The Church of Scientology of Missouri, a branch of a controversial organization promising total spiritual freedom for all followers, opened in 1969 with a six member staff at a small Brentwood office.
Today, the church has a staff of 150 and is in the process of moving from rented, two-story quarters at 4225 Lindell Boulevard to an even larger building of its own at 3730 Lindell. For fees that can total $5700, the staff conducts personal enlightenment and improvement courses for about 250 students in an average week. Officials say that the gross income has been as high as $20,000 a week.
Such growth has been typical of units. There reportedly are more than 300 of them in the United States, Canada, England and other English-speaking and European countries. And after more than a decade of growth, Scientology continues to generate controversy.
In many areas, Scientologists have had credibility problems. Scientology is not readily accepted by outsiders as a religion. Professionals in the counseling field, such as Dr. Conrad Sommer, a psychiatrist and instructor at Eden Theological Seminary, are skeptical of the lasting value of Scientology’s therapy-like methods.
This reputation is fostered in part by such practices as categorizing troublesome persons “suppressive,” “treason” or even “enemy.” There continue to be reports of harassment against critics and dropouts.
Until its recent campaign against alleged drug experimentation abuses at the troubled Missouri Institute of Psychiatry, Scientology attracted little attention among St. Louis area churches, schools, public and private health agencies and governmental authorities.
Yet an increasing number of St. Louis parents and relatives of young converts have encountered agonizing problems and unpleasant, often costly, experiences with Scientology. The church has been bitterly denounced by a few disenchanted dropouts as an opportunistic organization obsessed with its own growth and aggrandizement.
At least two families have filed complaints with the consumer protection division of the Missouri Attorney General’s office. One woman told of the difficulty her 20-year-old son had in scrambling to come up with more than $4000 for Scientology programs within a five-month period last year.
Other families have told the Post-Dispatch of alleged high pressure techniques for recruiting and keeping members. Some members reportedly were urged to go into debt or sell their cars for funds to continue Scientology courses, or to quit their jobs so that they could become full-time Scientology staff members.
A few critics – such as a middle-aged St. Louis man who spent $10,000 for high-level Scientology services elsewhere – defend the validity of Scientology‘s “spiritual technology.” But they have warned that Scientology groups are harming themselves by sloppy use of the “technology,” excessive commercialism, and use of the Scientology “ethics” system to instill fear rather than understanding.
Robert Kaufman, a New York musician, concludes in his book “Inside Scientology” that the Scientology system is dangerous to the human spirit because it is so outrageously absolutist. Kaufman contends that he was driven close to insanity and suicide after spending $8000 on advanced Scientology programing in the United States and England.
When a recruit is enticed into believing that someone or some system can provide ready-made answers to all life’s problems, he eventually is plunged into deeper fear and guilt when he inevitably fails to realize and live these answers, Kaufman writes. Eventually, Scientology leads a person to feel guilty just because he is a human being with problems, temptations and uncertainties, Kaufman concludes.
But for every dissenter, Scientology has numerous devotees who are enthusiastic about it. The St. Louis unit has in its files hundreds of testimonials from students and members. These range from a simple “Wow!” to sophisticated encomiums from business executives.
Scientology (literally, the study of knowledge) calls itself “an applied religious philosophy” or “spiritual technology.” It promises to help individuals first realize, and then live to the full, their spiritual nature.
To achieve this purpose, individuals purportedly are freed from emotional – and sometimes physical – problems through a series of formalized courses, disciplines and therapy-like sessions called “auditing.”
Scientology “auditors” or counselors, who need to have no outside training, and seldom do, use a device called an E-Meter to probe into emotional problems of trainees.
An E-Meter, which functions as a kind of lie-detector, is a portable electrical device about the size of a cigar box. The trainee holds two light metal cans connected to the meter, dials and needle. He then responds to a series of questions, including some of a highly personal nature, as an auditor watches his reaction on the meter.
Scientologists contend that if all conditions are ideal, the E-Meter is foolproof in discovering psychological problems.
