L. Ron Hubbard could rock an ascot
  • L. Ron Hubbard could rock an ascot

Erica is from Germany, probably in her seventies and really a very nice lady once you get her talking. She’s also a Scientologist, and last Thursday she broke some delicate news to me.

We were sitting in a small cubicle off the lobby in the Church of Scientology’s shiny new downtown headquarters, huddled around a spiking blue graph delineating my faults, and Erica said: "You have a problem." Simple as that.

I am, Erica calmly explained, pretty morose. I’m more nervous than is practical, as well as withdrawn, critical, and irresponsible. I also have a striking lack of accord.

This was unwelcome news.

I’d handed in the church’s personality test—the 200-question Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA)—minutes before, weirdly confident I’d aced the thing. I even played out a little scene in my head while I watched a short video about L. Ron Hubbard. It wasn’t super specific, this vision, but involved staff at the Scientology center being duly impressed by—proud of, even— how well-adjusted and content I am. I achieved their admiration, we shook hands, and I left whistling.

Didn't happen like that. Scientology thinks I'm deeply broken.

Let me show you:

B3: You are unhappy and depressed. You have a pessimistic outlook towards life. Problems and difficulties are too much for you and because you are generally despondent you have a hard time handling them. You mostly blame other people, situations or circumstances for your depressed frame of mind rather than looking for the real cause in yourself. Your friends and family find it difficult to be with you because of this.

I should mention I had my inadequacies laid bare by a stern German septuagenerian for you. Way back in early August, Blogtown decreed my Worst. Night. Ever should involve neither a hippie drum circle nor a hippie golf tournament (which, thank you). I should instead, you decided, submit to the all-seeing Scientological eye—the OCA. And I know you’re all going to be super pissed off when I say it was interesting, but how could it not be?

It was also awkward at the beginning, and manipulative, and the Scientology building smells weird. The lady at the front desk immediately noticed I'm left-handed and commented that something like three-fourths of the staff there are lefties, and I got sort of forced into a knowing lefty grin-off. Those are usually pretty satisfying, but not this time around.

Oh, and I left far less-certain of my capacities as a human.

Every Worst. Night. Ever assignment, of course, is an exercise in confronting one's own shortcomings. But I feel compelled to note none of my counterparts had theirs so thoroughly prodded—even if it was at the poky hands of a widely derided and scientifically dubious test. (Funny/sad fact: I asked Erica if the Church had developed the OCA, and she was very adamant that, no, it came "from England." She pointed to the fact “Oxford” is in the name, which I took to imply it had some relationship to the prestigious University of Oxford. Then I got back to the office and learned that it absolutely does not, and that it was very much created by Scientologists. I wondered if Erica had been lying to me, or had been herself lied to.)

H4: You are an extremely critical person. You lash out verbally or mentally at those about you and the environment, making you a person almost impossible to be around. You may consider that you are being constructively critical or realistic. However, you are being basically malicious and mean. Because you see little good in people or life your opinions are of little value.

Here's how it works. You walk into the Church of Scientology and you ask to take a personality test. The lady at the front desk might seem a little suspicious, but you persist. Answer all of her questions, fill out a slip or two, and she'll set you up at a little cluster of writing desks. Two hundred questions takes something like a half-hour to complete, if you're being thoughtful about it, and then you'll get to watch the pretty-fascinating video about Hubbard (The man had some sort of certification that let him pilot ANY ship, apparently? With no questions asked? So he was tapped by the Navy at the beginning of World War II like some kind of super spy? My memory may be off.) and pretty soon Erica—dressed in standard Scientological garb of white shirt and black pants—is shaking your hand and taking you back to her cubicle to explicate your terribleness.

It is to her credit that Erica demurred when I first asked to see a printout that accompanied the graph. She’d been keeping it squirreled away on the other side of the desk, but I could see it was a point-by-point treatise on my faults. “I don’t like to give it to you,” Erica told me, but she grudgingly did.

C4: You are in a complete state of nervousness. You have no reality to control yourself even under ordinary circumstances. You cannot be calm or relax for any length of time. Your nervous habits and state of agitation badly upset those about you. You are very irritable and can become hysterical or violent in your actions. Almost anything sends you into a condition of distraction.

Let me just mention I didn't technically have to do this. I was last in line for Worst. Nights, and we'd already run a retrospective on this year's unpleasantness before my turn came up. My boss even told me I could skip it if I wanted, and I almost did. But I'm no welcher. And when the OCA queried "Do you usually carry out assignments promptly and systematically," I even responded with a middle-of-the-road "M" — as opposed to an affirmative "+" or a negative "-"— because I'm honest and forthright.... and also, "irritable" and prone to "become hysterical or violent."

Some other questions:

•Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide? (+)
•Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged 10? (M)
•Do you sleep well? (+)
•Are you perturbed at the idea of loss of dignity? (M)

You hear all the time how fucked up the Church of Scientology is—how it's got secretive "space opera" origins and a penchant for harassment.

And maybe that's all true, but there's also a quotidian aspect to the church. Scientology is in some ways a weird rival of psychiatry (which Scientologists hate). Ostensibly, it helps people isolate and work through the bad spots in their past—things that make them act irrationally in everyday life. A lot of the themes Scientologists deal with bear a striking resemblance to the concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but when I brought this up to Erica she just shook her head and said she had no idea what that is (Scientologists also loath psychology, and I guess maybe current events coverage).

Like any religion, there are works of charity and societal improvement through the church. There’s reincarnation, which Erica told me has been “proven.” And then there's an explicit business model, wherein people pay for classes and books and auditing to help make them more complete. A fully complete follower, Erica explained, becomes a pure entity, immortal and independent of time and space. She didn't elaborate much, and I didn't ask her to.

Whatever the rest of Scientology is, the personality test is overtly predatory. I have no notion of the types of people who visit the church, but I have to assume they're largely folks who have problems they'd like to solve, questions they've been unable to answer. During my visit, I watched as a Scientology associate convinced a man to purchase a book by Hubbard. "Ok, I'll bite," the man said. Were I awash in crisis or intense doubt, it might be easy to believe findings like "You feel you have no control over your own life, what you are doing, what you are being and what you want to have in life." It might seem rational to let Scientology extend its beneficent hand to lift me from my moral squalor.

Instead, I was just sort of confused by the hyperbole of it all. Even my supposed strong suits—certainty, stability—were presented as flawed. And I think Erica picked up on the fact I wasn't her target demographic. She was almost apologetic at the tenor of the test's findings, and said she also thought they were overly harsh, which was nice to hear.

We shook hands, but the staff's mien was one of pained pity, not pride. And as I walked back into the sunlight, it didn't once occur to me to whistle. It wasn't the worst and it wasn't at night, but I'd absolutely call this a Decently. Unpleasant. Afternoon.

Anyway, here are my results [pdf]. Think Scientologists think you're better than me? Go get your own free test and find out. I'm trying to get everyone at the Mercury to do it. But they probably won't.

G3: You are irresponsible in your life and work. You blame your own irresponsibility on others about you, whether a boss, a friend or a family member. You feel you have no control over your own life, what you are doing, what you are being and what you want to have in life. Although you feel others are controlling you, you really are incapable of accepting control yourself.