I was never indifferent, or uninformed. Scientology, I had once written, was a Reality of its own, using techniques which draw on various principles: "Confession" similar to that developed by Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman, father of the Moral Re-Armament movement; Emile Coue's self-improvement teachings ("Every day and in every way, I am becoming better and better"); with elements of sensitivity training and encounter-sessions, those now-popular seventy-two hour group encounters where exhaustion finally leaves you with shredded nerve ends ready to absorb anything.
As a unique reality, Scientology is, I realized, manifestly ready - and more than a little able - to absorb *people*. Scientology spokesmen now claim a worldwide church membership of 15,000,000. Figures for the United States vary, but it is said that Scientology enjoys a membership of 250,000 in California alone - Double the number of a year ago. As for income, the estimated weekly gross in this country is $1.4 million. And I think that these membership and weekly gross figures are modest.
I had also heard various stories, had been told things, and had read things.
Scientology was dangerous. A housewife in Los Angeles put $4,000 into Scientology processing because she was told it would help her overcome her frigidity. It didn't work. Her husband divorced her.
Scientology is insidiously taking over. In England, a village where Scientology had set up its world headquarters was supposedly being "bought up" by the movement, house by house and business by business.
Scientology is a con game. According to the records of one police department in this country, a millionaire in Florida who said he suffered from acute "nervousness" turned to Scientology after both Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic found nothing wrong with him. Twenty-eight thousand dollars and two years later, he was still convinced Scientology processing would help him.
Scientology is "an evil cloud," which "settles on a person." In Sydney, Australia, a judge sentenced a man to prison for the mishandling of funds, and said, "It is clear that a good deal of your mental difficulty is due to your association with people who call themselves Scientologists." He went on to label it "an evil cloud."
"You could make a very cruel statement," said one former Scientologist who had spent enough time close to its hot center to be convinced he knew what he was talking about, "and say that Scientology is a kind of spiritual fascism. My analogy is a little ruthless, and a more fair way of saying it is that there are elements of dictatorship in it as an organization, which is basically a spiritual organization derived from a spiritual understanding and methods of spiritual advancement."
But I also met scores of young people, some of them the youthful drifters now becoming such a wrenching sight in our cities, others high school and college dropouts, all of whom spoke with fervid sincerity and enthusiasm as they told me of incredible personal gains they had made in Scientology, how they had suddenly "seen themselves" for the first time. They were, particularly in the strange conformity of their dedication, very much like a subculture, similar to many of the serious and sincere members of acid and pot subcultures I've known, glowing with that special, private knowledge and fund
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of insights which is so much of the strength which brings and holds them together. Comparably, what Scientologists feel they possess is so extraordinary, so marvelous, that only giving it, forcing it if necessary, upon the rest of mankind, will fulfill the promise of this cherished treasure. They spoke of the beauty in themselves they had never known existed, how Scientology's teachings and techniques had opened doors they thought forever closed. "The whole world has come alive," wrote one. "I can't remember when I have felt so great!" wrote another. "The most important factor," wrote a third, "was that I gained *awareness*." The one very important contrast to our other modern subcultures was that all these kids seemed to be contradicting the popular notion of disillusioned youth as they energetically embraced a philosophy which not only welcomed them with open arms, but seemed to show them A Way which was foolproof.
So strong is Scientology in attracting these kids that in some instances it has done more than simply alienate children from their parents. I met one family where the total, absolute involvement of the children resulted in such a cataclysmic break, such a destruction of all the bonds which had kept six people together and sustained them as a family that, in desperation, the mother had decided to get into Scientology to try and understand what it was that had, in effect, taken her children from her. Within months - she told me all this in a voice which dropped at times to a nervous, confidential whisper, rising at other times to declare, posit, be strong and confident - within months she had become convinced that she had discovered a philosophy which did work, just as her children claimed, and she was certain it would eventually help her as much as it had helped them. She argued sincerely that she had experienced all of the soul-illuminating insights Scientology promises mankind. When I asked her what her husband thought of what she had done, she grew hesitant, almost confused, and finally confessed she couldn't begin to describe the bitterness he felt.
He had, I realized with a shock as she tried to explain the situation, been betrayed by his entire family and now he was the outsider who refused to open his eyes and "see" the truth. Not only did he no longer know what it was that had taken his sons and daughters from him, but now he watched his wife struggle to conform to this new philosophical religion, struggling to make herself believe that through passionate acceptance of all that Scientology promises, she would achieve the only thing which really had ever mattered to her, the rediscovery and salvation of her children.
