In Which I Take the Free Scientology Personality Test and Become Even More Insuferable

 

Though it is 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, the Church of Scientology visitors center I am exploring is bustling with activity. It’s so full of people that I have to serpentine my way around bodies to get to my test-taking station. Still, it is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

The test-taking stations are spartan, just a row of desks agains the wall, each with a small electronic timer and a jar of #2 pencils. Surrounding these desks are a myriad of sales displays, offering hundreds if not thousands of books and videos by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard — any of which, I have been assured by the nice woman at the front desk, would make a great gift. As I said, it’s mid-afternoon on a workday, but all of the test stations are filled will people who, like me, are busy filling out scantron sheets.

The test we are all taking is the Oxford Capacity Analysis™, the proprietary “free personality test” Scientologists use to both rate and entice new members. (If you have ever passed a Scientology Church, you’ve likely seen a sandwich board inviting you to take this test.) When I signed up to take the test an hour prior I asked about the name, and the nice woman at the front desk explained to me that the test was developed by a team of scientists at “the university.”

“The university?” I ask, my eyebrows shooting up despite myself.

“”Oh yes,” she nods enthusiastically, mistaking my incredulous expression with one of confusion. “Oxford is a very famous college in England, you see. It’s filled with the world’s greatest minds. It’s why they chose to make the test for us, because they recognized the brilliance of what L. Ron Hubbard was doing.”

She’s wrong about this, of course. The Oxford Capacity Analysis™ is in no way affiliated with Oxford the university — or, for that matter, Oxford the dictionary, shirt, press, or comma. Nor was it developed by a team of scientists. Indeed, it wasn’t developed by a team at all. It was actually created in 1959 by Ray Kemp, whose credentials outside the Church are vague, and whose sole qualification as best I can tell was that he was a friend of Hubbard.

Not — and I want to be absolutely clear about this — that the nice woman at the front desk is trying to pull the wool over my eyes. She seems to genuinely believe what she tells me, her face beaming with pride. I consider correcting her, but quickly decide against it. Partially because it feels mean-spirited to walk into someone’s place of worship and fact-check them, but mostly because I am trying to keep a low profile. I am writing a feature story for Marie Claire magazine about Shelly Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige. For years, Shelly has been the source of countless online conspiracy theories surrounding her “disappearance.”1

When I initially reached out to the Church’s public relations officer/press liaison, I got back an email that was comically terrible.2 In response to my request to interview someone of their choosing to get a better understanding of Scientology, I got a snide comment suggesting that if I really wanted to know why I didn’t go find a Church and ask someone there. So I decided to take them up on this bit of advice, and, while I was there, at least begin their recruitment process in an attempt to find out what all the fuss was about. And in the world of Scientology, recruitment begins with the Oxford Capacity Analysis™.

The Oxford Capacity Analysis™ can best be described as a poorly written Myers-Briggs knock-off. Full disclosure here that I tend to reject all such aptitude tests, on the same basis that I reject books that tell you what your dreams mean: A unicorn in one’s dream might well symbolize a phallus to one person, the daring to imagine the impossible to another, and the insipid poetry of girls I dated in my early twenties to me. The Oxford Capacity Analysis™ test is far worse than most of these tests, however, because Ray Kemp’s writing is so shoddy that it’s often difficult to parse what a particular question of his means.

Take this question:

59. Do you consider the modern prisons without bars system ‘doomed to failure’?

Where do I even begin with a question such as this?

For one thing, I have no idea what Kemp meant by “the modern prisons without bars system.” Was Ray Kemp one of those people who believed we coddle criminals? Was he referring to those cushy so-called “white-collar” prisons? Or, alternatively, is he referring to solitary confinement, where you don’t even have bars to look out of? Also, why is “doomed to failure” in quotes? Are the quotation marks meant to infer emphasis? Source material Kemp forgot to notate? Sarcasm? And even if I do decide that, for example, his question refers to coddling criminals and that the quotation marks are in error, how do I answer the question in a way that communicates my feelings on the matter? Responding with a NO might imply that I do not in fact believe prisoners are coddled. Or it might mean that I think they are coddled in a way that is not healthy for society, but as long as the government funds it it will continue into perpetuity — neither ideal nor “doomed.” What, really, does a YES or a NO answer to this question even mean?

