This past weekend I took a trip down to the London chapter of the Church of Scientology to learn more about the new religious movement of constant attention. Located on Queen Victoria Street just south of St. Paul’s, the building was surprisingly bland and I actually walked past it the first time. Inside, the church provides a free exhibit for those interested in the religion. I was led upstairs into a gallery split up into multiple sections, each providing video information on the basics of scientology like the way to happiness, dianetics, their anti-drug stance, and humanitarian causes (which turned out to be the crusade against psychiatric treatment for those suffering from neurobiological mental illnesses like schizophrenia and the nerve of medical professionals who prescribe them). After I watched the educational videos, I talked with a guide named Susan about Scientology and her experiences within the faith. I asked her first how long she had been in the church and why she was initially drawn to Scientology. She has spent 26 years as a scientologist, and was attracted to the faith by its ability to explain our true spiritual nature and our place in the universe. I then asked about her religious past and found out that she was Jewish. The interesting part of this is that she did not speak in the past tense, but still considered herself a Jew. When I asked whether being Jewish conflicts with her adoption of scientology, she said that scientology is compatible with all beliefs (although she admitted she wasn’t from an orthodox background). That Scientology is open to other world-views was something that was repeated throughout the pamphlets of the exhibition. Quickly breaking off in a tangent, this sparked a thought about whether some religions have corresponding beliefs that make them more compatible with Scientology. One common understanding of human nature that both Judaism and Scientology share is that man is inherently good, something absent from a Christian perspective. If such a correlation of compatible beliefs and adoption of Scientology exists it still may not be significant, but it was an interesting idea to think about.
The most interesting part of the conversation was the subject of psychiatry. By talking to Susan and flipping through their book Industry of Death: Bring an End to the Psychiatric Fraud and Abuse, it was apparent that scientology is fervently opposed to psychiatric drugs and treatment. This conflict is rooted in the scientologist belief in dianetics, a methodology which can alleviate unwanted emotions, irrational fears. For scientologists, all negative experiences are stored in the “reactive” (as opposed to the analytical) mind, and this part of the mind throws these memories back in order to avoid the same painful experience from happening again. This is the source of all mental problems, and Scientology claims legitimacy in its ability to free the individual from the reactive mind. Scientology is on the offensive in its self-styled war against psychiatry, selling in its books like Industry of Death the argument that dianetics is truth, while the scientific consensus is lies. This is an interesting reflex to competition. I don’t think it is a stretch to compare this to the ostracizing of the Jews in the New Testament. Susan spoke passionately about the faults of psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association. It seems that competition can drive the direction of religious thought and dialogue. Overall, my trip provided valuable insight into how scientologists construct an “us” vs. “them” mentality.