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All Hail Lord Xenu: How the Church of Scientology Cured My Depression Through Dianetics

BY Jacob Winter, BA Politics and International Relations

75 million years ago, the alien tyrant Xenu brought billions of aliens to the planet Earth, known then as Teegeeack, and wiped them out by placing them next to volcanoes and detonating hydrogen bombs. The spirits of these dead aliens, Thetans, possess human bodies and cause emotional distress. This is the secret inner truth behind the religion of Scientology, and something they certainly don’t tell you when you go into one of their Dianetics Life Improvement centres.

Scientology is, depending on who you ask, a cult, a new religious movement, or an incredibly well-organised scam created by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. It all began with the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, in which Hubbard posits that all “psychosomatic illnesses” are caused by “engrams” stored in your “reactive mind”, which logs all negative emotions you experience. According to the book’s synopsis, “The engram and only the engram causes aberration and psychosomatic illness.” Dianetic treatment involves a process of therapy in which these engrams are “audited”. The book was a success, a New York Times Bestseller, but Hubbard eventually lost the rights to the text. However, upon regaining them, Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology, which reveres Hubbard’s therapeutic work and considers Dianetics’ Book One. After your auditing is completed, you become a “Clear” and are then able to begin work on your “Body Thetans”, and you become closer to the centre of the cult. 

The teachings about Xenu and the obscure teachings of Hubbard, clearly inspired by his own work as a sci-fi author, are something vehemently denied by the Church, but you can find it all on WikiLeaks.

Like any self-respecting cult, the Church has myriad controversies, including human trafficking, the breaking of confidentiality from ‘auditing’ therapy, the potential motives of Hubbard founding the Church and forced abortions. The last point is especially telling of the coercive and, more than anything, bizarre nature of the organisation. The top echelon of the church is called the Sea Org, currently led by David Miscavige, which used to operate at sea on vessels where children were not allowed, leading to forced abortions. Miscavige himself is definitely not above controversy, with his wife Shelly Miscavige having not been seen in public since 2007, having had a missing persons report filed on her and a years-long investigation by the police. Journalist Lawrence Wright claims former Sea Org members believe she is being held against her will at the compound of the Scientologist’s ‘Church of Spiritual Technology’.The government of France lists the Church as a dangerous cult, in Germany it is an “unconstitutional sect”, and many countries refuse to grant it status as a religion. 

So why am I banging on about this bizarre cult in the pages of the esteemed SOAS Spirit? London has its own Scientology temple, and less than five minutes away from SOAS is a ‘Dianetics and Scientology Life Improvement Centre’. On orders from News Editor Barty Roberts, I decided, at great risk to myself, to go and get my personality tested by the gullible fools and manipulative cranks at the centre. Enter Alex Ratcliffe, who lives at a made-up address in Finsbury Park with a different postcode on every form I had to sign for them. My fake identity was airtight, and I managed to answer successfully to “Alex” for the entire two hours the process took, the most impressive feat of my journalistic career.

“I was probably the easiest convert they’d ever seen”

At the door, I was met by an Italian gentleman who was unsuccessfully handing out invitations to a movie screening of the film adaptation of Dianetics. I introduced myself and claimed I was interested in Dianetics, and that I had severe anger issues and depression which I needed fixing. Not a million miles away from the truth, and I wanted to keep an open mind about their form of therapy. I was seated in the centre and made to watch an introduction to the film. I was probably the easiest convert they’d ever seen, and I immediately bought a copy of Dianetics (to which I hope the SU will refund me) and sat down for the 45 minutes it takes to fill in their Oxford Capacity Analysis Test. I answered relatively truthfully, but some of the questions were pretty interesting. You had to fill in little boxes on how far you agree with a question. They varied from “Are you willing to compromise in social situations” to “Are you in favour of a colour bar and class distinctions?”

Following the test, I went back to SOAS to debrief with the Editor-in-Chief. An hour and a half later, I went for my evaluation. A Black gentleman, who proclaimed he was a member of the Nation of Islam (more on this later) went through my results. I was apparently very depressed but very active, and through their process of auditing, I would have to raise my scores in all of their different categories to get them all as high as my “active” score. The gentleman brought me upstairs to a cinema with symbols adorning the walls, and I watched a part of a documentary explaining the process of auditing, and then I quickly left having given them a false number.

Some key observations from this experience were that more or less everybody, save the director of the centre and the man who did my evaluation, all seemed, unsurprisingly, extraordinarily gullible. The building itself is surprisingly expansive, with esoteric symbols and quotes from Hubbard adorning the walls. It also seemed like an incredibly easy place to be trapped in, and I didn’t fancy being forcibly assimilated into the cult so I organised a rescue party to knock on the door of the centre if I hadn’t been in contact after an hour.

The Nation of Islam connection was the most fascinating part of the process for me. The Nation of Islam was a massive organisation in the United States during the Civil Rights period, with Malcolm X having been a former minister. Their beliefs are similarly esoteric to the Scientologists, involving alien motherships and white people having been created by a Black scientist named Yakub on the Isle of Patmos, and that white people are also biblical devils. The connection to Dianetics primarily comes through the current leader of the Nation, Louis Farrakhan, who has been openly praising Dianetics since the late 90s, and since 2010 made Dianetics a recommended practice for all members of the Nation. Although Farrakhan insists he isn’t a Scientologist, the groups have evidently become close, close enough for members of the Nation (all the Black people at the centre were, from my questioning, members of the Nation) to do ‘auditing’ on behalf of the Church of Scientology. The Nation’s hostility to white people is not shared with the believers of Scientology, as Farrakhan claimed auditing can cleanse white people of their “devilish qualities.” 

Either way, my few hours with the Scientologists were very enlightening, at least in how people can subscribe to a cult whose esoteric beliefs are so well known. The process of Dianetics is not entirely unsound, it may be pseudoscientific but that form of therapy may be helpful to certain types of people. The more esoteric views of the Church unfold as you go along in the process, and although I didn’t get far enough along in my few hours to ask about the aliens, I can certainly see how the cult sustains itself. But, if there has been any real impact of this investigation, it’s that I can no longer go to Goodge Street Station during the daylight hours.

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