it would be interesting to see this from the inside and how it could be a great story to tell. Anyway, our coach for San Francisco wasn’t leaving for a few hours so we had some time to spare.
My friend grudgingly accepted and we were led inside, towards the examination room by the man offering the test.
Part 1: The Test
The building inside was fairly grand, a modern design with architecture befitting a place calling itself both religious and scientific.
We were registered and given our own booth away from each other and told specifically not to confer with our exam neighbours. I didn’t question it, although, I’m not sure how it’s possible to cheat in a personality test.
I looked at the exam. It was long. The first page was filled with the classic IQ test questions like ‘how many cubes can fit in this shape’ and ‘if I have 4 dogs and Timmy has 6 cats, why can’t penguins fly?’ The following pages followed the format of: A statement with checkboxes for – Strongly disagree, Disagree, Not sure, Agree, Strongly Agree – below it.
It took somewhere between 40 minutes to one hour to do the whole test.
I raised my hand as instructed once I had finished, the test papers were sent in for computer analysis whilst I was silently escorted to the next area.
Part 2: The Results
Whilst the test room was full of a whole range of people busily working on their exams, the waiting room had a completely different vibe to it. It felt more like the patient waiting area at the dentist.
I was alone apart from one other girl sat in the corner, she looked slightly nervous (as if it was actually the dentist and she hadn’t flossed in a while).
I sat down and wondered where my friend had got to.
I asked the girl where she was from (we weren’t specifically told not to talk in this area so I guessed it would be ok). I asked her why she came in to do this test. And she told me that she had recently moved from another state for work and left her family behind. The jobs weren’t as plentiful as she had imagined here but didn’t want to go back home and admit to herself that she was a failure. She came to the church because she wanted guidance and had heard that Scientology can help get your life together.
It then dawned on me that not everyone had the same impression of Scientology as me. For some people, it wasn’t just an interesting experience or a fun joke. They were genuinely looking for something that they hoped Scientology could provide.
And that’s how they get drawn in.
I wondered where my friend had gotten to…
My name was called and it was my turn to be analyzed.
Part 3: The Analysis
I was given my papers in an envelope and sent to the analysis area.
The analysis area was more like an office type room with scientology members tapping away on their computers or talking to would-be recruits.
I sat down at the desk of my ‘consultant’ and handed the results over.
She looked at them the same way a mechanic looks at the car of a middle aged woman he’s about to overcharge.
She muttered “interesting…” under her breathe but clearly it was intended to be loud enough so that I could hear.
“I am going to ask you a few more questions, if that’s ok? Then we need to do a bit more testing”
I was honestly getting a bit bored of all this but I still wanted to know where this was all headed so I said it was fine.
She asks me questions like where I grew up, my education background, these kinds of things. She was very surprised when she realized I wasn’t an American. I guess they don’t usually get tourists.
The questions come to an end and she brings out a strange piece of equipment. It kind of looks like a metal version of that two-cups-on-a-string telephone that kids use to talk to each other.
She asks me to hold the metal cups and measures the reading. She notes it down emotionlessly.
“So did I do ok?” I jokingly asked
“Yes. You did ok.” She replied, still emotionless. She presses the buzzer and calls someone to take me to the sales room.
Part 4: The Results
A very tall, thin, Dutchman with a cold demeanour arrives after being buzzed. He greets me and asks if I would like to follow him to the results area. Of course I wanted to find the results; I have been here for well over an hour now, it would be a waste if I didn’t find out what it all meant!
I followed him as he took me down to the underground room. The decoration style was different down here, more like… laboratory chic. It felt like the kind of place the bad guys do their special experiments in movies.
We had walked quite far; it was like a maze down there. My mind instantly began to wander. If something suddenly went wrong I’m not sure that I would be able to find my way out very easily. That was a scary thought, I tried to think about something else.