The Oxford Capacity Analysis™ has been evaluated by a variety of independent academic institutions. Not surprisingly, all of them have found it to be completely unreliable as a way to measure anything. Still, the Church has full faith in the test, to the point that the test itself has not been edited or changed at all since it was first penned half a century ago.

When I turn my test in, I note my doubts about the reliability of the test to the person collecting my scantron.

“Oh, it’s entirely reliable,” he assures me with a smile. “It’s science.”

“What if I didn’t answer the questions honestly?” I ask.

“It’s so scientific,” he answers, “that it even scores you correctly if you try to give fake answers.” I wait for a wink, a smile, anything to show me that he’s kidding me. But he’s not.

“How could it possibly do that,” I wonder out loud.

Science,” he says with absolute confidence.

After the Oxford Capacity Analysis™ they ask if I have another fifteen minutes to do a second test, and I tell them I do. The second test is more straightforward. It’s a kind of basic IQ test, and it measures my ability to solve simple logic problems of the cannibal-native-missionary sort. I complete it as best as I can, flag down someone to take it be scored along side me Oxford Capacity Analysis™, and then wander around the visitor center waiting for the results.

Mind you, I’m pretty sure I know what the results are going to be.

Before scheduling my visit, I have been reading up on the Oxford Capacity Analysis™. According to every non-Scientology source I have read, the sole purpose of the test is to make you feel s**ty about yourself. No matter what you answer, I have read, the test results will tell you that you you are a terrible, pathetic, and loathsome creature. And sure enough, at one end of the visitor’s center there is a bank of glass cubicles, where a dozen test-result interpreters are reviewing test results to a dozen glum faces. So I know in advance that a representative is going to tell me in great detail exactly all the ways in which I am terrible, pathetic, and loathsome human being, and then they will offer me a sure fire way to become a better one: Scientology. I answered all the questions as honestly as possible, and as I browse through the countless pieces of L. Ron Hubbard merchandise I find myself wondering in what ways the Oxford Capacity Analysis™ will find me lacking as a person.

“Are you Tod?”

I glance up from the book I am reading3 to find a smiling man. His name tag reads “Henry,”4 and he is impeccably dressed in a perfectly fitted grey, three-piece silk suit accented with an expensive-looking plum tie and matching handkerchief. His wire glasses slightly magnify his sharp blue eyes; his pepper-and-salt hair and beard are both neatly trimmed. He looks more like a handsome television actor playing the part of a successful investment banker than he does the employee of a place of worship. When I acknowledge that I am indeed Tod, he smiles (perfect teeth!) shakes my hand (firm but warm!) and invites me upstairs to his office.

I am slightly worried about this. Everyone else is taken to one of the cubicles in the visitor’s center, while I am being ushered upstairs and out of public view? Is it possible they know I’m here to do research for an article? If so, are they angry? Is Henry an attorney bringing me to someplace quiet to threaten me with lawsuits, the modus operandi of the Church when dealing with anyone that talks about them in public? Part of my brain dismisses this as paranoid. But the other part is running through the entirety of my actions coming here, to make sure I haven’t accidentally crossed some ethical or legal line unawares.

Henry’s office is enormous. Behind his desk are built-in bookshelves filled with hundreds of volumes, the spines of which all sport the name L Ron Hubbard. Rather than sitting behind it, Henry pulls up a chair next to mine, and puts the results of the test on the desk.

I have seen a copy of an example results sheet online, of course. It’s essentially a bar graph, where each bar represents the measurement of a particular aptitude or quality of personality. Midway through the graph is a small darkened area where, if your bar lands, you are deemed pretty good. Scoring above that mid-range point in any one of the areas measured is considered a cause for celebration of your advanced state. Coming in below, of course, indicates to exactly what degree you are a terrible, pathetic, and loathsome creature. As I glance at my results, my first thought is that I must be looking at it upside down. But I’m not. I haven’t been brought upstairs because I have transgressed; I’ve been brought upstairs because I rocked the test.

