The Scandal of Scientology, by Paulette Cooper | Next | Prev | Cites | Index


You may have seen them standing on street corners with a handful of leaflets, distributing them aggressively to passersby. You may not even have noticed them at all, because they look so much like you and me -- except maybe a little younger, and sometimes a little more like a hippie.

But if you had stopped to take one of their leaflets, you would have discovered that you were being invited to "step into the exciting world of the totally free" for a lecture on Scientology, "the applied philosophy of knowing."

On closer perusal, you would have discovered that Scientology can "raise your I.Q. to over 135, give you creative imagination, amazing vitality, deep relaxation, good memory, strong will power, radiant health, magnetic personality and good self-control."{1}

It sounds pretty good, so it's possible that if you had nothing better to do that night, you may have found yourself outside one of their headquarters, about to step into what they call "the exciting world of the totally free."

Once you walked into this world, you would have immediately noticed a number of large posters of a fatherly looking man, a bookstore with over thirty-five books, all written by the same man, a bulletin board listing various levels of "freedom," and everywhere, people running around, busy in some unseen activity, but never too busy to stop and greet each other and often you, the newcomer, with a handshake, a "thank you," a strange smile that seems to be attached to but not part of his face, and an intense stare that would startle a paranoid, but would please someone who likes to be looked straight in the eye.

After you signed in, you would be directed into a classroom, where a pleasant-looking man welcomed you to the "Church of Scientology." The man might begin the lecture rather nervously -- he probably never spoke in public before he joined Scientology -- by telling you how Scientology changed his life.

"Six years ago I was a failure," he may begin, "earning $15,000 a year. I had a wife, a house, and a child. I hated my job, hated my wife, hated my life. On the weekends I used to lie in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering how I had ever gotten into this mess. And then I discovered Scientology."

"Beautiful," says a girl standing by the door, and everybody turns around to see an attractive brunette with a strange stare that immediately marks her as a Scientologist.

"Now I have discovered freedom," he continues. "I have left my wife. I have quit my job. And I am now earning $40 a week here lecturing to you. I am busy. I have wonderful new friends. I love my work here. I am now a real success through Scientology."

One man picks up his attaché case and leaves; this is obviously not his idea of success. But the rest sit back, waiting to learn how he was saved by Scientology, expecting a speech full of thunder and lightning, and most of all, references to God.

But no -- the Church of Scientology rarely mentions God -- and the speech is more like a sales pitch than a revivalist meeting. The man is obviously selling something, but it's hard to tell exactly what it is. He does not talk in terms of prices or bargains, discounts or markups; he seems to be selling an elusive product called "happiness."

"We had a woman come in here who was in psychoanalysis for eight years," he continues. "Eight years. But after five days in Scientology, she had no more problems."

"Beautiful," says the Scientology girl again. But now the rest of the audience seems to be silently agreeing with her, and since her remark is no longer out of place, no one turns around to look at her. Instead, everyone is sitting up, straining slightly forward like runners waiting for the starting gun, waiting to hear more about the miracle.

But again they are surprised. Instead of elaborating on how Scientology could have helped that woman, or anyone else, the lecturer goes into a long philosophical discourse on "communication." A few people walk out; several, too polite or too self-conscious, let their eyes wander over to the various exits as they secretly plan their escape.

Their time comes about a half hour later when the lights are turned off and a movie about Scientology is flashed on a screen. Four or five people sneak out now, ducking low, perhaps anxious not to disturb others with their shadow on the screen, perhaps not wishing to be identified.

Those who do stay, however, are in for two surprises. The movie stars a man named L. Ron Hubbard -- who, they realize, is the same man who wrote all those books outside -- and when L. Ron Hubbard comes on the screen, with an open shirt, ascot and the type of smile that suggests he's hiding gum in back of his mouth, the audience discovers that he is the same fatherly looking man who appeared in all the posters outside.

Only now, he doesn't look nearly so composed. The film shows an interview on the British Broadcasting Company, and throughout, Hubbard keeps alternating his clenched smile with a look that suggests that his interviewer, or perhaps his questions, has a very bad odor.

The film is as tiring as the lecture, but at last, that too is over, and the lecturer makes his final sales pitch -- only this time, he is selling something quite tangible -- the first Scientology course, which he says might increase your I.Q. by fifteen or twenty points, but is "guaranteed to help you improve your communication or your money back" for only $15.

If you had been one of the dozen people still left, it is possible that you would have signed up for that course, along with the rest of the people who remained. After all, where else in this world could you find a promise of instant happiness for only $15 with a money-back guarantee as well?

Where else, if you're lonely, could you find such an immediate world of promising friends?

If you're sexually or socially frustrated, where else could you find as many young single attractive people?

If you didn't get as far in school as you would have liked, where else could you take a few courses and attach a (Scientology) B.A. to your name -- or better still, for a few more courses be called "Doctor" or "Reverend"?

In fact, if you always wanted to be a doctor, psychiatrist, or priest, where else could you become the equivalent of this in less than a year of training?