Who was she, I wondered, really? Chain-smoking nervously, getting up repeatedly to refresh her drink, jumping in her conversation from one aspect of Scientology to another, making oblique references to one daughter who was off at one of Scientology's centers, to a son who was somewhere else, to her husband, whose reasonable efforts to make his own traditional, almost scholarly doubts known to all of them had been ignored and rejected with that merciless and arrogant confidence of the blind believer....Who was she? What had happened to her, and her children? How had it been done? What was I investigating, a genuine religion, which Scientology quite legally claims to be, or something much simpler yet at the same time incredibly more insidious, some subtle union of *The Power of Positive Thinking*, a Dale Carnegie course, some kind of self-hypnosis, and a liberal spicing of a most refined science fiction?
It was a long time before I found out. My ambivalence was based, partly, on a reluctance to go out and find the flaws in what lot of people looked at as being their religion. You just don't go out and knock a religion. Just the same, there was this freaky faddishness to the whole thing, everybody talking about the celebrities getting into it: Leonard Cohen, and Tennessee Williams - prior to his conversion - and William Burroughs, and then you hear that Cass Elliot got her Grades down in St.
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Thomas. Movie Star Stephen Boyd, a Grade IV Release at the time, wrote an enthusiastic letter to Scientology describing how he had used his newfound abilities to survive the rigors of location shooting in Louisiana. And now the word is that the Beatles are definitely interested! And Jim Morrison! Official Scientology publications are emphasizing the big names. "That's the sign," it said in a recent issue of *The Auditor*, the monthly journal of Scientology. "Remember twenty years ago," it went on, "when artists were taking up psychoanalysis? It's always the beginning of the big win when celebrities - song-writers, actors, artists, writers, begin to take something up."
The big win. Or as Bob Thomas, a minister of the Church of Scientology who is now executive director of Scientology for the continental United States and probably the highest-ranking scientologist in the country, called it: "the most vital new movement in America today." Wherever you go, the Scientology word is being shouted at you from Dayglo posters showing an exultantly leaping man, his very vibrancy dividing his body into a discord of parallel striations. Pick up your telephone in New York and dial 565-3878, and you hear: "Hello. This is a recording inviting you to step into the exciting world of the totally free, the world of Scientology. Find out who you really are. Discover your real abilities, and how you can be in control of your own life once again. Attend or free film presentation at two P.M. every day and at four and seven-thirty Monday through Friday at forty-nine West Thirty-second Street. That's the corner of Broadway. Also, at the sound of the tone leave your name and address, and we will mail you a free information packet. And *thank you* for calling." If you leave your name and address you are bombarded by a direct-mail campaign which urges you to take courses! buy books! bring friends! On street corners everywhere attractive-looking young people hand out cards in the form of tickets which read: Admit One To Total Freedom - Film and Talk, What Scientology Is. Every evening of every day introductory sessions
are being held in cities all over the world. The Big Win for the Big Now Religion.
Bob Thomas is a very large fleshy man with a high forehead and long, fine brown hair worn thickly combed back, giving him the appearance of a somewhat enormous George Washington. His New York office, where we spoke the first time I saw him, was tastefully decorated, with a handsome red wall-to-wall carpet, paintings on the wall, and well-chosen, comfortable furniture. His large desk had a white push-button telephone on one side and a Sony cassette tape recorder on the other. As we talked, he often leaned back to put his alligator loafers up on the desk. To the front of the desk, right in front of the leather armchair I was sitting in, was an E-Meter, Scientology's basic and all-important auditing tool, with his name Dymo-taped on it. Behind the desk, to the right as I faced him, books were lined up on top of a radiator which was under an air conditioner. Though the weather outside had turned brisk, the air conditioner was on. Thomas chain-smoked Spring menthol cigarettes during our talk, and over my right shoulder, on a dresser, a color television set was on, Walter Cronkite drumming Vietnam casualty figures into my ear. I looked at the books on the radiator and noticed Adam Smith's *The Money game*, and next to it, on its side, a paperback copy of Norman O. Brown's *Love's Body*. Thomas was telling me why so many young people in particular are being drawn to Scientology.
"Scientology has the answers these kids are looking for, plus all the ingredients of novelty, freshness, and depth. It doesn't have the old pat answers, and it validates creativity." I asked if Scientology was replacing drugs for some of them. "The drug experience," he explained in a manner which was frank and direct, using Scientology's private lingo sparingly, "produces a kind of artificially induced insight into some of the more metaphysical aspects of man's consciousness. But it's very frustrating because it is limiting, and now here's
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Scientology, a drugless psychedelic - using, the exact meaning of the word *psychedelic*, which is soul-expanding - which deals in the very same insights without drugs. We provide the philosophical background which can he understood by young people who have taken drugs and have seen the dead end of drugs, but who are still haunted by the visions they saw. Scientology is a root to the achievement of some of these awarenesses on a natural basis, by natural means. In a warped way, kids under drugs *have* seen themselves, but that is *at effect*, not *at cause*."
