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Saturday, October 7, 2017

An Outsider’s Inside Look at Scientology

Marcus Clintonius

It was 1973. I was all of nineteen, definitely in what are called for some bizarre reason one’s “salad days.” In the past year I moved from home in Brooklyn first to Los Angeles to join some other ex-New Yorker compadres, and finally to San Francisco... by myself, with my life in one old suitcase.

I’d managed to get a job, under particularly seventies’ San Franciscan circumstances. I’d been approached by a gay man (practically a daily experience for me while living in the City at this time) in Union Square park who knew someone (of similar persuasion, it turns out) who worked at an employment agency. Following up on the lead I was able to secure an office job working for Union Oil.

The Union Oil tower was a famous landmark until it was torn down in 2005 to make way for two luxury condominium towers (Rincon Hill). It reigned over the at-the-time modest downtown skyline, and was a friendly sight greeting commuters as they embarked onto (or disembarked from) the Bay Bridge to or from homes in the East Bay. More than half of my working day was spent in that completely windowless tower, where old records were stored on tall dusty metal shelves. When records were needed to settle a customer’s dispute that went back beyond recent history, I was sent to find the necessary details.

Believe it or not, I had to pay a month’s salary to get this job. But that was standard practice for job seekers with no relevant local employment history — and especially for “transients.” When this was explained to me I had to admit that it made sense from the employer’s point-of-view. The previous decade had seen the “Summer of Love” migration of youths from all corners of the country... and some of them actually sought legitimate employment. They were called “transients” because that’s what they were. Finding a way to earn a living, some of them stayed. But most (probably) did not. I can sympathize with an employer having to pay for bringing a new hire up to speed only finding themselves in need of a replacement in six months. Still, I resented it. I was living pretty much hand-to-mouth.

As it turns out, I didn’t stay in that job very long either; but it wasn’t to continue my “transienting” ways — it was to get a better job.

My first residence in “the City” was a seedy hotel room in the Tenderloin district. I believe it was the cheapest digs listed in the classified ads of the SF Chronicle. (Was it really $60/week?) As soon as I saved enough bread from the Union Oil job I got my own apartment. I have very fond memories of that large studio apartment on Willard St. in Ashbury Heights. It was beautiful, and yes, with a (northward) view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

* * *

"The man who talks to plants"
During my first years in San Francisco I had many memorable experiences. I made some good friends, saw some great Grateful Dead concerts at Winterland, got laid a lot, even palled around with some hustlers and wannabe pimps; and hey — this was only my road game!

I also had a brief but fascinating experience with Scientology. It was during my first months there, when I was living in the seedy hotel on Post St. In the evening after work I would walk around the Union Square environs. At that time there was a Scientology church located nearby. They had their people on street corners inviting people to come in and “take a free personality test.”

Unlike most of the rubes that took the offer, I had heard about the infamous L Ron Hubbard (LRH) and Scientology. I even remembered seeing the front page of an English newspaper somewhere with a picture of a man holding a strange device with some wires connected to a plant. Headline: “The man who talks to plants.”

I don’t recall the precise provenance of my knowledge of Scientology — but I knew its nefarious nature. I knew that once you joined they never let you go. Specifically, that people who had some cursory involvement with it, no matter how brief, were relentlessly pursued; by phone, by mail, no matter which corner of the planet they traveled to.

So, I knew that one thing I would never do is give them a real name and address. And so, one evening, out of curiosity, I took up the offer, entered the Scientology sanctum, and took the “Personality Test.”

I should mention at this time — my “salad days,” remember — I was a pretty confident dude. Not only was I at the physical prime of life, I also count myself as blessed with a winning personality, above-average intelligence (isn’t everybody?), and in possession of a healthy emotional and psychological foundation due to being raised in a normal, functioning two-parent household by parents who loved me and taught me right from wrong.

