On Scientology (As Told By an Ex-Scientologist)
By Troy Conrad
“I’m looking to get away from organized religion,” I told the man at the Church of Scientology, where he sat in a tall black leather bound chair in a room lit with a dim yellow light, and the ambience of a small home office. “Well then,” he said, “You’ve definitely come to the wrong place. We’re the most organized religion in the world.”
I sought out Scientology not to completely step away from my fundamentalist past, but to add to it. It started with a personality test. I then made an error that many people make when they are about to step into Scamville: I distrusted my intuition, and the facts, and believed the test, a test that showed I needed help. Scientology help.
I grew up non-denominational Christian, and through my teens my faith surpassed that of my parents and most of my peers. I sought out Scientology because I thought they were offering a way to make people better. I didn't see the big picture, that they were actually selling a ludicrous science fiction mythology wrapped in some well-designed applied psychology courses, and behind the scenes, were one of the most corrupt organizations since [enter name of any other major religion here].
Now it was time for my E-meter test. As I watched the levels move back and forth, part of me detached from it wondering how accurate a couple of cans could be. Another part of me wondered if they knew something I didn't.
Could it read my mind? The questions streamed through my mind. Will the cans be able to tell that I don’t recycle? I took a number of E-meter tests. I don't remember what functional purpose they had, as the only result I ever got was feeling hungry for soup.
I don’t know if this is still an issue, but there was a strange crusade against aspirin. A number of chain-smoking ministers (for some reason tobaccophilia was rampant there) told me that aspirin was a dangerous drug to be avoided as much as possible, and would “suppress your thetan.” This made me wonder if thetans were the real cause of strokes. Maybe Rick Santorum’s campaign will eliminate the middleman, and recommend just holding a thetan between one’s legs as a form of contraception. This whole aspirin doctrine came from Hubbard, who is not a deity, unless you’re from the IRS and asking for tax purposes.
Now, to the credit (or discredit, depending on how you see it) of Scientologists, my sense was that very few people really, truly believed in the crazy space stuff. Some of them did, but I felt that most people were there to better themselves and wanted to be a part of something new—something with a future. They couldn't have been more wrong. No one in Scientology's upper levels counted on the free exchange of information that the internet has provided. Pre-internet, it was easier to silence critics. But now, individual Orgs are now on Yelp and people know about Xenu, which previously required a small fortune to find out about in upper level elite courses. In the end, Scientology will be like the L. Ron Hubbard film Battlefield Earth. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but those who bought a ticket are left frustrated and wanting their money back.
The best course I took was a communication course. I liked it. It was effective in helping me get a message across. It might be surprising to hear that some of the low-level courses in Scientology are well-designed applied psychology classes, but this was my experience. If they decided to drop the tax-exempt status, become a for-profit business, lose the alien/sci-fi theme, agree to not harass those who leave, charge a fair price for classes, eliminate the support for homophobia, and decided to come clean and admit they have been manipulating people instead of inspiring them for the past fifty years, they would really be onto something.
In case anyone makes the mistake of thinking Scientology is worth a try—think again. There’s a good chance the experience will leave you penniless, though slightly more confident in your communication skills. Those skills can be quite useful should you decide to represent yourself in bankruptcy court. Maybe you’ll be seated in a room with four of your peers, as I was, under excruciatingly high pressure to sign a “contract for eternity," which essentially said I would commit to working for the church for almost no money. It’s a religion sweatshop, and that high-pressure contract day was my last day of my year in the Church of Scientology.
I stayed low-level at my Org. I didn’t get into it enough to know if people literally believed in “thetans” wholeheartedly, but I assume that no one would blow themselves up over the matter. I was fortunate not to personally witness the intimidation, scandal, and family breakups that are commonplace. The people I met were kind, considerate, and genuinely cared about the future of the world. It's a shame that these well-meaning people were part of an organization that has been exposed and marginalized, because I believe that most of those individuals truly wanted to make a difference. In college, I sold Bibles door to door in Kentucky. We were told to sell the idea of “enhanced salvation,” and the book sales would follow. Scientology does something similar. It sells the idea of self-improvement, and does indeed deliver it at times, but mixes it with a closed, secretive system, high-pressure sales, and aliens. It’s like buying a time share in another galaxy, with lots of fine print in the contract, and plenty of hidden “cleaning fees.” It is also not unlike a giant corporation in a Tom Clancy novel. It pays no taxes, uses coercion to survive, has no sense of responsibility, and is full of good people who in the beginning, thought they could change things for the better.
Long story short, I later became a Baha’i, then agnostic. Fifteen years later, I was hired to perform at an American Atheists conference. It took me 6 months to absorb what atheism truly was, and I am proud to say that atheism is part of who I am, and I’ve never felt better spiritually, morally, and intellectually.
The only thing that really saved me was not having money. Surely if I had a trust fund, Scientology would have yet another tall building in Hollywood, and I would be polishing E-meter cans on the Sea Org off the coast of Florida in exchange for soup. One of the reasons why so many Hollywood actors are Scientologists is because it does have technology that helps one attain goals, and communicate better. I can only assume that some people stay with it because they are getting value, but many others are afraid to leave because it’s not easy. When I left I was bombarded for years with mail and phone calls. The people calling didn’t do so to intimidate me, they were volunteers putting in hours to earn free classes, but it was low-level harassment and a huge waste of thousands of trees.
Here’s something nice about Scientology: they hardly ever kill anyone. As a matter of fact, Scientology would have to kill exactly 128,767 people per day until for all of 2013 just to catch up to the combined totals for the murders committed by all other religions. The fact that they only occasionally kill someone is a huge perk. It's a wonder that fact isn't used in their marketing materials. “Free personality test today - and if by rare chance we ever kill you, it will almost certainly be an accident.” Scientology rarely kills in the literal sense, because they don’t need to. When their lawyers are done with you, you’ll wish you were dead. I can only recommend Scientology to the person with no real character, unlimited funds, and a strong need to get away from their family forever. Are you listening, Kardashians?
Troy Conrad is an award winning filmmaker, comic, creator of the hit improvised stand-up show, Set List, and director of the satirical mountaineering film RUNYON: Just Above Sunset. He has performed at comedy festivals around the world and speaks and performs worldwide at atheist and freethought conferences. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, orange dog, and one-eyed cat. To this day he has an aversion to soup. His Twitter is @troyconrad and he is ComedyJesus on YouTube.