Somehow, the Oxford Capacity Analysis™ has measured me and found that I am an awesome, advanced, superior human being.

The worst score I get is in the category that scores happiness, but even that is pretty high. Still, it is the one that Henry focuses on as a way to pitch to me what Scientology might have to offer. He notes that even though I must be happier than most people, I must surely struggle with depression from time to time. When I explain I really don’t, he appears perplexed.

We talk for hours, Henry and I, as he attempts to find out where I’m unfulfilled and I try to get a better understanding of his faith. Despite this dance, it’s actually a pleasurable experience. Henry is both kind and intelligent, and generally a terrific human being. He says that he fell into Scientology in his early twenties, after having lived an unhappy hippie lifestyle in search of answers. Scoff if you will, but the Church and its teachings seem to have had both a profound and a positive effect on Henry’s life. He’s grounded now, he says, and more stable with a wife he loves and three beautiful, amazing children. Better, he says his job is to take people who are where he used to be, and try to get them to be where he is today. There is no question in my mind that everything Henry believes about Scientology is bunk. But there is also no question that, for whatever reason, that bunk has been as transformative to him as my parent’s coming to Christ was for them.

By the time we are finished, the visitor’s center is closed, and so he takes me down to unlock the doors and let me out. We shake hands, thank one another for our time, and go back to our perspective universes.

For the next several weeks, whenever my wife and I have a disagreement about anything, I bring up my Oxford Capacity Analysis™ results.

“Sure,” I say repeatedly, “we could do it your way. Or we could go the way that the one of us who has been proven to be an advanced and superior human being thinks we should go. Which sounds more logical to you?”  Whenever I use this argument, she just shakes her head and rolls her eyes, ignoring the obvious.

She just doesn’t understand science.

 

 

Image credit: Church of Scientology building, via Wikipedia.


Notes:

  1. I should probably note that despite all of these online conspiracy theories, Shelly Miscavige is not in fact missing. In 2013 King of Queens actress Leah Remini filed a missing person’s report on Shelly. The LAPD promptly met with Shelly, and called reports of her disappearance “unfounded.” The story of where she is and what she is likely doing with her life is rather complicated, so I will punt on all of that for this post. []
  2. Seriously. It was a textbook example of everything your organization should never, ever do from a public relations standpoint when talking to the press. It was weirdly hostile, brazenly condescending, and it answered exactly zero of my questions, opting instead to answer questions I hadn’t asked and didn’t care about. In response to my assurances that I did not want to treat a story on one of their members as celebrity tell-all gossip, for example, the liaison officer gave me half a page of celebrity tell-all gossip for me to use. Collectively, all of their communication with me was so bad that I actually found myself wondering if the Church actually wants bad press. []
  3. Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science, if you’re interested. []
  4. Actually it doesn’t, because that’s not his real name. But we’ll call him Henry here. []

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

37 Comments

  1. “Whenever I use this argument, she just shakes her head and rolls her eyes, ignoring the obvious.”

    Guffaw!

      

  2. I’ve little to offer by way of commentary other than a) I’ll hope for a link to the finished piece about Scientology when it’s published, and b) I enjoyed the ever-loving snot out of this post.

      

    • Sadly, , it is unlikely there will be a link. Marie Claire rarely puts their feature stories online, because they want people to continue buying the print versions. The only time I can link to any of the magazines I work with now is if someone like Yahoo News “leases” the story and pays to run it online under their masthead. If that happens, I will definitely link to it.

        

  3. “The Oxford Capacity Analysis™ can best be described as a poorly written Myers-Briggs knock-off…. The Oxford Capacity Analysis™ test is far worse than most of these tests, however, because Ray Kemp’s writing is so shoddy that it’s often difficult to parse what a particular question of his means.”

    This is pretty much my take on the real aptitude tests. Many of the questions are essentially unanswerable, if you read them carefully and think about them. This made a lot more sense to me when I read up on the theory behind them and realized that the content of the question is essentially irrelevant. It is all about correlations between how people answer the questions. This may or may not produce meaningful results in some cases, but actually reading the questions carefully and then thinking about them throws the whole thing off.

      

  4. You could have offered to write some books for them.
    Hubbard’s been dead a few years now, and I’m sure they need some new reading material from an enlightened being.
    I think you have enough “Science” in you to pull it off.
    But please, no more movies with Travolta.

      

  5. I remember taking the “stress test” they (used to?) offer on folding tables under Times Square. A young, overly sincere woman handed me two paper towel tubes wrapped in tinfoil tied by a string to a shoebox with a board game spinner on it. As I held them, she nudged the table and nodded as the “dial” went back and forth, indicating intense stress. Thankfully, she had the cure for what ailed me: the works of L. Ron Hubbard. She was careful never to mention Scientology. Even when I asked, she rather reluctantly said that, yes, it was the same L. Ron Hubbard. She wanted to “gift” me a copy of Dianetics with the very clearly stated expectation that I would “gift” her $29.95. When I asked if I HAD to give the money, she said I didn’t but that it was a small price to pay to cure literally anything that might be wrong with me. I asked if she read the book and she said she had and it helped cure her but she still had munch to learn. I was tempted to ask if she would take the stress test to demonstrate her remarkable lack of stress but opted not to. I kept up the charade of being interested while razzing the poor girl a bit long before realizing she was but a victim herself. She seemed to really buy this crap and was only employing the remarkably deceptive methods because they had been taught to her as the way to spread the “good word”. Maybe I misread her or was being too generous. Ultimately, I just said I wasn’t interested and walked off. The whole affair was a weird mix of absurd, pathetic, and insulting.

      

      • You’ve never heard of scientologists trying to recruit using a ‘stress test’ ?
        How much research did you do ?
        Also, where were you that was crowded? Every Org I know about is deserted, except for the ‘free’ ‘museum’ of death (i.e. psychiatristry)

          

  6. “She’s wrong about this, of course. The Oxford Capacity Analysis™ is in no way affiliated with Oxford the university — or, for that matter, Oxford the dictionary, shirt, press, or comma.” Space awesome.

    “There is no question in my mind that everything Henry believes about Scientology is bunk.” But he believes it, hook, line, and sinker?

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that they are enough onto something that they recognize how awesome you were.

    I read Leah Remini’s autobiography, which was surprisingly riveting and terrifying and entertaining. Especially for an actress I’d never seen actually act in anything. Highly recommended.

      

    • I appreciate him using the Oxford comma while discussing the Oxford comma.

      Also, you didn’t watch the “Saved by the Bell” season they spend working at the beach club???

        

    • “But he believes it, hook, line, and sinker?”

      He really does.

      One of the tenants of Scientology is that you only accept data that comes from Scientology. Because of this, Henry believed a lot of non-theological stuff that is patently untrue, especially about Hubbard’s life. So, for example, he believes that Hubbard was raised by Native American who treated him as a medicine man, and that he retired from the Navy a hero. Government records actually show that he was raised in Helena. And rather than a war hero, his one notable act as a commander was firing on a populated Mexican Island he thought was a completely different island, and he was stripped of his command.

      So stuff like that — actual facts where there are actual records — are things Henry refuses to even consider might be possibly true.

        

      • I started reading that recent book on it (the one they based the HBO miniseries on), and got distracted from it. Should pick it up. There’s something fascinating about it, even for a cult with so few followers.

          

      • One of the tenants of Scientology is that you only accept data that comes from Scientology.

        Because Scientology is a seamless garment in which external data might create a rent.

          

  7. The video game “Dead Space 2” has you visit a place where new people hoping to join the church are quizzed/tested and, given that there is a zombie infestation going on, you’re able to go into the back and check out the notes that Senior Management writes next to each person’s test results.

    The one that I found most interesting was that a guy who tested high in skepticism and low in charitable donations had notes explaining that he should be shown the door… while the people who tested high in insecurity, need to belong, etc, had notes explaining that they’d make fine, fine additions to the team.

