“I know no man who has any monopoly upon the wisdom of this universe. It belongs to those who can use it to help themselves and others.”
– L. Ron Hubbard
The CBD is a rather mundane space — eerily similar buildings, awkwardly timed pedestrian crossings and cafes with fleeting conversations. Nestled on Castlereagh Street is a glassy facade labelled with block letters: “SCIENTOLOGY”. I trekked there to find if anything hid beneath the artifice, if there was any truth to the wild stories of aliens and cult-like practices.
As I walked in, the receptionist smiled and asked me to sign my name in their book. Looking around, there was an antiseptic sheen over everything in the facility. There were TV screens and sci-fi style control pads and E-meters, a device used in the process of auditing — a faux-therapeutic process. Along the exhibits, are large, gold lettered placards marking sections such as “TEST EVALUATION”, on a plate of light blue and silver. The white tiles were pristine, and the glass panels were embossed with their cross logo.
A guide greeted me and handed me an information pamphlet, providing steps for a self-guided tour. I was instructed to sit in a pod and watch an introductory video on Dianetics, one of the core tenets of Scientology. Presented in the style of a tacky 90’s infomercial, the video explained that humans have an “analytical mind,” which is responsible for rational behaviour, and a “reactive mind” that stores bad experiences, and is the reason for our negative emotions.
Their message was simple — what if you could take control of your “reactive mind,” be happy, and live the life you’ve always wanted? This point was established in the first two minutes of the video. Yet it dragged on and on and on, up to around fifteen minutes, as it repeated the same point over and over again.
When an argument is repeated that many times, it wears you down. By the end, I found myself not only nodding off, but nodding along. I was no longer bothered to mentally refute each of the increasingly tenuous claims that were being made. And, while I was far from converted, there was a part of me that wanted to believe what they were saying. That I could stop being sad. That I could control my emotions and live the life I’ve always wanted. But I knew I was being ridiculous, and my tour had to go on.
The Cult of Hubbard
For a belief that doesn’t overtly mention a God or practice idolatry, the premises still have a delegated space for the late founder Ron Hubbard’s office. The area is enclosed and out of bounds for outsiders — a pristinely organised desk, desk tucked in as if Hubbard oversees the operations every day from his CBD office and books stacked up insinuating that his fingers frolic through the pages from time to time.
The entire space is a shrine for the deity that is Hubbard — he remains present in their day-to-day operations and while his life is commended for prolific scientific thinking, his ideology is the absolute truth with a blind reverence that cannot be moved.
Hubbard — or “Mr. Ron” as my guide called him — maintains an omnipresence throughout the facility. Quotes from him are featured on every wall, steel-plated and with bold lettering. Large infographics track the major stages of his life, and are dedicated to each of his occupations: writer, founder, humanitarian. For a religion that often calls itself a science, Hubbard is endowed with messianic qualities. As a toddler, he was able to tame a wild horse. As a teen, he travelled half the world and studied eastern and western philosophy. As an adult, he preached his message in the face of persecution. He died, but he remains ever present — his teachings on the walls, his office perfectly preserved.
Pseudo-science, cult, or religion?
They administered a questionnaire, the “Oxford Capacity Analysis” (OCA) — no relation to Oxford, the University — that had 200 questions, not unlike a Myers-Briggs questionnaire. The survey had questions such as “Do you sometimes feel that your age is against you (too young or too old)?” and you could answer with a yes, no, or maybe. The test was repetitive, with multiple iterations of the same question at different points of the quiz. It has been discredited by psychologists, with some ruling it as “manipulative”. On the desk of files, there were versions of the test translated in Chinese. I noted that most of the books and pamphlets available, often for free, were translated in Chinese.
After the quiz, there is a free consultation with an experienced Scientologist, typically an auditor. I was given a results sheet which represented my mental health on a clean, jagged line. On the left is a score ranging from +100 down to -100, with the top x-axis indicating desirable states such as “stable”, “happy”, and the bottom x-axis indicating “unstable”, “depressed”, measured by the size of the negative number it corresponds to.
The auditor’s assessment of me was eerily relatable — when the OCA asks 200 largely generic questions about one’s life, it’s hard to imagine that it provides anything less than a semi-accurate picture of a person. The auditor was kind, and seemed to care about me, and did not break eye contact for most of the consultation. They told me that the test results were not lining up with who I was, that there was a “real” me underneath my current state.
I divulged stories of my drug usage, and the auditor immediately latched onto it as the reason for my struggles. I was told that my mental health medication was also not helping my condition. Upon expressing my concerns with the Church’s plethora of scandals, the auditor pointed to the anti-psychiatry stance as a reason for the media’s vilification. They said that the Church of Scientology is the first point of contact for institutions in times of crisis, saying volunteers helped out during the bushfires, and that there are still Volunteer Ministers who are helping out with the floods in Wagga Wagga.
At one point, I asked frankly about Xenu; there had been no sign of him thus far. For the uninitiated, it is purported that once you reach a certain point in the Church, by paying hundreds and thousands of dollars, you are introduced to an elaborate sci-fi story involving a galactic overlord “Xenu”, and populations disposed of near volcanoes, their souls (Thetans) now infecting our bodies.
“There aren’t any aliens in the basement,” said the auditor. I pressed them again, wanting to clarify if that meant they didn’t believe in Xenu. In response, they gave me a terse “No.” In the introductory video on Dianetics, I’d seen at the start of the tour advertised a book, “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” depicting an erupting volcano.
After a while of hearing them speak, I said I’d speak to my friends before joining the courses they recommended. Their brow furrowed, telling me to be careful.
“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” they said.
Based on my test results, the auditor assessed that I was easily distracted and likely to change my mind, stressing that these programs would change my life for the better. I respectfully declined.
There are good and bad people in the world, they added. Good people were nice people, who supported everything you did. Bad people were mean people, who would say things you didn’t want to hear, claiming to be “honest”.
These people (who they said are roughly 20% of the population) aim to suck out all the joy from the world, and I should cut them out of my life. The Church is reported to have a practice called “disconnection,” in which followers are expected to cut all ties with those deemed “antagonistic” to Scientology. They assured me that the Church only had good people.
Before leaving, I asked the guide who greeted me how they had joined Scientology. They told me that they had previously worked in a company where their boss introduced them to it. The guide stressed it was important to keep an open mind, and assess things for yourself.
As I left, I thought about what they said, and a quote from L. Ron Hubbard shown in one of the introductory videos.
“If it’s not true for you, it’s not true.”
L. Ron Hubbard: Science fiction author and founder of Scientology.
Dianetics: A set of ideas which form the core beliefs of Scientology. Posits that certain negative/traumatic experiences called “engrams” are stored in the “reactive mind,” which then cause us to experience negative emotions. Dianetics dictates that said “engrams” can be eliminated through a type of counselling called “auditing,” which allows people to reach their full potential. Commonly accepted to be a pseudoscience.
Auditor: One who leads the auditing process.
Preclear: One who has not undergone the auditing process.
Clear: Someone who no longer has a reactive mind.
Scientology: A “religion” developed by L. Ron Hubbard after he lost the rights to use the term Dianetics. It builds upon the theories of Dianetics, and has also been described as a cult or a business.
Xenu: The ancient malicious alien ruler of the “Galactic Confederacy,” who, 75 million years ago, sent billions of aliens to earth in spaceships that looked like DC-8 aeroplanes and dropped them around volcanoes and then killed them with hydrogen bombs. The Church normally only reveals this story to members once they have reached a senior level, yet it has been leaked by numerous sources. My guides claimed that they did not believe in Xenu.