Every week I get together with a couple of friends for dinner to try out new restaurants, talk about our personal lives, drink alcohol. You know, it’s your basic bonding night. We even try to throw in “an activity” every now and then to try to experience new things in the city and broaden our horizons a bit. Sometimes we’ll go to a gallery to view some art, listen to panel discussions, and once we decided to check out Camelot since none of us had been there before. Meh. I’ve seen better.
Well last night we decided to go in for a tour of the Church of Scientology in Dupont. We all live in the neighborhood and walk by it nearly every day, but none of us really knew what it was all about. Sure, we’d heard about the protests, how people think Tom Cruise is crazy for jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, and how an alien is supposed to show up one day and save them all, but that’s a pretty naive way of evaluating a “religion” if you ask me, so we decided to hear all about it from the horse’s mouth.
As soon as we walked through the front door we were greeted by a friendly looking fellow who said, “Hi, would you like a tour?” Why yes, as a matter of fact we would. Coincidently enough, his name was Tom, and he was probably the nicest person I’ve met in a long time. Never at any time did he try to sit us down or sign us up for anything. He repeatedly said, “If you have any questions about anything, anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Our 30 minute tour began inside their main lobby where numerous pictures of their founder, L. Ron Hubbard, are hanging. Tom explained to us that Hubbard was an engineer and was therefore very logical and thorough in his thinking. He was a pilot, was in World War II, and had even written some movie scripts. This didn’t sound like the founder of a religion to me. One interesting fact that Tom brought up was the meaning of the word “Scientology”. He said that most people see the word and think “science”, but rather (and I quote from their website) “it comes from the Latin word ‘scio’ meaning ‘knowing in the fullest sense of the word’ and the Greek word ‘logos’ meaning ‘study of'”, in other words, “the study of truth”.
Our tour continued as we walked down into the basement. “Oh sweet,” we were thinking. “Now we get to see where they keep the alien.” Not quite. This is where they have a “cleansing room” where members of the church can go to rid their body of drugs and alcohol by sweating it out. Evidently Hubbard figured out that when one takes drugs, the toxins get trapped in the our fatty tissue, so by going into a room and exercising you can sweat out the toxins and life is good again. That sounds too simple to be true, but Tom didn’t go into much detail as to what really goes on behind that closed door. Also in the basement was what appeared to be their welcome center. This is where you can go for your “free stress test” (which we didn’t partake in) and involves using an E-meter. This device is used to measure the electrical resistance in your body and is what they use when they do something called “auditing”, a way to clear your mind of something that is blocking you from reaching your full potential. Or something. Also in this room was a table stacked high with copies of Dianetics, the bible of Scientology written by Hubbard himself. Tom recommended that we read it to understand what Scientology was all about, much like you would read the bible to understand what Christianity had to offer. Or something. He gave us all free informational DVD’s to watch and then we headed back up to the main floor.
Next up was a tour of an air conditioned room that was basically a replica of Hubbard’s office back in the day. They keep the room at a lower temperature (and what felt like a high humidity) to preserve the shrink wrapped books that are on the shelves, books that actually belonged to L. Ron Hubbard. I know this is bad, but I thought to myself, “I wonder how much one of these would fetch on eBay?” It’d probably fetch me the rest of my life in the cleansing room in the basement. No thanks. The office has a signed original copy of Battlefield Earth, a science fiction book written by Hubbard (and terribly acted out by John Travolta). It also had one of the sweetest globes I’ve ever seen and a framed photo of the Jefferson Memorial surrounded by cherry blossoms. How apropos. Tom pointed out another book which is about a quarter of the size of Dianetics and is more like a Scientology primer or Scientology for Dummies. He recommended that we buy a copy online or even go check it out at our local library. Little did he know that I only like to read photography magazines and James Patterson novels. I asked him why they didn’t just put their books online for everyone to read, but he inferred that they had to make money somehow, just as other religions pass a collection plate or hold bake sales.
At this point, my friend decided to step it up a notch by asking Tom some tougher questions involving celebrities and aliens. Tom just sort of smiled and said that a few bad apples had decided to spread rumors about the church and that none of it was true. Oh and again – read the book because it explains everything in there.
So that was it. No pressure to join, no pressure to give them money, no pressure to stay and talk, no pressure to leave, although I couldn’t help but notice that everyone inside the church kept looking at us with a cautious eye as if to say, “Why are you people in here?” or “How long do you plan to stay?” Clearly we didn’t look like we belonged there. Could it have had something to do with the fact that I was wearing a baseball cap and drinking a Red Bull? Maybe. It could have also been that they thought we were snooping around and trying to uncover the secrets of their church.
I have to say that it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a church, although I still left with a funny feeling in the back of my mind as if maybe Tom was trained to say certain things and hold back on others. Either way, I don’t see what all of the Hubb-ub is about. Do you?
This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs