Sussing Out Scientology
The Church of Scientology opened a centre in Firhouse, Dublin. FAC went to investigate.
(This is not a work of fiction. All events described occurred. All words written were spoken.)
In the foothills of Tallaght, just off the Firhouse road, a community centre lies. It has a spacious atrium, filled with natural light. The centre has meeting rooms and a café, and what they call “state-of-the-art audiovisual technology”. Their website boasts it can host events for up to 1000 people, and they even have a GAA pitch. All the facilities are available for use by community groups and charitable organisations. So far, grand.
Except there’s one little problem: This community centre is run by The Church of Scientology.
The Scientific Method
Let me set the record straight. Scientology has sweet fuck all to do with science. In the world of genuine science, the scientific method is employed. This means we follow these straightforward steps:
- Suggest an idea.
- Perform experiments to see if the idea matches reality.
- If reality disagrees with the idea, then throw it out.
- If reality agrees, then keep the idea, and add it to the rest of the experimentally proven ideas.
- If reality ever disagrees with the idea when another experiment is done, then throw out the idea, even if the scientists really, really like the idea.
The key point is our idea must be consistent with reality any time we check. So, if we carry out the same experiment as before at a different time, and the results don’t match the idea, we go back to the blackboard. Despite conveniently sharing six letters, Scientology certainly doesn’t follow the scientific method. As we will see, Scientology is entirely unscientific.
Returning to my tale, a mate of mine recently sent me a link revealing The Church of Scientology had opened up a centre close to home. To be honest, I had preconceived notions about Scientology. Most people have heard the stories, sure it’s hard not to when Tom Cruise is essentially their messiah. It can’t have helped their image when he went nuts on Oprah over his new bride Katie Holmes.
I’d seen some of Louis Theroux’s work about their organisation too. I knew these were dodgy feckers. Nevertheless, I decided I wanted to see for myself how they behaved up in Firhouse. Who knows what I’d find? Maybe the Scientologists are really a sound bunch, thoughtfully combining religion and science and fully committed to improving lives and society...
The 49 bus from Rathmines floated me up to the hills on my quest to suss these out. I arrived in Firhouse and spotted the centre, lurking behind a dark fence. I took a stroll down the smooth tarmac drive, past the pleasant water features and the GAA pitch, through the automatic sliding doors and into The Church of Scientology, Dublin. Immediately, I was approached by a man attired in a strange naval officer style suit, who introduced himself as Devonté. He offered his hand and I shook it. Then he asked me to fill in a small form.
Fake name: Cathal O’Doherty.
Fake address: 706 North Ballycullen Drive
(a street literally around the corner from the building which definitely doesn’t have a number 706).
I was open-minded, but I wasn’t stupid. Scientologists aren’t above some casual harassment to scare away their critics, and I wasn’t planning on getting caught out for my investigations.
My host Devonté then guided me, with the actions of a man who has done this many times before, to the first piece of “state-of-the-art audiovisual technology”. Turned out to be a flat screen tv with some buttons, like the Playstation controllers in GameStop when the new FIFA comes out. A dull fairy tale describing L. Ron Hubbard, their precious Founder, played on the screen. It claimed L. Ron Hubbard to be a straight up hero, an explorer, an adventurer!
Seriously, this chap?
I have my doubts.
I looked around. Devonté had vanished. I moved on, more propaganda in store.
While I wandered around their surreal temple, my senses taking in their carefully tailored imagery and their precisely sculpted wording, I noticed everything was phrased in self-help style language. Empty vague statements adorned the walls, like
“What is true is what is true for you” and “Life is in you today and you make your own tomorrow”
All well and good, but it’s easy to say nice things about deciding your own future. What I wanted to know is: what’s the method that achieves this?
