Year of Sundays

If Scientology is the religion where nothing is true unless you personally have observed it to be true, then I can say with confidence: THESE PEOPLE ARE BATSHITOODLES.

But let me start from the beginning and walk you through our two hours of Scientological insanity.

Is it me or does their website say they hold services at 11AM on Sundays? Because when I showed up at the front desk and informed the spit-shined schoolboy receptionist that I was there for said service, he looked at me like I was the crazy one. I gave him a few moments to compose himself by asking to use the bathroom, which also gave me an opportunity to scope out the joint.

The Portland Church of Scientology is basically an office building. I’ve worked in a few (offices, not churches!) myself, so I recognized the floor plan: a central open area flanked on all sides by private unmarked offices and hallways leading to Who Knows Where. I found my way to the ladies room, but not before noticing a curious sign over the door of their big corner office, which read WAR ROOM in big black letters. I’m not sure it was fear that kept me from asking what that room was for or if it was just that I really didn’t want to know.

By the time I got back from the bathroom, Joel had finished parking the car and he joined me in the reception area where our friendly greeter used a pager to track down someone to take us over to Sunday service, which was apparently held in the building next door.

Enter: EMILY, our official Scientology Gatekeeper. A young, pretty blond with chunky black eyeliner and pouty lips, she skittered into the room with a cellphone velcro-ed to her ear, her long stringy hair apparently left to dry in the wind of her non-stop chatter. I guessed she was from Gresham and that no matter how clean-cut she looked in her black khakis and inspirational sweatshirt, this was a woman who could teach me to pole dance.

“I’m on hold,” she told us. “Don’t worry.”

I couldn’t help it. I had intentionally left my checkbook at home where it would be safe from the timeshare sales pitch, but I was still definitely worried.

Emily led us down the stairs and out to the office on the next block, which would have looked like any other office except for the baby grand piano and brass bust of Lenin L. Ron Hubbard.

She took us into a small office lined with inspirational posters and a bookshelf overflowing with shrink-wrapped Elron publications and offered us a seat beside her desk.

“So what brings you to Scientology?” she asked. I wasn’t sure she would stop talking long enough for us to answer, but Joel managed to explain that we were on a church tour, doing a different religion every Sunday.

“Ah, so you’ve probably heard a lot of crazy things about us then. Like about the aliens and stuff.”

Uh, YEAH. We nodded.

“Well,” she clarified, “Did you know that L. Ron Hubbard was a very famous novelist? He wrote science fiction books and was a very successful millionaire.”

More nodding.

“And sometimes people confuse his science FICTION books with his Scientology writings.”

Well, that explains it then. Only NOT.

According to everything ever written about Scientology, members with the net worth required to work their way up to the top of the pyramid scheme actually do believe in Elron’s Space Opera.

According to the founder of Scientology and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Zenu was the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy” who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of his people to Earth in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs. Official Scientology dogma holds that the essences of these many people remained, and that they form around people in modern times, causing them spiritual harm.

But we were going a bit stealth here, so neither Joel or I called her out on it. We just wanted to keep her talking and after disappearing to find the “minister,” who we were informed was in the middle of a marriage counseling session and wouldn’t be able to perform the Sunday service, The Goodship Emily was glad to oblige.

She went on to pull random Scientology talking points out of the air, like how it isn’t so much a religion as an applied religious practice where you “only believe what you observe to be true.”  That sounds great and all, but I still had a hard time grasping what Scientology actually IS. I mean, if there isn’t a regular Sunday service, what do these people actually DO together? I suddenly wished I had asked about the war room.

Since there was no minister, she suggested we hang out and watch a DVD on their big screen and we followed her into another bland white room. There are no red velvet tithe bags at the Church of Scientology, but they’ll take your charge card from a pay station directly outside the chapel.

Apparently this is the chapel.

She fumbled around cleaning the room for a few minutes and we both watched in awe as she pulled a giant metal cross out from behind the pulpit and attached it to the front.

Is it me or does that look suspiciously like the thing they crucified Jesus on?

“This isn’t a cross, by the way. It’s a religious symbol with eight points, which we refer to as the eight DYNAMICS.”

“Then why does it look so much like a cross?” Joel asked.

“We see the horizontal line as the material world.” She pointed to the cross. “And the vertical line is spirituality, which pushes through the material world.” She made an upward thrusting motion with her hand. Which wasn’t even remotely sexual. Not at all.

