Strange Happenings And Peculiar Musings
By: Helm Matthews
The Mind is a Terrible Thing…
I was a soulless being wandering into a den of perceived deceit. A misanthropic curmudgeon about to meet a Dianetic explosion. I was going to learn “the modern science of mental health.” It was time for my mind to be set free! And I knew the perfect place to make all this happen. I was about to visit the Scientology Center in downtown Minneapolis.
This gonzo mission was in the planning for some time. In the past, time constraints have delayed various projects, but not this time. No. This delay was born from weary caution. I get the hibby jibbies every time I think of this place. I had never before been so nervous about a planned adventure. But the prospect of meeting a real Scientologist—in their own domicile—caused the baby-fine hairs on the nape of my neck to bristle.
There are many in this world who view The Church of Scientology as a cult. These people define cults by how they practice their religion or raise their revenue. If the religion is considered different to them then they must be a cult. But, in sociological terms, a religion like Scientology is no such thing. Let me explain.
There are three acceptable forms of religious organization: cults, sects, religions. Each of these forms have distinct characteristics. These characteristics have been defined by sociologists, thus, they are open to debate. Here is a brief overview:
Cults: Cults are defined by having a strong central figure, usually its founder. This person has complete control over his or her followers. They often dictate how members must live, think, and spend their money. The cult only exists within an arm’s reach of this charismatic and does not survive beyond his or her death. Jim Jones and David Koresh are examples of cult leaders.
Sects: If a cult expands and has centers that are not within reach of their founder then it becomes a sect. Unlike many cults, sects are usually offshoots of more established religions. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon is an example of a sect leader. Another example is Warren Jeffs, who founded the Mormon offshoot, the FLDS Church.
Religions: If a sect survives its founder, and continues to grow, then it becomes an established religion. This definition is simple enough and doesn’t need further illustration.
Now let’s get back to the Church of Scientology. It was once a cult when its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, was alive. It then grew to a sect when centers opened up all across America. When Mr. Hubbard died and Scientology flourished the sect became a good ol’ religion. It now enjoys tax exempt status in the United States as an established not-for-profit religion.
I want to make one thing clear: Just because they meet the sociological definition of a religion doesn’t mean I don’t view them as kooky motherfuckers. They definitely come from another planet. And their followers actually believe they do as well. Well, sort of.
So I found myself in downtown Minneapolis standing in front of a nondescript concrete building with large windows. The façade was punctuated by large blue banners with yellow lettering that read, “Scientology Center: Get a Free Stress Test Today!” I had a digital recorder running. It was hidden in my jacket’s front pocket.
Inside the large window front were books stacked to look like pyramids. I perused the displays for a little while, trying to look like someone who had just happened upon the place. I could see someone inside. He was studying me from behind the receptionist’s desk. I know how suspicious these Scientologists can be so I tried to look a little lost: my hands stoved in my pockets, my eyes wondering. Slowly, I made my way to the entrance and opened the door.
I passed through a small vestibule and turned left. I was met by the same man who was studying me. He was dressed in blue slacks and a darker blue sweater. He smiled at me. This Scientologist had short, curly brown hair and a trimmed goatee. I assumed he was in his thirties. I immediately thought of that parallel universe from the old Star Trek series. You know, the one where evil Spock wore a goatee? This guy was definitely a yuppie evil Spock!
The man stood and said hello.
I hesitated a bit, and then muttered, “I’m…I’m here for a stress test.”
“Oh,” he said, offering his hand. “Let me find a machine.”
Find a machine? You have to find a machine? I thought this very odd. I meandered about the room while waiting for him to “find a machine.” The interior of this room was off-white and messy. It was the largest of three disheveled rooms. It seemed as if the Scientologists had just moved into the place. But I knew that couldn’t be. I’ve known of the Center for many years now. I ventured to the rear and spied another room. In it were several rows of empty folding chairs. The location for their mind melds, no doubt. There was a poster nearby decrying “the fascist” methods of mental care in this country. I guess I’m not the only one with a penchant for hyperbole. Only, I don’t think they intended it to be hyperbolic.
A frumpy brown-haired woman came into the room and assisted the man in finding a stress test machine. She asked him, “Is it under Melissa’s desk?”
Under Melissa’s desk? You mean it is small enough to fit under a desk? For some reason I envisioned a big medical device similar to diagnostic machine next to a hospital bed. I was soon proven way wrong.
The woman found the stress test machine and placed it on a long maple-colored table near the front window. An early afternoon sun’s light was spilling into the room creating a pleasant ambiance. I relaxed.
I was instructed to sit in a chair in front of this machine. I studied it. The stress tester was made of amber-colored translucent plastic. It looked as if made from the same material used to make old-fashioned toothbrushes. It had a large round dial and a display similar to a Geiger counter. Attached to this machine by wires were two small tubes that looked like metallic toilet paper rolls.