But what *is* it, I wondered. Did I really have to achieve an understanding of a new theology and disciplines similar to canon law? Wasn't there some simple statement which would make it all fall into place? I asked Thomas. "What we're really trying to do," he said simply, "is increase a person's confidence in being able to remember what he wants to remember and not remember what he doesn't want to remember, to increase his confidence in being able to control his memories."
That made sense. Feeling somewhat enlightened, I asked Thomas how he had gotten involved in the movement. He told me he was living in New York in 1950 when L. Ron Hubbard wrote a long article for *Astounding Science Fiction* called "Evolution of a Science." He read it, and then went out and bought a copy of Hubbard's magnum opus, *Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health*. "It said," Thomas said, "do this and it'll happen, and I did it, and it happened." Somewhat modestly, he added, "And I've been impressed ever since."
I was right back where I had started, confused, absolutely unequipped to ask the right questions, the ones which would explain to me *what* happened, what Thomas meant. "Anybody," he was saying, "who seriously looks into Scientology rapidly gets over their misgivings. But there is always the sensational treatment in the press...the opprobrious use of the word 'cult,' which implies something secret. That is *wrong*. Scientology is open." That reminded me of something and I
asked him if he thought it would be all right for me to go to the Scientology Congress coming up shortly. "You can go," he said, "but I wouldn't make a big deal about being a reporter." It was suddenly refreshing, hearing him say that, to see that he was basically a realist, and quite sensitive to what the press has reported about Scientology in the past. I had almost been convinced they were genuinely above such secular concerns.
As I went down the hall from his small reception room to get my coat, he said, "You come back yourself, will you?" He meant that he wanted me to come back on my own, not on any kind of an assignment, and find out what Scientology had for me. I turned to thank him for the invitation. He was standing in the light of the reception room, his arm raised, pointing straight at me. It was almost a command, something ministerial in his stance, his head down slightly. It was uncomfortable and enveloping. It all became something more than the few questions I had been sorting out in my mind. It became, all over again, a religion, a very mysterious religion. I knew nothing.
I went to the Scientology Congress. The first person I talked to there was a girl named Mary-Lou. She was tall and slender, quite attractive, very much like many of the young girls deeply involved in the movement. She had long brown hair and wore long false eyelashes, which she tried not to flutter as she stared into my eyes; being slightly nearsighted, her stare seemed even more intense. We were in the main ballroom of the Hotel Martinique. The Second Annual Eastern Scientology Congress was presumably a festive occasion because a few balloons were scotch-taped to the ceiling, several strands of wide crepe paper festooned from corner to corner, and a large banner across the front of the room proclaimed WELCOME CLASS VIII. Behind me somebody said, "There are only thirty-five Class VIII's on the planet." Most of the people there were young, good-looking, smartly dressed, the girls in miniskirts, with
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good long legs and bright open faces. The guys looked healthy, composed, some of them leaning to hippie-type open shirts and beads and long hair, others in smart semi-Edwardian suits. There were also quite a few older people, men in sports jackets and sports shirts that were buttoned up to the neck, elderly women sitting on wooden folding chairs as if to rest their tired feet, professional types wearing their overcoats and expressions of concentrated involvement, retired folk with tired faces and slight smiles. Somebody had patched WABC-FM into the loudspeaker system, and the tail end of the Beatles' "Hey, Jude" was blasting its interminable non-resolution over everything. It ended, finally, and on the same station - it was weird - some warm-voiced Latin type began singing "More." A girl sitting with a few friends began mouthing the words: "*More than the greatest love I've ever known*...." There was this peculiar feeling in that room, not so much of unity, as of some kind of movement, not of being busy but of being fraternal, in *it* together, talking about this and that: your Grades, Straight Wire, Power, ARC, Successes! It all *felt* like movement, like action, but when you reached out for it, it just wasn't there.
Mary-Lou said she had been in Scientology for about a month and a half and it was just wonderful. Why, I asked her. What was she getting out of it? Freedom, she said, and I wondered if she had existed in some kind of bondage before Scientology. I asked her what she had done before. She just sort of shook her head. It was the same answer I would get from everybody I talked to. Before Scientology was a void, an emptiness nobody would discuss because it wasn't there. So I said, "Freedom?" to get her back to why she was in it. She smiled and nodded. "It brings out what's really me," she said with great sincerity. But, I pressed, didn't she know what she really was before? "Scientology tells you what you *really* are," she insisted, "and then shows you how to be it." I said nothing for a moment and she must have sensed a lack of enthusiasm, because she said, not in answer to any question, that in the
past four months Scientology's enrollment had grown 500 percent. She didn't say she had been told that, or had heard it or read it; she *told* me. I asked if that was in terms of world-wide membership and she said she wasn't quite sure. I asked if it meant this country, or New York, and she said, twice, "I'm not really sure about that, I'm not really sure about that." So I said, "But it's grown five hundred percent...." And she looked at me, struggling to maintain some kind of eye-lock which I suddenly understood was essential to people in Scientology, and said, "Yes, isn't that something?"