I don’t remember the test questions, but I do remember thinking that they were very canny. On some of them it wasn’t at all clear which of the multiple choices was the “correct” answer. However, nothing prepared me for the shock of the results when they were showed me by my Scientology handler. The results were on a graph. My handler pointed to the line of my responses and coolly said, “Man, you’re kissing the bottom.”

Indeed, according to the graph I must’ve been a real loser. The line corresponding to my responses did indeed hover very close to the horizontal line at the bottom of the scale. What ensued was several hours’ worth of browbeating and back-and-forth between us as he tried to convince me how much I needed to take the $25 Communications Course.

I had made up my mind before even entering the place that not only was I not going to give my real contact information, I was not going to pay anything to take any course. I was there to find out as much as I could about Scientology because — it fascinated me.

I remember that as his pitch rolled on, and he was getting nowhere with me, the effort began to take its toll. He was tiring. It took some time but I eventually got him to reveal some things about himself. He admitted that he had tried many things. I don’t recall what exactly — perhaps “born-again” Christianity, perhaps EST, or maybe LSD, perhaps Hare Krishna, perhaps “Nam myoho renge kyo” chanting (which was a thing at the time) — but it was some list of belief systems that promised results for those lost souls in need of “the answer.”

To make a long story short, I eventually left for home, and Scientology did not fill another seat for a Communications Course that evening. I should mention that besides the one-on-one personality evaluation/sales pitch I also recall a group presentation that used charts and props to describe some Scientology theory of human behavior, how we seek ”affinity” at several levels of social organization: friends and family, community, nation, species, etc. They also explained some things about personal relationships; I recall something they called the “reach and withdraw dynamic.”

It was all pretty reasonable. There was nothing obviously objectionable. All in all, it seemed like a perfectly rational theory of relationships and the human condition. A theory, I mused, of which a thousand others could just as easily be constructed. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool Mrs. C’s second-born son.

I also got a taste of auditing on that first night. If you don’t know what auditing is, Google it. I was hooked up to an e-meter and briefly audited. The auditer asked me to think about everything I had done since waking up that day. Earlier in the day I needed a phone number. Since I was living in a hotel room, the only recourse was a phone booth (remember them?).

So I am now reliving that memory. I am in a phone booth thumbing through the phone book until I find the number I need. I must have neglected to bring a pen or paper, so I found myself tearing out the page I needed. At the moment I had this thought the auditer spoke up. At that thought the meter’s needle had jumped. He explained what happened, and that was the end of the demonstration. It was sufficient to convince me that auditing is indeed valid. Here’s what happened according to Scientology theory. I felt guilt at tearing out the page of a public phone book. I had done a bad thing, and I felt guilty about it. That act, the memory of it, created an “engram” which then lodged into permanent residence in my “Reactive Mind.”

The Reactive Mind sounds a whole lot like the subconscious, but if you wish to know more about the comparison between the two you will have to do some more Googling. I carry it as a badge of pride that I got my bachelor’s degree taking only one behavioral science course: Sociology 101. And indeed, upon taking it my suspicions were confirmed, and my disdain for the so-called “behavioral sciences” reinforced. But I digress.

Back to the Reactive Mind. The “Bridge to Total Freedom” is crossed by eventually extinguishing all the engrams in the Reactive Mind. This is done through auditing. The auditing is delivered in all the various and sundry courses and trainings that lead up to the state of “Clear.” One of the stated objectives of Scientology is to “Clear the planet.” That means to literally Clear at least 50% of the world’s population, at which time the Earth would become an infinitely better place to live, as the Scientology Clear-ed majority of the population would be in a position to mitigate and control the bad behavior of the minority non-Scientologists — the rest of the Earth’s population that hadn’t yet seen the light.

* * *

That evening was my initial exposure to Scientology. I don’t recall the circumstances, but somehow I became friends with several members of the Church. Of particular relevance to this story are two female roommates whom I’ll call Carol and Lynn. They would’ve been my age or slightly older. They were relatively new converts — not Clears or OTs (Operating Thetan). It was from them that I first heard what’s in the OT-III level “revelation” — Xenu and the whole sci-fi bit.