“Ok take a seat”
We had reached our destination. It was an empty room vaguely reminiscent of those interrogation rooms you see in police dramas. I had a bad feeling about this and was actually feeling quite nervous now.
“Let’s begin shall we?”
The man proceeded to tell me that my IQ was very high. I’m not exactly a member of MENSA or anything so I feel that this must have been
part of their sales technique. You know, start off with a compliment.
This high IQ apparently meant that I had a great life potential and so he asked what I was doing with my life now.
Well, I had recently quit my job to go travelling until my teaching contract started in September. This meant that I was literally between jobs. However, whenever you tell people that you are between jobs they read between the lines and you suddenly become an unemployed bum in their eyes…
He bluntly told me that I was wasting my life and my high IQ potential.
We moved onto the next section: Happiness.
“These results show me that you have been very unhappy recently”
This caught me off-guard. Again, I had just been travelling and enjoying different countries around the world and was about to start a new career in a few months. It was a bit farfetched to say I was miserable and I told him as much.
“These results tell a different story”
I told him that I must have answered that question wrong accidentally.
“It was a combination of around 40 questions that when the algorithm puts them together shows this result.
“Then the test must be wrong”
Let’s just say that he was not a fan of this response, so I yielded and we moved onto the next section.
“It says here that you are very sceptical and find it hard to trust what people say. Well this explains your behaviour just now” He chuckled derisively.
Very convenient, I thought, the test says that I am sceptical just after I voiced my discontentment with the test.
I told the consultant that I also didn’t believe that to be true knowing full well what his response would be.
“Of course you would say that! By saying that it just proves the test is correct!”
I felt that this was slightly paradoxical but I thought better than to argue any further.
He then went through every single section of the test telling me how my life would get more and more miserable and I would become more and more of a failure every day. Of course, however, Scientology had an answer for all of my woes and would bring me into a new life of enlightenment.
I was starting to think that perhaps this wasn’t a personality test at all, but just a façade so that they can tell you how bad you are at life.
I had started to think about other things whilst the consultant was lecturing me with warnings and realised we had gotten to the final section – relationships.
“… So this means your wife will stay with you, but she won’t love you. She never loved you because you were incapable of giving love. If you manage to have children they will know you as a failure and never respect you. They will wish they could have had another father, a father that had made something of his life. Does this sound like the life you want?
I was silent. Half of me found it shocking that a stranger would say something like this and half of me found it hilarious.
“I thought as much. Do you want to do something about these results?”
I took this to mean “do you want to finally leave this room and for me to stop insulting you?” so the answer was a resounding “yes”.
He lead me back upstairs, taking three steps at a time. I was practically running to keep up. We reach daylight and he takes me to the sales room.
He brings me to his overly smiley colleague in this department, gestures to me and says:
“He is ready”
Part 5: The hard sell.
At this stage of the recruitment it quickly became apparent that the endgame of this whole longwinded process was to sell me some very expensive books and get me to sign up to some special classes.
I was only carrying a backpack so there was no way I would be buying any heavy books. As for the classes, well my coach to San Fransisco left in a few hours…
Naturally, upon hearing this news the sales representative was very disappointed.
Especially after my interrogator had told him I was a dead cert.
He tried a last ditch effort to get me to join them.
“How about you just watch a short film to learn more about Scientology, I think you will see it can really improve your life…
…Your friend was really excited to watch it”
I found that hard to believe, surely my friend wouldn’t have fallen prey to all this?!
I needed to find him, we were leaving Los Angeles soon.
I walked to the movie room and tried the door. It was locked!
They locked the door on him!
I was told they couldn’t unlock it until the movie was over. The scene in a clockwork orange where they pry the guy’s eyes open flashed through my mind. My poor friend!
Thankfully it wasn’t long until it was over. The door opened. What would my friend be like now? Would he be a fully-fledged member of scientology? Would he try to convert me too?
He steps out, I was scared. He looks at me… Oh no what was he about to say?
“What the fuck was all that bullshit about? Let’s get out of here”