With the recent break-up of Scientology poster boy Tom Cruise from Katie Holmes, and Rupert Murdoch’s “Scientologists are creepy” tweets, I was reminded of an encounter I had here in LA some twenty years ago now.
In fact, after searching my blog archives, I’m surprised I haven’t recounted this tale.
I was a hayseed bumpkin that had just bounced off the pulp wood truck smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles to attend seminary. I’d never been to a place like this before. There were cars everywhere. Gazillions of people all over the place. In fact, more people attended my church on Sunday mornings at the time than lived in my hometown back in AR.
My second semester missions-evangelism class gave us a list of assignments to complete which included going out to street evangelize. We were living in LA, a modern, metropolitan Corinth so what better place to “evangelize.”
A buddy of mine, and fellow seminary student from Alabama (we won’t hold that against him), suggested we go to the Hollywood area because we had a friend who lived in the apartments across the street from the gigantic old hospital the Scientologists had purchased and turned into their headquarters and dormitory.
So one, late Saturday afternoon, my friend drives us down to Hollywood for our visit with the Scientologists.
Now. You have to picture us: Two rural Southern boys in our blue jeans and farmer’s flannel shirts. My buddy is carrying a large print Bible (It might’ve been a NASB) and we are in Hollywood, CA, movie capitol of the world.
We are able to find a parking spot right across the street from the main entrance of the Scientology building. As soon as we step out of the car, we’re greeted by a security guy driving a little car with yellow lights on the roof. He rolls down the window and says, “Hey fellas, how are you doing today? You live around here?” We say, “No sir, were just visiting a friend.” “Okay,” he responds, “You two have a splendid evening” or something along those lines.
Our friend told us later that one of the perks with living across from Scientology central was the fact they maintained an active, 24-hour security patrol that had reduced crime on the block down to nil. You could leave your Macbook sitting in an unlocked car with all the windows rolled down and nobody would take it.
Anyways, we visit with our friend a bit and then my buddy and I walk across the street to begin our mission. As I recall, the first thing we see is a boulder-sized bust of L. Ron Hubbard’s head as big as a John Deer tractor sitting on the front lawn. I hunted around the internet to find a picture I could upload with this post, but I couldn’t find any. (Unless I was mistaken). Now there is a boulder-sized statue of a lion the size of a John Deer tractor. I remember the big head and thinking it was a tad pretentious.
There was a sign advertising a book store and it told us the store was open, so we ascended the cyclopean steps leading up to the entrance.
The next thing we noticed was how all the Scientology practitioners, nearly all of them young men, were dressed in classic, Star Trek like uniforms. I kid you not. Blue, yellow, and red tops with black trousers. They were darting in and around corners and down long corridors. My friend and I shot each other glances that said “that’s weird.” Of course, we stand there in our jeans and flannels with a big Bible, so I guess the “that’s weird” comment could just as easily apply to us.
The bookstore was to our left in a large area set up in the lobby. We started perusing the shelves. Most of the books were odd and I had absolutely no clue what they were about. What did catch our eye, however, was the price. There was a whole shelf full of kid books that I guess teach Scientology. The indecipherable content was bad enough, but the prices for these things was staggering. One book was like 75 bucks! What!?
We started looking at other books that would be for adults and we saw prices ranging upward from 250 to even 500 dollars for some of the books. Individual books, mind you; not sets. And there wasn’t anything particular “special” about the quality of these books, as if they are printed on gold sheets. It’s the kind you’d find at Barnes and Noble. My copy of Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology was just around 25 dollars. I started to think we had come across a bunch of grifters.
So as were standing there, a nice, clean cut fellow wearing a blue Star Trek shirt comes up and introduces himself to us. I forget his name, so I’ll call him “McCoy.”
He asks us our names and where were from and all and then the conversation is steered toward Scientology matters. We ask “McCoy” to explain the basics to us. He tells us how Scientology is about self-improvement and overcoming the trauma of our difficult pasts and whatnot.
I then ask him to explain how exactly can we overcome our difficult pasts. “McCoy” replies by telling us everyone begins by being “audited by an E-meter” administered by a trained Scientologist. I ask, “E-meter? What’s that?” He directs us over to a table in the bookstore area and he points to this little box with knobs and wires and explains how this is an “E-meter.” I respond with the innocence of a Gomer Pyle rube, “It sort of looks like a battery charger.”
“McCoy” chuckles and says, “I don’t ever think I heard anyone call IT that before.” “Well sir,” I respond, “I can show you one of these in the automotive department at Wal-Mart.”
My friend then interjects by asking, “So, what do Scientologist think of Christianity?” “McCoy” perks up and says, “A person can be a Christian and be a Scientologist. I know lots of people who are Christians and practice Scientology.”
We both look at each other and respond, “Really?” My friend then asks, “Well, what ‘god’ do Scientologists worship?” “McCoy” says, “Oh. That’s what’s great about Scientology, we don’t promote any specific ‘god’ but we’re all about helping people improve their personal lives.”
It was at that point that three other guys standing in the lobby call “McCoy’s” name and ask him to join them. He holds up his hand and says “Just a minute guys.”
I think I then asked him about if he had attended any church in his life, and “McCoy” said he had been a Catholic. Either my friend or I asked him to explain how he now understands “sinning against God.” “McCoy” replies with the previous line he gave us that all guilt and shame are results of us not dealing with our past difficulties and that Scientology was helping him get over his past.
Once again “McCoy’s” friends call him over to them and he again tells them to wait a minute that he was talking with us.
I had heard about the Scientology concept of “body Thetans” and “Xenu” and so I asked “McCoy” if he knew what “body Thetans” were. He said he did and gave the standard Scientology answer about them being suppressed memories of past trauma. I then asked him if they were spiritual beings, and he said they could be. I then asked, “Could they be what the Bible describes as demonic spirits?”
Right about the time I asked him that question, the three guys who had been calling “McCoy” to join them walked swiftly to where we were standing, one fellow grab one arm and another fellow grab the other, and they physically escorted him down the corridor.
My buddy and I looked at each other and we both got the “willies.” We knew we needed to high-tail it out of there before some goons chloroformed us and took us down into the labyrinths underneath the building and were never seen again.
And thus, that was my one and only encounter I’ve had with the big city cultists of Scientology.