The Scientologist started blowing into the tubes, informing me that they needed to be “warmed up.” He then placed them in my hands and instructed to lightly hold the tubes and rest them on my lap.
The man sat himself next to me and set the dial to “3.” The needle on the indicator moved to the neutral position. He then turned to me and said, “Now, I want you to think of someone or something happening in your life right now.”
The needle immediately shot all the way to the right of the dial, where the crappy AM radio stations can often be found.
“There!” he said. “You see?”
I turned to him and muttered, “I…I haven’t thought of anything yet.”
“Oh,” the Scientologist said. “I think you might be holding the tubes too tight.”
“Yes,” I said. “I think I am.”
“Remember to hold them very lightly.”
“Okay,” I said, relaxing my grip.
He repeated, “Now, think of someone or something going on in your life right now.”
The needle again immediately shot all the way to the right. I was apparently very stressed out.
“There!” he exclaimed. “You see? There is something bothering you very much, isn’t there?”
Again I informed that I hadn’t thought of anything yet.
“Are you holding the tubes very lightly?”
I looked down at my lap and studied my grip. “Yes. I think so.”
“Huh,” the man said, somewhat flustered. “Let’s try this again. And remember to hold the tubes ever-so-slightly.”
Pretending to be enthusiastic, I said, “Okay!”
“Now,” he said, “think of someone or something happening in your life right now.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and thought of Stewie, the ego-maniacal character from Family Guy.
The needle immediately shot all the way to the right.
“See!” the excited Scientologist said. Something is bothering you?”
“Well,” I said. “I guess there is this person.”
“Is it someone you care about?”
“Sure,” I said. “I guess you could say that.”
“Is it someone close to you?”
“Yes,” I exhorted. “Very close. It’s a friend of mine. He’s egomaniacal and wants to take over the world.”
“Whoa!” the man said. “Sounds pretty serious.”
I leaned into the Scientologist, talking as if he was a confidant. “You don’t know the half of it, man. He’s very short, and I think he’s compensating for that.”
“Interesting,” the tester said, scratching his chin. After a short moment, in which he appeared to be meditating, he said, “I think you should read something.”
“Okay,” I said, still pretending to be enthusiastic.
The Scientologist got up, smiling. He went to a big pyramid of books and came back with a copy of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. He opened the book and pointed to the inside flap of the jacket and said, “I would like you to read this.” He then left me alone.
My eyes went to the words, but I didn’t read much of it. I just pretended to be engrossed with this profound verse. But I did notice, from the little I read, that it was written very poorly.
The Scientologist returned and watched me for awhile. I looked up at him as if I had finished reading it.
“Isn’t that great!” he said.
“Uh…sure,” I said.
He raised an index finger. “There is nothing more powerful than a mind freed from the constraints of everyday stress.”
“Cool!” I said. “Sweet Jesus, this is stupendous.”
“I agree,” the confident man replied. “L. Ron Hubbard was a great man, my friend. This book is a prescription for renewal. The mind is a powerful thing. Much more powerful than most realize.”
I stroked the book cover, and my eyes became glazed, as if mystified. “You mean,” I began, “I could do miraculous things with my mind!”
The Scientologist smiled and nodded. “Absolutely!” he cried.
“Wow, man,” I said. “Like, can we learn to move things with our minds?” I paused a beat, as if trying to find a particular word. “What’s the word I’m thinking of…?”
“Telekinetic,” the man said matter-of-factly.
I jabbed the man in the shoulder and said, “Yeah! That’s it. Would I learn to do that?”
The Scientologist became slightly perturbed. “No,” he said. “I think you’re missing the point.
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
The man padded me on the shoulder. “That’s okay,” he said. “But there is real power in this book!”
“Cool!” I said. “I want one. How much?”
“That’ll be $21.50.”
I offered my hand and smiled. “Deal!” I exclaimed.
I followed him to the front desk and gave him my money. They had to scurry to find change. When Ms. Frumpy left to find some coin the man asked me to fill out a membership card. I gladly complied by scribbling the address of the White House, along with the name: Hon. R. Lubbard. The rearranging of a few letters to L. Ron Hubbard did not register with my Vulcan Scientologist. He smiled and shook my hand. I walked out a few minutes later after receiving my change.
I had been utterly dishonest with this man, but I didn’t care. Their “stress tester” was quite obviously registering the heat or movement in my hands. That is why the Scientologist had to blow into the tubes. He needed to them nice and warm. I wondered who buys this crap?
As I walked away I remembered someone who had bought into this crap.
I wonder if I will finally get to meet Tom Cruise. Then I realized that might get a little expensive. Enlightenment isn’t cheap with these motherfuckers.