And if you're curious about this exciting world of the totally free that you've accidentally stumbled upon, how else could you find out more about it without paying that $15?

Some of the people who signed up for Scientology to satiate their curiosity might have done better if they had read the newspapers.

They would have read that Scientology is currently being investigated in England. They would have read that Scientology has been banned in Victoria, Australia, Western Australia, and South Australia.

They would have read that in Scientology, some people are allowed to listen to the most intimate sexual secrets of other people after just a few months of training.

They would have read of the "death lessons" that were once being taught in British schools -- devised by Scientologists.

They would have read of a group called "The Process" that worships sex and the devil and believes in every type of sexual perversion -- they were started by Scientologists.

They would have read of a man named Charles Manson, convicted of murdering Sharon Tate and others -- he may have been a Scientologist.

They would have read of a group that tried to "take over" the National Association of Mental Health in England -- they too were Scientologists.

They would have read about the Scientology "Reverend" who was sleeping with a married woman who had come to him for help with her marital problems, and who was shot by the husband of the woman.

They would have read of a group that makes its members hold on to a "lie detector" while the leaders asked them the most intimate details about their sexual life, and then took these answers and sent them to the leader of the group -- that is Scientology.

My own introduction to Scientology started about a year and a half ago. It was the day after Robert F. Kennedy was killed and I was still a little shaky, still glued to the TV set, still moaning that such a tragedy couldn't have happened twice.

In the midst of my mourning, I received a frantic call from a former boss of mine, a man in his forties whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years, who said it was imperative to see me immediately.

When he arrived, carrying a flowerpot with a McCarthy button stuck in the soil, I poured him a drink and sat down in the chair across from him, waiting to hear what was so important.

"Come over here and sit on my lap," he said coyly. "There's something I have to tell you."

I obeyed, not realizing what was about to happen.

"I've just discovered who I am," he said, and I sat there quietly, waiting for his reply.

"God," he told me.

I got off his lap quickly. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite that easy to get off the subject. He prattled on and on like a paranoid, telling me what it was like to be God.

"When did you discover you were God?" I finally interrupted.

"Since I joined Scientology," he told me.

"Oh I think I've read a little about them," I laughed. "Aren't they the ones who believe we've been reincarnated for 74 trillion years?"

He nodded.

"Oh come on," I chided. "You don't really believe that. You're so conservative. House in Long Island, nice kids, a wife."

"Not any more," he told me. "I left her."


"She was suppressing me."

"Was she against Scientology?"

"Yes," he admitted. "But she was wrong. Scientology has helped me."

"But anything helps a person for a while if he believes in it," I said, and started arguing with him about faith healing.

"You're wrong," he told me "and just to prove to you that Scientology has really helped me, look how much I've changed. All I used to care about was making money. Now all I care about is helping people. I've given $700 away this week to people standing on the street corner who looked like they needed to be helped.

"Look" he said, and removed several crumpled sheets of paper from his pocket and began reading the names, phone numbers, and occupations of every person he'd met in the past few weeks -- from hippies in the Village to the conductor who'd taken his train ticket.

"What are you going to do with those?" I asked him.

"Help them, too," he said.


"By keeping the Mafia away from them."

"But the Mafia isn't after them," I protested.

"That's because I wrote down their names," he replied.

I decided to stop arguing; he was too far gone. Instead I sat there for a while, listening to his delusions of persecution by the Mafia, of his conversations with God, of the changes in his life since he had joined Scientology, and of all the reasons why I should join it too.

After a while he stopped talking altogether and went into a trance. I sat there quietly until I noticed that his eyes were riveted on me. I immediately panicked, because after I graduated college, I had worked for a short while with patients at a mental hospital. After a few difficult situations, I knew what his glazed look meant.

I was right.

"God has decided to rape you," he said slowly, as he started walking all too quickly toward me.

I didn't dare show how frightened I was. The trick for handling people when they got dangerous at the hospital was to keep talking -- to keep them talking. But now with both arms like a vise around me, and only one thought on his mind, it was hard to find another topic to interest him.

"Tell me more about Scientology," I finally said. This worked. He released his grip and went into another trance, talking again about how Scientology had helped him.

"Just look at what it's done for me," he said, while I was trying to steer him out the door.

I took a long, hard look.

Two weeks later he was in a mental institution

After that evening, I put Scientology down on my list as a possible topic to write about. But I didn't really decide to investigate it until I bumped into another old friend who had also become a Scientologist. He too tried to persuade me to join.

"I know all about that," I said, cutting him off right in the middle of his perfectly practiced sales pitch. "In fact, do you remember ________ who used to work with us in our company? He was in Scientology."

"I know," said my Scientology friend proudly. "I was the one who brought him in."

"Well," I fumed, "do you also know that he is now in a mental institution? While he was in Scientology he decided he was God."

"Maybe," said my Scientologist friend, "he really is."

Contents | Next | Previous | Index

Citations & Notes

{1} what Scientology can do for you [65]