Exploring the Church of Scientology

into the dark lrh scientology

 

We would drive past the building that housed the Church of Scientology and Hubbard Dianetics Foundation every time we drove down Lincoln Ave. to deliver ice cream to the Dairy Queen down the street. I spent a lot of time making deliveries with my dad as he drove around Chicago supplying dairy to most of the coffee and ice cream shops downtown. As exhausting as those days were this moment would always catch my attention as I would try and catch a glimpse of what was going on inside that building. Growing up in the 1990’s and early-2000’s, Scientology dominated the news. Celebrities who attributed their massive success to the practices of Scientology only made people more curious about the new faith. The accusation that it was nothing but a cult was often made but it couldn’t be ignored that they maintained a very public presence with locations in every major U.S. city and a presence in celebrity pop culture that the Christian mega church pastors of today would be jealous of. Even as a teenager I dreamt of walking in those doors in Lincoln Park to ask the questions that you couldn’t ask a documentary or book on the topic. I wanted to actually meet a real Scientologist. I wanted to have a conversation with someone who actually espoused the beliefs that I had heard talked about on the news and made fun of on late night comedy shows. Yet the truck would always continue past the windows filled with books by L. Ron Hubbard. I never asked my dad to stop, although I imagine he would have as he always supported my random curiosities and hunger for knowledge on all things spiritual. We would drive down the street and make our delivery and then I would research more about Scientology and cults when I got home, dreaming of the day when I would find a reason to go inside and see it myself.

 

I thought about those days in Lincoln Park as I stood outside the Church of Scientology in Atlanta. The difference between the two buildings could not be more stark. While the building in Chicago blended in with the many other businesses it shared a sidewalk with, the Atlanta building was more of an homage to classic Southern Antebellum style. Josh and Ben, my frequent companions on adventures like this one, walked with me under the massive portico supported by white columns. As I opened the front door I thought how this moment was a culminating one for me, but that the real adventure was found in the conversations that I hoped would come once we got inside.

We were met in the front lobby by a man who seemed somewhat surprised that we were there. All Scientology churches are open to the public, and many have large public areas where tours are given and questions are answered. As we were led into the area filled with displays we were introduced to the woman who would serve as our guide. After our initial introduction and small talk, we asked her how long she had been a Scientologist. She was a woman in her late forties, and she told us her story of finding the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard while being introduced to Dianetics by a friend as a potential cure for her depression and anxiety. She shared with us that Dianetics had completely rehabilitated her, and she had soon became not only a member but employee of the Church. Concluding her testimony, she gestured to the display area and unleashed us to explore these carefully curated informational pieces where we would be told everything about Scientology that the Church wanted us to know. 

The Church of Scientology is the created of L. Ron Hubbard. He was a prolific science fiction writer who began to dabble in pseudo-psychiatry with the publishing of the book “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” in 1950. The book offered a way to relive and relieve traumatic experiences through a type of therapy called “auditing”. The book was massively successful and led to Hubbard later founding the Church of Scientology as an extension of the teachings of Dianetics. Dianetics would continue to form the basis of all of Scientology’s teachings as they continued to insist that modern psychiatry was a corrupt field filled with people who are only interested in hurting the general populous and Scientology was the only way to achieve true mental and spiritual health. At its core it was filled with people who were looking for the same things our guide was looking for- clarity of mind and success in life. Scientology has never been shy about claiming they can provide these things for those who advance up the “Bridge to Total Freedom”. This is the trajectory Scientology sends those who are “pre-clear” (those who still are plagued by traumatic experiences of the past) on their to being “clear”. To be “clear” means that one is completely free of these negative and traumatic experiences, or “engrams”, which have attached themselves to one’s “thetan” (soul or self).