I thanked her - Scientologists thank each other incessantly to indicate communication has been achieved successfully - and turned to find myself looking up at the enormous, ever-present photograph of L. Ron Hubbard. For some reason, that first time, he made me think of a cross between H. L. Hunt and Len Deighton's General Midwinter, whose million-dollar brain was going to save the freedom-loving people of the world. "I got nothing against cliches, son. It's the quickest method of communication yet invented...." Behind me a young man tapped on the microphone for our attention, and as people found seats and sat down, he explained that instead of the scheduled lecture we would hear a brand new tape from "Ron."
Everyone grew quiet with that uncomfortable rustle of not being quite ready to give full attention. The young man switched on a tape recorder and left the platform. There was some continued shuffling in and out of the ballroom and I began to wonder if everybody might not make a slow, unobtrusive exodus during the speech, seeing as how the tape recorder could not possibly feel offended. I was wrong. Though there was a steady in and out at the door, more people came in than left, and by the time somebody on the tape finished introducing Hubbard to what was obviously an audience somewhere else, the applause which met him where *he* was was joined by warm applause where I was. That was spooky. It was certainly a sign of respect for Hubbard, but let's face
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it, there was nobody there, just this tape recorder with its slowly turning reels, and Hubbard's even, somewhat mellow disembodied voice coming out of it. His topic was "Scientology: The Future of Western Civilization." He admitted it sounded presumptuous of him to bite off something like that, the notion that Scientology *was* the future of Western civilization. It was not at all presumptuous, he said, and launched into a long discourse on why man got to be the way he is. His talk touched on chaos-to-form or form-to-chaos, the latter being what history is *really* all about, the former what we are made to believe our path has been. The truth, he said, was that order - or form - preceded chaos, and it was man who was responsible for the chaos. He mentioned the obliteration of the individual, and how groups can be dangerous to the individual. He said war was government's attempt to do what taxes had failed to do; sustain confusion, I suppose. At one point, after a particular comment, he said, "You get the idea?" A voice behind me unhesitatingly answered, "Yeah!" Hubbard went on to say that there is no such thing as the masses, that the Communist powers - the commissars, as he called them with obvious relish - are fooling themselves when they talk about the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He pointed out that all troubles stem from individual aberrations; thus it is the solution of individual aberrations which will produce the salvation of Western civilization. It was a neat return to his major topic, from which he had ranged far and wide, rambling, cajoling, tossing off a few jokes which sent chuckles rippling through our audience while his, wherever he was, laughed heartily. Then be paused, and said, almost as a directive, "So introduce a little order, okay?" Two seats away from me, Mary-Lou and several other people said softly, almost in unison, "Okay."
Bob Thomas was in the reception room as I came out of the ballroom. He was smiling, tall, imposing; several people clustered around talking to him. He asked what I thought of the
Congress and I said I'd just heard the Hubbard tape. He looked around as several young girls walked by, all of them mod and very miniskirted, little bottoms sweet and round, and seemed about to say something. He caught himself, either because what he wanted to say might seem the kind of levity he wasn't used to revealing, or because he remembered I was writing about Scientology. I said goodbye to him and left. I was tired. In my mind, I tried to put some order into all I'd seen and heard. I remembered Mary-Lou telling me that Scientology's goal was to *clear* the planet within ten years. I suddenly understood that the ten years was from the *now* of her joining. There was no *fixed* date. It was a constant, a continuum, so that everybody who joins can tell themselves that, can give themselves the ultimate *raison d'etre*: Ten years from today we will have saved the planet.
I was beginning to respect Scientology's ability to persuade. This was brought home to me even more tellingly when a very close friend told me why she involved herself with it. Her boyfriend had been in Scientology quite seriously, and when they began having problems, she agreed to go to several sessions to see if it might help them. "I never saw it as being a danger or anything like that," she told me. "It was a system. I wasn't sure it was a system I wanted to spend time on - I wasn't sure I wanted to spend time on *any* system investigating human functions. I was very passively involved, in that I wanted to work out my relationship with ______, and this was where he was working it out and it made sense to me to go to the same place. I remember at one point we had a really bad break and we thought we'd separate for good, and he was involved in Scientology at the time and through it it occurred to him we should try to work it out together. We stayed together another year. It had that much effect on our relationship."