      

    • What a very cool detail to put into a game. Hearing things like that make me want to try them sometime, but I worry that I just don’t have the time to commit to being a gamer.

        

      • Well, it’s less about the whole “gamer” thing and more about the “what a great way to use personality tests!” when it comes to picking and choosing who would make for the most shearable sheep.

        I imagine that you want someone intelligent, hard-working, insecure, father or mother issues, and someone who is looking for a tight-knit community and is willing to trade the fruits of being intelligent and hard-working to get it.

          

  8. I really don’t think I would have the cool to walk into a Scientology hall and subject myself to their first step recruitment spiel – there used to be one right next to my work, and just walking past the place made me uneasy. It was a big storefront, well lit, floor to ceiling glass – you could look in and see that nothing menacing was going on. Didn’t matter. Freaked me out.

    Edmonton has its very own creepy dead-eyed staring cult leader, known for his long staring silence and “profound” word salad. A friend of mine has gone to one of his stare-a-thons (for which the fee is I guess very reasonable – $5 or $10) for the experience. Again, I don’t think I could do it – I was at a very nice house party, at which the group began watching a live stream of a session he was giving in India, and just that freaked me out enough I had to leave.

    If nothing else, I was pretty sure if I stayed until the staring session was over and conversation resumed, I would say something to offend someone.

      

  9. What I’m about to say will sound somewhat critical, although I offer it with the goal of provoking your and others’ thoughts on the subject and not as a criticism. And as a preface, I’ll say that I believe it’s legitimate to study scientology, that it’s on balance legitimate to take the scientology test as a way to investigate that “faith” further, and that if anyone can be counted on to offer what Russell above calls a “subtle, humane” piece on others’ belief systems, it’s Tod. As an added preface, I’ll say that I don’t know many (or any) people who have come out to me as scientologists, although I have heard a lot of things about what scientology does and what its followers are like. I imagine that if I knew more and had more interactions, perhaps I wouldn’t raise this issue.

    Now to the point I’d like to make, and it’s a riff off of Tod’s statement here:

    But the other part is running through the entirety of my actions coming here, to make sure I haven’t accidentally crossed some ethical or legal line unawares.

    I personally think it’s impossible to do what Tod did and not cross some ethical line. That doesn’t (per my preface above) mean it’s on balance wrong to do what he did, just that entering an arena meant for (to use the wrong words) the “faithful” or recruitment of people to the “faith” cannot help but be intrusive to some degree against those people. Tod enters with the intention of doing a study and not with the intention of converting. And the study is almost predisposed to be something of an expose, even though everything I’ve read by Tod tells me that the expose will go out of its way to be respectful to the people it’s exposing and to present their side of the story.

    None of that means I think Tod was completely wrong to do it. Sometimes–maybe almost always–one has to cross an ethical line to do something good. And while what I’m saying probably sounds like a criticism–and may be in some ways a criticism–I really do mean this as an observation.

      

    • I would disagree. Scientology makes a point of asserting that its tenants and methods are valuable and applicable to all with no caveats. They further invite people to try out their tests and entry level applications without caveats. Implicit in that is that Scientology thinks its tenants and methods are applicable to cynics, skeptics and even enemies of their organization and that they are inviting said cynics, skeptics and even enemies to try those tests out. Since Scientology is extending an open invitation to all to try out the test no one who accepts said invitation is crossing an ethical line even if they are predisposed to write something critical or expose like about Scientology.

      If you walk into McDonalds and buy a Big Mac then take it home and test it for botulism you are not doing something unethical because McDonalds asserts that their Big Macs are tasty and good for everyone. Same for Scientology.

      Though I wonder how many phone calls and emails our Todd is going to get. Everything I’ve heard about Scientology is that their telemarketing arm is implacable, relentless and pervasive.

        

      • That’s a good point, . I was going to try to draw an analogy to observing other faiths, but I realize there’s a patently commercial aspect to scientology that would make any such analogy false.

          

        • Yes, I’m aware of no other faith where the holy books of the faith need to be bought. Most other faiths do everything short of pay one to look at them not vice versa.