Scientology has adopted some of the accoutrements of other religious groups. These include the use of the title “The Reverend,” use of clerical collars and liturgical formulas for weddings and funerals. Ordained ministers may perform weddings in most states. However, Scientology has no standardized dogmas about a Divine Being and no conventional liturgical rites or preaching.
Despite years of litigation, the Internal Revenue Service and most states refuse to grant church-based income tax exemption to Scientology units. Missouri and other states, however, have exempted Scientology from paying sales taxes.
Founder Hubbard, a former science fiction writer, has officially retired from direction of the organization, but he remains in contact with all Scientology units through an international wire communications system that brings daily Hubbard directives and aphorisms. (Sample: “The way to fight inflation is to make more money.”)
Scientology leaders here say that policy matters have been turned over to a board of directors at international headquarters at St. Hill Manor, near London. Still, there are indications that Hubbard maintains tight control over his organization and continues to receive large financial sums.
Secluded for more than six years from inquisitive critics and followers alike, Hubbard and his top lieutenants cruise between Portuguese and Moroccan ports on a ship called “Apollo,” which is the flagship of a fleet Hubbard has named the Sea Organization.
The Sea Org – as Scientologists call it – is Hubbard’s elite corps of workers and officers who sign a symbolic “billion-year contract” when they join. Membership is not restricted to service on the ships.
Hubbard declines to appear publicly to answer questions about his organization.
But spokesmen here eagerly defend Scientology as a genuine – though different – religion. They say that it is a religion that works to make members more wholesome, healthy, happy and productive. They acknowledge that their claim to be a religion creates problems, but they say they must make the claim because it is true.
There are no policies of high pressure or deception with regard to membership, fees or benefit claims, they contend. They concede that there have been isolated cases of failings by overenthusiastic staffers, but say that these cases stem from growing pains any group might experience.
They contend that Scientology units constantly monitor and upgrade “auditing” techniques for the benefit of students; that there is no obsession with growth for growth‘s sake and that fear is not an intrinsic part of Scientology systems.
The Rev. June M. Lake, president and director of the St. Louis org, Scientology terminology for a local organization, said in a recent interview that in the church’s concern for perfecting technology, public relations has been neglected and “we’ve left ourselves open to be shot at.” The fees are necessary for a growing institution, she said, as well as for psychological reasons. She said that students, especially young students, will make a deeper commitment to any programs for which they must pay.
The Rev. Frederick M. Rock, the director of public relations here, explained that Scientology courses amount to an accelerated seminary training program – expensive at first glance, but cheap compared with a four-year program at a theological seminary.
The Rev. Mr. Rock was asked why local and international units don’t publish complete financial records like most other churches or nonprofit agencies. He conceded that it might be a good idea, and said he plans to discuss it with notional Scientology officials.
Money is only one of many details that Scientology officers decline to document. Miss Emily Watson, a top “guardian” in the Los Angeles office, was here recently to promote better understanding of Scientology. She provided stack after stack of promotional material, but so far has declined to send the Post Dispatch a simple list of United States units, their sizes and budgets.
Also, the Delta Meter Corp. of Los Angeles, which has an exclusive contract for production of the E-Meters in the U.S., declined after two telephone calls to provide any statistical data.
So questions about Scientology remain. How large is the Scientology network? How wealthy is it? Who is Hubbard, and what is his exact management, religious and financial relationship to Scientology?
Is Scientology essentially a commercial, educational or religious enterprise? Who, besides Scientologists, will vouch for Scientology methods? Will their “spiritual technology” stand the test of time? Or is Scientology essentially a fad that will fade or collapse when the religious and cultural upheavals of this era stabilize?
The Church of Scientology is in this building at 4225 Lindell Boulevard. The church has purchased larger quarters at 3730 Lindell.
The Rev. June M. Lake, president and executive director of the Missouri Church of Scientology.
The Rev. Frederick M. Rock, director of community affairs, Missouri Church of Scientology.