The Scientologists Think I’m Smart

If the dozen sorority shirts in my closet and my leftover box of business cards, boasting my corporate law pedigree are any indication, I’ve always been a bit partial to drinking the Kool-aid. So, on a recent warm spring day, I took the opportunity to have another sip at the New York Church of Scientology in Times Square.

Even before Katie’s exodus, I’ve been fascinated by the cult-like religion, or, spiritual center? I’ve stayed up late into the night reading Lawrence Wright’s ‘The Apostate’ article in The New Yorker about Paul Haggis’ departure from the church and I’ve watched more than one of the informational videos on The music is so catchy!

Full disclosure: I’m a bit of a skeptic.

But on the sunny April day, I was dismissed early from my internship in Times Square and took the opportunity to walk into the Church, located in the center of the theater district, not ironically, I’m sure, to take advantage of the free personality and IQ tests.

It had a cruise ship feel (pun not intended, but isn’t it spectacular) – with glossy black counter tops that sparkled in the halogen lighting and gold-painted crosses with spheres and lines jutting through them. Everything was shiny. The blue-eyed receptionist ushered me to the “testing center” where another blue-eyed employee gave me a 200 question multiple choice test, called the Oxford Capacity Analysis, trade-marked to the church and not affiliated with the university of the same name, I’m sure.

I had an unlimited amount of time to answer questions along the ilk of, “Do my muscles sometimes spontaneously twitch,” to, “Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?” I could choose to agree, disagree or be undecided. The strangest question, perhaps (there was a long list) was, “Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?” Emphasis on the “it”. Poor Suri!

After the personality test, came the thirty minute timed aptitude test, named the Novis Mental Ability test, where I was faced with some dictionary definitions, LSAT-esque analytical reasoning and basic math. There were 80 questions, so it was a bit of a mission impossible.

There was one last test, to be taken so quickly, my tester told me, that she stood next to me as I raced through A is to B as to C is to ____ . She nodded, in an understanding way, as she filled in the two minutes it took me to figure out the connections.

Then I was ushered upstairs to peruse some informational material about the life of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard as they calculated my IQ. The DVD display told me that “flash Hubbard” known for his “aerial antics” was also an “undisputed legend of American Pulp Fiction…”. I didn’t have any coffee from the cafeteria.

Once my results were quantified, my smiley hosts brought me into a small office with an older woman, Scientologist crest on her jacket breast, who was there to tell me about my results. We started with my questions. I had many. I was told that Scientology can be supplemental to mainstream religions, such as Catholicism and Judaism. Ba-ruch’ A-tah’ Ado-Xenu? Holidays include L. Ron’s birthday and baby-naming ceremonies and it is a self-determined practice, focused on each individual’s needs and preferences. Spirituality cannot be reached until the mind is freed from its constraints and burdens. How handy!

Apparently, I have more baggage than a Sunday shopper at Trader Joe’s. “Are you a nervous person,” my nameless counselor asked me. Or maybe she was named Lois? Her eyes were empty, anyways. Hadn’t she ever picked up US Weekly? Of course I was nervous in her closed quarters. She asked me to describe what how it felt to be nervous and how it affected my life. Then she told me I was critical.

When I tried to point out weaknesses in the personality analysis, she would re-frame the reasoning. I told her that I wasn’t an outwardly critical person. She told me she meant that I was inwardly critical of people – aren’t we all to some degree? In the end, she suggested that I buy the seminal text, a Dianetics DVD for the low, low price of $20. I could watch it with a friend and we could take turns auditing each other. I have a high IQ (or a three year law degree in logic – the cornerstone of the test), but it’s being thwarted by my mental blemishes.

“I’m at the end of my semester and very busy, but maybe when I have more time I’ll come back and investigate further,” I told my master.

“But won’t you feel more nervous when you’re busy? How does being nervous affect you?” Was her general answer. “I think you need the DVD now.”

It had become a timeshare pitch. The price: my psyche.

Eventually, like Suri, I was released, with my personality print-out highlighting my wasted potential as a souvenir. At least the Scientologists think I’m smart.

You can read more from Marlisse Silver Sweeney here.

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