Scientology – it’s a religion shrouded in secrecy that completely fascinates outsiders, but it’s often completely underestimated.
It’s a religion that has been heavily satirised and parodied in popular culture, in the likes of Peep Show, The I.T. Crowd and most infamously in South Park, who trolled the church as recently as last week.
And lets be honest, if you haven’t ever read up on them, your knowledge about Scientology could be somewhat limited to the ‘Trapped in the Closet’ episode of South Park.
But recent documentary Going Clear and Louis Theroux’s upcoming My Scientology Movie exposes a much darker side of an organisation that thinks of itself as socially progressive and simply misunderstood.
Scientology was founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard back in 1950. He told a story which started 75 million years ago, when Earth (then called Teegeeack) was part of a confederation of 90 planets under the leadership of the ruler Xenu.
To cure intergalactic overpopulation, he paralysed the people of other planets and flew them to Earth in space planes.
What did they do with these, I hear you ask? They dropped them down near some volcanoes and dropped H-bombs on them, of course.
But Xenu didn’t want those souls to return so he built giant soul catchers in the sky.
The souls or ‘Thetans’ of these murdered people were then taken to cinemas and shown films intended to brainwash them for weeks on end.
The results were that the souls clustered together and inhabited our early ancestors.
An alien ruler? Space planes? Thetans? It does make you wonder, how could people be convinced to join a church which on the face of it sounds utterly bonkers.
Well, it turns out to hear this ‘secret doctrine’ of Hubbard’s, you need to be at Operating Thetan level III (OT III). This not only takes years to achieve, but also tens of thousands of pounds.
We spoke to ex-Scientologists to find out how they joined the organisation and how they were sold a different idea – an idea that joining the church would change their lives for the better.
Pete Griffiths, 61, joined the church back in 1987 and was still in the Scientology ‘mindset’ right up until 2008.
He explained that he was first sold Scientology as a ‘self improvement’ course.
They say it’s all about the mind and it’s all about improving yourself, that’s what I bought into, the fact that I could be a better person and these people claim to have the techniques and the where with all the know how to make myself a better person. I fell for it basically, with my eyes wide open.
And he wasn’t the only one to see it that way.
John Duignan, 52, was in his early 20s and living in Stuttgart when he first became aware of the religion.
He admits that, at the time, he had only just come out of a long-term relationship and was suffering from depression, something he thinks had a major part to play in his vulnerability to being sucked in by the church.
This promise of science and mental and they told me there is this thing called clear, once you’re clear any those things that burden your past are erased, they’re gone and then you’ll have that new this new energy, strength and positivity. It sounded really good, they sold it to me, they’re good salespersons lets put it that way. Literally within a few weeks of that Scientology had consumed all of my life.
But Stephen Jones, 52, doesn’t think this is only limited to the vulnerable.
It was 1986 and Stephen had just failed his second year of university. He was doing a course he didn’t really want to do and he was at a bit of a loose end- it’s something we can all relate to.
He came across the Scientology centre and out of curiosity more than anything, he investigated – and that was the beginning of a 22 year relationship with the church.
You might think ‘they can’t pull one over on me’, but they are absolute masters of manipulating people, they do courses on it. They’ve spent decades manipulating people. You might think you’re immune, but I’d say virtually everyone has the potential of getting involved if they get you at the right time.
He went on to compare their techniques to Derren Brown, adding:
All the things he gets people to do is absolutely ridiculous, but he still gets them to do it. It’s like Derren Brown with almost no conscience whatsoever.
The first thing you do once you’ve been persuaded to come in is to do their free 200 question personality test, something which Pete thinks only makes you more susceptible to being manipulated.
“By the time you’ve answered 200 questions you’ve been asking yourself all these questions for possibly up to an hour, you’re already kind of softened up psychically ready for the evaluation,” Pete said.
The Oxford Capacity Analysis is a tool Scientologists believe ‘identifies the 10 vital personality traits that influence your entire future’.
However, Pete says that despite the name it has nothing to do with the University of Oxford and is used ‘to fool people and give it an air of respectability and authority’.
Pete went on to explain that you’re presented a graph of results by one of their staff, with high and low points – but it’s the low points they really home in on.
[They tell you] you are depressed. And you go, ‘no I’m not’, it says here you are depressed, this is what you’ve told us about yourself, this is your evaluation of yourself. ‘Well I could be happier I suppose’. And once you get some agreement, once they get some agreement from you they move on to the next point. But at each point they say Dianetics can help with that or Scientology can help you with that, depending on what they’re selling you.
Dianetics was a best-selling book Hubbard wrote back in the 50’s on the ‘reactive mind’, which he believed interfered with a person’s ethics, awareness, happiness, and sanity. Something he went on to re-package as Scientology as we know it today.
But Stephen has a stark warning for anyone who’s using that as a base for joining the church, adding: “If you value your sanity and your bank balance just don’t get involved.”