From 10 a.m. to midnight almost any day of the week, there is constant activity at 4225 Lindell Boulevard, the headquarters of the Missouri church of Scientology. The St. Louis office is one of about 300 branches of what has become one of the most controversial of all contemporary religious movements.
The center resembles a vocational training school more than a traditional church. There are books, charts, diagrams, desks with headphone sets for listening to tape recordings, small instructional cubicles and posters of L. Ron Hubbard.
About six executives oversee a staff of about 150 younger persons, who dart about assisting the 250 students attending at various times of the week. The average age of staff and students is 27. At fees beginning at $25 and going up to more than $5000, students participate in a series of interlocking courses, disciplines and counseling that Scientologists say will produce total spiritual freedom.
Scientologists perceive their system as a form of spiritual engineering. They make radical-sounding claims about their ability to revamp the ailing human spirit and personality on what is purported to be scientifically based procedures.
Is the Scientology recruit shy, withdrawn, confused, having family problems, incapable of setting and achieving goals for self, or held back from physical, financial, professional and spiritual aspirations? “Scientology can handle” such things, said the Rev. June M. Lake, president and director of the St. Louis office. “Scientology-can-handle” is a standard phrase for the church’s belief in its abilities.
Some Scientology methods are similar to the group encounter dynamics and human potential methods that have gained popularity in recent years. These methods are designed to help an individual understand, express and control his feelings to become a more satisfied and productive person.
But Scientology has added new processes of its own, and placed its system under an “auditing” or counseling technique that practitioners say is foolproof in the psychological liberation of individuals.
Whereas most religious or counseling methods are slow, voluntary and loosely structured, Scientology methods are fast; mostly involuntary and highly structured. Scientology exudes an air of busy and purposeful efficiency.
When a young Scientology recruit signs on the dotted line, he quickly enters a fast-flowing river where it is not easy to look back, get out or control the speed at which he moves ever deeper into the system.
Like a canonist in white water, a Scientologist must participate 100 per cent. He must be willing and alert at all times. To hesitate, to question – much less to actively doubt – is to invite failure.
Scientology recruits begin with a short, $25 “communications course.” One basic drill is the ability to “confront” another person without being squeamish. Trainees sit staring at one another or their supervisors until they learn to be comfortable in the presence of someone else.
Other training drills include giving and obeying simple commands, such as “walk to the chair, pick up the chair, put it down.” Another training routine is “bull-baiting” or insulting another person to his face. This drill leads to the ability to stoically control one’s mind while being told how ugly or stupid one is, for example.
The rationale behind these and many other Scientology routines is to get the trainee to live completely in “present time” rather than relate experience to past events or future expectations.
Most Scientology recruits who complete the 10-day communications course go on to more elaborate, time-consuming and expensive programs that promise the individual increasing control over forces inside and outside himself.
Scientologists strongly believe that just knowing definitions in the Scientology jargon helps in problem-solving. Scientology trainees must often reinforce what they are learning through “word clearing” or “cramming.” Roughly, these two processes are learning how to use a dictionary or memorizing Scientology words and theories.
A trainee who seems to move too slowly may be sent to an “ethics officer” who prescribes some corrective procedure – usually another Scientology course.
Every staff person and many students have a “hat,” a clearly defined role, function or objective in the organization. “Everybody belongs,” as one former student said.
All Scientology disciplines lead to, or are supported by, “auditing.” Auditing is the Scientology counseling process designed to systematically expose and then overcome the trainee’s psychological problems.
Scientology auditors probe the trainee’s mind in long sessions with repetitive questioning. The topics may be anything from the most routine family or professional problems to the trainee’s most secret sexual fantasies.
Part of an auditor’s function is to ferret out the trainee’s “buttons” and “press” them. Buttons are any irrational fears, fantasies or pleasures that somehow bother the individual, and which he wants to avoid bringing into the open.
Over-all, auditing resembles a kind of relentless confessional process in which the trainee experiences “release” by baring his soul.
