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Tom Cruise on the couch

Excursions in Scientology

by Sean Magner / 31.05.2011

The facade of the building in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD is so unassuming that you’ve probably passed it plenty of times before. When I ask where the Church of Scientology is, the doorman happily directs me to the second floor. No hint of suspicion as to why I’m seeking L. Ron Hubbard.

Reaching the Church entrance, Jik-soaked linoleum makes me knock harder than I intended.

This is not a Church; it’s a generic office. Bleached pine bookcases line the walls, stacked with Scientology books and DVDs. I am greeted by Garth.

He’s suspicious and unwilling to let down his guard. I tell him that I’m writing an article on Scientology and his face becomes a scowl. To save the story, I tell Garth how I can’t handle all the bias and unsubstantiated claims about his religion online. I tell him I’ve come for an honest account.

Garth still declines.

I get palmed off on Russell. Russell sounds like he comes from the Northern suburbs and is a lot more media-savvy, welcoming and less rigid. Turns out he was raised by Scientologists and is an avid believer.

Russ tells me of the book that started it all: L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics. It’s an attempt to re-evaluate the mind’s potential, Russell tells me, the only self-help philosophy you’ll ever need. In Dianetics, the mind is analytical and reactive. So far so duh. The analytical side handles reason-based issues, logic and deduction in your day to day life. Whereas the reactive side is the source of irrational behaviour and emotional memory. For an outfit that hates psychology, this was a pretty basic Freudian breakdown.

1950s Sci-Fi writer L. Ron Hubbard

Ah but this is not full-on Scientology yet. Scientology is the belief-system that implements (for a price, of course) practices derived from Dianetics and used ultimately to reach a state of nirvana, or Clear, as they call it. The believer must advance (expensively) to higher and higher (strictly confidential to outsiders) levels called “OT levels”. OT stands for Operating Thetan, or something. In Scientology, the concept of Thetan is similar to the concept of spirit or soul found in other belief systems. Basically Clear is only attainable via the guided study of Scientology which always entails a deeper understanding of yourself. Enigmatically, Russell says, “What is true for you, is true for you!” I was impressed by the open, seemingly liberal approach.

Then Russell laid on introductory DVDs and a copy of IMPACT: The magazine of the International Association of Scientologists. I page through and pick out peppy phrases like “something CAN be done about it.” Russell confirms that the “it” can be anything from Japan’s disaster relief, stability in Haiti, solving Palestine, or ending conflict in Pakistan. I was beginning to see why Tom Cruise gets so overexcited and jumps on sofas. Something can be done about it! Scientology seemed to be about unyielding optimism and bullet-proof positivity. Images of impoverished third world children were on every second page. Something can be done! It was already starting to feel a little weird.

L Ron Hubbard

The first article is by L. Ron Hubbard, the man, the enigma himself. Hubbard’s awful writing is the nonsensical babbling of a drunk dude on a power trip. He goes on and on about nuclear warfare and the dangers of “Anglo-American civilisation”. It’s the mindspill of a crank. In the accompanying photo, his plump face gleams in a Vaseline-tinted light from straight-to-video 80s porn flicks. L. Ron wears a silk cravat for god’s sake. The blatant attempt to paint Hubbard as a modern-day messiah really turns me off. Blind hero-worship seems the basis of this entire faith.

Russell rattles on about the hazards of accumulating “engrams” in your reactive mind and the runaway dangers of psychiatric medicine. An “engram” is defined as “a mental image picture which is a recording of an experience containing pain, unconsciousness and a real or fancied threat to survival”. Tom Cruise famously berated Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants after her pregnancy. America basically told him to mind his own business. I suddenly notice how every piece of instructional material loudly emphasises its copyright. Why turn your religion into a brand? Is that what faith is about? Marketing products.

L. Ron Hubbard conducting a Dianetics Seminar in 1950

Garth re-join us and I stir the pot. “How do you respond to people who call this religion a cult? Shows like South Park have made fun of Hubbard’s ideas about intergalactic warriors, and the media has criticised the shunning of defectors.” Garth looks angrily at Russell. He starts blaming “the corporations” and heads of on a long rant. My departure is pretty strained. Poor Russell.

After wading through all the introductory material, it’s the pyramid scheme come pseudo-faith aspect of Scientology that really gets me. It is based on a fantasy-writer’s fevered dreams. Now it preys on and prospers off regular people with genuine questions and concerns about their well-being and the future. Scientology is increasingly moving into the “global south”, developing societies like our own where customers are generally less educated and more easily seduced by the promise of “solutions”. Scientology also uses faraway Third World suffering as a form of cultural capital, turning our social problems into the pro-active material rich people “back home” can delude themselves into believing they can cure. Help liberate these poor people and show how much better we are than any other faith; “fill their lives with the happiness you receive from L. Ron Hubbard.” As the Beatles said, “the best things in life are free”. So why pay for the happiness that you get from simply helping others?

*Watch South Park’s riotous take down of Scientology here.