I reached another video, describing The Way of Happiness, which they sell as a pathway to an imaginary land of pleasure. It seemed to me like that false kind of Hollywood Happiness, where if you only follow these simple steps (and pay for the full DVD), you will reach a place of peace and serenity. I started to think this was more bolloxology than Scientology. I then detected a desk in my peripheral vision. A sign on its cheap wooden top said:
Free Personality Test
Intriguing. I’d heard whispers of this in the past. I knew it was one of their recruitment tools, but I wasn’t exactly sure how it worked. I wondered what fuckery was afoot, and made intentions to investigate.
Stepping onwards and into the unknown, I found yet another piece of audiovisual technology. An ad for The Purification Program began to play. This is their guide to freeing oneself from the plague of drug abuse, and this new video was dumping it on me. No Marijuana, No Caffeine, No Alcohol. The video didn’t explain how the program works. Instead, all I got were some vague ideas about detoxification and some generic anit-drug propaganda, claiming all drugs are equally horrific and so is everyone who takes them.
(by the way, Marijuana is a Mexican slang term which originated in a racist 1930s US government campaign to smear Cannabis)
I made the mistake of feeling slightly hopeful when I spotted the next video offered the results of this program. When I see the word results, I think of analysed data. Graphs, statistics, errors, conclusions. Not so in this case. What qualified as results was seven short videos, all parroting the same sad trick; a relentlessly grinning person giving a version of this quote:
“Before The Purifcation Program™, I didn’t even know what happiness was. Now, I’m happy, all the time!”
For Scientologists, results aren’t legitimate. They think some waffler acting on a tv screen counts as results. No data, no graphs, no statistics, no evidence. Not science, just Scientology™. A trademarked brand, focussed on profit over fact, trying to sell us their products.
I rose in fury, ready to rip into the next ridiculous commercial, just as my old pal Devonté appeared from around the corner.
He immediately caught my eye and confidently strolled in my direction. He engaged me in conversation, with the motions of man who was following a script. His timing here was eerily spot-on. The idea he was about to introduce was even weirder...
The Oxford Capacity Analysis Test
“Have you heard of the Oxford Capacity Analysis™ test?” said Devonté.
“I haven- “ I tried to say.
“It’s just this way sir,” he interrupted. “It’s our very own scientific personality test. Why don’t you give it a try? It’s totally free.”
I was more than happy to go along with this. The adverts selling their “self-help” guides had me snapping. I decided to channel this energy into exploration. I wanted to discover the depths of this shitshow. I was led to the desk I previously observed, and before I knew it I had the Oxford Capacity Analysis™ (which has fuck all to do with Oxford) in front of me. Here’s what I was seeing:
To start with, I actually had a go. I thought quite hard, was I... “often impulsive about my behaviour”.... or do I... “enjoy telling people the latest scandal about my associates”? Ehm, fuck knows... sometimes... I suppose? I was required to tick a Yes/No/Maybe box in response to each question. Some of them were good craic actually, ridiculously asking about my tendency to twitch. (Q6 and Q18). Then they became disturbing.
Nobody wants to answer a question about whether they sit and think about death and sorrow (Q71). I don't enjoy being asked if I'd use corporal punishment on a ten year old. I began to be quite troubled by the line of inquiry. In my mind, personality tests are not meant to be filled with leading questions. They are supposed to be as impartial and objective as possible. I got half way at Q.100 and decided to randomly answer the rest. Not arsed taking this bullshit seriously, I made sure my answers were highly contradictory in the second half. I wrapped up the “test” feeling pretty fucking strange. I was politely told to sit down and wait for...
“I’m Laszlo and I’m a Scientologist,” said Laszlo, who spoke as though he was in perpetual pain. I found myself sitting in a featureless office having been brought there by my newest Scientology acquaintance. He had grey, expressionless eyes and an anonymous European accent. He wore a black turtleneck and a black blazer. He did not smile. The so-called results of the test lay on the desk and he seemed ready to explain my personality to me. But first...
“So, basically, this is uhm, scientific test, which we put together based on your, your answers,” he said to me. “And uhm, just to understand, this is not our opinion of you. But of actual scientific analysis based on your answers. This is your opinion of you.”