The auditing process involves the use of a Hubbard Electrometer or “E-Meter.” The trainee holds in his hands two light metal cans while the auditor asks questions. The auditor checks the E-Meter needle for readings said to pinpoint the trainee’s spiritual problem areas.
“The meter tells you what the pre-clear’s (trainee’s) mind is doing when the preclear is made to think of something,” states the first of 10 such claims in the Scientology E-Meter manual.
When Scientology began more than a decade ago, the ultimate goal of auditing was the state of “clear.” However, like much else in Scientology, the goals have been gradually expanded. Now there are no less than eight levels in the highest Scientology state, called “Operating Thetan” or soul. These upper levels – not available at the St. Louis center – include angel-like qualities of control over “MEST,” or matter, energy, space and time.
All Scientology methods are ostensibly based on founder Hubbard’s theories about man. Roughly, humans are composed of body, mind, and soul or “Thetan.” The Thetan arrives in humans around the time of birth. Before that Thetans may have existed in hundreds of other forms on this earth or other planets.
All negative experiences from one’s early life or previous lives are called “engrams.” Engrams control the “reactive” or irrational mind. Scientology allows an individual to purge this reactive mind and bring all his behavior under the “analytic” or rational mind.
Scientologists say the proof that their system works is in the happy and productive members the system generates. Members provide hundreds of “success stories” praising Scientology‘s benefits.
“It’s made me more competent and capable of handling people – it’s been invaluable to me,” John Whitney, of the Regional Commerce and Growth Association, told a reporter. Although Whitney acknowledged having little contact with younger staff members and students, he praised Scientology for its ability to discipline youth and give them self-confidence.
The Post-Dispatch found three distinct groups of persons within Scientology here. There are a few older executives, such as Mrs. Lake, who came from outside St. Louis and who have a lifetime commitment to the organization. There are a handful of older, established persons like Whitney who become interested in Scientology programs for their human potential services. They manage to remain practitioners while continuing in their professions.
Finally, there is the vast majority of younger staff members and students who appear to become totally submerged in Scientology, at times breaking from families and relatives, or leaving their jobs. This is the group that most concerns critics of Scientology.
Critics, who now include a number of Scientology dropouts, contend it is a pseudo-religion and a pseudo-science that involves many of its members in cultic claptrap as contrived as the science fiction scenarios Hubbard once wrote.
United States District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, in a 1971 opinion, called Scientology a form of “quackery” and a “pseudo-science that has been adopted and adapted for religious purposes.”
The Rev. William R. Bader SJ calls Scientology an “instant salvation trip” that the community should consider potentially dangerous for younger persons who make up the largest segment of Scientology recruits. Father Bader until recently was director of campus ministry at St. Louis University.
Scientology “works” for these younger persons only in the sense that it wraps them in “instant security, in-group acceptance and clear discipline and goals,” Father Bader said. He attended introductory Scientology lectures out of curiosity several years ago in New York.
Auditing provides some basic form of psychological release by allowing trainees to talk out problems, Father Bader said. But there is little understanding or follow-up on this release, he said, and ultimately it produces more anxiety that is “resolved” only by going deeper and deeper into a Scientology dream world.
His criticisms are echoed by Tim Zell, head of the Church of All Worlds, a St. Louis neo-pagan group with members around the country. Zell, who might be expected to be a natural ally of Scientology, rejects it because he says that it is a dogmatic system that estranges its members from their natural environments.
The Post-Dispatch interviewed several former Scientology staff members and relatives of former members here and elsewhere. All regarded time spent in Scientology – ranging from three months to 18 months – as a wasted effort. Most agreed to the interviews only on condition that their names would not be used.
They said that the system is intrinsically dogmatic, cynical toward the outside world, hypocritical, self-serving and fanatical.
Scientology does teach some simple personality skills, critics say, but the over-all effect is to make younger persons dependent on Scientology and not on their own resources. “There is something I miss about Scientology – a ‘reason’ for everything,” said one former trainee. “There was no need to make decisions, even decisions about trivial things, because Ron Hubbard had the answer.”
The Academy of Scientology and Dianetics at the Church of Scientology, 4225 Lindell Boulevard. This room also is used as a chapel.