By Eric Jayne
A group from Minnesota Atheists visited the Church of Scientology this past Memorial Day weekend. It was the second time we toured their building after first visiting shortly after it opened in 2011. Just like last time, the church members were hospitable, but a little unclear.
About 50 of us gathered inside the building’s main lobby to begin the tour. We had two main escorts: Nancy—a former Lutheran who joined Scientology 39 years ago, and Mia—a young woman who didn’t share her personal story but was clearly passionate about Scientology.
We began at the E-meter station for a demonstration by a Scientology church member. The device, she explained, is used to “see your thought” during an “auditing” session between an authorized facilitator and a newcomer. She said crises from our past effect how we live in the present, with which most everyone from our group agreed, but there was disagreement about the device’s benefits.
A few people from our group attempted the E-meter with some guidance. After taking hold of the two cylinder cans, the subject was told to think of a negative thought such as somebody or something at work that infuriates them. The needle on the E-meter’s scale would then jump to the right then shift a little back and forth. Many from our group observed that the E-meter works in the same way as an Ohm meter.
We then meandered around the main floor for about 20 minutes and viewed the videos at the dozen-or-so kiosks celebrating the life of L. Ron Hubbard and the Scientology approach to happy living. There were plenty of free DVDs and literature available at each kiosk for further viewing at home. I was the only one allowed to take pictures but I needed to get Nancy’s approval before taking them.
The tour concluded in the building’s sanctuary which used to be the Omnitheater before the building was transformed from the Science Museum (which re-located to a larger building in 1999) to the Church of Scientology. We watched five 90 second public service announcements inspiring good work, self-improvement, and positive thinking. At the conclusion of the short film viewing, we were allowed to ask questions on the condition we didn’t ask about the “lies” from the documentary or book Going Clear. We were directed to read their Freedom magazine or visit FreedomMag.org (“the voice of the church of Scientology”) to get the “truth”. Several of us took a free Freedom magazine home with us.
The Question and Answer session began with Mia reading an L. Ron Hubbard quote from one of the two Scientology books she had in front of her on the podium. Here’s a little snippet: “What is true for you is what you observed yourself…Nothing in Scientology is true for you unless you have observed it and it is true according to your observation.” It appears to be a well-regarded quote among Scientologists because I was able to immediately find the entire passage Mia read to us on the Scientolgy website.
There were about 15 questions asked during the 20 minutes of Q&A. When asked what the Church of Scientology’s position is on same-sex marriage, vaccines, and abortion, we were told there is no official position. When asked if Scientology accepts Darwinian evolution, Nancy and Mia were uncertain at first but then Nancy said she remembered something L. Ron Hubbard said about survival of the fittest and then confirmed evolution is compatible with Scientology.
Compatibility seemed to be a selling point for their church. Mia and Nancy explained that several Scientologists maintain other religious beliefs. If you’re Catholic, for example, you can still practice the Catholic faith and believe what the Pope says while doing courses in Scientology.
When asked about the church’s position on afterlife Nancy and Mia seemed uncertain. When asked about creationism Nancy and Mia were also not sure what their church’s position was. When asked if it’s expensive to be a Scientologist they said it’s up to the individual how much they want to spend and how far they want to go into their coursework. They said it was $50 for the introductory lessons.
They both answered with a firm “no” when asked if L. Ron Hubbard is thought to be infallible. But when asked if his writings and so-called discoveries are open to criticism among church members, Mia referred back to the L. Ron Hubbard quote she read earlier and said “if some parts of his writing are not true to you then it’s not true, to you.”
After the Q&A we were offered to take additional literature and DVD’s, and a bag to put it all in. The swag and bags were put out on a nicely displayed table in a hall with framed pictures of church leader David Miscavige whose handsome appearance and big smile accompanied the cordial hospitality from our hosts.
We exited the building then hurried down four blocks to the Amsterdam Bar & Hall for drinks, food, and a lot of debriefing.