Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Church of Scientology

When it comes to Hollywood institutions, none are bigger than Scientology. They own the bulk of the real estate and members are in positions of power and influence all over the city. It is pervasive, yet secretive. Walking down Hollywood Blvd. yesterday, I saw an attractive woman walk out of one of the ostentatious Scientology buildings, cross the street, then use a key card and number sequence on a keypad to gain access to a nondescript building. She was wearing the salt-and-pepper uniform of the Scientologists, so she was clearly "one of them." And that is at the core of why so many people have reservations about them -- there is the flashy side that they present, but there is clearly something else going on that we don't see. Well, you don't see it; I went inside the belly of Hollywood's giant beast today. I went to the Church of Scientology on Sunset Blvd.
I reserved a spot for the 10:30 a.m. "Worship Service," only it didn't really begin until 11:00 a.m. ("We keep meaning to change the website"), and it wasn't really a worship service. I was led to a room with six chairs. A second congregant sat down a minute later, then the service began, led by a man who looked not unlike Ed Begley Jr. (note: it was not Ed Begley Jr., nor am I implying Ed Begley Jr. has any connection to Scientology).

Reverend Begley (note: NOT his real name) read from a book the size of a large volume encyclopedia, all the words contained therein were written by a single author: L. Ron Hubbard. To put it bluntly: L is Scientology, and Scientology is L. Before being escorted to the worship service, I had ample time to walk the corridors and learn, through a series of tactile displays and video presentations, about the founder of Scientology. There was information about how he grew up, his military career, less than two complete sentences about his days as a science fiction author, and volumes of information about his quest to save humanity. Around the corner from the displays is his office, which seems to await his return.

One of the displays featured some of the global initiative undertaken by Scientology. It included a photo and small caption related to my Central Asian home of Karaganda, Kazakhstan. I would argue with the caption, inasmuch as I lived in the heart of Karaganda for nearly half a year, and never encountered this supposedly massive movement of Scientologists in the region. But I digress.

The first thing Reverend Begley read was the Creed of the Scientologist (written by L. Ron Hubbard, of course). Included in the creed is the belief, "That the souls of men have the rights of men." I'll go ahead and state now that there was no mention of aliens inhabiting human bodies or any of the highly publicized, highly sensationalized aspects of Scientology. But this seemingly innocuous line immediately turned me off to the church because it reminded me of Karl Pilkington.

For those not in the know, Karl Pilkington is a friend of comedian Ricky Gervais, and Gervais delights in pointing out (whether in podcasts or on television programs) that Karl Pilkington has some wild ideas. For instance, Karl believes that parts of his body have minds of their own -- that he does not choose what his eyes look at or his ears listen to. He doesn't even choose what his brain thinks. Karl believes all of these parts of the body are not fully in his control, and that they do not make up who he is. And when I heard the bit about a soul needing the same rights as a man, that our essence is somehow distinct from who we are, that was enough for me to wave the white flag. But being one of three people in the room, a discreet exit was out of the question, so I settled in.

The topic of today's sermon/reading concerned -- I'm not sure really. I wish I'd have had the sense to record it, but there was a lot of cyclical wording... phrases like (paraphrasing), "A thing isn't known until it is known and you don't know something until you know it, because knowledge comes from knowing these things." Frankly, G.I. Joe summed it up better when they said "Knowing is half the battle." Reverend Begley also read about the varying levels between "I am" and "I am not" (apparently there are stages between being truly alive and being truly dead, so I guess maybe Miracle Max was a Scientologist).

Fortunately for all concerned, the worship service was short, wrapping up with "A Scientology Prayer for Total Freedom," including, "freedom to be; freedom to do and freedom to have [sic]." And that should have been that. But wait... there's more. Because no trip to the Church of Scientology would be complete without at least one test.

It was explained the reason so few attended the worship service was because they were too busy studying and testing. Sure enough, as we walked down the hall there were classrooms with smatterings of people flipping through books. I was asked if I wanted to take a test, and I was hoping they'd whip out one of those e-meters, but instead I was given a scan-tron sheet and asked to take the "Oxford Capacity Analysis." After three questions, I recognized it as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which can be a useful test when one is on a voyage of self-discovery. The difference is in how the data is analyzed and reviewed.

Having taken (and administered) the Keirsey a few times, I know the results are not judgmental in nature. Based on your answers to questions, the test helps to clue you in as to whether you are more introverted or extroverted, emotional or rational, and so on. The point is not to be critical or even to point out flaws or strengths; the point is to merely help identify/clarify one's temperament. In the Church of Scientology, however, the results are interpreted differently. There are goods and bads.

You'll be happy to note that I am very certain of myself, well-composed, active, aggressive, appreciative, and communicative -- all good things. I fall down the middle on the happiness scale (yes, they have a happiness scale), and I am average when it comes to showing responsibility. But the most troubling result of the test (according to my youthful and concerned proctor) was that instead of trending towards what they termed "correct estimation" (which is -- I guess -- a good thing), I was worryingly "critical." I won't even doubt the validity of the results, though I would dispute the concept of deriving goods and bads as a result of them (for instance, I'm not sure it is such a good thing that I am aggressive). The one result I haven't mentioned yet, and it ought to give those who know me a laugh or two, is that I rated astoundingly high on the stability scale. Yep -- that's me in a nutshell.

On the way out I was directed towards a few books I ought to purchase to raise me up on the happiness scale and lead me close to "correct estimation." I opted to pass. In the end, the entire morning felt very much like a way to drum up sales of self-help books.

I suppose some of my atheist friends would contend Christianity and Scientology are equally silly. I would dispute that, arguing that Scientology appears to be what Christianity would be if Jesus had been a struggling writer instead of the Son of God. I would dispute the concept of different parts of our bodies somehow maintaining independent identities. I would even add that men in ascots do not possess all the answers to life's questions.

Obviously I was only exposed to the entry-level of Scientology today, the family-friendly, rated G, suitable for all ages, sanitized-for-your-protection version. However, based on all I've seen and read, that's all the majority of Scientologists ever achieve; only a select few rise up the ranks to the Tom Cruise level. For those who stay closer to reality, I doubt there is any real harm to what they do. It is frankly not much different from the cult of Oprah Winfrey. But the fact there are levels troubles me. The fact the answers are not freely available (you have to pay for the words of L Ron Hubbard, and you have to pay for classes and workshops) troubles me more. If the man really was a spiritual leader on a holy crusade to save humanity, why are his cohorts charging humanity for the keys to salvation?

Last but not least, Scientology's many edicts encourage people of all faiths to join Scientology, yet they use a Christian cross as its symbol -- that smacks of being disingenuous. I witnessed nothing Christian in the Church of Scientology. At its core, it was a bookstore with an overly aggressive and overly complex marketing strategy.

Of course, that is just me being critical.


Sunday Scorecard

This will be a regular part of my weekly reviews, a series of short-answer questions about the day's experience.

What is the contact info for the church?

Church of Scientology
4810 Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90027


What was the denomination?


What Bible verses were referenced?

None... just the gospel according to L Ron Hubbard

What are the demographics of the congregation?

Just me and a man named Vito

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

It was very much like a Borders bookstore

What was the music like?


How was the use of PowerPoint?

None, though there were several video kiosks with presentaions

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

A few familiar faces and voices in the videos, but none in person


  1. Hello, my name is Terry, and this is my eye, Raymond, and this is my big toe, Ralph, and this is my elbow, Twyla. Since they all think for themselves, I thought I would name them. May I shake your hand with mine whose name is Ed?

  2. My spleen Elvis and I are pleased to meet you all

  3. Had to reread this after the current news.