that time I met the Scientologists
As you may have noticed, I'm kind of a fan of religion. However, one of the annoying parts comes to the point of conversion. It seems like everyone is trying to get people to join their club, and nobody wants to join those clubs. Every day, on my lunchbreak walk, I pass by some pleasant looking old people with a stand of Jehovah's Witness flyers and I promptly ignore them. It's not that I have anything against Jehovah's Witnesses; they don't celebrate birthdays and I'm on board for that. But I've already talked to Jehovah's Witnesses, in school and on my doorstep, and I know what they're about. In middle and high school, I had some friends that were from the Church of Latter Day Saints and, while I liked the cut of their jib, couldn't get on board with their "read it out of a hat" origin story (although the "shouted at by cavelight" origin story isn't much better). For the sake of clarification, this isn't the first time I've met the Scientologists, that was years ago. But I didn't have a blog back then.
the first time I met the Scientologists
On a sunny Memorial Day at the Louisville Community Park, young Aqil braved the heat in search of sno-cones and cotton candy. Clutching a freshly purchased twirly-whirly (I don't know what it's called; I literally Googled "pully spinny toy" and that's what came up), he happened upon a booth offering free personality tests. Even at an early age, Aqil was a sucker for introspection, so he bounded gleefully up to the booth to talk to the nice old lady. He didn't realize it at the time, but that lady was really enthusiastic about giving little Aqil this test.
The test used an electropsychogalvanometer (e-meter), which you may recognize as a made-up word. According to the Scientology website, "the E-Meter does nothing... The E-Meter is not intended or effective for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease." in addition to nothing, the e-meter also detects changes in the thetan, the "immortal spiritual being [that] inhabits a body and has a mind, which is a collection of mental image pictures." It does this by running a small electrical current through little Aqil's body to detect changes in brain-mass as he pictured the answer to different questions asked by the nice old lady because (and I'm not making this up) "[t]he pictures in the mind contain energy and mass."
But Aqil made another crucial discovery that fateful afternoon: if you squeeze the nodes of the e-meter, the needle jumps and the lady takes excited notes. He then proceeded to squeeze the nodes in rhythm, bringing great joy to the lady. Soon his brother came to drag him away from the nice old lady and her "evil cult".
the this time I met the Scientologists
I left the Starbucks without getting anything, because the line was too long, and started walking home. Now, downtown Sydney is equal parts people asking for money and people handing out flyers, and walking through the city is a daily challenge of not making eye contact with strangers. But sometimes, I slip up.
There were two well dressed men standing under a some scaffolding, holding out tiny slips of paper. One was tall and Asian, the other was short and had one of those "shaved head" haircuts to hide that he's balding, but wasn't fooling anyone. The short balding one called out to me about taking a free personality test. Even at this late age, I am a sucker for introspection, so I took the slip of paper and made to walk away. The short, balding man was not content to advertise his personality test. The two of them insisted that I took the test immediately. The slip of paper said the word Oxford on it, so my tired self didn't think it could be too bad. But then the Asian asked if me if I'd heard about the Church of Scientology.
Oh yes, I have.
Most of my knowledge about Scientology, up to this point, came from their anti-criticism scandals and from South Park (I apologize for the Buzzfeed link). I answered, safely, that I'd "heard of it". In an effort to make small talk, the Asian one also asked if he was cold. I laughed, knowing I was not cold but instead, Canadian. I walked into the marble-floored Scientology lobby hoping to take another e-meter test, so that I could flex my thetan-altering powers. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
I did see the word Oxford on the ad for the personality test. The "Oxford Capacity Analysis" (OCA) asks questions about mood (are you sad sometimes?), sociability (can you talk to other people?), and obedience (do you question authority?). There were also two questions about muscle twitches and two questions about hating children (the hating part was not implied). With only three answers for each question (Yes, No, and Maybe), I noticed that some of the questions could be answered inconclusively. For example, if the question is "do you sometimes hate children?", a "No" answer could mean I always hate children or I never hate children. While writing this blog, I later found out that the OCA isn't only probably useless; it's definitely useless (boom, peer-reviewed study). But let's not over-science it; Scientology founder Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (presumably the son of Old Lady with a dog) said the OCA "is a good, reliable method of getting people to come in. The essence of testing procedure is (a) to get the person to do a test and (b) get him or her to come in to have it evaluated." So it's not a good analysis of personality, or anything useful, but it gets people in the door. And it got me in the door, so 10/10: it definitely works.
After taking the test, I was seated in a personal theater to watch an introductory video to scientology, while his test was graded. The video looked like a high-end infomercial where the "before" clips were actually in color. It featured people being sad, angry, and annoyed. Y'know, normal stuff. The video proceeded to explain why people feel negative emotions. It's not because of environmental factors, or being part of a normal spectrum of emotions. Instead, the video explains that negative experiences throughout our lives create engrams. Engrams are quanta of negative memories, like shitty little photos in your brain. Those shitty photos are stuck in (the irrational part of) your brain and cause you to act out later in life. By the time the video was over, I sat quietly for another couple of minutes while waiting for my test to be graded.
