Revealed: Scientology's "Stress Test" Scam

A sign screams out, "Free Stress Test." What could go wrong?

Agoravox, The Citizen Media/November 24, 2008

Everyone has seen them at subway stations, street festivals, shopping malls, and even ordinary city sidewalks: a few friendly-looking people sitting at small, folding tables, with colorful electronic contraptions prominently upon them, and lots of hardbound copies of L. Ron Hubbard books. A sign screams out, "FREE STRESS TEST." Naturally, everyone feels a little stressed out in our modern day, so with a chuckle and a smile, the ordinary citizens passing by may sit down "just to see how this thing works." It is fun to try out this kind of carnival game. Maybe this gizmo will say something amazingly accurate. Also, it's free. What could go wrong?

Well, a lot could go wrong, and often does. The people with the gizmos are Scientology cult recruiters; the machines themselves are Scientology "E-Meters," a primitive sort of lie-detector machine; and the Hubbard books are part of a sales strategy that is elaborately plotted out to the point of being bizarre, especially for an organization that claims to be a religion. No matter who you are, how you feel, or what kind of jiggles and squiggles the E-Meter apparatus makes in response to you, the Scientologists will tell you that your life is in a rather precarious situation, and that the best thing would be for you to come down to the "church" for further interpretation and advice. Let's make an appointment for you now. What is your name, address, home phone number, work phone number, cell phone number, e-mail address? You need to buy one of these books, too.

What is this "Stress Test" nonsense?

In the early 1960s, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) realized that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and his acolytes were claiming that "auditing" with the E-Meter could help to diagnose and treat a variety of illnesses. Auditing, one of Scientology's core practices, is based on the notion that the E-Meter can reveal a person's mental state, past lives, and other odds and ends of the unconscious mind. This is done through intensive questioning by an "Auditor," as the subject holds the E-Meter and the Auditor leads him or her through a sort of guided hypnagogic fantasizing. Because Scientology believes that illness is caused by the presence of "suppressive persons," and not germs, toxins, genetics or other causes, Hubbard and the Scientologists were spreading the word that the E-Meter could help root out the suppressive people in one's life, thereby curing a variety of illnesses and health conditions, raising IQ, and making one successful in every way. This, of course, was completely false.

In 1963, the FDA seized more than 100 E-Meters from the cult's offices in Washington, DC. Thus began 8 years of litigation, with lots of dramatic highlights that I will not discuss here. On July 30, 1971 Judge Gesell reluctantly ruled that Scientology must, indeed, legally be considered a "religion," but only because the US Government had neglected to do anything about it earlier.

Unfortunately the Government did not move to stop the practice of Scientology and a related "science" known as Dianetics when these activities first appeared and were gaining public acceptance. Had it done so, this tedious litigation would not have been necessary. The Government did not sue to condemn the E-meter until the early 1960's, by which time a religious cult known as the Founding Church of Scientology had appeared.

Gesell ruled that the Scientologists could keep on auditing and using the E-Meter, but they were forbidden to make any claims that it could diagnose, prevent or treat any health condition. Moreover, they were only to use it under the strictest of "religious" contexts, and they were to prepare warning notices that could be prominently seen on the E-Meter as well as in any literature or publication about the E-Meter or the auditing process. "Ministers" as well as people being audited were required to file affidavits with the FDA. "The effect of this judgment," Gesell wrote, "will be to eliminate the E-meter as far as further secular use by Scientologists or others is concerned."

On appeal, a couple of years later, a federal judge weakened Gesell's ruling somewhat, but still maintained the following provisions:

  1. E-meters shall be used or sold or distributed only for use in bona fide religious counseling.

  2. Each E-meter shall bear the following warning, printed in 11-point leaded type, permanently affixed to the front of the E-meter so that it is clearly visible when the E-meter is used, sold or distributed: "The E-meter is not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. It is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone."

