For many, men need to believe in something. While there are as many approaches to faith as there are human-being, they tend to group around the same religions. Millenary traditions, recognized and accepted by all. Nevertheless, a growing number of individuals are seduced by several new cults. In France alone, it is estimated that 500,000 people are members of a sect, while one in five inhabitants says they have already been approached by one of them (State report, editor’s note).
While the same Jehovah’s Witness distributes leaflets every morning in front of my subway stop, I come to wonder what this kind of group says it has to offer... I would approach her, but how can I trust people who also recruit door-to-door? I also think of the Mormons, then remember that they wear short sleeves-shirts with ties. Even if the cosmic orgasm promised by Rael does not displease me, he is not the kind of guy whom I would like to reach it with. Logically, only Scientology remains.
Joking aside, I chose it mainly for the power it evokes… and because its Paris church is about fifteen minutes from my house. But before I can get there, I must first go through their website…
Finding out who we are
At first glance, the site looks more like that of a big company than a cult. I wander between the different tabs, stumble upon a praise of the fouder Ron Hubbard — “a precocious boy who read books well above his age […] and tamed wild horses” — then finally find a personality test “of the most accurate and reliable”. No less!
I start a long session of 200 yes/maybe/no questions. Many topics are covered, from my political opinions to my mental health, my relationship to money and my hobbies. Some amuse me, others leave me deeply perplexed. Small collection :
- Do you leaf through railway markers, phone books or dictionaries just for fun?
- Do you often get the feeling that people are looking at you or talking about you when your back is turned?
- Would you rather give orders than take them?
- Do you often sing or whistle just for fun?
- Are you disturbed at the thought of losing your dignity?
- Would it take a real effort for you to consider the idea of suicide?
More used to Cosmopolitan’s sex quizzes, I still try to answer every question as honestly as possible. At the last one, I’m offered an appointment at the Centre three days later.
On the trail of Tom Cruise
Located just behind Bastille, the Church’s headquarters is truly well established. Even more, you have to admit that he is frankly beautiful. Immaculate white stone, a pretty entrance behind a small blue gate… the place would almost inspire confidence. Once you walk through the door, you come across some kind of fully glazed doorway. No loss of space: a large screen broadcasting Scientology programs on repeat is installed even before arriving at the reception desk. No doubt, we are immediately put in the mood.
The interior design is in the same minimalist and refined vein. Large bay windows run through all-white spaces, giving off a sort of sanitized purity. I arrive at the reception desk, specify having an appointment, then am invited to sit down in front of ScientologyTV waiting for my adviser to come down. We will call her Mary.
After letting me marinate in front of a show following the lives of successful Scientologists — a sort of Real Housewives, cult version — she finally arrives. In her 40s, smiling, she takes me to a quieter place. As we move forward, I notice that each staff member is dressed in the same way: white shirt, black pants and, in Marie’s case, a pair of Stan Smith. Would I have come on casual friday?
She starts by asking me what brings me to them. I release the tragedian inside me: professional instability, love incapacity, lack of confidence… In short, the dream for any preacher.
Her answer strikes me: she suddenly becomes familiar with me, then seizes the opportunity to describe me the spiritual elevation brought by her philosophy. “I used to be like you.” At the same time, she takes out a sheet of paper representing a strange graphic and poses it facing me.
It’s the result of your personality test. You have to understand: it’s not what we think of you, we don’t know you yet. No, that’s really what you are.
Not being able to express my scepticism about their method for fear of exposing my cover — I almost feel like a reporter for the New York Times — I let myself be guided.
À en juger par lJudging by the curve, it was obviously time for me to get there. Depression level: -98. Nervousness: -65. Critical: -68. For 20 minutes, a personality that I don’t recognize is dissected in all its negative aspects. Hearing her, I’m clearly not worth much — if I were offered a Xanax at the end of the analysis, I’d probably accept it. To put it simply, I’m a depressed, confused, frustrated bitch. I mean, I guess that’s at least true for the bitchy part.
So I ask Mary for help, “how can I get better?”. She pulls out a brochure from under the table like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat. The solution? The “dianetic” method invented by good old Ronnie to get rid of his inner demons. That said, it’s impossible for her to give me any more details.
It is a set of techniques and approaches that you will master to overcome all obstacles. Everything is explained in the books. If you wish, there is also the Blu-Ray version which is an excellent complement!
Not very subtle. I insist in order to have more elements, but she tries tirelessly to give me her books. I then try another approach: pretending to be interested in her goodies, I focus my questions on the community and what it is to be a good Scientologist…
The fourth dimension
Obviously, Marie could convert to the sale of miracle peelers and citrus juicers on itinerant markets, but what are her metaphysical answers worth?
Does Scientology recognize the existence of God?
Yes, but it’s not a religion in itself. There are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist Scientologists…
How can one be an atheist and join Scientology?
Our goal is to help people be happy. Whatever their religion.
I read Ron Hobbard thought aliens populated Earth before humans. The residues left by their presence would be the origin of our spiritual problems, and Scientology would help us to get rid of them. Is that true?
Not at all! That’s not true! This alien thing is so wrong! People don’t understand that we just want to do good. Obviously, in today’s world, when you want to make people happy, it’s bothering. So they make up completely false stories to discredit us.
Editor’s note : This story is one of the foundations of Scientology, as is shown by this huge-budget clip from their archives.
But then, where do our problems come from? How do we get past them?
It’s all in the book.
What is Scientology’s position on homosexuality?
In relation to sexuality, Scientology is against promiscuity. Any excess is bad, straight or not. It becomes a vice, like alcohol and drugs.
Well, if you’re happy gay, we accept that of course… Then maybe you’ll realize you don’t want to be gay anymore, we don’t know! And we’ll be there too.
On that answer, I think I have heard enough. Anyway, Marie keeps looking at her colleagues pass by with their tray — it’s about 12:30, I think she’s starving.
Before I leave, she tries to sell me a pack of introductory courses in addition to her SF Bible, all for more than 200 €. Replying that my bank account is dry at the end of the month, she strongly advises me to borrow from my roommates. I haven’t seen such enthusiasm asking for money since my Algerian uncles. I finally manage to escape her without paying anything, despite her three emails sent the following days.
Thus ends my experience with the strange and glaucous universe of Scientology. Verdict? I love my “vices” too much to join them… •