There is a religion known as Scientology, but I didn’t really know what it was or what they believed, so Sara and I decided to check it out. We’d had a presentation in class and I guess I learned a little from that but I was still pretty unclear about what actually happened in a Scientologist Church. Essentially we didn’t understand the point of the religion. What we knew was that it was created by L. Ron Hubbard and that he was a science fiction writer in the fifties and that each church had a special office for him; we knew that there were multiple books written on the subject; we knew that there were seven levels and we knew that there was a DVD. What Sara and I didn’t know was why L. Ron had created it; why he needed an office since he was dead anyway; what exactly the books were about; what the seven levels were and why they needed a DVD. These were questions we wanted answered, and we assumed that by going directly to the source, Edmonton’s very own Church of Scientology, we would be able to solve the mystery that is Scientology.
The thing is we weren’t exactly sure how late the church would be open, so we decided to call and confirm that we would have access to it. Sara chatted awkwardly to someone for a few minutes before hanging up and informing me that she had made an appointment for seven tonight. An appointment... I can admit I was a little bit nervous about the appointment because I had heard stories about brainwash videos and that sort of thing, and the fact that the church itself is located in a sketchy part of downtown didn’t help either. In any case Sara and I prepared ourselves to find some answers and visit the church.
We went back to Starbucks first though, because we needed a Green Tea Lemonade fix really badly. And whenever we go to Starbucks we end up sitting on a bench and completely losing track of time, obviously because we are busy inventing things. And being awkward. The appointment was drawing nigh, so Sara called her mother and informed her that we were going to visit a Scientologist church, this resulted in a panicked warning from Sara’s mom to absolutely and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES were we to be lured into anyone’s basement for any reason whatsoever.
Hahaha. That’s funny because we thought she was the crazy one.
When we arrived, the first thing we saw was a large sign advertizing free stress tests in the window. The church did not really look like any church I had ever been in and it didn’t really have a spiritual feel about it, It seemed very business like and almost corporate. I know that sounds weird but I can’t really explain it, anyway it didn’t feel like a place of worship. There was an area with sofas and a big poster of Isaac Hayes stating that he was “A Member For Life” (I guess maybe he’s less embarrassing than Tom Cruise. Except he’s dead now so what does that tell you? Exactly.) In the center of the front room there was an immense rack overflowing with books about Scientology, there was also a smattering of pamphlets and some DVD’s. Unsure of how exactly to proceed in our investigation, Sara and I headed to the front desk where a man sat rifling through papers. After a quick introduction and an awkwardly limp handshake he asked us why we were here. Mr. Scientology (I can’t remember his real name so I’ll just refer to him as Mr. Scientology, or Mr. S for short) didn’t seem to understand the exact purpose of our mission and told us that we should read the book. We were soon to learn that this was pretty much his standard answer to anything and everything.
A little while and a lot of explaining later, Mr. S seemed to finally understand that we were not going to leave until we learned something so he led us to a dark room with a huge television. Brainwashing! There were a couple rows of seats and Sara and I chose to sit directly in the middle, not so close that we could get sucked into the T.V, but close enough forward that we didn’t give the impression of being terrified (which we were). I don’t know how many of you have ever sat in the dark in what is basically a miniature private movie theatre with a strange man but it sure feels like you’re going to get raped. Mr. S sat just ahead of us and swivelled around to face us, he started to explain the DVD and its components, but before showing it he gave up. “You know, I could talk myself blue in the face and you wouldn’t learn anything. You really should read the book.” That’s what he said to us. The situation had become very uncomfortable by now so Sara asked if we could see the room that was used during services. This seemed like a safe idea; surely he would be able to tell us a bit about that!
Wrong. We slipped quietly into a smallish room with a podium up front and several rows of seats. Behind the podium, on the wall, hung a large wooden cross with a star on it. We asked what a normal service would be like, were there any rituals or specifics that needed to be covered? All Mr. S could tell us was that during the services, they read from a book. We asked about the book, did it tell stories? Was it lessons or the teachings of L. Ron? Was it the Scientologist’s version of a bible or Holy Scripture? Nope. Apparently all we were going to learn about the book was that it was indeed a book. How useful. The conversation had lapsed into a sad and uncomfortable death so I asked about the cross and its significance to the religion, I asked because I have always associated it with Jesus and Christianity. Mr. S said that it was very important and significant except he couldn’t remember why, but if I read the book I would find out. After a few more fruitless attempts to initiate a conversation in which we might find out a thing or two about Scientology, I asked if we could see the office reserved for L. Ron Hubbard.
The office was a tiny roped-off room with a desk a lamp and a photo of L. Ron himself, it was much smaller that I had anticipated and quite empty. We asked why it was there and received a response that was not really satisfactory, Mr. S just said that it was because he was the founder. Well thanks, but we already knew that. We tried several more awkward questions before Mr. S led us to a table piled high with pamphlets and free DVDs and loaded us up with them. He also gave us a full run down of all the books we could possibly purchase, he also mentioned that the Scientologists had graciously donated some to our school and that they were probably in our library. Luckily, Sara remembered the sign we’d seen on our way in and asked if we could take the free stress test, or perhaps an E-Meter test, Mr. S hesitated and waffled for a while before vanishing into a back room. When he came back he said we couldn’t because Mike (or something) wasn’t there and he wasn’t really qualified to give the tests. So I guess we were out of luck in that scenario too.
Finally, we decided we had had just about enough of Mr. S and his absolute refusal to be useful so we lurked around the foyer in hopes of discovering at least a crumb of new information. There were a couple of people that were sort of floating around and, in a last ditch attempt to learn something; we sidled up to the guy typing at the computer. We asked him if he could tell us anything about Scientology because we assumed that someone who worked at the church would have a clue what it was about. Well, you know what they say about people who assume things. Which is that you shouldn’t, obviously. So this rogue typing man told us that he was new and couldn’t really help us. Next we cornered a random woman and put on our nicest and most trustworthy smiles (These are very effective most of the time. Do not confuse the “trustworthy smile” with the “Winning smile” because that one is much creepier and frequently leads to unpleasantness and discomfort.); this time, determined to get some kind of reaction, we asked about a controversial subject, Psychology. I have to say, I really was expecting an answer that would instil in me at least a vague idea about why scientologists are opposed to the practice of psychology, instead we were treated to a stock answer involving a lot of hemming and hawing. That was sort of the last straw and we decided to call it a day, we thanked the woman for her time and left the building thoroughly unsatisfied.
It was dark out. It was dark and we didn’t bring sweaters and we were in Creepsville Central. There were fast cars and broken bottles. Sara and I began to fear for our lives. Instead of simply accepting that by walking two more blocks we’d be back in the ‘safe’ part of Downtown we instead became irrational and needed to huddle together and run towards the nearest coffeeshop.
It was okay though, we got a ride home.