After sitting quietly, I was brought to a desk, not unlike those desks bankers use to scam you into getting credit cards you can't afford, by a 30-something woman looking to scam me into getting a religion I can't afford. She pointed at the printed test results:
Like a typical Asian mom, she completely ignored the parts of the test where I did well and focused on the "composed" value because it was "less than ideal." According to the representative, I had a lot of unresolved problems which stem (as per the video) some past trauma that I couldn't remember. Those unresolved engrams would make it difficult for me to start new tasks, especially when it comes to solving those problems. I tried to reiterate to her that problems are just a part of life, and that solving them takes time and effort. But she was very insistent that there was only one reasonable solution to all of my problems and that solution was Scientology.
She called the brain a "perfect computer", that sometimes has issues. To fix those issues, you need the computer manual. She said Dianetics, L Ron Hubbard's book, is "the manual to the mind". I tried to say that most people don't rely on a single manual to fix their computers, but instead seek out advice from experts and friends with various degrees of authority (StackExchange, anyone?) and that the same can and should be done for personal and emotional issues. She was having absolutely none of that.
I asked her if she could give me an example of when she solved her issues with scientology. In a bare-faced attempt to turn the topic of conversation back to my problems, the representative asked me about my previous relationships. So, I lied.
"Have you ever broken up with a girl?" she asked. "Nope," I lied. "Have you ever had a girlfriend?" "Nope," I lied. "How old are you?" "Twenty-four." Pro-tip, incorporate verifiable truths to make your lies more believable. "Why haven't you had a girlfriend before?" "I don't really see a need for it." Pro-tip, don't lie more than you have to.
She finally conceded and began to tell her own story. She had broken up with a boyfriend, it was a serious relationship. She was heartbroken, devastated. But she found solace in the teachings of the Church of Scientology. After some more prying, these teachings revealed themselves to be: don't spend all your time with that dude who just dumped you. I wanted to ask if she really needed a "church" to tell her this sage advice, but I honestly felt bad for her at this point.
I, however, quickly stopped feeling bad for her.
The representative pulled me over to the "Bookstore". "Bookstore" is in quotes because it wasn't a store for books so much as it was a store for book. All the shelves were lined with translated copies of Hubbard's Dianetics. She suggested that I pick up Dianetics, and Hubbard's other book: Overcoming Ups and Downs (after I insisted that life's ups and downs are not only normal, but crucial to personal growth), both were $55 each. She placed Dianetics and its companion Blu-Ray on the counter and had me read a testimony from John Travolta. Travolta admitted that he'd been successful before Scientology, but not nearly as Adele Dazeemingly/ScarJo kissingly successful as he's been since finding Hubbard's writing.
Say what you want about Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, they don't make you drop a hundred dollars on the first date. I made it very clear that I will not be buying these books, and the representative switched. She suddenly became angry, and insisted that I buy the books immediately. I insisted that I would rather do my own research before committing to an action. She said that I "can't" do that. That if I look for my own answers, I'll find all the wrong answers, and that right answers could only be found in this book sitting in front of me. For clarification, I asked if she was afraid that what I would find on my own may discredit what was in Dianetics. She decided not to answer that concern, and reiterated her previous argument loudly and more forcibly.
It was at that point that I politely thanked her for her time, insisted that I will consider what she's told me, and got the fuck out of that building.
I don't want to make a habit of criticizing others' beliefs. As a believer in a religion, I don't feel I have the right to dismiss others' religions. As the Quran says: "Dude! I don't believe what you believe, you don't believe what I believe, I'm not gonna believe what you believe, and you won't believe what I believe. Can't we agree both our religions are kind of BS?" (Quran 109:1-6, obviously paraphrased).
However, I do want to reiterate that any person, any book, or any ideology that claims to have all the answers is 100% wrong. There is no shortcut to happiness; there is no instruction manual for the mind. The way you think, feel, and express yourself should never rely solely on the thoughts, feelings, and expression of others. Yes, life is hard. It downright sucks sometimes. But, it's up to you (and only you) to make your life better.
And how do you do that?
In my opinion, you have to do that by sharing. Don't look for answers in just one book or person. Look for answers in every book and person. In the immortal words of Bill Nye, the Science Guy: "everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't" and it's your job to take it all in. Then, explore yourself and take in the parts that you need, discard the parts that you don't. Use the world around you to build yourself up. And once you have the confidence, share. Share yourself with others because you will have become the person you needed, and someone else will need you, guaranteed. There are no ethereal photos in your head holding you back; everything that's happened to you, good or bad, is part of your story. That makes you who you are, so own it. And, above all, there's nothing wrong with being sad. There's nothing wrong with getting angry sometimes. After all, we're still human. But don't let those negative thoughts (either being consumed by them, or running from them) define who you are.