Into the Fray: My Trip to the Church of Scientology

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.

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2 thoughts on “Into the Fray: My Trip to the Church of Scientology

  1. Wow! Really great post! First off, I’m very impressed that you actually went and visited a Scientology church. I would definitely be a bit intimidated to do that. Second off, I was very interested and surprised to hear that your guide considered herself both a Scientologist and a Jew. I didn’t think that any part of these two faiths could be interchangeable with one another. I really love the concept about both believing mankind is inherently good, whereas others believe that we are inherently evil and must get rid of this as young as we possibly can. From what I’ve heard about Scientology, I would never have thought that it would be so accepting of other religious views. Putting my personal opinions about Scientology aside, I really enjoyed reading this post and learning about your experience there. Nice job, Matt!

  2. What a cool adventure! I don’t think I would have been brave enough to go to a NRM church like Scientology by myself. It’s relieving to know that your host at the exhibit was welcoming and didn’t seem to mind the questions. I do think that rebuking modern psychiatry could be problematic for many members. Most drugs (even cough syrup) have some sort of effect on the mind, even if temporary. I wonder if Scientologists avoid other drugs for that reason.

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