Investigating Scientology, I was constantly confronted by my own feelings and convictions, my own doubts and fears.
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Much of what I believed about people, about their wisdom and discretion, was challenged, as if I was reluctant to admit to myself that all of us - not only young people, whose lemming-like embrace of fads and fancies is so casually put down as just kids trying to be hip - are susceptible to movements such as Scientology which profess to have all the answers. My own skepticism was something I wanted to find in everyone, particularly in people already *in* Scientology. Some well-expressed doubts, I felt, would only enhance Scientology's validity. I only found unqualified enthusiasm, a determination to convince me of its enormous worth, and great efforts to get me to join. Everyone I talked to, particularly the kids trying to grab you with their eyes so that the electricity of their exuberance would crackle through to you, was only too eager to tell me about Scientology's various levels of "Release," and how they now feel "Marvelous!" and "Free!" And they were all advising me on the best way to get into Scientology: Take the Communications Course, you just *have* to take the Communications Course.
Why the Communications Course to start with? I asked a young girl at a Scientology branch office, 30 Fifth Avenue, where I had already been several times. This time I was there to buy some books, as well as a copy of Scientology's "Classification Gradation and Awareness Chart of levels and Certificates." The girl was short, dark, plumpish, with thick legs that looked bad in the black English schoolgirl stockings and abbreviated wool miniskirt she was wearing. She said the reason everyone is encouraged to take the Communications Course is that it "helps establish the reality of Scientology." I must have looked puzzled, because she said it helps you understand the definition of things around you. You mean, I asked her, things we may have been seeing the wrong way? Her face lit up. "Yes," she said. "That's it!"
I nodded, and then asked if she could see about a copy of
the chart. I'd been to several branches and no one seemed to have any copies. She went into the small office just off the tiny area where stacks of Scientology's books were on display. I couldn't see who was in the office, but I heard a man's voice. I heard the girl ask him if I could buy a chart - he didn't see me or know who I was. I heard him, slightly incredulous, say, "Sure, if he wants one." As if to say, why not? sell it to him. He won't make head or tail of it.
His arrogance was exactly what I needed. Sure, the intentional mystery and complexity of Scientology was far from making sense to me, but after having visited this and other branches, I was getting some very strong feelings about the people in it; talking to them I knew I was beginning to touch the fringes of what it was all about.
My very first visit to the 30 Fifth Avenue branch had been to attend one of the small weekly parties Scientology throws to bring new people in, give them a chance to rap with the gang, buy a book or two, and maybe sign up for something. Almost the first thing I had asked about was whether or not Scientology is genuinely a religion, comparable to, say, Zen Buddhism? The people I talked to said that whereas religion is an abstraction, Scientology's strength lies in the fact that it is concrete, scientifically organized, and works. They all stressed that a lot, that it works. But why bother to call yourself a religion then, I pressed. A blond, crew-cutted fellow who sat behind the desk in the branch's small reception room sat back and said, "It's a religion only in that it's tax-free." He seemed to think that would satisfy whatever reservations I had about organized religion. I nodded, and then said, as if reminding myself what it was that put me off religions, that at some point, by necessity, to succeed, a religion becomes punishing. They - I think there were four of us now - quickly said that there was no element of that in Scientology. I remembered that later, when I was to read in a book called *Introduction to Scientology Ethics*: "There are four general classes of crimes
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and offenses in Scientology. These are ERRORS, MISDEMEANORS, CRIMES AND HIGH CRIMES."
Oh, there is *discipline*. The blond fellow told me that when he didn't fulfill his "statistic," as he called it, a control was put on him which was in effect a penalty. lie spoke in terms of five *chits*, and explained it was being penalized 5 or 10 percent of his salary for the week - the clear implication being that there is a quota system for everyone who works in Scientology. Exactly how it is measured I didn't know yet, but there was this quota system. At one point, explaining something about L. Ron Hubbard, he glanced over his right shoulder and pointed, casually, the way you would point to a minor objet d'art as you strolled down the halls of the Louvre, to the obligatory 11 x 14 photograph of Hubbard, looking down upon us.