Hubbard’s teachings and the new religion he founded grew as its message of a new echelon of mental health and worldly success made its way to generations in the 70’s and 80’s that were desperately looking for both. Scientology began collecting an array of celebrity spokespeople who vouched for the credibility of Hubbard’s teachings vaulting the organization to a level of notoriety previously unseen for any sort of new religious movement. It was this level of public awareness that led to teenagers like me growing up in a world where Scientology alternated between a faith taken seriously by Hollywood celebrities and a faith continually mocked as more and more people heard of the ludicrous teachings high level followers were asked to believe. 

As the three of us split up to take in the impressive displays set out for public consumption, I briefly think about making my way down the various hallways that extend off of the public area. Remembering how litigious Scientology tends to be, I decide to reign in my sense of exploration and instead focus on comparing what I know to be true about Scientology with what the Church has set out before visitors. My many late nights watching the Scientology Network, much to my wife’s horror, prepared me for the very sanitized presentation I was seeing. In the past 10 years the Church has worked hard to rid itself of the Scientology presented to the world in the early-2000’s. Gove was the focus on celebrities, many of whom have now become some of the church’s most vocal critics. The emphasis was now on social work and a vague explanation of what Scientologists belief about spirituality. In the middle of the room, surrounded by stations explaining the great lengths the church has taken in helping drug addicts and those impacted by natural disaster, is what I believe is the only mention of deity in the room. 

The eight dynamics are Scientology’s explanation of reality. Formulated by Hubbard himself, this is how the church seeks to make sense of the existence. Hubbard classified each of these as the various, “motives or motivations” that each person experiences in their life. The eighth and ultimate dynamic is listed as “God” or “infinity” and is characterized by the infinity symbol. Despite the inclusion of a mention of deity, Scientology does not have a well defined theology of a supreme being and this mention in the 8 dynamics is geared more at explaining that humans all desire infinity. As I walk around to another display, I hear Josh called our guide over and ask her to explain the dynamics. As she begins to mention the God dynamic, he asks her what Scientologists believe about God and she begins to give the standard answer filled vague generalities and a nod towards the existence of a god but our inability to know him. After hearing this, Josh gives his explanation of his own belief in the triune God and the work of Jesus on the cross and resurrection. I listen intently to hear her response, but she simply insists that she agrees with much of what Christianity teaches, even maintaining that she too is Christian as well as a Scientologist. As Josh finishes encouraging her to look deeper into the teachings of Christ, we all make our way back to the front door as our time in the church is coming to a close. Before we say goodbye, I ask one more question.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what place does L. Ron Hubbard have in your life?”

She pauses to think and smiles. 

“He is like a really good friend…that I owe my whole life to,” she says.

We thank her and take as much of the free literature they would give us and make our way outside. We get back into our car and sit silently for at least 2 minutes as each of us process all that we just experienced. I look up to notice that the parking lot on the opposite side of the building is full of cars. I take this to mean that the non-public areas we were not allowed to visit might have been full of Scientologists taking part in services such as auditing and other classes.

“Jeremy, being your friend is weird,” Josh says to break the silence.

As we drive away I think about our guides’ words to us about Hubbard. The ease and peace she had in calling him a friend and claiming that she owed everything to him for what he had presumably done for her. I think about Jesus and how he has done so much more for humanity than we will ever know, yet wolves in sheep’s clothing like Hubbard have found such success in leading people astray. In contrast to Scientology’s insistence that believers pay thousands of dollars to make their up the “Bridge to Total Freedom” Christ insists that his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light”. 

Then I think about the kid driving down Lincoln Ave wishing he could explore places like the one I just walked out of. That kid didn’t know that God would use that weird curiosity and turn it into a passion to explore those places to equip Christians to engage those hurting people who are looking for healing. He didn’t know he would be lucky enough to have friends who would actually go with him to see the darkness with their own eyes too.

The Church of Scientology in Atlanta is one of the brightest buildings I have ever been in, but it houses a darkness that has tricked and trapped those who are looking to be made whole by offering them a brightness that is counterfeit and mad made and man-centric. Jesus makes a much better friend than cult leaders because while we do owe our lives to him, it is only because He first offered his in our place.

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