In retrospect, after watching Leah Remini’s show (Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, on the A&E network) I’m surprised that Carol and Lynn told me about this. First of all, they weren’t supposed to know (yet). But I guess in the rarified air of the Church of Scientology, rules get broken and it’s hard to resist sharing this “hidden knowledge” with one’s friends. Here I’m not so much speaking about Carol and Lynn sharing this with me (Lynn: “Xenu! He’s a bad dude!”), I’m talking about Scientology higher-ups who shared it with them. [1].

But you can find out all you want about Xenu from Leah Rimini’s show (season 2, episode 4, “The Bridge to Total Freedom,” to be exact) or just google “Xenu Scientology.” I will say a little more about Xenu in a moment. This is not the essence of what I have to reveal.

If you wish to build an organization, a metaphorical army (which is a good way to describe the Church of Scientology, by the way), which of the following conditions would most likely ensure permanent loyalty; that is, which of the following would be most effective in preventing your “soldiers” from ever deserting?
  1. Exclusiveness. Instilling a sense of unique superiority over outsiders that only comes from membership in the group.
  2. Financial rewards.
  3. Intangible rewards: making you a better person with a fulfilling life — the contentment that comes from knowing you are living life in the correct way, benefiting not just yourself but also others, as you serve the greater good.
  4. Invoking terrible and painful punishments for leaving.

Though Scientology employs all of these except for (2) — and (4) is certainly not advertised — none of these choices is the correct answer. Read on.

Of my two Scientology friends, Carol was on the path, taking courses. Lynn, however was not presently taking any course. She was stymied.  It wasn’t the financial cost that was the impediment. (Though the cost was, and remains, mind-numbing, it is not what prevents these Paduwans from proceeding to the “Bridge of Total Freedom.” How they find the money for books, courses and auditing costing thousands and tens of thousands of dollars — auditing can run as high as $1,000 per hour, according to Rimini — I’ll never know. Refer to Leah Rimini’s show for anecdotal details.)

Scientology would not let Lynn take the course.

Once I explain the reason for this you will begin to understand the diabolically brilliant nature of Scientology as an organizing principle.

During some conversation, perhaps during the course she had taken, Lynn had revealed that some member(s) of her family opposed her involvement with Scientology. Someone in her family had clearly done his homework and would not give their seal of approval.

Now, Lynn was not bound by what her parents, or brother or sister or whomever it was, thought of Scientology. She was an independent adult, and this was 1973, not 1873. She did not require their permission. It was the Church that demanded she get their permission. Lynn could not take the next course until she had removed her family’s opposition.

Think about that. That means Scientologists who have fully committed themselves to the “path” (formally, the “Bridge of Total Freedom”) no longer had anyone in their immediate family who might be in a position, at some future time, to pull them back out if/when they become disenchanted. There was no longer any outside support system to turn to — they had already been convinced that Church involvement was fine, or they had been cut off by the Scientologist.  

* * *

I have nothing further on my two friends Carol and Lynn. I lost touch with them when I moved out of the Tenderloin — but I have more to tell.

Because of my friendship with Carol and Lynn I was able to volunteer at the Church. In retrospect it strikes me as sloppy security that they allowed someone to infiltrate so easily, but they did. While volunteering I got to observe several interesting (and remarkable) events. At one time while doing some filing I was able to observe a session of that very Communications Course I had worked so hard to resist enrolling in. The students were paired up across a long narrow table. The exercise was for one of each pair to say nasty insulting things to their partner across the table.  The partner’s job was to resist responding. Then they switched. I remember thinking at the time that it was a brilliant exercise; a stretching of normal interactions. I liken it to practicing free-throws from the top of the key so as to improve one’s shots from the free-throw line. If you can manage interactions at the extremes of behavior, normal communications would be that much easier. I could see how the Communications Course was probably really quite good.

