Sucked in by Scientology: Church's relentless contact

By Emma Reynolds

Scientology is a body of beliefs and related practices created by L. Ron Hubbard. Photo / Getty Images
Scientology is a body of beliefs and related practices created by L. Ron Hubbard. Photo / Getty Images

David* was 17 and living in Brisbane when he saw an advert for a personality test and thought it might help improve his job prospects.

It was only when he went inside what looked like a "dingy and dilapidated" office block that he realised he was in the Church of Scientology.

A naturally curious teenager who liked science and "weird stuff", David took the test and was told - like most people who try the 200-question Oxford Capacity Analysis - the religion could help him improve as a person.

"I found the multiple choice questions quite odd and began to want out," he told news.com.au. "They went through the results and said how dianetics could help the various aspects of my life. They kept it going for a fairly uncomfortable amount of time.

"I started thinking it was brainwashing once I started watching the introduction video. It seemed like propaganda, a really B-grade indoctrination movie about all these wonderful things it could do.

"I got the feeling it was mind control or sending subliminal messages. It was frightening and I felt as though I needed to block out messages that they may be trying to push on me. I almost walked out midway through but then I thought that I was just being silly."

Still interested, David bought founder L Ron Hubbard's book on dianetics (meaning "the science of the mind") and found it "really cool", deciding its psychology-based principles made a lot of sense to him.

L Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, at his office with reporters in 1974. Photo / Getty Images
L Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, at his office with reporters in 1974. Photo / Getty Images

"I got really into that, but it's not the religious side," he said. "I learnt about the religious aspects of Scientology and all I'll say for now is that it's pretty cuckoo. It didn't interest me nor did it convince me."

He returned to the church several times to discuss dianetics, and was encouraged to sign up for expensive courses. David was unwilling to pay, but agreed to be "audited", which meant attending counselling sessions supposed to help followers "clear" their demons and reach a higher levels of being. The patient typically grasps an "e-meter" intended to read their brain's electromagnetic waves as it registers subconscious feelings.

While he found talking through his problems useful, the Aussie teenager was confused by one thing about the members he met.

"They were just really average," he said. "Which struck me as odd because if dianetics was as powerful as they said, they should have been high-functioning, positive people who could blow you away with their presence alone.

"I felt maybe they were people who might have had some sort of full-on issues, like they were susceptible, and might have ended up on the doorstep of another religion. [They] seemed like troubled individuals.

"The belief was that the more you get audited, the better you would become in your life and you would eventually 'clear' yourself of behaviour-affecting aberrations. But there were so many levels of 'clear' and it seemed like a never-ending journey that would cost people tens of thousands of dollars."

David was also concerned by negative stories in the media and rumours he had heard that personal information he shared in the sessions might be used against him if he tried to leave, so he decided to end his relationship with the church there.

But Scientology wasn't done with him. It's been 16 years since he had anything to do with the church, and he still receives handwritten letters and phone calls to his parents' home.

Other readers also contacted news.com.au with their own stories of taking the personality test and being bombarded with letters for decades afterwards, pleading with them to return.

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

"I inadvertently took the test while on holidays in Los Angeles in 1978," said Peter*, from Hobart, Tasmania. "And yes, I was 'troubled'. Ever since I have received long letters, many of them handwritten, asking how I am going and so on.

"I have never acknowledged this correspondence but they continue to periodically arrive ... very persistent after 38 years.

"I assume 'recruits' are writing what must be thousands of letters."

William Corfe added: "When I did the test I bought a book to just shut them up. They are odd people to be sure ... they love a vulnerable person.

"The person who did my evaluation has written to me every year since basically asking me in some way or another to come back to do a course or session. And every time it just goes in the bin, it feels good to waste their time."

But Nigel Gray said he'd had a positive experience with the church while growing up.

"When I was sick, toothache, injured ... my mother would patiently apply Hubbard's writings to my aid and were it not for that I would likely not be alive now," he said. "Has it helped me? Yes. I feel happier, and have a good life and I am a well-respected member of our local town."

The crowds of devotees at the grand opening of the church's $57 million Australasian headquarters on Sydney's Lower North Shore on Sunday insisted Scientology was like any other religion.

"They are just ordinary people trying to learn something about life and improve themselves," Colin Butler told the Daily Telegraph. "For me, it's the coolest religion."

More than 2500 people attended the festivities to see the opulent new facilities for the advanced study of the religion and listen to global leader David Miscavige. But some claimed the church struggled to fill the event, and was forced to fly in members from Taiwan.

US journalist Tony Ortega claimed in an interview with Channel 7 that the church in fact only has 2000 members in Australia and around 20,000 worldwide, but continues to invest in unnecessary expensive real estate like to make itself look like a powerful and important organisation.

But the Church of Scientology, whose Hollywood heavyweight members Tom Cruise and John Travolta are expected to stay at the Australasian HQ, said it "ministered" to millions in 165 countries through more than 10,000 churches and related organisations and that its "presence in the world is growing faster now than at any time in its history."

A spokesperson told news.com.au: "There has been mystery, misunderstanding and a share of controversy that inevitably accompanies anything new and different.

"The Scientology religion provides answers to many questions about life and death. It encompasses an exact, precisely mapped-out path. In developing Scientology, L Ron Hubbard discovered a technology to free the human spirit and thereby allow Man to really know himself. He thoroughly tested all procedures and recorded those that proved most workable in bringing about uniformly predictable results. These comprise standard Scientology technology.

"Through application of Scientology principles and technology in an auditing session, a person is able to remove barriers and unwanted conditions and so become more himself.

As a person progresses, he reaches out to help others in the ways he has been helped.
"That which is real to the person is all one is asked to accept of Scientology. No beliefs are forced upon him. By training and processing, he finds out for himself the answers he is searching for in life.

"The dedication of the new Advanced Church of Scientology for Australia, New Zealand and Asia was held on Sunday, the 4th of September, and comes during a period of epic expansion for our religion. Under Mr Miscavige's leadership, the Church has opened the doors of more than 50 new churches across six continents. Recent openings have taken place in Harlem; Budapest; Atlanta; Milan; Tokyo; Bogota in Colombia; and Basel in Switzerland.

"The Church also recently opened Scientology Media Productions, which is a five-acre, technologically cutting-edge studio in Hollywood, California, where our message will be proclaimed through television and radio broadcasting, social media and every other media platform.

"More church openings are planned in the coming year for cultural centres in New Zealand, Europe, Latin America and North America."

* Names have been changed to protect identity

- news.com.au

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