Walking along busy Asklipiou street in Exarcheia, you’ll come along a well-lit space that at first glance appears like a store of some sort; taking a closer look you’ll see the sign of ‘Scientology’ beaming out. Two representatives stand outside stopping passers-by and asking whether they’d like to “take an anxiety test”. A young girl steps out and falls into the embrace of one of them, weeping with joyous relief, as they congratulate her for having taken the first step. The location is exactly around the corner from the National Capodistrian University, an ideal spot for attracting millennials who are seeking answers about their lives in a crisis-hit nation.
Scientology, which calls itself a religion, created by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, and which is now commonly known to have A’ List supporters such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Beck and Issac Hayes, is not new to Greece. The Asklipiou “offices” have only recently been set up, however, and as Greece’s VICE journalist Theodoris Chondrogiannos reported in a thorough investigation published in the website insiderstory.com, they have also acquired a multi-storey building in the Ambelokipi area worth 2,260.000 euro.
In his Inside Story report, Chondrogiannos also documents that members of this “organized religion” as they describe it, follow the global practice of Scientology groups abroad, which involves sending teams (here called ‘Protovoulia Politon’ or ‘Citizen’s Initiative’) to schools and other youth organizations to educate and inform youths on the dangers of drug abuse. By offering such help they are able to enter into the space of vulnerable age groups.
The word Scientology, created by Hubbard, comes from the Latin word “scio” for profound comprehension and the Greek word “logos”, a definition of the inward thought becoming an outward knowledge. Hubbard first introduced the foundations of this 20th Century religion in the book ‘Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health‘.
As the Greek Orthodox Holy Metropolis of Glyfada (Elliniko, Voula, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza area) writes in its website (imglyfadas.gr), Scientology first arrived to Greece in 1968. The Metropolis describes Scientology as a “completely dangerous non-religious group that is meanwhile a secret financial business,” adding that an entire book could be written about its many dangers.
After decades of efforts and investigations made by the Greek Orthodox Church and the state, the status of Scientology as a religion was officially and legally rejected in December 1995. But as Tony Ortega’s investigative website The Underground Bunker relates in a lengthy report titled ‘The raid on Scientology you probably haven’t heard about – and how the church beat the rap’: “The verdict was upheld by the Appeals Court in January 1997 and a further appeal to the Supreme Court was withdrawn in May 1998. By that time, however, it was moot. As soon as the Appeals Court verdict came in, the Center of Applied Philosophy of Greece (KEFE, as the Scientology church had named itself in 1983) simply reincorporated itself as the Dianetics and Scientology Center of Greece (which renamed itself as the Greek Church of Scientology in 1999) and transferred its assets to the new organization. It still continues in business today.”
As the chilling 2015 documentary ‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief’ by filmmaker Alex Gibney revealed, the church uses interview techniques like ‘auditing‘ and the E-meter (a machine created by Hubbard) to supposedly assess the people they’ve drawn in about their personality and psychology. Within this confessional process, the interviewee (whose every statement is recorded and filed in Scientology records) is told what problems or deficiencies they are suffering from and essentially promised to be helped by committing to the faith.
Writing about ‘Going Clear’, the BBC commented that: “In Scientology, he wrapped these ideas around a theological core of interplanetary gibberish that could have come straight out of one his pulp novels. Going Clear captures how Hubbard fused reality, fantasy and the pursuit of enlightenment in a way that, according to the film’s witnesses, expressed his own highly unstable and even violent nature.”
The Greek Orthodox Church states the following: “According to the decisions of the Greek courts, Scientology is “an organization with totalitarian structures and tendencies, which essentially despises the person” (Apostle of the Court of Appeal); participation in it “entails for a member to alter his personality and his behaviour “and is “a covert commercial enterprise and (…) pursuing purposes unrelated to the nature and concept of man as a free being and to the morals and the customs of Greek people”.