I've just been rejected by Philadelphia's Church of Scientology. I figured I'd be a shoo-in-the religion's been taking something of a beating lately and, hey, aren't religions in the business of converting new members? I couldn't have been more wrong.
I've not been "rejected," per se. I'm still allowed to visit 1315 Race St. to read and study from the vast works of L. Ron Hubbard, and encouraged to apply his principles to better and enhance my life, income, personal relationships and future (all of which could use a little assistance) on something of an independent study basis.
Bruce Thompson, director of special affairs for the Church of Scientology of Pennsylvania, explains, "There are circumstances, where until resolved, an individual is not eligible to take courses or receive auditing ... examples of which might be someone involved in criminal activities, actively taking street or psychiatric drugs, or sitting in judgment of Scientology-just to find out if it works." Well, I'm no criminal.
But alas, I'm a reporter, or, according to Scientology: A New Slant on Life, a "merchant of chaos." And a chemically imbalanced one at that-I pop a (prescribed) Xanax each day to keep from randomly fainting from panic attacks. Oh, and I see a psychoanalyst. To them, I'm like the axis of evil: Scientologists are adamantly against psychiatrists and psychiatric drugs.
At the end of my first meeting with Thompson, he consoles me, saying should I get off the dope, it would not be impossible for me to join, just pretty hard. I imagine I would also have to quit writing for a paper, and ditch the shrink.
"Someone has to find out for themselves about Scientology. It's not something that we try to sell, because it's a philosophy," says Thompson. Someone who's interested, studies it and finds that the principles work and apply them to their life." There are 200 to 300 Philadelphians who find that Scientology works for them, by Thompson's guesstimate. Then, as we talk, he forms a triangle with his fingers (really), and stares back at me from underneath a framed Hubbard, who is also smiling at me. "We're here to assist them as they're studying and progressing in Scientology."
Once someone decides to become a Scientologist, and they do all the reading, they are given a personality test, called Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA). The 200-question OCA "accurately measures 10 different personality traits," according to What Is Scientology? I was permitted to take one online and then brought my answers to Thompson for an evaluation. Questions include "Do children make you uncomfortable?" and "Do you buy things on credit with the hopes of keeping up the payments?" Hell, yes. Both counts.
When my results were plugged into the computer, I found that I have unacceptable levels of instability, depression, nervousness, uncertainty and irresponsibility. I'm critical, withdrawn and show a lack of accord. I scored desirable levels in only aggression and activity. Who knew?
While Thompson is not the official OCA evaluator, he did give me his advice: Read Dianetics, take an extension course in a workbook, which, says Thompson, "ensures the person gets the most from [Dianetics]," and then read Hubbard's Self Analysis. A few days later, a man called Chris called to ask if I'd like to come in for a personality evaluation. I told him I already spoke to Thompson, and I was from City Paper. He said he'd check with Thompson, and call me back. He never did.
I'll likely never be audited but here's how it goes, according to my reading: The individual becomes a "preclear" and sits down with an auditor and responds to questions while holding onto the electrodes of a gadget called an Electropsychometer (E-Meter). The electrodes emit low voltages of electricity, which can't be felt and pass through the body and back into the E-meter, which measures "the human soul, spirit or mind" and tells the auditor what in the preclear's psyche needs fixing. The device strikes me as a bit like Maxwell's Demon in The Crying of Lot 49.
This, with more study, including reading and making things out of clay "in order to understand ideas and concepts better," says Thompson, is supposed to increase one's IQ. "Scientology and Dianetics can and do raise IQ." Although, he admits, traditionally psychiatrists don't believe IQ can be changed. Members are also put in saunas to sweat out the world's impurities. Maybe I'll have to join a health club, too.
As a merchant of chaos, I had to ask, "So, what's with Tom Cruise?" Thompson said he would not be able to comment on the activities of any members of the church, celebrities or otherwise, no matter how bizarre.
I came away from my troubles with two texts and a church-run magazine called Freedom (the cover story, "The Terror Doctors," posits that psychiatrists were behind al-Qaida, and drugged the suicide bombers). As a religious reject, I guess I don't feel too bad. But should I... well, the Catholics have always been there for me.