On another occasion I managed to observe a presentation of self-auditing given by someone who had crossed the “bridge.” This guy was so advanced he could audit himself! So, he’s sitting up there on a raised platform auditing himself and suddenly breaks into laughter. He recounts that he just had a past-life memory of falling off a horse, in medieval times.

Did I mention that once someone has had their Reactive Mind cleared, they still may have to work on the Reactive Minds of their previous lives? Yes, reincarnation is firmly part of Scientology theory. Those that sign up for duty on the prestigious “Sea Org” sign a contract for — wait for it — one billion years. No lie.

* * *

An aside about this ability of Scientologists to access memories from past lives:

This facet of the cult’s behavior is actually instrumental in explaining something that defies rational explanation. Namely, when Scientologists reach OT-III and are shown L Ron Hubbard’s ridiculous grand space-opera revelation, how can they possibly buy into it?

In a nutshell, here’s the big reveal: 75 million years ago, Xenu, the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy,” brought billions of his people to Earth in spacecrafts very similar to DC-8 jetliners, dropped them into volcanoes and then blew them up with H-bombs. But their spirits are immortal, and they adhered themselves to ... us, and are the real source of all our psychic problems that actual cause the engrams in our Reactive Minds. Or something. 
Bear in mind that these Scientologists have spent upwards of several hundred thousand dollars up to this point.

Tony Ortega, in his July 2012 Village Voice article, posits that the reason otherwise rational people can believe this is because they have already bought into “space-opera” stories — the ones they have themselves discovered in their self-delusionary auditing sessions. It should come as no surprise that with such far-fetched concepts already in the environment, people will quite naturally want to believe that they themselves were important people in their past lives. Hence past-life “memories” uncovered during auditing often involve events on other planets, including situations where they played pivotal roles in cosmic battles and such. According to Ortega, he knew of six Scientologists who believed they were Jesus Christ in their past lives.

Given that state-of-mind, believing in LRH’s big reveal about Xenu may in fact make perfect sense to them. Ortega is right.
For more info about Xenu and everything else Scientology, go to www.xenu.net, and be sure to read Ortega’s excellent Village Voice article.

* * *

And now a word about the actual work I was asked to do there while volunteering. Remember several passages ago where I said I knew about the infamous tactic of Scientology tracking down errant recruits who had left the fold? Well, that’s what I was tasked to do. I was told to go through their files and record the names of people who had not been contacted in some specific period of time (which I don’t recall... maybe a year or something like that). Those names would then be given to someone who would dutifully do their best to track down their whereabouts and reestablish contact, presumably by letter or phone call.

In the files I would see previous letters written to them. They were cheerful letters inquiring why they’d been out of touch? They would usually include some friendly comment about some item specific to the individual, such as “What did you think of the Communications Course?” or perhaps some message about something in their personal life.

While in those files I found some notable names, such as members of the Grateful Dead. I specifically recall seeing Robert Hunter’s file, and I can’t be sure about the others, but I know I saw one or two of the boys: Jerry, Bob, Phil or Billy.
* * *

And so ends my anecdotes. I will leave you with one last observation. That San Francisco Scientology office occupied several floors (at least two). It was always bustling with activity. All of the people had this unique science fiction-ey look in their eyes. It was scary. If you’re thinking now of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or some similar movie about a possessed population, you’re not far off the mark.

The classes that I observed, the clever exercises drills, all served to mold the minds of Scientologists. I remember having the impression of training people to operate at 100% efficiency, to be able to focus 100% of their mental activity to any task assigned them. A super effective human being — a “super-soldier,” as it were.

I left my little clandestine subterfuge with the sense that the Church of Scientology might be many things — cult, extraordinarily lawyered up criminal enterprise, winner of Best Bait-and-Switch Scam in Galactic Sector award for 43 trillion years in a row, an insane science-fiction author’s fantasy come to life — but it most definitely was not something to be laughed at.

# # #

[1] Tony Ortega, “Why do scientologists accept the Xenu story?” Village Voice. 21 July 2012 https://www.villagevoice.com/2012/07/21/why-do-scientologists-accept-the-xenu-story/  

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