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New Time Religion Part Three – Praise the lord and pass the science fiction: A mind-numbing afternoon at the Church of Scientology.
by Summer Burkes

“Dilettante” column originally published at the turn of the century on 10.07.1998 in the SF Bay Guardian. Re-intro October 2018 here.


“In the first place, L. Ron Hubbard tells us, wisdom is meant for those who would reach for it, and should never be regarded with awe. Next, he tells us that philosophic knowledge is only relevant to our lives if we can actually apply it, for ‘learning locked in mildewed books is of little use to anyone.’ Finally, he tells us that philosophy has no value unless workable or true, and if we come to know the truth about ourselves, then the truth shall set us free.” – www.

How to start a cult, as told to any good student of persuasion and psychology:

1) Be charismatic [extreme intelligence is a plus], and act beatific or perform daring feats to make people believe you’re a little nuts.

2) Invent a system of beliefs that sounds kind of like mythology. If you opt to forgo brute force as a means of control, create exclusionary terms and use a lot of big words.

3) Focus on the weak members of the human herd. Once you’ve gained their trust and adoration with a checks-and-balances system of emotional reward and punishment, hit them up for cash, insisting that it’s “for the benefit of all.”

4) Spend life in paranoid luxury, surrounded by idiots. Relax and have a cigar. No, no you don’t have to light it — that girl in the bikini will do it for you.

[Footnote: When the heat comes, as it inevitably will, cult leaders must consider their size and influence over the general populace before taking action. If you can’t convince the courts that your elaborate ego-stroke is an actual religion, break out the Kool-Aid.

Eventual cult leader failures: Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Bo from Heaven’s Gate, David Koresh. Made out like bandits: Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Rev. Sun Yung Moon, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Da Kaliki, and the king of the chumps, L. Ron Hubbard.]

author & noted piece of shit L. Ron Hubbard

Just about everyone who’s been down to Union Square has been handed a little pink flyer. “Are You Curious about Yourself?” asks the front of the “personality test”; unfold it and hundreds of tiny yes-no-maybe questions blur the page.

Send the questionnaire in to the offices of L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology to be scored, and his acolytes will make an appointment with you to lay out your flaws and strengths in chart form. But what happens then?

Do you find yourself trapped in one of the most clever marketing schemes of the century, bludgeoned by product pitches and mind-controlling films? Do you find yourself slowly buying into a “religion” founded more or less on a dare, one in which the objective is to achieve unfailing egotism, the method is to spend all available cash, and the figurehead is a second-rate pulp fiction writer with an alleged penchant for Kool Cigarettes and Aleister Crowley? Check yes, no, or maybe.

The modest Scientology office on the third floor of a locked-down building near Union Square is nothing like Los Angeles’s famous Scientology “Celebrity Center.” I fill out the paper handed to me months ago and go there, imagining a juicy group session with painfully shy cuckolds, bored and self-deprecating housewives, and stammering soon-to-be-ex coke addicts. I venture up, rehearsing my story and memorizing my fake address, nervous about fudging the truth to this powerful and creepy religion.

blah blah blah I’m a gross piece of shit with horrible teeth

The elevator doors open and a lurid, larger-than-life bronze bust of L. Ron Hubbard, seemingly cast after his death, greets me forbiddingly. I’m the only non-employee there. My friendly personality-analyzer-woman takes me to a cubicle and debriefs me for a minute, going through a list of books the Man has written.

While she’s off grading my pink paper, I leaf through a Scientology “Life Improvement Courses” booklet conveniently placed right under my nose. I try, and fail, to see the connection between the courses (“Overcoming Ups and Downs in Life,” “The Dynamics of Money”) and LRH’s circuitous philosophy (see above).

Pictures of the Man surround me he plays the organ, he sails, he contemplates life on the beach … and here comes the results of my “Oxford Capacity Analysis” test. I’m active some might say aggressive but I can be critical and withdrawn, etc.

There’s a blank space that says “I.Q.” I don’t have an I.Q.? “That’s another test.” Oh, is it free? “No.” Ah. “So, do you want to buy a book, or …?” Subtle, but no thank you. “Do you have time to see a film?” Hell yes, praise the Ron and pass the ammunition. I want the hard sell.

The 45-minute film goes like this: We the Scientologists are rich rich rich, and if you join the church and “advance to the highest levels,” you get to go see all these castles, mansions, and yachts for yourself. This is L. Ron Hubbard, our adventurous, brilliant, multitalented, and extraordinary leader, but “like the Buddha,” he always insisted he was just a man.

Hubbard’s grandson Jamie DeWolf is actually kind of the man (in a good way)

The “controversy” in the ’70s was nothing but an insidious government plot meant to undermine LRH’s genius. Here’s an example of a Scientology bookstore, and here are 10 hardcover, gold-embossed books you need to get started in the religion. Of course you’re welcome to buy more.

Here’s an example of an “LRH room” (every elaborately furnished Scientology headquarters has one) where our leader can come chill should he decide to claw his way six feet up and walk the earth again. Here are some people improving their lives and even raising their I.Q. in intensive 12-hour “audits” that cost money but let you “advance through the system.”

If you think we’re a capitalistic tax smoke screen and not a religion, here’s a 15-minute string of quotes from courts of law that are meant to prove otherwise….

And then, as the angelic music swells and the camera zooms in to the film spokesperson’s gaze, he pressures the audience to fork over wallet and soul in as many ways as he knows how: “Our job isn’t to save this planet, it’s to save you…. You could walk out of this room and never mention Scientology again. It would be stupid, but you could do it.”

As diplomatic and understanding as I try to be, I can’t believe anyone would fall for this. I stumble back out into the street, feeling psychologically clubbed, I realize that now, I really, really hate Tom Cruise.


This is the 27th piece in my “twenty years ago this week” project; this post’s intro is here, and Dilettante’s first installment is here.

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