** Images sourced Wikimedia Commons.

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RESPONSES (24)
  1. Joegs says:

    It is so easy to jump on the band-wagon of poplar hate. I admit the public image of Scientology is dodgy as fuck but if you read the original text, it’s very interesting.

    The crux of Dianetics is that ‘engrams’ or repressed memories are at the root of all emotional turmoil – from psychosomatic illnesses to relationship problems etc etc… The theory is that when you experience pain – emotional or physical – your rational mind kind of switches off and everything is recorded in your reactive mind. Your reactive mind records all your surroundings when you are experiencing pain – smell, taste, touch etc. So when the drunken bully beats his forlorn wifes head in, calling her ‘good for nothing’, she unknowingly collects a whole range of repressed memories. If there was Nina Simone spinning on the old vinyl and a bunch of Jasmine in the flowerpot – her mind recorded all. The theory is that in the future when she hears Nina Simone and and the Jasmine are blooming, she’ll get a banging headache and feel like a wretched good for nothing….so she’s eternally damaged by this violence in her life and certain things are like stir up the pain, setting off her emotions.

    The Scientologists reckon this is your ‘fight or flight’ instinct gone wrong. Your reactive mind stores pain and all the sensory surroundings of the original incident of pain in order to warn you when similar conditions come about so you can get the fuck out of there.

    The therapy called ‘Auditing’ is the process of going back over the painful memories, which are very much repressed, and ‘clearing’ them… by going over and over the details of the violence you move the memory from your hidden ‘reactive’ mind to your analytical rational mind. So by remembering all the details you remove the ’emotional charge’, and the painful shit no longer has power over your subconscious.

    I have tried the therapy and it was pretty good but I wouldnt say it was life changing. I did a few sessions for free and then I was notified that it was gonna be 10 zillion bucks per session to continue. So I went surfing instead, did some Yoga and ate a salad.

    I am not an advocate of Scientology. I cannot accept the assumption that there is such a fundamental flaw with natures design design – ie. our memories are the cause of all our emotional turmoil, from health problems to career and relationship failures. Most of these Scientology cats also roll in fuel chugging beamers, eat Macdonalds and build churches the size of Moses Mabhida stadium. But so does the preacher man at the church down the road.

    My point is, people are always going to seek enlightenment and whether they pray to blue elephants or big white guys in the sky, if that shit gives them meaning then so be it.

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  2. Al Anon says:

    South Park nailed this!

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  3. Tim says:

    @Joegs
    Education is beautiful; but schools are ugly.
    Order is beautiful; but politics are ugly.
    Spirituality is beautiful; but religions are ugly.
    Anything you try to mass produce and sell gets lost.

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  4. @Mr_CapeTown says:

    PFFT Bunch of Muppets is that by the Spur?

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  5. Sean Magner says:

    @Mr_CapeTown It’s on the corner of Strand and Long.

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  6. US of Arseholes says:

    The NY Times recently did a fairly in depth take-down of Scientology
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/02/14/110214fa_fact_wright

    That said, there’s no real difference between these crazies and their recent creation myth and the crazies of christianity, islam, etc and their older creation myths.

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  7. Joegs says:

    @ Tim
    Sure I agree to an extent.

    Im not tuning this is a bad article at all – its pretty on point. But its like writing a critique on Christianity without reading the bible. I dont mean to sound righteous – and I dont expect this cat to go and read Dianetics. What a mission.

    The truth is someone close to me got swept up in this shit so I was forced to engage with it and found the actual content to be mostly uplifting and very thought provoking. Although many of the people involved had fucked up lives and were desperately trying to find something stable to hold onto.

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  8. Jeff says:

    Gee, “Southpark” is not exactly a scientific magazine with high credibility when it comes to therapies. Dianetics works as described and that is all that counts (dianetics.org).

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  9. Jenn says:

    It’s so easy to be sarcastic and belittling. It takes some work and courage to help people. And someone who would negate a group of people who are helping people every day–well, I’m sure you know people like that and hopefully, for your own sanity and happiness, steer clear of them. I would like to recommend to the author of this piece and those who left gratuitous droppings below it that you actually read something by L. Ron Hubbard and use it. Even you may be able to notice how much better people do as a result. Of course, there’s always the possibility that that is not your purpose.

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  10. Jessie says:

    Man, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about but it ain’t Scientology. I’d say Garth had good reason to be suspicious of you. Looks like he nailed your attitude. Hpe you weren’t really trying to find out about Scientology when you walked in, cuz you sure didn’t make it, if you did.

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  11. RocMarci says:

    Once upon a time (75 million years ago to be more precise) there was an alien galactic ruler named Xenu. Xenu was in charge of all the planets in this part of the galaxy including our own planet Earth, except in those days it was called Teegeeack.

    Xenu the alien ruler Now Xenu had a problem. All of the 76 planets he controlled were overpopulated. Each planet had on average 178 billion people. He wanted to get rid of all the overpopulation so he had a plan.

    Xenu took over complete control with the help of renegades to defeat the good people and the Loyal Officers. Then with the help of psychiatrists he called in billions of people for income tax inspections where they were instead given injections of alcohol and glycol mixed to paralyse them. Then they were put into space planes that looked exactly like DC8s (except they had rocket motors instead of propellers).