            

          • One thing that disappoints me about people who hand out free Bibles is that they usually only give the New Testament, or the New Testament + psalms and proverbs. It’d be nice to get an entirely new and whole Bible. I actually don’t own one anymore.

              

    • I kind of agree, but I also kind of disagree. Allow me to think out loud for a moment.

      In my defense, the test is open to the public, and everyone is invited to come in and take it — even stoned high school students who are just doing it as a lark.

      Also, I had asked the church press liaison to make someone of their choosing available to interview about what Scientologists believed, and she told me to go to a church and find out for myself. That being said, however, it’s also true that I had the distinct impression they had assumed that I wound’t have bothered. Still, while I took their offer as an intended dismissal, the offer was made.

      And although I was writing about the Church, I don’t know that I would categorize the article as an expose. Or at least, to whatever degree it *was* an expose, what I went to the Church to learn was pretty indirectly connected to that expose. (None of this post’s anecdote was part of the MC article.) I just wanted a better understanding of the Church, its teachings, and what it is that the rank and file members found in Scientology that made them join.

      Here’s a somewhat interesting thought on ethics: I used my name, and when filling out the personal info sheet under “OCCUPATION” I put “writer.” However, I certainly didn’t announce to anyone there that I was already writing a story on the Church. The question of whether THIS is unethical is one which I’ll have to ponder.

      If so, it implies that all undercover journalism is unethical. (If it is, does it follow that undercover law enforcement is as well?) And if it is unethical, it begs the question: if you report anything on any person/organization and report anything other than what they tell you/give you, is that unethical as well? I’m off on a tangent here, obviously, but now that you’ve got me going down this road I am going full speed, it seems.

      I might have to bring this up in a separate post, either here or Over There.

        

      • Many of the questions you ask here are the ones I would have raised in response to ‘s very thoughtful critique.

        Some questions I’d ask you that would perhaps shed light on the ethical implications of your actions…

        1.) If you were asked whether you were sincerely considering adopting the faith, what would your response have been?
        2.) If you were told that the test was only open to those sincerely considering adopting the faith — without the questions above asked — would you have proceeded?
        3.) If you were willing to be deceptive (and it does not appear that you were), how far would you have been willing to go?

        Undercover journalism — and undercover police work — are undoubtedly deceptive. So is all deception unethical? Is deception in pursuit of justice different than deception enacted for other reasons? Is it determined by the particular “justice” being sought? For instance, it would seem to me that undercover police work is either ethical or it is not… if I am right in this regard, than it would be equally (un)ethical if it is used to catch a serial killer as it would be to nab cancer patients growing medicinal marijuana.

        Coming full circle, if Tod had employed the very same tactics to uncover truths about, say, Planned Parenthood or the Catholic Church or a reformed synagogue or a mosque or the Boy Scouts… would that change the ethics?

          

        • To take your questions in order:

          1. FTR, I was not asked this prior to taking the test. If I had been, however, I likely would have answered something both honest on its face and still noncommittal, such as “Not at this time, no.”

          2. For this story? Probably not, since I wasn’t really doing a story on Scientology so much as I was its leaders. If I *had* been doing a story on the Church itself, and if the intent was to do an expose on it, then yes, I probably would have.

          3. The degree to which I would be willing to go would likely be directly related to both the degree to which I thought the organization was being dishonest with the public and/or government officials, and the degree to which I believed they might be doing people serious harm.

          So, for example, I cannot see myself ever pretending to join the Amish so that I could write something snarky about them — or for that matter, so that I could do a tell-all that wasn’t snarky at all. On the other hand, I could see myself pretending to not be a journalist for a church group collecting donations for Haiti if I suspected its leaders were actually pocketing those donations, and if that church had a policy against talking talk to the press. And I could see myself doing something far, far more deceptive if I thought that same church group was pimping out foster-care children it was charged with raising to pedophiles willing to pay cash. I suppose that my ethics, like my politics, exist on a sliding scale.

