Gimme your tired, your poor, your impressionable, vulnerable, insecure masses...
This Monday, we’re taking you to the Scientology Center… Church. Compound. Cult. Whatever. The imposing periwinkle building on Sunset, the one that has SCIENTOLOGY emblazoned on the front, like a WordArt geek just had one hell of a Friday night, offers free tours daily. We took one. We also did the complimentary (complimentary as in free, not as in flattering) personality and aptitude test.
What is Scientology? It is a religion founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. And that’s as in depth as we’re gonna go on that. For a deeper look, our suggestion is the HBO doc, Going Clear.
We’ll take you from the beginning of our visit through the end…
On the Scientology website, there is a place where you can sign up to schedule an appointment to tour the building. We signed up, but, after getting there, it seems you can just come on by during hours of operation without any advanced booking.
Walking up to the front entrance, we passed three church members going the opposite direction. They each gave us a friendly, “hello.”
Through the front doors, there was a youngish woman sitting behind a desk, who greeted us with pleasant mock-surprise, and asked us to fill out a quick form. She said we didn’t need to fill out the whole thing, so we opted to put just our names. Fake ones (though we didn’t keep up the charade of our fake names very well).
What you get to see is essentially a studio floor with a bunch of videos about Scientology, free pamphlets and purchasable books. Fear not if you don’t speak English. Their literature is in all the languages. Pretty sure you could pick up a book in Sanskrit if you wanted.
Everybody who works there is dressed in some variation of white top and black trousers. The ensemble is vaguely reminiscent of the uniforms you’d expect to find kids wearing at Charter schools in the 90’s. There was a small battalion of church members that passed in and out of the place, but nobody stopped to hover over us. Minus Paola, who introduced herself with a beaming smile and offered her help should we need anything or have a questions, we were left to our own devices.
The tour is self-guided and each video section has about five related chapters that you can watch all of or skip over.
The first video is about the man, L. (Lafayette) Ron Hubbard. It chronicles his youth as a boy scout, his years as a pilot, years as a sic-fi writer and his eventual founding of the church. Most intriguing about the video, entirely discounting the actual content of the thing, is L. Ron Hubbard’s mouth. The man’s got a fascinating set of lips. Not sexy, but absorbingly fascinating. You get to watch them grow up in the video. It’s like they’re their own sic-fi novella.
Other videos include one about Narcanon, Scientology’s drug rehabilitation program. There’s a video that addresses the (almost comically in this interpretation) horrifying world of psychiatry and one that promotes healthy eating and exercise. Can’t hate too much on that last one, I guess.
When we’d had our fill of videos, we decided to take the free Personality, Aptitude and IQ test. The test is administered in three parts. Expect to take about 45 minutes - an hour for the testing. Once you’ve finished, you wait about 10 minutes to get your results. You’ll then meet with someone to go over those results of yours…. and this is where things got to be just a spot too much for either of The Monday Project gals to put up with.
The first thing they go over is your personality test. The test results show a line that bounces up and down (or remains static, I suppose, depending) and is used to reference your character traits. Or, in this case, character flaws. For both of us, the character traits that were pointed out were ones that would generally be considered undesirable traits in a person. Not once did they point to something on the graph that would indicate a good quality about yourself, like, “hey, this tells me you can be lazy, but this line tells me that people enjoy being around you. We can work on the first, but well done on the second!” We were both told that we can be considered untrustworthy, that we are not very happy, that we have trouble finishing tasks and that people think of us as closed off.
Now, how might you improve on some of these negative qualities about yourself? Ba-bah-BAH! Scientology. Are you depressed? Scientology can help you with that. Are you unsure how to obtain what you want from life? Scientology. Scientology, it’s the answer to all the things.
So look, there’s no shortage of conspiracy and paranoia surrounding the Church of Scientology. We gave fake names. Was that absurdly paranoid? Probably yes… probably not. Who knows? Everybody we interacted with was perfectly lovely. They were friendly, polite, willing to chat and had, across the board, cherubic and approachable faces.
It’s not unfathomable to see how someone might be enticed into Scientology. When we sat for our test, there was a man already midway through his. Late 20’s or early 30’s, Latino. We could overhear the conversation about his results. The woman said his IQ test showed her he had below average IQ, and that Scientology could help improve his IQ. For all intents and purpose, this guy was just told he’s stupider than the average person. Reasonable to guess it’s not the first time in his life he’s been made to feel like he’s not smart. Reasonable to think that maybe it’s an insecurity of his. And there seems to be the lynchpin.
From what we witnessed, the church can do a beautiful job of preying on your insecurities. "This line shows me you might put on a happy smile, but that smile doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on inside. There’s something going on in there [points to heart].” Yeah, sure, yes, sometimes I do put on a smile even though I might be going through something. And let’s say you’re a person genuinely having a tough time. Someone has just pegged you, through a questionnaire, they’ve just touched on something sensitive in you. Then they tell you they have an answer for you. It can’t be a coincidence that Mark, the test administrator, is a tall, sinewy young man with an angelic choir boy face. They cast the players at the center well.
In conclusion, go there if you want. Or just read this post. Probably won’t be a place we ever go again. Peace, love, Lafayette.