They see themselves as the apostles of a bright new religion, one which can help the world deal with the struggling economy and the lingering effects of the Sept. 11 attacks. But critics allege that the Church of Scientology uses manipulative practices to defraud its members; it has even been banned in Germany as a cult.
Either way, the Church's newest outpost was officially opened on Castro Street before about 100 members of its Mountain View congregation on Aug. 30, after another ceremony earlier in the day where the congregation presented a painting by Scientologist artist Pomm Hepner to the chiefs of Mountain View's Police and Fire Departments. The painting was a reproduction of a work presented to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sept. 11 seemed to weigh heavily upon the minds of those at the opening of the Dianetics Center, where members spoke about how the event spurred the Church to become more involved in its surrounding community.
They also expressed the desire to work more closely with local communities, as they represent a long-standing and fairly large religious group in Mountain View. The Mountain View chapter, which recently expanded into a larger location, has existed here since 1977.
Marc Silber, coordinator of the new Dianetics Center, said the facility is intended primarily to provide information to non-Scientologists about Dianetics, the "first step toward improving their lives."
Dianetics was devised in the 1950s by science-fiction writer and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, as a method of helping people deal with psychosomatic problems, especially anxiety and stress. It also functions as an introduction to the beliefs and methods of the Church of Scientology.
"The goal of Scientology is to help man achieve his full capabilities," said Silber, quoting Hubbard, "And we can show people how to overcome their obstacles."
"We're providing a place where people can find out about these techniques and try them out for themselves," he added.
Silber also mentioned that L. Ron Hubbard was one of the first people to actively use computers in the 1950s, and that Dianetics was the first spiritual self-help method to be based upon computers.
The opening of the center also coincides with the start of the Church's Building a Better World Program, which seeks to assist local services in areas such as stress and anxiety relief.
Rebekah Fernandez, the coordinator of the program, says that the crux of the program will be to "ask what's needed and then fill in the gaps. After the dot-com crash, and then Sept. 11, people need support."
She, like most of the other church members at the opening, spoke about the contribution made to the World Trade Center cleanup by volunteer Scientologist ministers who used Dianetics techniques known as "assists" to help keep rescue workers focused and free from mental anguish.
Volunteer ministers will also use the new center as a place for their outreach efforts in Mountain View, and as a support center for any joint programs with the city. "Volunteer Ministers have a wide range of duties, but mostly it's about letting people know there are ways we can help them" said Volunteer Minister Ned Hoover, who has worked with the City of Palo Alto on joint initiatives of the sort the church hopes to undertake in Mountain View.
Scientology's critics include the international internet-based group Operation Clambake. Groups such as Clambake allege that the church charges outlandish fees for its courses, and that courses such as those offered at both the new Dianetics center and the main church on Easy Street actually brainwash church members in order to get more money out of them and conceal the churches' allegedly questionable activities.
Whether these charges are true or not, the church has been steadily growing, almost tripling in size in the last year, according to Fernandez. "Since the tech crash, people have been reassessing their lives, and have come to help others with the church."