Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Scientology Examined by the New Yorker

"When we need somebody haunted we investigate. When we investigate we do so noisily always." - L. Ron Hubbard, MANUAL OF JUSTICE, 1959

I first met Scientologists when they showed up (uninvited) at various and sundry Yippie events, particularly Smoke-Ins, throughout the 70s. They seemed to think they could convert pot-smokers. This is possibly because the only time their theology makes any real sense is when you are stoned out of your mind. We regarded them as just another kooky 70s cult, like the Moonies, who would usually show up wherever and whenever the Church of Scientology did. It's like they were competing for the same members.

The Scientologists used to set up shop in a little booth (always smiling smiling smiling in a spooky, eager-beaver fashion), with those little tin-can things for "auditing"--called an E-meter. You see the E-meter, you know who it is.

A band of Yippies trooped up to them at one such local event, rudely pawing the sacred E-meter and peppering them with dumb questions. Finally, one Yippie put one tin can to his ear as the second Yippie started bellowing into it: "What?! What?! Play some BLACK SABBATH!"... causing onlookers to guffaw appreciatively. Rather than becoming merely grim and humorless (as Christians might) or rolling their eyes and telling us all to GROW UP (as right-wingers would), the Scientologists suddenly appeared completely furious and could barely contain their anger. One became red-faced and livid: "Back off!" he hissed at the Black Sabbath fan, who seemed shocked and put the tin can down, appropriately backing off. "Those people are crazy," he whispered to me later. "You can feel the insanity vibe, just radiating off them," he said. Wow, really?

Some years later, I would walk by the same E-meter audit-set-up in downtown Columbus, Ohio (in front of the State House, no less), accompanied by some bright yellow balloons. My daughter, about three years old at the time, pointed at the gaily-colored balloons and wanted one. Pointing at the auditing cans (flanked by numerous copies of the tell-tale book Dianetics), I replied, "You don't want those balloons, hon, those are Scientologist Balloons!" --chortling at my own wit. Then I saw a business-suited-woman standing near the booth, and felt embarrassed she had heard me. I felt sheepish and giggled (exactly as I might act in front of a nun), but the Scientologist (auditing-Thetan, in this case) wasn't amused. She gave me the most hateful, evil look I have ever witnessed--and this includes nasty looks from right-wing maniacs and Reaganoids I have protested against over the decades. It was a glowering, focused, scary look. Damn, these people mean business, I thought. And from that point onward, I was very interested in the Church of Scientology. Rather like The Visitors who come in peace... well, sure they do.

Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard once wrote an amazing horror novel titled FEAR, which can scare the beJesus right out of you. After reading it and having a few nightmares, I realized that a man who could write like this could easily get to the bottom of an unruly or confused psyche and turn it upside down in record time. (I could not even bear to put the novel down, and I knew it was by L. Ron Hubbard.) FEAR's level of restrained paranoia/freak-out is incredible; the dramatic tension is not fully resolved until the last pages. Any religion started by this guy is going to be BLOODY HEAVY indeed, I thought.

And now, we have a famous Scientology-defector they can't eliminate, drive crazy or simply ignore: movie director Paul Haggis, who has gone public. He reached the second-highest level in the Church, Operating Thetan VII.

I have seen the New Yorker article titled The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology posted in about a half-dozen places already, so let me add my link.

It's long, but contains some real doozies. Brother and sister scandalmongers, you must read it:

Many Hollywood actors were drawn into the church by a friend or by reading “Dianetics”; a surprising number of them, though, came through the Beverly Hills Playhouse. For decades, the resident acting coach there was Milton Katselas, and he taught hundreds of future stars, including Ted Danson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and George Clooney. “Most of Hollywood went through that class,” Anne Archer told me.
Jim Gordon, a veteran police officer in Los Angeles, and also an aspiring actor, spent ten years at the Playhouse, starting in 1990. He told me that Scientology “recruited a ton of kids out of that school.” Like Scientology, the Playhouse presented a strict hierarchy of study; under Katselas’s tutelage, students graduated from one level to the next. As Gordon advanced within the Playhouse, he began recognizing many students from the roles they were getting in Hollywood. “You see a lot of people you know from TV,” Gordon says. He began feeling the pull of the church. “When you started off, they weren’t really pushing it, but as you progressed through the Playhouse’s levels Scientology became more of a focus,” he told me. After a few years, he joined. Like the courses at the Playhouse, Scientology offered actors a method that they could apply to both their lives and their careers.
Finally, an explanation for why so many actors are Scientologists; they actually targeted the industry from the inside. I had mistakenly believed they zeroed in on celebrities from the outside, you know, like they did the pot-smokers. Nope, they get them while they are studying for something else entirely. Interesting.
Katselas received a ten-per-cent commission from the church on the money contributed by his students.

Katselas died in 2008, and Scientology no longer has a connection with the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Anne Archer told me that the reputation of Katselas’s class as, in Gordon’s words, a “Scientology clearinghouse” is overblown. “His classes averaged about fifty or sixty people, and there would be maybe seven to ten people in it who would be Scientologists,” she says. But the list of Scientologists who have studied at the Playhouse is long—it includes Jenna Elfman, Giovanni Ribisi, and Jason Lee—and the many protégés Katselas left behind helped cement the relationship between Hollywood and the church.
More goodies from the article, which you should read and pass around:
David S. Touretzky, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has done extensive research on Scientology. (He is not a defector.) He estimates that the coursework alone now costs nearly three hundred thousand dollars, and, with the additional auditing and contributions expected of upper-level members, the cumulative cost of the coursework may exceed half a million dollars. (The church says that there are no fixed fees, adding, “Donations requested for ‘courses’ at Church of Scientology begin at $50 and could never possibly reach the amount suggested.”)
That pesky inflation!