          To address the questions in your final paragraph, you have chosen an interesting combination of sample organizations: Each of them are 501-3c corps, and by definition they are not allowed to hide much from the public. All of their finances, their management decisions, their board meetings and minutes, etc., are all required to be public record and open to any and all scrutiny from anyone, including members of the press. Scientology also falls into this category, of course, and its why I have less of a problem with journalists being deceptive with them than I do a for-profit corporation. If a for-profit is hiding something from the public, it may or may not have a right to do so, depending on what it is hiding. A non-profit has no such rights. (Or to be more accurate, it has very, very few of them.)

            

          • Thanks for indulging my inquiries, Tod. Very good food for thought. And just to be clear, I did not mean to intimate any deception or unethical behavior on your part. My questions were purely hypothetical.

            Is the Church of Scientology meeting the expectations set forth by its non-profit status?

              

          • I don’t believe that it is, no. It’s actually incredibly secretive about… well, about almost everything. I have no idea how it is that they are allowed to keep their IRS status.

            For that matter, I have no idea how it is that they are able to be classified as a religion. I struggled hard to understand this when doing the story, and in fact it was probably this question more than any other that made me want to talk to a scientologist about their faith.

            It doesn’t seem to be a theology so much as a service — one that is akin to psychoanalysis, or maybe professional counseling. Almost all of the “worship” services are, as best I can tell, paying someone X number of dollars an hour to explain things from your past that make you sad, so that you can let go of them an move one.

            To be clear, this isn’t a case of my saying that this process either works or doesn’t work. It’s just that I can’t for the life of my understand why it is treated by the government (and its members) a religion and not a service you pay a fee to receive.

              

          • Given that it matters immensely whether the government considers a particular… well, whatever… to be a religion or not, I am endlessly fascinated by how this question gets answered.

            But the pay-to-play aspect is an interesting one. Catholic Churches pass a collection plate. Many synagogues sell tickets for the high holy days (which I was told is to avoid having to pass-the-hat at every service and possibly to get something back from the twice-a-year congregants). The former is optional. The latter is not, though is limited to just a very small set of services.

            I, personally, wouldn’t put either in the same bucket as what Scientology does. Not even close. BUT… I suppose they could hang their hat on such arguments.

            Regarding its secretive nature, I believe the Mormon Church denies access to its temples to anyone who isn’t a member. My mom told me about friends of hers who could not attend their daughter’s wedding ceremony because she converted to Mormonism, married a Mormon, and had the ceremony at the giant Mormon temple just outside DC. They were permitted on the grounds but had to stay in some sort of annex. While that wouldn’t seem to run afoul of the laws around non-profit status, it does seem very antithetical to my basic understanding of faith.

            So, yea, this is complicated… Regardless, you’re doing the Xenu’s work so keep it up, brotha.

              

      • Thanks for your answers (both to me, and to Kazzy’s questions). I really have to think about this more and about what I thought I meant. I do think professional deception–e.g., by a journalist or by a law enforcement officer–is presumptively wrong, by which I mean I believe it has to be justified by some means-end test. I’m not implying that you’re not using that test or that your investigation wouldn’t qualify. So maybe my statement that I think it does cross an ethical line is overboard (and my statement about the piece being an “expose” was wrong).

        Along the “is it a religion or is it not” issue, I suppose this is, at least for me, exhibit “A” for the argument that the state should not grant tax exempt status for religious institutions on the basis of their being religious, unless non-“religious” institutions can get the status based on easily determined and as objective as possible criteria. I would still be interested to know what and how the true believers feel about all this. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in 50 or 100 years time, scientology evolves from the quasi-fee-for-service cult-like thing to something we’d recognize today as a religion.

        I do imagine that my concern would be very different if I knew much more about scientology or had more contact with its adherents than I do. Maybe it’s like Will’s recent post explaining about how a non-Mormon who lives in a heavily Mormon locality might soon come to dislike Mormons even if the non-Mormon is usually tolerant and accepting. (well, the post was *about* something else, but most everyone, including me, concentrated on the part about living in a heavily Mormon locality.)

        ETA: and of course, I’ve just noticed you’ve written a longer response at OT. I’ll be sure to read it.

          

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