I should describe this particular branch office because it was typical of many of the offices I would eventually visit. The small room we were in, the reception room, had a desk, with an easy chair next to it. Two easy chairs sat opposite the desk, with a potted plant between them. the desk was set at an angle to the door, to face any visitors who came in through the front door, which led directly off 12th Street, just off Fifth Avenue. To my right - I was sitting in one of the two easy chairs facing the desk behind which the blond fellow was telling me that after eight years in the Navy he retold Scientology to be much better organized than the Navy - to my right was a small room with the piles and piles of Scientology books arranged on a table. Next to this room was the "executive" office of the branch. To my left was a hallway which led to several other rooms. In the hallway a wall had been made over into a large bulletin board. Most of the notices on it, besides a list of what a good Scientologist does, and a list of what a good Auditor does, and rules for the *Preclear*, were short little notes from people in Scientology called "Successes." Each is a small, heartfelt testimonial to Scientology: "My ability to
communicate has increased greatly and people find me much more desirable to communicate with." "Life is really worth living. I appreciate everything Ron is doing more than ever. Everyone come on the Road to Clear and O.T....IT'S FREEDOM." Each "Success" carries the name of the person making the testimonial and its date. They are all a little like those votive offerings you find at the shrines of saints in churches throughout Greece, those small silvered plaques depicting parts of the body, put up by people who have been restored to health; in gratitude, once healthy, they bring flowers to the particular plaque because their backache or foot ache or eye discomfort has miraculously disappeared.
Beyond the bulletin board, all by itself, was posted a copy of the Classification Gradation and Awareness Chart of Levels and Certificates. I was reading off such things as "Relief Release" and "O/W ARC Process Case Remedies," and it made absolutely no sense to me, when a young fellow began talking to me. He proudly showed me where he was on the chart, a Grade IV - "Ability Release," I read. "Moving Out Of Fixed Conditions and Gaining Abilities To Do New Things." "There are several Grade IV's around here," he was saying. Then he pointed to a woman who was sitting off to the side in one of the rooms talking to somebody. "She's an O.T.III," he said with enormous respect. An O.T., I learned eventually, was an *operating thetan*, the ultimate. This woman was at the third level of achieving that sublime state, where, if I understood the oblique references made to O.T., you would be revered and listened to, and would possess *incredible* abilities - being able to walk on water or something, yet wise enough to know that it was not necessary to walk on the water to prove you could do it.
The young Grade IV suddenly offered to give me a small demonstration of the first thing you get in the Communications Course. As he was leading me over to some chairs stacked against the wall, he told me the course cost twenty-five dollars.
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Later, his girlfriend, a pretty little thing with blonde hair and thin-outlined eyes that were wide and friendly, told me, "It's twenty-five dollars for the Communications Course, and if you don't dig it, they refund it." So her boyfriend tried to give me a simple demonstration of what is called *Confrontation*. He set a chair opposite mine and sat down, and the point was we were to stare at each other. We were to sit there and dig each other, free of all the little things we let intrude when all we should he doing is *looking* at someone. I suppose the procedure could make people who don't *like* to do that overcome their resistance to it. I suppose I could even convince someone that not being able to stare comfortably at a person is a hang-up to get rid of. It all felt a trifle self-conscious-making and we soon gave up on each other.
Back in the reception room, the blond guy behind the desk was about to say something when a young English girl walked in. He saw her, greeted her, and said, "I want to get your Success right away."
The girl was surprised. "Already?' she asked. "I only finished my Grades last week."
"Yes," the boy said. "We want to get it as quickly as possible when somebody Releases."
Releases. Insights. The terminology was getting to me, this private language which made it all a very private world. The girl said, about herself, "We've been clearing up quite a few engrams, some minor ones. We've located one which we can see is going to he a bit of a problem." She seemed proud of that. She had a problem. Something to sink your teeth into. My own feeling was that if it was a matter of dredging up a cranky wisdom tooth which refused to budge, okay. But these so-called *engrams*, as used in the lexicon of Scientology, are episodes in your past which left deep impressions, no matter how you recorded the event, consciously or unconsciously. Confessing to some clown staring at the needle readings off a simple meter, a Wheatstone bridge setup, that you watched
your older brother groping with Mom did not seem the most fortuitous way to nullify the effect of that particular moment. What the young English girl had said was additionally unpleasant because it smacked of the same kind of blithe, guileless simplicity I used to run across in behavioral psychology textbooks. I prefer complexity. Rats in a maze, I believed somewhat naively, isn't you and me, Charlie.
I couldn't help but compare the outright blandness of the girl's "We've located one which we can see is going to be a bit of a problem" to the wrenching confession which confronts you in the unforgettable documentary film *Warrendale*. One of the children at Warrendale, the school for the emotionally disturbed, a girl, beautiful, sublimely lovely, reaches into herself and manages to say to one of the attendants, a calm, caring woman, that what she fears most of all in the whole world is that she will never, ever get well! It is a moment so crushing, so absolutely crushing, I shall never forget it. You not only are made to absorb this fact within the context of the girl's emotional state, her illness, but in that moment, because of how we've watched her wake up and dress and eat and lose her temper and scream and cry and then speak, you *know* where that confession came from; you know and you finally love the infinite complexity and tragedy of this girl because she is truly *alive*.
