Kirk Lennon

My Afternoon With Scientology, Or: I Visited A Cult So You Don’t Have To

Published by Kirk on .

I’m an asshole. That wasn’t the word that was used, but that’s what it meant. The truth is, I already knew this, but now I have “scientific” proof. Anyone who has walked around pretty much any downtown has seen the signs: Free Personality Test. Sure, the whole thing is a sham, a calculated effort to take advantage of people’s egotistical interest in themselves, but I’ve long been curious to take Scientology’s test, if only because I’ve never (knowingly, at least) even talked to a Scientologist.

Hi, I’m Knighkey Kensington, and this is my brother, Flash Kensington

It started a month ago when my fiancée and I had dinner with a couple of friends. One of them brought up the idea of creating fake personas and then visiting the local Scientology church. He picked the name Flash Kensington for himself, and I ended up being Knighkey (“Nike”) Kensington, his brother. My fiancée was Kitty Kans, and Flash’s husband was … well we didn’t get that far. The holidays happened, and schedules were busy, but finally we got the chance to put our plan in action. “Kitty” was extremely nervous about the idea and, with her predilection for panic attacks, elected to sit it out. I met up with Flash and his husband, who is legitimately Russian and had now chosen the name Pushistiy Medvyed, which is Russian for “Fuzzy Bear.” We rehearsed and worked out more details on our backstories. Flash and I were born in Sparta, NJ. Flash studied abroad for a while and Pushistiy Medvyed was his host family’s son, now a long-time friend, who was visiting. Fuzzy Bear hid his wedding band in his pocket; Flash got distracted and never took his off.

We walked another block to the entrance to the Church of Scientology … and kept walking along the length of the entire building. When we passed it we let out a few more nervous laughs, steadied ourselves, and walked back to the entrance. The inside looked like a church. A modern liberal Protestant church maybe, but a church nevertheless. The lady at the front desk greeted us. I don't think "friendly" is quite the right word, but rather very welcoming.

What is Scientology?

Scientology is ostensibly a religion, created in the early 1950s by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. At the introductory levels, it’s really just a very pushy bookstore. At the higher levels, it’s a pyramid scheme designed to take all of your money. Judaism and Mormonism are polite enough to ask only for a 10% tithe, but not Scientology. A sign by the front door invited people to apply for a job at the Church. It had a list of skills they were looking for and the first one was estate planning. If you have any money left when you die, they want to make sure they get the rest too. You aren’t told the details of the religion when you first join. As you commit yourself further to the Church, and sign legal agreements not to share what you’ve learned, you gradually learn more details. The higher you go, the more ludicrous the teachings.

Oxford Capacity Analysis™ & Sales 101

The primary recruitment tool of Scientology is the personality test, deceptively named the Oxford Capacity Analysis. Of course, the test has no connection with the esteemed center of learning, but it sure does sound that way. The test itself is a brutally long 200 Yes/No/Maybe question journey into pseudoscience and an enlightening look into the strategy of Scientology. The test has twenty questions each for ten traits. You then get a score ranging from 100 to –100 on each trait. I got a 95 in the “stable” trait. Flash, who is just as stable as I am, somehow ended up with –84 “unstable/dispersed.” After you take the test, it is graded and then you review your test with a counselor who explains your scores and what they mean. A background in sales, here, is incredibly useful. Think of As Seen on TV commercials: What is the first thing that happens in the commercial? Establish a need. The black and white part of the commercial where the woman is struggling to open a jar or trim her dog’s nails? That’s the problem and that’s now. This segues into the next step in sales: Gain agreement. It’s not enough merely to recognize that some people have some problems. They must say to themselves, “I have a problem and I need help.”

And this is exactly what the fraudulent personality test is for. It will show that the taker has severe personality problems and is in desperate need of help. My counselor went over my scores and the first half—how I am with myself—is remarkably high. But then we get into how I deal with other people and suddenly I’m a disaster. He pointed out my –45 score for “irresponsible” and said that when things go bad I blame other people. And then he said nothing. He didn’t even ask a question; he just waited for me to fill the silence. I pointed to my 100 score for “certainty” and joked that of course other people are to blame; I’m always right. I agreed with him that I blame other people, and he moved on. I’m also critical of other people and, most egregiously, scored –45 for “lack of accord.” This is where things got serious.