And by the way, although the church doesn't like it when you refer to the E-meter as "tin cans"--according to this article, it STARTED as mere SOUP CANS, seriously:
During auditing, Haggis grasped a cylindrical electrode in each hand; when he first joined Scientology, the electrodes were empty soup cans. An imperceptible electrical charge ran from the meter through his body. The auditor asked systematic questions aimed at detecting sources of “spiritual distress.” Whenever Haggis gave an answer that prompted the E-Meter’s needle to jump, that subject became an area of concentration until the auditor was satisfied that Haggis was free of the emotional consequences of the troubling experience.
And finally... yes, at long last, we're getting to Xenu! You knew he was coming!

Only a really great horror/sci-fi mind could have hatched Xenu:
The church, which considers it sacrilegious for the uninitiated to read its confidential scriptures, got a restraining order, but the Los Angeles Times obtained a copy of the [Thetan] material and printed a summary. Suddenly, the secrets that had stunned Paul Haggis in a locked room were public knowledge.

“A major cause of mankind’s problems began 75 million years ago,” the Times wrote, when the planet Earth, then called Teegeeack, was part of a confederation of ninety planets under the leadership of a despotic ruler named Xenu. “Then, as now, the materials state, the chief problem was overpopulation.” Xenu decided “to take radical measures.” The documents explained that surplus beings were transported to volcanoes on Earth. “The documents state that H-bombs far more powerful than any in existence today were dropped on these volcanoes, destroying the people but freeing their spirits—called thetans—which attached themselves to one another in clusters.” Those spirits were “trapped in a compound of frozen alcohol and glycol,” then “implanted” with “the seed of aberrant behavior.” The Times account concluded, “When people die, these clusters attach to other humans and keep perpetuating themselves.”
As that wise old shopkeeper on the old Friday the 13th TV show was always saying: It all makes a terrible sense.

And you wondered when Tom would show up.
In 2004, Cruise received a special Scientology award: the Freedom Medal of Valor. In a ceremony held in England, Miscavige called Cruise “the most dedicated Scientologist I know.” The ceremony was accompanied by a video interview with the star. Wearing a black turtleneck, and with the theme music from “Mission: Impossible” playing in the background, Cruise said, “Being a Scientologist, you look at someone and you know absolutely that you can help them. So, for me, it really is K.S.W.”—initials that stand for “Keeping Scientology Working.” He went on, “That policy to me has really gone—phist!” He made a vigorous gesture with his hand. “Boy! There’s a time I went through and I said, ‘You know what? When I read it, you know, I just went poo! This is it!’ ” Later, when the video was posted on YouTube and viewed by millions who had no idea what he was talking about, Cruise came across as unhinged.
Ya think?

(More fun with Tom below. Could not resist!)

As the father of two gay daughters, Haggis finally broke with the church over their funding of anti-gay Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California. And then he studied and found out more...

As they say, read it all.


[NOTE: The only other time I have written about Scientology at DEAD AIR, was about the death of Jett Travolta, which was predictably covered up.]

Edit: The last few seconds of the video cautions that all copies are quickly removed by the church of Scientology, so you should download it yourself and upload it to YouTube after this copy is removed. Create a different account for this purpose, since they go after that, too.


D. said...

Heh. Have also linked. And their tactics... Mostly by luck, I didn't get sucked into that in 1970.

I think I'd better renew my New Yorker sub; otherwise I might miss stuff like this!

WV: "states" As in Altered. Woooooooo...

Dave Dubya said...

This is good exposure of a cult. We can thank South Park for the most hysterically funny Scientolopgy episode.

JoJo said...

They are soooo WEIRD. Me and some friends from college decided to go into the Scientology church in Boston and take the free personality test. We'd see the guy w/ the vacant eyes beseeching Emerson & MIT/Harvard students to take the test at the church. They basically held us hostage for HOURS b/f we insisted upon being let out. it was creepy.


the thing I remember most about L. Ron Hubbard is he said "if you want to be rich and powerful, start your own religion." or words to that effect..

white rabbit said...

The Scientologists used to have premises on the tottenham court road in London in the early 70s which offered...


Of course (so i am told, i never checked it out) that the test inevitably revealed taht you were a complete emotional basket case who needed their further - and expensive - assistance.

Someone claimed to have wandered in to see Van Morrison doing the testing.


The core beliefs of Scientology are jaw droppingly ridiculous. You'd have to be monstrously stoned to take them seriously.

The Yippies were plainly not far enough gone.

It is rumoured that Hubbard started Scientology as a result of a bet but this rumour may not be quite true - rather like Scientology if you think about it (but more plausible).

Endless Summer said...

On the topic of Scientological Personality Tests, I thought I'd share a beautifully done comedy video on the subject, courtesy of that guy who does the scarily accurate Ian Mckellen impressions

Anonymous said...

i don't like all this talk that you'd have to be stoned to believe scientology. i may or may not be high right now, and the name Xenu is as silly as ever.

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