    These DC8 space planes then flew to planet Earth where the paralysed people were stacked around the bases of volcanoes in their hundreds of billions. When they had finished stacking them around then H-bombs were lowered into the volcanoes. Xenu then detonated all the H-bombs at the same time and everyone was killed.

    The story doesn’t end there though. Since everyone has a soul (called a “thetan” in this story) then you have to trick souls into not coming back again. So while the hundreds of billions of souls were being blown around by the nuclear winds he had special electronic traps that caught all the souls in electronic beams (the electronic beams were sticky like fly-paper).

    After he had captured all these souls he had them packed into boxes and taken to a few huge cinemas. There all the souls had to spend days watching special 3D motion pictures that told them what life should be like and many confusing things. In this film they were shown false pictures and told they were God, The Devil and Christ. In the story this process is called “implanting”.

    When the films ended and the souls left the cinema these souls started to stick together because since they had all seen the same film they thought they were the same people. They clustered in groups of a few thousand. Now because there were only a few living bodies left they stayed as clusters and inhabited these bodies.

    As for Xenu, the Loyal Officers finally overthrew him and they locked him away in a mountain on one of the planets. He is kept in by a force-field powered by an eternal battery and Xemu is still alive today.

    This is what you believe in?

    Get the fuck out of here you naive 85’ers go suck a d*&K

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  12. RocMarci says:

    Oh one more thing,tThis story is told to you when you reach one of their secret levels called OT III.

    Which most of you dont have enough cash to reach, so i saved you some time..

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  13. Anne says:

    Not only did Sean not give his name when he went into the Church in Cape Town, he also lied about why he wanted information, just as he lied about the information he did write about. Two strikes Sean, what else are you hiding?
    For those with the courage to seek the truth, can think outside the box, and seek actual freedom of the spirit and thought, and not be negative clone, go to http://www.scientology.org and find out for yourself what Sean didn’t want you to know.
    Scientology is a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one’s true spiritual nature and one’s relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being.

    Scientology addresses the spirit—not the body or mind—and believes that Man is far more than a product of his environment, or his genes.

    Scientology comprises a body of knowledge which extends from certain fundamental truths. Prime among these are:

    Man is an immortal spiritual being.

    His experience extends well beyond a single lifetime.

    His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized.

    Scientology further holds Man to be basically good, and that his spiritual salvation depends upon himself, his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe.

    Scientology is not a dogmatic religion in which one is asked to accept anything on faith alone. On the contrary, one discovers for oneself that the principles of Scientology are true by applying its principles and observing or experiencing the results.

    The ultimate goal of Scientology is true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all.

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  14. Rory says:

    So not that different to Christianity then?

    Most of the world’s fucking nuts bru. I think only about 3% of the world are atheists, GOD help Dawkins and Hitchens 😉

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  15. will says:

    anne, this is not the right place to preach. Press on

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  16. kim says:

    you know, i dont think i’d have problems with this religion if it wasnt for the money. i mean i have issues about ALL religion, but i wouldnt have extra issues about this one.
    i believe if someone wants to guide people to spiritual enlightenment they should do so for the greater good, not for a greater bank balance.

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  17. Tim says:

    Saying that Scientology is good because the people who practice it are happy is a fucked argument, since I could use the same excuse to justify being drunk.
    Having beliefs is actually a way of inhibiting yourself, since having one belief precludes you from others.
    Live your life on an ever changing set of assumptions manipulated by YOUR OWN experience.
    Embrace faith in the unknown, there’s no right or wrong answers.
    And never listen to a fucking word I say.

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  18. US of Arseholes says:

    The orchestrated damage-limitation PR machine of scientology has been activated – you guys have a manual on what to do when scientology is publicly criticised don’t you?

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  19. Tim says:

    @ US of Arseholes; Fuck yeah guy! every successful meme has self defenses built in; it’s not the most accurate belief systems which survive, it’s the ones which successfully infiltrate a culture, through aggressive emotional manipulation (an emotional state which is most conducive to re-imprinting new ideas), and then maintaining it’s position through guilt and rhetoric. All we really need to realize is that any belief which requires justification is dubious.

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  20. Anonymous says:

    Your meddling in this country has not gone unnoticed. You build schools to raise children and indoctroniate them with your lies and deceit. You prey on the innocent and the weak.

    We are anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

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  21. Anonymous² says:

    Your observance of the meddling of others has not gone unnoticed. We² watch you when you watch them build schools to raise children and indoctrinate them with their lies and deceit. We² watch you while you watch them prey on the innocent and the weak.

    We are Anonymous². We are Legion². We forgive when you do not. We are gone before you come.

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  22. US of Arseholes says:

    @Anonymous2
    You clearly don’t understand what “legion” means…

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  23. Piss artist says:

    No need to sound hasty or disrespectful, but the piece of reptile gut that formed table mountain distracted me, i’d like to know what it’s going to cost me to achieve level 7.0? Will i run out of wisdom if i run out of cash?

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