By Matthew Seidholz
I used to think Scientology was a religion for rich people. Before two weeks ago, I only knew of three Scientologists, each of them millionaires: Isaac Hayes, Katie Holmes, and Tom Cruise. But then two weeks ago I went to the Minneapolis Scientology headquarters, where I got my personality tested, and where I met Edgar and Dianne, a pair of Scientology recruiters who were not so well off. Before I went, I did some research on Wikipedia. I found out that L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, believed that his religion transformed ordinary human beings into a whole new species called — and I swear this is true — Homo scientologicus. Now, H. scientologicus doesn’t have superpowers or anything, but Hubbard says that He never gets sad, He never gets sick, and, most importantly, He always finds success. Tom Cruise and Isaac Hayes help Hubbard’s case, because they’re rich and they smile a lot, but Edgar and Diane didn’t look like evolved beings at all. Both in their late middle-age, working the closing shift at the Scientology Center, they looked bored with their shitty jobs, they looked bad in their shabby clothes, and neither one was smiling. That’s probably for the best, because when Edgar greeted me I caught a glance at his teeth, and they looked like he’d been brushing with caramel sauce and rinsing with Mr. Pibb for decades. So Edgar didn’t inspire confidence. When I arrived, he ushered me over to a large table that had a blue folder and a #2 pencil on it. “You can start the Analysis whenever you like,” Edgar said, creepily. He lurked, hunched over until I sat down and opened the folder. Then he went and sat at his desk. Scientologists call their personality test the “Oxford Capacity Analysis.” It is not, in any way, associated with Oxford University. It has 200 questions, which you can answer with a ‘+’ for a strong Yes!, a ‘-‘ for a resounding No!, or an ‘m’ for “Whatever!” Some questions made sense to me. “Are your parents divorced?” (My answer: Yes!) or “Do you have many close friends?” (Yes!) are certainly relevant. Other questions seemed silly. The question “Do you experience frequent muscle spasms?” (No!) came up at least three times, and I thought that “Do you find that life is a constant struggle for survival?” (No!) was pretty odd. The most useless questions, though, either had nothing to do with personality, or didn’t even make grammatical sense. Like, “Is your voice monotonous?” (No!), or “Do you find yourself awakened in the night by ‘noises off’?” (uh. . . “Whatever!”). Regardless, I soldiered through and finished the thing, and Edgar ran it through a computer. After a few minutes, my results came out. From those 200 questions, the Oxford Capacity Analysis determined that I am Depressed, Unstable, Nervous, Overly Critical, Irresponsible, and “Accordless.” (I still have no idea what that last one means, but I don’t think that it’ll help me become H. scientologicus.) Dianne summoned me over to her desk, and we went over my results. Only we didn’t just talk. She made me hold on to electric cans that were connected to a gauge. This gauge had a needle on it that jumped around every time I got nervous. It worked like an amateur polygraph test, and she used it to get under my skin. “Got any girl trouble?” she asked slyly. I steeled myself, and answered “No” in my most serene voice. Sure enough, though, the needle jumped, and we talked about my girl trouble for a while. That was awkward. Almost as awkward as talking about my parents’ divorce, which in turn was just as uncomfortable as talking about me using sarcasm to mask my personality. Dianne used that needle like a compass, navigating my insecurities and picking at them until I got vaguely paranoid. I began to think things like “I’m sad sometimes! What if I am depressed?” And when she had me feeling vulnerable, she thrust Scientology at me, the balm for my emotional wounds. If religion is the opiate for the masses, Scientology is an opiate for the self-conscious, the formula for turning me into someone who’s never sad, never unstable or “accordless.” With Scientology, I could become a Homo scientologicus like Tom Cruise or Isaac Hayes or. . .Dianne. That’s when it hit me. I asked Dianne how long she’d been working there. She said, “Thirty-five years.” I took a close look at her. She wore a soiled black moo-moo and no wedding ring. There were no personal photos or trinkets of any kind on her desk, which you’d think she would have after more than thirty years behind it. There was, however, a framed portrait of L. Ron Hubbard. And that’s when I decided that I didn’t want to be a Homo scientologicus.