Megan Laber | Art Director
When you think of the word Scientology a couple of things may come to mind. Xenu, volcanoes, celebrities, cults, aliens and many more add to the mystery surrounding the church and its practices. The most recent Scientology ordeal is yet another fiasco with it’s leading man, Tom Cruise. But walking into the Church of Scientology located in Old Town Pasadena, Cruise was nowhere to be found.
My friend and I were greeted by a young man with shaggy blond hair, sitting beneath a cross symbol made of beautiful stained glass. The cross had eight points with an “X” shape in the middle. Each point represents a different realm of human life, the highest being God. After a long pause and a list of our options, we chose to take the grand tour of the entire facility.
We were first shown a video on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s life. After, our guide Will escorted us to the first floor. We seemed to be the only non-members in the building, a realization made obvious by the black and white uniforms the members wore.
Our first stop was the bookstore, showing us a personality testing area as well as a section for “course packs”, which he described as “lessons that you do on your own time that last a week or so. They are on general topics to better your life.” He then showed us the classrooms where an instructor can monitor and help you with your work.
Next up, a chapel, which also featured the eight-point cross at the front and looked much like a typical church sanctuary. Will explained that every Sunday they hold services, as well as seminars during the week. Next to the chapel was Hubbard’s office, roped off from the public but on display as if filled with museum artifacts. “Every Church of Scientology has an office for L. Ron Hubbard. When he was alive, he would visit all of the centers, but now we keep it as a sort of tribute to him,” said Will as he led us to the fourth floor.
In the elevator Will asked, “Have you heard of our purification centers?” He smiled and went on, “They are very neat, especially if you have been on drugs in the past.” Walking into the purification center was like walking into a clinical day spa covered with white and green tile walls with large, eight-person saunas. We met Molly, who seemed to be the distributor of vitamins and pills. She had visitors’ charts out and recorded where they were in their purification cycle for the day. She explained that people in the process take vitamins, like Niacin, to remove radiation from their bodies.
Next we walked across the way to the auditing room. Inside the hotel lounge-like waiting room was a man sitting at another front desk. “This is the man in charge of all the auditors,” said Will. A man in ‘60s glasses, in the same white and black ensemble, greeted us. “Would you mind telling them what auditing is about? They are on a tour,” asked Will. George introduced himself and walked us over to an auditing room.
Inside the five by five foot room with a small window, stands a desk and two chairs facing each other. On the desk is a black machine. “This is the E-meter. When you audit someone you watch the machine to see any changes in their electrical field that is surrounding their body,” said George. “When it changes you ask questions about their thoughts or you probe more into what they are talking about. This can help the person dealing with issues to see what is going on. They can identify their issue.”
Before exiting, George stopped us. “Scientology is going through a rough time right now. Just because there are some public mishaps and disgruntled members doesn’t mean that’s what the church is about. You have to ask a Scientologist, who is practicing, to see what it truly is.”
In the next training room, one side had hundreds of chairs set in pairs facing each other and the other housed an empty padded room. Will explained that the setup aimed to aid in communication. “People on one side of the room can be screaming at the top of their lungs while the other side has to focus and continue uninterrupted communication as much as possible,” he said.
He motioned us into the padded room. “Here is where we train in other ways. In this room I am the coach and let’s say that I tell you to walk across the room. It is my job as the coach to make sure you cross the room, no matter what,” he said. He cursed and said, “Even if the person…tries to walk away, I have to make them cross the room,” said Will. We asked if physical force was involved. Will responded with, “Whatever it takes.”
When Will was called away to business, Brenda took over as our guide. We were then escorted to the personality test area again. “You guys have to take these if you haven’t already,” said Brenda. We sat down side by side to take the 200 question test. Questions spanned from “Are you OK with stopping at two children if you are physically and financially able to have more?” and “Do you agree with the American prison systems’ current state?” to “Are you depressed often?” and “Would it take a great deal for you to consider suicide?” We finished the test in about 30 minutes and waited for our results.
A young man named Raatib greeted me. “Hey Megan, let’s step into this room and I will tell you about your graph,” he said. He asked me first how I was feeling about the church and I explained that I found it interesting and that there was a lot of information to take in.
“Do you feel like Scientology is more of a practical and logical answer to life’s problems or more of a religious experience?” I asked.
Immediately he answered, “It’s a practice to apply to your life. I was raised in the Islamic faith and know everything about the Quran. Islam doesn’t tell you everything about how to live your life. It has great principles, but is not all there is,” said Raatib.
He then told me that my personality graph showed I was lacking certainty in my life. When I asked if my current situation, a college student about to graduate with only the hope to succeed, contributed to this, he didn’t seem to agree that it did. “Life has its certainties and uncertainties. You can overcome the ups and downs,” Raatib said.
Finally the time came for him to suggest I buy the course pack called “Overcoming the Ups and Downs In Life.” I politely declined. He rushed around the center and met us at the door as we were leaving and handed me a DVD titled “Scientology: An Overview” as well as a pamphlet on the personal experience.
As we exited into the parking garage, worn out from the entire experience, I nudged my companion with my elbow. “Hey, at least if anyone asks what the most unique thing you’ve done lately is, you have a great answer.”