Monday, March 26, 2007

Fear Not The E-Meter, Part II

There are three main Scientology centers in New York. One of the three centers is in Harlem, one is in the theater district near where I live, and the third is on a posh block on the Upper East Side. This third is known as the Celebrity Center, and it is open primarily to "leaders in business, entertainment, and the arts."

I called this center on the phone to try to find out how it was different than the Scientology Center near me, just to see if I would be missing anything by going to the regular center in my area. The lady answering the phone said no, it was basically the same. The Scientology website elaborates:

"The largest of these churches, Celebrity Center International, is located inHollywood and ministers to parishioners who excel in the arts, entertainment and business professions. Celebrity Center International also provides ecclesiastical management assistance to the other Celebrity Center churches located in such places as Paris, Vienna, London, Munich, Florence and New York. By example and through their art, celebrities influence millions.

The receptionist then asked me in a perky voice, "And what do YOU do?" I didn't answer the question, because I didn't want to get into a whole discussion, and instead I asked her more questions about why there was a separate center for famous people. She didn't explain this particularly well, but the official website answer is below:

L. Ron Hubbard once wrote, "A culture is only as great as its dreams and its dreams are dreamed by artists." An artist in a number of fields himself, he recognized that artists supply the spark of creativity and the vision of the future which helps improve the condition of society. Thus, the Church established Celebrity Centers,
Church organizations specifically geared to provide Scientology services to such parishioners.

This lady then asked me again, in a warm, positive, friendly voice, exactly the same as before, "And what do YOU do?" This scared me, so I said in a warm, friendly voice, "This answers all my questions" (I'm a little bit of a mimic when I'm intimidated) and I hung up. Whew.

Since I live in the theater district, I decided to sidestep the Friendly What Do You Do Lady and visit the Scientology Center nearest to my home. The Companionable Atheist joined.

The entrance to the Church of Scientology is displayed prominently but not gaudily on Forty-Sixth Street just off Broadway. It has a "Church of Scientology" sign out front that looks a little bit like an old-fashioned Broadway sign. The building is very neatly decorated in glass and black metal. When you enter, you are on a wide staircase between two levels of the building. The receptionists are down a level and encourage you to go down to them. The building is bustling with people. Some of the people are obviously tourists – casually dressed, clutching their boyfriends and giggling, or trying to kill an hour between engagements – while others are obviously Scientology staff, dressed formally and rushing around on their various errands, or
standing crisply in the corners waiting to be of service. The building is noisy – aside from being filled with Scientologists and tourists, the building is filled with the noise of twenty televisions playing promo videos at the same time. There are three big flat screen TVs on every wall or panel of the floor, all showing different short videos about various aspects of Scientology. The generic Friendly Male Narrator Voice echoes from all these promo videos, throughout the building. It kind of gives you a headache. All in all, the center gives off the impression of a busy, well-staffed, new science museum that went a little too heavy on the TV displays.

At the center of the floor, there is a room mostly walled off with glass, where 10 or 15 people (including a 10-year-old kid) were reading books on Scientology and doing some exercises on paper, it looked like. On the wall, there is a progress chart with names on it, that showed how far along people had gotten in their courses.

On the day that I went, the receptionists, naturally, were the two youngest and most attractive women in the building. They were in their mid twenties and wore sexy
black dresses that were a little bit see through, and black high heels. They seemed a little bit hyper. They ran back and forth, directing tourists toward introductory information and pointing Scientologist staff toward visitors ready for test-taking (see below).

The sexy receptionists showed me and the Companionable Atheist toward a hall full of colorful displays explaining the principles of Dianetics, and toward several video screens that also explained these principles and those of Scientology (Dianetics is a specific group of practices that Scientologists use, based on one main theory; Scientology is the overall set of beliefs and practices, which are basically outgrowths of Dianetics. Dianetics was first introduced to the public through an article Hubbard published in a science fiction magazine in the 1950s). Overall, this information is a combination between basic psychology/self help principles and totally bogus "scientifically proven" information about the human subconscious. It's a bit difficult to sum up, but I'll try to give you the short version of the practice, as a beginner would practice it, as well as I understood it (and I may be missing some key elements, so my friendly Scientologist commentator from the last post should feel free to weigh in here). Ahem:

Every human alive is traumatized in various ways. This trauma generally stems from incidents that occurred to people when they were unborn or unconscious. These traumatic incidents are called "engrams." If you are sometimes irritable, depressed for no reason, or if you startle easily, these are all signs that your engrams are bothering you. The initial goal of practicing Scientology is to get rid of all your
engrams. People who have gotten rid of their engrams (by taking many courses offered, at various prices, by the Scientology Center) are known as Clears. They are much better at dealing with others because they have worked through all their trauma. Another way of working through your trauma is by going through the Auditing process (that's the thing with the tin cans). The Auditor listens to you talk about your beliefs or experiences in your life, and notes when the meter spikes. The spikes represent stress, which represent areas of past trauma for you. Then through Auditing and through classes, you can get rid of that trauma.

Okay, so, you're starting to figure out what the core of the practice is, right? When you take an e-meter test, someone is listening to you calmly. You talk about your life and your problems. A person, who is clearly trained in some way, is paying attention to you talk about your life and your feelings and is not supposed to respond, only to draw you out as you talk about your life experiences. All the Scientologists I talked to on that day were very good about asking me about my own life. Which is a great way to get people to bond with you - because all of us like talking about yourselves! Scientologists are very sharp about this.

The Companionable Atheist and I spent some time perusing the displays and videos (after a sexy receptionist unlocked the video screen for us). There was a lot of discussion of not letting things in your past bother you – I remember something about how you are made up of who you are, what you do, and what circumstances you live in. You have two minds: the reactive mind, and the rational mind, and you can only be
really happy when you get rid of the reactive mind (and the engrams therein). When we came to the end of the videos, a nicely dressed guy of about 30 came over and introduced himself to us. He said that he'd been a church member for about a year, and that he'd found the church the same way we did – by walking by, walking in, taking some tests, and then getting excited about what he'd found. He invited us to take the tests that serve as the starting point of Scientology practice for beginners.

Stay Tuned For Part III: Hannah and the Companionable Atheist Take Some Rigorous Tests


Ron L. Hazard said...

The case of Van Duyn V. UK Home Office

It is interesting to read this EU court ruling, in which the court was asked to favor the Union's freedom of movement and employment rules over the fact that Scientology was formally regarded as "Socially Harmful" under the British Rule.

Mrs. Van Duyn, a dutch Scientologist who was invited to participate in the British Scientology church, was refused entry to the UK for work purposes.

In this case, the otherwise activist EU courtroom, which favored the same clause over the prohibition of prostitution in different EU countries - decided that Scientology is, indeed, socially harmful and that the UK has a right to refuse accepting mrs. Van Duyn as an employee.

Conspiracy? just Judgment? Due process? depending on your perspective

Formerly Fooled said...

Hannah, thank you for updating us on your visit!

You explained Scientology's introduction to Diantics indoctrination very well!

I was once a member of both the New York Celebrity center and the 46th St Scientology Center (before they renovated it.)

It's nice to see that the 46th St space is being cared for, although I do wonder what happened to those hugh rats that would linger in the darkened auditorium area, only to scatter when the door was opened to do a Dianetics session when no other space was available.

Back in the 80's and 90's that part of the basement was infested with rats, the average size being 15" in length. Interestingly, the staff there seemed unconcerned about getting rid of them at the time.

So, even though the building is renovated, I would ask to make sure those suckers have been exterminated for good.

I'm off to read page III now.