I had already told him I was engaged. “You know the statistics for success with marriage.” Actually, I do know. That oft-cited statistic about 50% of marriages ending in divorce was true about 30 years ago, but divorced rates have fallen since then. Divorce rates are also highly correlated with age, education, and income levels. My fiancée and I both have college degrees and good, stable jobs. When we get married we’ll be just on either side of 30, and we’ll have been living together for almost seven years. Our actual statistical chance of getting a divorce is less than 10%. Counselor: “Fifty percent.” Here’s the thing: this sham test isn’t entirely wrong. I’m highly selective with the people I choose to care about. There are a lot of people in the world and I stop at common courtesy with most of them. I know this, and I have no desire to change. I assured him that my “lack of accord” could not possibly cause any problem in my upcoming marriage. I’m in love, and she’s the exception to my general aloofness. He wasn’t terribly satisfied with this answer. I eventually just told him that I could make an effort to make more friends. As soon as you agree that you need improvement, you get to move on, and I had already been there nearly two hours. I then readily agreed that I needed to improve my communication skills and finally got to leave the room.

Look at the panels

He then led me to a museum-like area with two main walls. The first was an introduction to L. Ron Hubbard. There were four descriptive panels and a TV in the middle that played videos. Fully aware of Scientology’s well-deserved reputation as an insane cult, he offered, “I’m sure you’ve heard some things about him.” I played dumb with an answer of “surprisingly little” but told him I’d rather wait to watch the video until Flash and Pushistiy Medvyed came out. So, naturally, he took me to the other wall of panels and a TV with an introduction to Dianetics. This one had a bench and allowed me to sit down and face away from all of the Scientologists, so I watched the video. Echoing the sales techniques from earlier, there were short street-style interviews with people talking about how they used to be depressed, or uncommunicative, unfocused, etc. Now, thanks the “science” of Dianetics, they’re happier, more productive, and their relationships are better. It’ll change your life. It really works. You know when you smell a food you really hate and feel sick to your stomach? Apparently that is part of a second half of your mind called the Reactive Mind that nobody knew about until Hubbard discovered he could sell self-help books teaching you about it. Of course, this actually sounds exactly like the idea of a subconscious, a term coined a century prior, which is just a New Age term for the more academic “unconscious”, which was the subject of serious study earlier still. I didn’t get to learn any more, however, because Flash finally came out from his brutal interrogation and we resolved to rescue Fuzzy Bear and leave immediately.

Scanned results from fradulent personality test

Bonus: Flash Kensington Tells His Own Story

In contrast to Knighkey and Fuzzy Bear’s sales-pitch–style meetings, Flash received a full interrogation. The meeting began with my counsellor telling me matter-of-factly that I was overly “euphoric,” and that this manic happiness prevents me from solving the problems in my life. She then showed me my analysis, where I was in the range of “Unacceptable State” in seven of the ten categories. Interestingly, on a scale of +100 to –100, I scored a –82 on Happy/Depressed. I pretended not to notice how my being too depressed might interfere with my being too happy; I didn’t want to give myself away.

She then proceeded to try to break me down with brutal explanations on how my test results clearly demonstrate that I am an awful person, and everything is my fault. For example, if I am driving and a passenger keeps shouting unhelpful advice and I find this annoying, it means they are trying to control me using “Bad Control” and it’s because I have a “Lack of Accord.” She agreed that this situation would annoy anybody, but it’s still my fault. I told her that it actually doesn’t bother me, but it didn’t change her mind. It was my fault.

At some point in the interview, I think she started to suspect that Flash Kensington wasn’t being completely honest with her. Maybe it was when I accidentally referred to myself with my real last name. Maybe it was when she asked me for an example of something and I had to admit that I had no idea what she had just been talking about. I got distracted by the picture of a volcano behind her and it was making me laugh to myself because I knew it was a reference Xenu, a genocidal dictator in Dianetics who stacked his followers around volcanoes and killed them with hydrogen bombs. No, really. But at some point she switched from telling me why I suck to shooting a rapid-fire sequence of mundane questions with highly personal ones hidden among them. For the last twenty minutes of what ended up being an hour-long auditing, the veneer of cheerfulness was completely abandoned and we stared each other down as I was cross-examined. Later in the night I Skyped with a veteran friend who is also fascinated/horrified by Scientology; after I described the second half of the meeting he said what she was doing is a standard interrogation technique that he used in Iraq. I was not surprised.

After this, I can completely see how they got to be such a successful cult, even after it’s been common knowledge for so long that they aim to control your life and take your money. In my run-down, she really did describe my own failings with shocking accuracy. At several points, I wondered how she could have known, and for a second even wondered if it were possible that they might have somehow researched me secretly while I was taking the test. Except that these were universal human weaknesses that could apply to anybody. And really, it was obvious. Still, I went in there knowing they were going to pull that exact stunt, and it still got to me. I felt truly disturbed for two days. I can completely understand now how somebody thinking this was a legitimate personality exam would be completely taken in. She was a real professional at breaking you down psychologically and claiming ownership of your mind. I really see how someone who wasn’t aware that they’re a cult and was actually seeking help wouldn’t stand a chance.