She went on to explain these eight dynamics, which are also referred to as the eight Urges Toward Survival and which I didn’t really understand until I watched the Instructional DVD. Even now, I’m not so much with the understanding.

  1. Self: the effort to survive as an individual and to obtain the highest level of survival for self.
  2. Family: the urge to survive as a family and make plans for the future. This is also somehow the place where they categorize “creativity.” Which still refuses to make sense to me.
  3. Group: the urge to survive as a group.
  4. Mankind: the urge to survive as a species.
  5. Lifeforms: the urge to survive for any form of life, including plants, animals, and, I assume, aliens from the Galactic Confederacy.
  6. The physical universe, aka MEST: Matter, Energy, Space and Time, the component parts of the physical universe and the urge to survive within them.
  7. Spiritual: the urge to survive as spiritual beings or the urge for life itself to survive.
  8. Infinity: the urge toward existence. “Commonly supposed to be a supreme being or creator, correctly defined as INFINITY, it actually embraces the allness of all.” Whatever that means.

Then she turned on the TV, plugged in the DVD, shut the door behind her and left us to our own devices.

We immediately started taking pictures.

Joel poses with the Elron, the Main Man.

The video was a thing of beauty. And by “beauty,” I mean a load of BS so majestically, mind-numbingly simple as to make us both laugh out loud at almost every sentence. It’s a surprise Jon Stewart hasn’t used it on the Daily Show because I had to keep telling Joel to be quieter or they’d storm in and kick us out for mocking them.

Please do yourself a favor and go watch it yourself on Scientology’s official website.

The video goes through the eight dynamics as well as several other mainstays of the religion, but I jotted down a few of my favorite lines, like:

When you lose your appendix, does your personality change? Are you any less you?

Your body is something you HAVE, not something you are.

So if you’re not your body, what ARE you? (An alien?)

Your mind is something you use to figure things out. (As opposed to my vagina, which is something I use to figure things IN.)

You HAVE a body. You HAVE a mind. You ARE a Thetan. (Guess what rhymes with Thetan? SATAN!)

The more the video droned on, the less I understood. It was just too simple for my little pea brain to grasp. I kept thinking this was a religion designed for people with Asperger’s. Or, you know, ACTORS.

Emily had promised to return and answer any questions we had after the video, but we waited a while and she never showed up. When we wandered back out toward the lobby, a man named MICK introduced himself and explained that Elvis, aka his lovely wife Emily, had left the building. He took us back into the chapel and that’s where the real fun began.

Mick, Emily’s clean-cut counterpart who looked like he was wearing his father’s JC Penny suit, seemed to peg the baldman and I as heretics from the get-go. Well, I should say he pegged Joel as such because he decided to pick on me. After determining that I was, indeed, open to finding my spiritual side, he asked me to close my eyes for a little experiment.

“Picture an object. Any object,” he directed.


“What are you picturing?”

“Joel,” I answered. That adorable apostate was standing right next to me, so who else was I gonna think about?

“No,” Mick said. “That won’t work.” He shook his head. “Picture a cat.”

“Okay.” I shrugged.

He then led me through a series of questions about the cat – what it looked like (Penelope Pitstop, my first pet), where it was (on my Grandma’s velvet chair), etc. – all apparently designed to illustrate the point that I can’t think of a cat independently from being the observer of said cat. The cat and I are SEPARATE.

“Now close your eyes again and picture your body.”

I did.

“Now FEEL your body.”

I did.

“How did you know you were feeling your body?” He asked.

“I dunno!” There was no way I was telling Mick that I’d just performed a series of Kegels.

“But you see how you are separate from your body? It’s not your mind and it’s not your body, so it’s something else, right? That’s the INFINITY of the eighth dynamic.”

So wait. THAT’s where I can find God? I knew it all along!

Mick proceeded to get into a very heated debate with Joel at this point. I would go into the details, but all I can remember is standing there thinking I would have worn more comfortable boots if I’d known I’d be standing in a corner doing Kegels for that long. If this is how the Church of Scientology is recruiting new members, by dishing out a haphazard, bottom-rung underview of the church and sitting you down to watch a DVD, then really, these nutters are far from being a threat. They are disorganized, unsophisticated and frankly, DUMB AS BRICKS. Although I will give them a few extra points for their excessive paranoia, which is really a thing to applaud.

Eventually, Mick handed us a DVD and shoved us out of the building.

We survived the Church of Scientology with our wallets intact!

And we lived to tell you about it.

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