Growing up, I remember hearing my parents talk about Scientology and how “crazy” it was. Then, I began to hear about it from my Grandma after Tom Cruise’s infamous Oprah couch-jumping episode. I didn’t know much about it back then, but I found it quite interesting.
A few years ago, I spent hours upon hours watching documentaries and YouTube videos learning about Scientology, the church’s purpose, and the incredible amount, and intensity, of allegations against the church and their higher ups. The goal of this congregation is to make the world a better place. That sounds awesome, right? Unfortunately, it seems as though the church itself has not been practicing what it has been preaching.
I have religiously (see what I did there?) followed Leah Remini’s stories after leaving the church, including her book Troublemaker and the show Leah Remini:
Scientology and the Aftermath on A&E. She had been in the church for over 30 years and had her share of issues, which she brushed off until later in her life. Recently, she has been trying to show people what Scientology does to its members, and talks to people who have also left the church… who have made allegations and experienced abuse, forced abortions, neglect, and much more. We can’t forget to mention that it costs an incredible amount of money to go through this church and reach different OT levels. They, allegedly, expect you to do whatever you must do to pay for your sessions.
Anyway, let’s get on to my recent visit to The Church of Scientology.
During the first week of February, Mychael and I took a trip to Washington, D.C. While we were planning our short trip, we discussed places we wanted to visit, including The Holocaust Museum and The Museum of Natural History, and then I decided to jump on Google and look for Scientology churches. I’m not exactly sure why this idea popped into my head, but I’m glad it did. While I was on the website, I noticed that not only was there a church in D.C., they offered a tour. Yes, you read that correctly. The Church of Scientology offered a tour. I just couldn’t resist!
It was a Tuesday afternoon, and we jumped on the metro and got off at the Dupont Circle stop. We walked for a little while and then saw the side of a building, about where the church should be, and Mychael jokingly said “Oh, look. There are bars on the windows, this must be it.” We laughed until we turned the corner and realized that it was, in fact, the building we were searching for. Panic immediately washed over me. For the last two weeks, I was positive I wanted to go on this tour, until I was standing in front of a sidewalk sign, similar to those you drive past with a message advertising a sale or a grand opening. This one advertised a tour and a personality test. I said “I can’t do this”, and Mychael comforted me and stated “you wanted to this. It will be fine.”
I walked inside.
The women at the desk were incredibly friendly. And I mean friendly to the point that resembles a sociopath serial killer trying to get a woman in his car. After their energetic greetings and overly whitened smiles faded, they asked if we wanted a tour. We said we did, and then they asked us to fill out this small postcard sized form. I was dumb enough to put my real name, but I put a different address. I purposefully put my real e-mail though, because I wanted to know what they would send me. I glanced over, and Mychael put all fake information. I paused and thought “dang, he probably made a good choice”. One of the women directed us into a room and said we could look at some things around the room, pamphlets and photos, and someone would be in to show us how to begin the “self-guided tour”. This is when things started to get strange.
This was supposed to be a self-guided tour, and this Scientology employee was only supposed to show us how to begin the videos in the first room, and then leave us to look at what we chose. This is not exactly what happened.
There were about six rooms on the right side of the entrance that were all open toward the middle of the building, and connected to each other by an entrance to each one against the right wall. We were in the first one, waiting for our tour guide, pretending to be fascinated by everything, just so we weren’t subjects of suspicion. I snagged a couple pamphlets, and soon our guide walked into the room in black slacks, a white long sleeve button-up, and perfectly executed black eyeliner. She shook each of our hands with her right hand, while holding the cards we filled out in her left, and began to ask questions. I tried to stay calm, but I was incredibly nervous. She was not as friendly as the women at the front desk, nor was she charming enough to make people feel comfortable and want to stick around awhile. She asked why we wanted to come visit, and I had to think on my feet. As I began to answer, I saw her looking me up and down, only moving her eyes to figure me out. I did not want her to be under the impression that I was looking to join a cult, I mean, church, but I also did not want her to think that I was coming in to do some undercover snooping or anything of the sort. I said, looking back and forth between her and Mychael, “Well, we’ve heard some good and bad things about Scientology, and while we were in D.C., I just thought I would see what it was about for myself.” She replied with “good for you! What are some good things you’ve heard?” Well, damn. I was only saying that to be nice. I, again, looked at Mychael and looked at her, and said “Oh, well, I’ve heard that it’s a group of people that really want to help change the world and help others.” I’ve listened/watched too many of those creepy “join us” videos. She pressed me further about where I’d heard things, I said online, and she finally let us begin our tour. She showed us how we could pick videos to watch and mentioned that we could skip to different rooms for videos, because “you could spend all day watching all of these”.
She turned on the first video and walked out. It was all about L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer and founder of the church. I did learn more about his past that I was unaware of, but I was uncomfortable, nonetheless. I spotted a camera in the corner of the ceiling, and I immediately made sure to stare intently at the screen and not let my eyes wander too much, for fear that they would realize how little I was interested. We stood up from the couch and decided to wander to the next small room. Our guide showed up again. This time, she noticed that Mychael had a knee brace on and inquired about his injury… A little too much. I’ve heard a few things about injuries in Scientology. Some stories include that it means you have not been open during auditing sessions or that you can help make them better through certain forms of touch. I do not know if any of this is true, but I was instantly worried. She spoke to me briefly this time, and left us to begin the next video, which showed their interest in helping others. It was clearly made to get more members, and it gave off a serious cult vibe. Imagine that.
We stood up from this couch, and walked right behind it to the couch pushed against it, in the same room facing a different TV. This video was similar and showed adults and children talking about how much they loved Scientology and how it changed and saved their lives. At times, things were said that made me want to laugh, and at one point, I noticed Mychael look over at me, and I said behind a smile “be careful, just smile, there are cameras”, and he smiled and calmly said “I know.” Later, we both had a realization that it was this instance that ignited a fear in us both that we may not be permitted to leave that day.
The television stopped playing, we stood up, and our skeptical church employee was back. We said we probably wouldn’t watch anymore videos, because we had some stuff to do before our flight left that evening, and she looked at her watch and asked “oh, what time does it leave?” Mychael told her the actual time, when I was going to say it was much sooner, and she then began to ask me more questions. I’m surprised I didn’t start sweating. She asked, with a half smile, “what is the craziest thing you’ve heard about Scientology?” Boy, was my head reeling. My brain felt like it was at a carnival with a man in a striped hat and a can saying, “spin the wheel, everyone is a winner!” The arrow-shaped marker finally stopped on “that children can join the Sea Org and sign a billion year contract, because they aren’t seen as children, but as adults that had signed this contract and came back in their next life.” I’m not sure how all of it spilled out of my mouth, but at least I didn’t use the words “cult” or “crazy”. She furrowed her brow a bit, and her eyes shifted down and to the left, and made a sort of scoffing sound. She denied everything and, for the second time in our trip, she tried to ask “is it from this show… there’s a new show on about….”, but I would cut her off each time. I knew that she was trying to get me to admit that I have been watching Leah Remini’s show on A&E, but that was a line I wasn’t about to bite. It was also fascinating that she was mentioning this, because I know that they are not supposed to look at or really even acknowledge anything negative about their beliefs. She stuttered a bit when trying to tell me that nothing I said was true. In fact, “children aren’t allowed to join the Sea Org. It’s a very intensive program, and if the members want to have children, they leave the Sea Org to do that.” I almost word vomited “Right, because you make them have abortions”, but I then glanced over and Mychael have me a look that said “don’t you do it.” He later admitted to having known that is what I was about to say and was worried. I remained calm and just backed off with head nods and the occasional affirmative “mhm”. She then suggested we buy Dianetics, or check it out of the library, even though “it’s often checked out”. I responded with “oh, I’m sure”, which she mistakenly took as a compliment to the church. Then, she asked if we wanted to do a personality test that may take about an hour. Mychael is a person who usually agrees to everything, so I was worried he would want to take it, but he immediately said that we would need to be leaving soon. She spoke for another minute or two, sat at a desk in the middle of the building, as we walked around glancing at some more pamphlets, pretending not to be terrified and amused, then we slowly walked down past the desk she was seated at, said our goodbyes, and proceeded to walk past the displayed books and an old E-meter. We pushed through the doors, and I was absolutely thrilled that we made it out alive. As we were walking down the front stairs, I kept looking straight ahead while whispering to Mychael, “don’t say a word until we are off of their property”, and he responded with a soft “I know.” We walked the opposite direction of where we needed to go, but I was overwhelmingly anxious about someone following us. We walked about a block down before we turned back.
Although I am glad we visited and took this kind-of-but-not-really-self-guided tour, my anxiety levels were through the roof. They were obviously trying to get us to admit to watching anti-Scientology television and take us into another room, probably with barred windows, to complete a personality test. I have no doubt that the test would end with a statement saying Scientology is needed, no matter what your answers were. I would love to see more people taking these tours and letting us know what your experiences were, especially at different church locations.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you have!
If you don’t know a lot about this group, I would suggest doing a little research, including http://www.scientology.org/ and the many documentaries that can be found on YouTube.