Laszlo looked at me with these soulless eyes and opened our conversation with this vicious lie. He attempted to draw on the authority of science to make a claim about my personality, my experiences, my life. I did some research after all this was over and guess what? The Oxford Capacity Analysis is total bullshit, snake oil psychology, and has been rejected by all of modern psychiatry. It has absolute fuck all to do with Oxford. These are proven facts. I was obviously already suspicious, but now the sirens were screaming. I was in full undercover mode though, and I decided to see how far our dear friend Laszlo would go.
Take a good look at my results for yourself, and maybe cross reference them with this gentleman's test. They appear quite similar. Almost identical in fact. I found that odd, considering I randomly answered half of mine.
Laszlo informed me that a score anywhere above the first shaded area on my graph is satisfactory. Oh well would ya look at that, I have no personality traits in the satisfactory zone. According the Scientologists, I score -99 for stability, and -99 for happiness. The lowest scores possible. Keep in mind I answered half the test at random. What are the chances it would come out so strongly for those traits in particular?
As Laszlo kept pointing out every time he opened his mouth, the results said I was really low. He kindly went on to tell me that I am “very much in need of help”. It “seemed to him”, I had a “recurring problem.”
“Maybe it is depending on past failures or sadness?” he suggested.
Bollocks, I said to myself. I had a choice here. Let him know in the least polite way possible I thought this was a load of nonsense, or continue to con this bloke into saying more outrageous comments. I chose the con.
“Some things do stick with me, I suppose,” I told Laszlo.
“Stick with you? Uhm, like what?” At the mention of the troubled life of Cathal O’Doherty, his dark eyes lit up for the first time. I started to think this scumbag was like a parasite. Dead behind the eyes until I mention some despair or sadness, at which point he starts leeching off my imagined negative mental energy.
The tale I chose to tell him is a common story for many young people in Ireland.
“When I finished school, I didn’t get the points for the course I wanted. I had to choose another course and college, and I dropped out before I finished my first year and it has bothered me ever since... It frustrates me a lot, actually, and it makes life really difficult at times...”, I trailed off.
Laszlo, without hesitation, asked if I still had this feeling in me?
I dangled some verbal bait in front of his nose. “Maybe I do, you know. I feel like a failure at times...”
“Yeah, because it shows that you really, it’s actually, it’s really low. It’s actually the lowest point you can get based on happiness.” (For fucks sake, he’s even called Lasz-low).
Laszlo told me this as he pointed to low scores on the bullshit graph of my personality, visually directing me to focus on my apparent instability and depression. Although the embers of rage were burning inside me, at the same time, I was kind of enjoying this. If this was the extent of their persuasion tactics, I didn’t have much to worry about.
Laszlo continued trying to wreck my head, as he explained how emotionally fucked up I was. I continued feeding him nonsense. He mentioned the temptations of drugs, and I let slip I may have once taken a few cannabis. Laszlo was amusingly confused by this statement.
Once I explained what cannabis meant, he made sure to mention that “marijuana” is really “bad” and “dangerous” and “irresponsible”. Maybe if I called it AstroTurf, one of the street-names given for cannabis in the Scientology drug propaganda, he might better understand?
At this stage, Laszlo had made it clear to me how pathetic and unstable I was. Remember that he was making these claims based off what he described as a scientific analysis of my personality. If I was actually in a vulnerable place, its easy to see his words could have had a serious effect on me. If I didn’t know anything about Scientology and I didn’t know anything about science, and if I felt down due to problems in my life, I could have been dangerously open to his suggestions. I could have listened to him, believed him, and found myself faced with cold, harsh truths about my mental healt-
Laszlo interrupted my train of thought.
“Scientology can help you,”, he said.
It was time for..
“I want you to see what’s happening in your life. That’s why we do this test. I’m not gonna guess about you, or anybody else, right? We want you to see what’s happening in your life. You are 23 years old, what gonna happen, this gonna get better by itself?”