My own suspicion that Scientology was dangerously simplistic was further strengthened when I began reading some of the inexhaustible number of Scientology books, almost all of them written by L. Ron Hubbard. All of them seem to be, in their body, somewhat like all the books that keep coming out on the subject of bridge: How To Bid, How To Lead, How To Be Dummy...they go on and on and on. Which makes sense because it sustains interest and inertia. It is, in fact, the simplest way to breathe life into the movement. Hubbard lives, the books say to us; he lives and he thinks and continues handing down the Word. Despite the fact that I already felt,
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firmly, that most of the Scientologists urging me to read the books had not necessarily done so themselves, I did, from cover to cover. It was a chilling task, both numbing and annoying. What it all got down to, what was drenched in complexity, was the following message: You Can Do It, Fella! All By Yourself! Alone! Because Your Mind Is A Perfect Machine! And... you *cannot fail*. That's the hooker. You *cannot fail*. I should say the phrase in hushed tones, with reverence, wondering whether my own material self is capable of absorbing the enormity of that concept. And Hubbard, possibly because of his early experience as a writer of action science fiction, eschews lower case and continually lets you have it with all-capitals firing. YOU CANNOT FAIL. Got that? YOU CANNOT FAIL...CANNOT...CANNOT...CANNOT.
That is one hell of a beautiful promise: attain the unattainable; it *is* accessible. That is so much more attractive than merely learning How To Win Friends & Influence People, or pepping yourself up by Thinking Positive, or even getting caught up in the passion of a fiery revival meeting and Standing Up For Christ. And as opposed to traditional religions which speak of *someday*, in Scientology it is...soon. But then reality seems to step in, clumps in, in the person of the franchised Scientology branch, with its office and auditing rooms - often converted maids' rooms, the whole place usually a converted apartment. And the thought crosses my mind that if, two thousand years from now, the followers of the infallible system known today as Scientology record their humble beginnings, will the detailed descriptions of their difficult origins include the surroundings of neat lower-Fifth Avenue apartments as well as seedy West Side apartments, where *Preclears* step through a kitchen to reach the auditing room, where bare floors and folding chairs and a lack of ventilation accompanied it all as this determined science of the mind stood up to make itself known. Will all that mean as much to people in two thousand years as did the simple caves of the early Christians
- a fetid, difficult, impossible sustaining of a faith which, because it represented a political alienation, was seen to be dangerous and therefore had to be eradicated? Is that what is missing from Scientology as a modern religion, a feeling held in common by its followers that there is something dangerous in the air, something antisocial, something which may push them and their beliefs to an ultimate risk?
Scientology has of course received a great deal of criticism, much of it serious and sincerely concerned with what Scientology's processing techniques might do to what is popularly called "mental health." *Life* magazine published a lengthy, extremely subjective piece written by Alan J. Levy who took Scientology processing up to and including Grade IV. "I have Hubbard to thank," he wrote, "for a true-life nightmare that gnawed at my family relationships and saddled me with a burden of guilt I've not yet been able to shed....I explored some nooks and crannies of my own psyche that I wish to God had never been unearthed." I asked Bob Thomas what he thought of the article. He was of two minds. "There were," he said, "fortunately, a couple of redeeming features. You get the impression that here is a very vital, powerful, worldwide spiritual movement, in spite of the fact that it [Levy's article] is presented in a very kooky way." I hadn't found the piece at all kooky. What happened was that during the course of the processing, Levy relived the anguish of his father's death, feeling he was somehow personally responsible for an inadequate response to the tragedy. Then, at one level, he was made to isolate the date of what he remembered to be a particularly serious argument he had with his wife. With his auditor's help he ruled the date, Sunday, March 18, 1958. Later, beginning to suffer severe headaches, he discovered that March 18, 1958, had been a Tuesday. He felt, he wrote, that he had been made to believe something which was simply not the truth. To this, Thomas said, "He tried to fool the meter-" Levy had not mentioned he was researching a piece for *Life* at any time
THE NOW RELIGION 23
while being audited by someone using Scientology's E-meter - "which *always* gives you a headache. We could've told him that." Thomas laughed. I asked what might have happened if Levy had said be was working for *Life* magazine. Rather than suggest Levy then might not have been allowed to continue, Thomas said, "He would've continued to have the insights that he relates having had. But it [the lie] caught up to him. Actually," he added, "his insights there are quite typical, quite classic, as a matter of fact, up to the point where his basic withholding of himself from full participation catches up to him. He couldn't fully participate because be was unwilling to really present himself as he was, fully. It's like going to a doctor, or going to a dentist to have a tooth pulled, and telling him it's *this* tooth, not the real one that hurts. So he pulls the one that doesn't hurt and you've still got the one that does hurt." As if I wasn't beginning to think so myself, Thomas said, "These techniques are very powerful, and when you go into a situation on a dishonest basis to begin with they can be shattering only because you're using something that's very powerful and direct, at the wrong targets, and you're not really participating validly. Not telling about being a reporter is a 'basic withhold.' Which, in terms of our technology of the reactive mind, activates the reactive mind. If you withhold something, it tends to reactivate the charge in the reactive mind. That's why we insist on no 'withholds,' on a very high degree of honesty. So if you have the finagle factor involved at the outset of the thing, no wonder it didn't go well. I'm surprised it went as well as it did. But the undeniable impression you get as you read his accounts of the processing is that something happened, he had some insights, in spite of the fact that be wasn't really there to do that."
