I'm a student currently living in Holland. When I was 9 years old, my mother was drawn into a small local New Age cult. She spent most of her money on initiations, rituals and "sacred" symbols. Over the course of three years, my mother and I were taught to shun outsiders, to spend all our time doing volunteer work for the group, and of course, that we had special magic powers that could influence the world around us. In the end, my mother was almost convinced by the cult to leave my father, but she snapped back to reality before it was too late - with an incredibly large debt and with an incredible amount of bullshit replacing her common sense.
At the time I didn't know what a cult was, and I never considered the group to be much out of the ordinary. The cult eventually broke up, my parents got back together, my mother got a real job again, and life went on. But the whole experience left me very curious and skeptical about religious subgroups and the people willing to be drawn into them.
I learned about Scientology pretty much the same was as everyone else: I saw the South Park episode, followed the Tom Cruise media disaster, and slowly learned that many of my favourite actors - John Travolta, Richard Elfman, Matthew Bright, Giovanni Ribisi, Jim Meskimen - were part of this cult. The real blow came when I realized that one of my all-time favourite movies (Freeway) was nothing but a massive propaganda piece for Scientology. I started searching the internet for more information and realized just how much of a threat this cult is. And I really, really wanted to see it for myself.
My first real contact with the church came when I was on vacation in Berlin. There was a giant yellow tent right outside the main station. I ignored it for most of the weekend, but on the last day, I looked closer and suddenly realized it was a Scientology information point. I pretended not to speak German or English and merrily went in to have a look. Most of the tent was, of course, filled with inspirational posters and Dianetics books. I managed to ignore most of the overly enthusiastic culties trying to make contact with me. The posters I saw were simple: a man reading a newspaper and having visions of horrible things. Moral: don't read the newspaper. A man being fired by his boss. Moral: his boss is a SP. And so on. I was shocked, but not really surprised at this point, and I decided in the future to stay as far away from Scientology as possible.
Obviously curiosity got the best of me, and a couple of months later, I filled out the online personality test. I'd been prepared by the wonderful South Park episode and a LOT of experience with psychology (both theoretical and practical), so I knew what the test would be like and how to best fill it out. (I've had my share of shrinks and studied psychology for a year before switching to another major. Most shrinks I've met are narrow-minded asshats, but of course none turned out the evil geniuses Scientology makes them out to be.) About a week later, I got a phone call from the church in Amsterdam saying I could drop by and have a look at my results.
My basic plan was to walk in, have the talk, and walk out again. I'd set four basic rules for myself in advance:
- Smile and nod and go along with everything,
- No lying except to save my own ass,
- No signing any forms,
- No ties to the church once I walk out of there.
Most of it was as I'd expected (and very similar to what I'd seen as a young child in our cult). There were people outside offering personality tests. There were kitschy photographs of Elron and oceans and sunrises and clouds on every wall. My contact person, a young woman (R.) asked me to wait in the lunch room, where a couple of TV screens showed a continuous loop of propaganda videos. While waiting, a very confused looking man (P.) started talking to me, asking what my function was. He told me he was an "SP teacher". Apparently, he was stark raving mad, and the doctors had tried to force him to eat happy pills - meaning they were SPs. When he refused, they'd tried to send him to an asylum - because they were SPs. Now he was at home in the church. No longer suppressed. He also told me I had very pretty hair.
R. showed up and brought me into her tiny office. The walls were almost completely covered with Elron photographs. She fed me all the usual bullshit: that I was depressed, that I had to spend E80,- on auditing, that auditing was completely unlike psychotherapy, and that I could buy a DVD about the evils of psychotherapy for just E25,-. I played dumb and asked if they had videos about hormone therapists, dieticians, elementary school teachers and judges as well. "I mean," I said, "all those people have a lot of power too. Of course some of them are going to do things wrong, intentional or unintentional. When people with that much power screw up, it's horrible - but that's not because they're all evil, right? Isn't it just because the effect is so great, that we notice their screwups more than those of others? I mean, it's not exactly, say, flower arranging, is it?" - the look on her face was priceless.
She continued to show me my chart. According the answers I'd filled out, I was "too skeptical" (a bad quality), which is apparently the opposite of being "accepting" (which is necessary in becoming enlightened). At this point I started to feel pretty much like Wednesday Addams at Camp Chippewa. I asked about my conversation with P. in the lunch room, and R. explained happily that schizophrenic people should never be forced to take their pills.
One of my best friends is schizophrenic. Every few years, he has severe psychotic episodes, during which he tries to kill himself and ends up stuck in an asylum for several months. Without his pills, he wouldn't be alive.
I found it extremely difficult to act serious and friendly during the two hours I spent in that room. For the first time since I became interested in the cult, I fully realized how dangerous it was. Scientology had already been reduced to a joke in my mind - a horrible mistake that many people still make. The church should be treated as a very real and very serious threat; not as a plaything.
Eventually I gave a false address, managed to convince R. I really wasn't going to sign any forms (this took a good ten minutes, of course) and left.
So, that's about it. It's not much of an adventure, and I realize I've been very lucky compared to a lot of other people on these boards. My early experience with cults had left me skeptical enough to withstand their tricks, and curious enough to want to see it all for myself. Since my visit, I've spent a few afternoons handing out anti-Scientology booklets near the building, and I've done my best to tell people what I've learned that day.
Last edited by Solle on Fri Apr 25, 2008 12:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.