My mother's party piece is often to tell the story of the Scientologist. A women, who my parents bought our family home from when we moved to Scotland, is the only character so it doesn't take long. Being six weeks old I don't remember the sauna, but sauna there was my mother assures my siblings and me (and anyone else who will listen).
Apparently the previous owner had installed a sauna and a shower into the dining room for the cleansing of her fellow Scientologists before their meetings. Her husband sadly died, and having no minister to preside over the funeral arrangements she "dropped it [Scientology] like a hot stone", says my mother, followed by a dramatic pause. The story goes that my mother received hundreds of letters in the following years but had been sworn not to return to sender in case they should find out she had moved and come in search of her at her new address.
Knowing my mother's affinity with hyperbole I thought perhaps the dramatic pauses and knowing looks were a little over the top. Wasn't this a religion based firmly in the realms of "it's nice to be nice"? It couldn't be all that bad. Why then did Katie Holms have to reignite my interest by very publicly leaving the Church of Scientology? I was curious again.
So I did what any sane person would do. I went to their church in central London to partake in one of their advertised, free personality tests. An imposing and beautiful building which could easily have been a very expensive hotel in its desirable location on the river at Blackfriars. Inside a lone receptionist in a vast entrance hall made of marble, pillars, coat of arms and shiny brass greeted me, her slightly mechanic smile wasn't the most reassuring, but then again you get awkward people in every walk of life. Perhaps Scientology could help me to be less judgemental. This was nice I thought and after divulging an uncomfortable amount of personal contact details to the receptionist another stiffly smiling girl came along to show me up to the Information Centre.
I had hoped it would be a relatively painless experience, a few questions and I would have "an accurate, reliable assessment" of my "strengths and weaknesses" according to their website. What I didn't know was that I would be herded into a very big room, full of very big television screens to be lectured by an array of badly acted videos with special effects worthy of a primary school Power Point presentation all accompanied by a booming, divine sounding voiceover. There were dozens of different film clips showing how beneficial the religion is, to both subscribers and those who they help through their efforts to better themselves, but I was left with more questions than when I had arrived. The one thing I did learn, through pestering my patient hostess, was that Scientologists can seemingly believe in any God they choose, the religion can be practiced alongside any other faith. Confusing.
After watching approximately six different televisions with varying examples of how good Scientology and Scientologists are, complete with patronizing imagery of white people educating black people in missionary style assistance, it was time for the big test.
Seated at exam-style desks with partitions between them I was handed the grandly titled Oxford Capacity Analysis Test- I had my reservations that this in fact had no correlation with Oxford- the university or the town. I was reminded to answer the questions relatively to how I was currently feeling and there were three options, yes, no and maybe/sometimes.
With 200 questions ranging from mundane to bizarre the test didn't seem particularly insightful. They were things such as "Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure?" No. "Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?" Obviously not, I'm not unstable. "Do children irritate you?" I was a nanny so, naturally, sometimes. And "do you often ponder over your own inferiority?" No. All reasonable answers I thought, smugly considering myself emotionally and morally stable.
The second girl I had met, who according to the Scientology website must have been an "expert evaluator" took my test away and marked it, luckily there were more unintentionally comical videos to watch in the meantime. Around fifteen minutes later she brought back a jagged chart. My personality flaws apparently. She reminded me that this was not her opinion of me, but my own opinion of myself as it was purely based on my own answers. I sat quietly as she explained to me that I was in need of "urgent attention" according to the chart.
So what was the verdict? I was extremely nervous, irresponsible, critical and depressed with very few redeeming elements. On each of these points she tried to tease out past traumatic cases which could have caused these flaws. I was confused, I consider myself confident, generally happy and quite responsible- having been living independently since I was 18. Perhaps I should have answered yes to the corporal punishment of children after all. Following her analysis there were uncomfortably long silences while I battled for a suitable answer and she maintained intense eye contact and nodded understandingly at my attempts to fill the quiet. After too long of this beating about the bush she insisted that what I needed to answer much of my personality discrepancies was a £15 DVD which would provide unknown and unexplained "tools" to combat my inner demons. After politely declining, a few times, I made my excuses and left.
I have my suspicions that no matter what your answers you would have multiple areas in your personality which were in need of "urgent attention". I can see how if you were feeling slightly down or vulnerable it would be very easy to accept the criticisms made of yourself and want to accept the help they seem to be offering.
There are numerous references which refute the authority of the test at deciphering anything at all about ones personality. It is also often said that members of the Church of Scientology are siphoned of alarming amounts of money, which leaders describe as "donations", and probably goes someway towards explaining the real estate I was faced with.
Being sceptical about their motives and worried about there power to saturate the mind I think I'll leave my investigation of the Church of Scientology at the initial stages and get back to my irresponsible ways.