I was impressed with what Levy had tried to do. He had put himself on the line to learn the facts. Feeling what I did about Scientology, his experience only made me more uncomfortable, and I wondered if there was a way to *experience*
the whole thing without getting trapped. I encouraged myself by telling myself that many of the young people I had met were in it only because it was the Now thing to be in. I saw an invisible joyless quality to Scientology which would eventually discourage some of the younger people who were looking for excitement and entertainment. The weekly party at 30 Fifth Avenue was particularly typical to me. No one there was ever on any kind of a defensive when I pressed them about Scientology, but there was a blandness and an atmosphere which resolved itself, finally, into a kind of desultory joy. There was openness, but there was also a little boredom. I thought in particular of the little blonde and her Grade IV boyfriend. For her I knew it was all a social gathering and she would one day get tired and cut out. She had been in Scientology, only a month and a half and must have joined because of the boy. She probably walked in one day, found him there, and stayed. For the moment, Scientology was happening. She was the one to first tell me about the celebrities getting into it. "*Jim Morrison*," she said, and rolled her eyes. "I mean, that's what they say...but *then* - Wow!" What she was trying to say was that it *may* have been true - Scientology was not above using names to enhance its image - but if it was true...wow! What I felt in that branch office was that all of them, all the good-looking kids who permeate Scientology and give it a well-scrubbed gloss which is enormously advantageous, believe in Scientology. Up to a critical point, a point I sensed instinctively rather than saw. And then they either became members of the staff and accepted a few hard realities, like the risk of not producing and being docked a few *chits*, or they suddenly realized they were beginning to lead double lives: they talked about how honest and direct and responsible and *able* they were, but then you see them begin to exchange small looks which you've seen somewhere else - an uncertainty about appearing totally involved, at ease, or *at cause*, as Scientology calls it. An ego thing, as someone was to call it much later.
THE NOW RELIGION 25
Is it all that *real*? is what they seem to be asking each other with their eyes.
One incident in particular made it all come to life and showed me something of the quality of the belief these young people had. The little blonde girl sat down across from her Grade IV and they began to stare at each other. It went on for a long long time, and suddenly it was like being back in high school, at some dance or party, where you've run out o[ things to talk about, dances to dance, risks to take, dreams to dream, and you unexpectedly find yourself in a staring contest with your date, and that contest becomes the most important thing in the world, and you stare and stare and stare, and just before you lose it, just before it goes, you suddenly wonder, my God, what is it I'm supposed to see there in her eyes? Isn't this just a simple exercise of wills? That was the innocence I began to feel about all of them, a wonderful, loving innocence of being able to survive a test of wills, as well as a test of what they were convinced they could bring out of themselves. The individual has become preeminent, and there is no such thing as mediocrity. We are all important. We all count. Someone named L. Ron Hubbard is telling us incessantly that we not only count, but count in superlatives. Yes, it is so very much like a test of wills, but in that, it becomes a small act of faith.
In the best writings about faith, and the problems of faith what is ultimately most moving and affecting is that at a certain point all cant and ritual are torn away, all the beauty and solemnity and mystery of a church are done away with, and the individual finds himself confronted with his own capacity to *believe*. L. Ron Hubbard seems to appeal to the other side of that coin, to the idea that one needn't risk believing in an abstraction which may some day capriciously break his heart when, by using a very complicated and tinkertoy-like set of sophisticated steps, he can achieve pure rationale. What troubled me was that Hubbard was receiving more than undivided
attention from the people in Scientology. He had their faith. That was why I felt a small sense of betrayal as I continued to investigate Scientology. When I spoke to people whose beliefs I was trying to assemble so that I could *grasp* it, my very questioning was a form of attack. But Scientologists do have trust in the system, and by virtue of trusting their system they, seeing me among them, trusted me. It was disarming.
If I was ever to understand Scientology for whatever it is, genuinely a religion, or a lesser social movement, or just a "cult," I had to begin with the man who had made it all come to life, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. "Ron."
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