  3. Any and all items of written, printed, or graphic matter which directly or indirectly refers (sic) to the E-meter or to Dianetics and/or Scientology and/or auditing or processing shall not be further used or distributed unless and until the item shall bear the following prominent printed warning permanently affixed to said item on the outside front cover or on the title page in letters no smaller than 11-point leaded type: "Warning: The device known as a Hubbard Electrometer, or E-meter, used in auditing, a process of Scientology and Dianetics, is not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. It is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone."

Why, then, 35 years later, is Scientology "diagnosing" stress with the apparatus, in contexts that are blatantly not "bona fide religious" settings? Instead of following these highly detailed and very explicit instructions, Scientology only does this: its "warning" label, placed discreetly underneath (rather than on top of) the contraption, reads as follows:

"By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the Church in Confessionals and pastoral counseling. The Electrometer is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone and is for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only."

Scientology also ignores the order to provide the warning on its graphic materials, magazines, web sites etc.

So, these sidewalk stress-testers, "volunteer" Scientology "ministers," who survive on about $35/week, go out every day with the order to sell a certain quota of the Hubbard books for a "suggested donation" of $22 each. Try to make a "donation" of less than that, say, for example, $1, as I tried to do, and several worried hands will rush out to snatch the book from your grasp. Usually, of course, the Scientologists fail to sell their quota of the books, even if they sit out there for 12 hours or more. The quarterly Scientology "Book-a-thons" may prolong their misery still further, and here in San Francisco, for example, we have witnessed many long days on which the Scientologists sold no books at all, and perhaps only giving a handful of stress tests. Most of the time, the Scientologists will play a sort of musical chairs, taking turns in giving each other stress tests, in an effort to seem as though the stress tests are greatly in demand. Considering the elaborate planning and infrastructure behind Scientology's "Stress Test and Book Sales Org Board," this can only be seen as a tremendous failure.

Things have changed.

Since the beginning of 2008, much has changed in the way the world and the general public view the Scientology cult. The worldwide "Anonymous" peaceful protests and demonstrations have brought a tremendous amount of light and clarity to Scientology's secretive and immoral practices. People no longer see Scientology as merely a weird and harmless cult. People have begun to understand Scientology's "disconnection" policy, through which families are destroyed; people now know about its internal prison gulag called the "Rehabilitation Project Force"; people now know about Scientology's motto of "Always attack, never defend"; people now know that the cult owns a 500-foot luxury cruise ship for tax-deductible Caribbean cruises for Scientologists; about the 21 years the cult knew this ship was full of deadly blue asbestos, but did nothing, because they believe disease is only caused by suppressive persons nearby; people know about the cult's abusive treatment of children; about its phony "religious worker visa" game to circumvent immigration laws; people now know that Scientology really is what Time Magazine declared them to be in 1991: The Cult of Greed.

The Scientology cult was founded in 1950 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its primary goal is to "clear the planet" by "obliterating psychiatry." Scientology's many front groups include the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), Criminon, Narconon, and Applied Scholastics. Scientology claims to be the "world's fastest growing religion," with some 8 million members, but mainstream demographic surveys have shown that the number of members is closer to 55,000 worldwide, and declining. Scientology is currently under investigation in several countries for a variety of human rights abuses, including child abuse, violation of child labor laws, kidnapping and running secret internal prison camps, as well as for a number of financial crimes. Scientology has already been kicked out of Greece and Italy; in Germany it has been declared a "threat to democracy"; in France its leaders are being prosecuted for fraud; it is on very thin ice as well in Belgium, Norway, and other European countries.

About the author

Dr. Lilly von Marcab received her baccalaureate in Political Science in 1953 from Universidad de La Frontera in Temuco, Chile. She later received her psychiatric training from Max-Planck-Institut für Psychiatrie in München, Deutschland. Dr. von Marcab currently resides on Isla de Pascua / Easter Island / Rapa Nui, where she enjoys horseback riding and croquet.

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