“Who knows man? Maybe not, no...”, I said.
“Cause usually it gets worse, every condition, unless you care something to do about it.”
“I see what you’re saying, yeah. I want to do something about it.”
“You wanna take action, is that what you’re saying?”
“I am man, yeah. Always up for taking action, sure,” I said. Little did Laszlo know what kind of action I had in mind.
“That’s really commendable. People can do a lot of stuff, there’s a lot of stuff out there. People coming to us more often because we have solutions, more often simple understandable solutions. I would recommend you talk to this lady who is coming, we have courses often. You could try a really good course which is called Overco... Overcoming Ups and Downs. It’s really cheap, its €75.”
Laszlo struggled to spit out this final phrase. I could only make out the price and I had to ask him to repeat the name of the course. It was as though he was speaking against his own will, and maybe he was. Maybe he knew he was lying to me. Maybe there was a shred of humanity behind the grey wells of sadness he had for eyes. I hope so.
I allowed myself to be guided into the adjacent room, where I was introduced to a more positive lady named Gabriela. From this point onwards, Gabriela tried to extort money from me. She reminded a few times I must be upset, but also that the courses are very good and they helped her a lot. She kept on trying to sell me self-help courses, kept on attempting to convince me to come back tomorrow, kept on trying to convince me to hand over money. At one point, she literally asked me for a fiver.
Gabriela was pressuring me to sign up for a class, any class, and to fork out the cash right there and then. I had to make up several excuses for why I wasn’t free to attend their evening classes or show up to their weekend movie screening. Their movie of choice was science-fiction hit Guardians of the Galaxy. No mess.
This intense sales pitch eventually bored me and I could see the fun was over, so I made moves to scarper. Gabriela looked disappointed, but ensured she had my fake contact details to get in touch over the weekend. Cathal bid his goodbye, and out I strolled with the entire conversation recorded. Action is being taken, Laszlo.
What happened to me in Firhouse is wrong on many levels. The Church of Scientology are attempting to leech money from the Irish people. They tried to convince me I was mentally ill, then tried to convince me that giving them money would solve that dire problem. Their propaganda is atrociously produced. Their internal décor is mind-numbingly bland. Most importantly: it is immoral and dangerous to twist science in order to manipulate the mental health of unsuspecting members of the public in the pursuit of profit.
People trust the scientific method. It has given us fingertip access to vast stores of knowledge. Thanks to science, humans have walked on the moon. We know the Earth is round, we cured smallpox. We understand we live in a 4-dimensional spacetime Universe. These facts are astonishing and awe-inspiring, and science has brought us all of them.
To be scientific, you need hypotheses (ideas), data (experimental results), and theories (sturdy ideas based on evidence). Scientology does not follow the scientific method. Scientology is entirely unscientific.
Maybe my answers in the test messed up the results. Maybe my responses to Lazslo’s questions led him to believe I needed help. That does not excuse his behaviour, the kind of tactical manipulation of the mind I felt was performed on me. I saw no evidence in Firhouse these people were acting honestly or truly compassionately.
Looking at Scientology through the lens of science, I can’t help but think these fake bloodsuckers are trying to fraudulently claim this powerful authority, and even worse, they are using it to prey on vulnerable individuals. Messing with the human psyche in their pursuit of profit. In my opinion, this is an outright scandal.
Mental health is our outlook on the world, it is our safe haven, and it is not for sale.
In Ireland, we know a lot of people are struggling with their mental health, with anxiety or depression, or just a general sense of fear in an uncertain world. We know they need support, a friend to talk to, and well-funded trustworthy professional services. Pieta House is an example of an organisation doing such vital work.
In Ireland, we also know a lot about science and we can spot a scam when we see one. This sham they call Scientology is none of the former and all of the latter.
Stay frosty, a chairde.
And don’t go looking for Cathal O’Doherty.