Madman or messiah?
She was open-minded enough about Scientology, if a bit dubious about some aspects of the life of its founder L. Ron Hubbard. Imagine Carol Tobin's surprise, then, when her hopes of a private jet and a Hollywood career with Tom Cruise were dashed as its adherents appeared to reject her
Is it just cynical old me or is Scientology a load of old cobblers or, as we would say here in Ringsend, a load of bullshit?
Oh, I can hear the Scientologists now: "Hey, Carol, like your Catholicism is convincing, yeah, Jesus turning water into wine, purleese!" Well Mr Scientology, I do believe that Jesus turned water into wine -- sure as a teenager, I turned vodka into water on many an occasion.
When I was asked to write about Scientology, I said yes. I then started researching it and wished that that yes had been a no. You see the creator --a man called L Ron Hubbard, who established the religion in 1952 -- well, Ron wrote The Manual of Justice, in which he says that a reporter who dares to write anything critical about Scientology should be harassed and intimidated until he or she shudders in silence. The last time I had shuddered in silence was watching The Champ.
Mr Hubbard also wrote Attacks on Scientology, Additional Policy Letter in which he details how to destroy the reputation of anyone critical of Scientology. That didn't scare me. I hadn't much of a reputation anyway. Well, not one I didn't mind getting destroyed. I wasn't frightened of what would happen; I've got friends in low places who would protect me for the price of some call credit and a carvery.
So I logged onto the official Scientology website and, for the purpose of this article, I opened my mind wide. I had heard all the negatives about the so-called religion -- the brainwashing and aliens etc -- but I would give it the benefit of the doubt until I found something to take that doubt away. Maybe Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes aren't mental after all.
The first thing I noticed was Scientology's rip-off of the crucifix. They have a cross similar to the Christian one, but they have an X going through theirs. What could that mean? At school an X through my maths meant it was wrong. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Hubbard has been quoted as saying "The man on the cross; there is no Christ."?
So the website explained that Scientology comes from the Latin word "Scio" meaning "knowing in the fullest sense of the word" and the Greek word "logos", which means "study of". Now where did I put my Oxford English/Latin/Greek dictionary? It then stated that "Scientology is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life".
My, oh my, that's so vague it's believable. To be fair, there was nothing too peculiar or incredible to be found. I got bored reading the hyped-up sales pitch, so I decided to check out Old Ron Hubbard and see the messiah himself.
Ron looks like an ugly, slightly more cheerful Van Morrison, if it's possible. He has an unforgiving ginger colour illuminating his wispy hair and a nice collection of chins. He looks embalmed and like the type of man that would eat full pigs for breakfast. If it weren't for his collection of cardigans blocking my view, man boobs or MOOBS may be visible. If it weren't for some neatly placed hats there may be horns.
So, I still wasn't that freaked out. Van Morrison doesn't scare me, no matter how high his oestrogen levels are in relation to his testosterone levels. But then, the bullshit hit the fan. There was a little section about the life of Ron. It states that Ron is a writer and a professional in dozens of fields. And, by Jove, the man is. He is a fiction writer, screenwriter, poet, lyricist and essayist, a bit like myself really. But, hey guys, wait a minute, that's not all Ron is. He is also a humanitarian and an educator. He is involved in drug rehabilitation and criminal reform. But hey guys, that's still not all. If you buy all the above, you get Ron the Administrator, Philosopher, Artist, Film-maker, Photographer, Composer, Balladeer, Arranger and Choreographer.
But don't decide on the man just yet. For an extra dollar, you get Ron the Adventurer, Explorer, Aviator, Archaeologist, Mineralogist, Master Mariner, Yachtsman and Horticulturist. Phew! You'd imagine the man would be a bit thinner from running around all day writing film scripts, creating dance moves and digging for bones.
I then decided to give myself another laugh and read about his amazing life akin to that of Michelangelo. The Universal Man was littered with more crap, like little Ron being honoured at the age of six with blood-brother status of the Blackfoot Indians because of inquisitiveness. (Unfortunately, the Blackfoot Indians were unavailable for comment). I mean, come on, six years of age. When I was six, I was busy getting bullied by my imaginary friends.
It also says that in Ron's jam-packed, activity-filled life he hung out with British Intelligence officers, Buddhist priests, US Marines? What I also found rivetting was that, in 1945, our Ron, while recovering from war injuries at a naval hospital, well, he decided, "Sure what the heck? Why don't I conduct a series of tests and experiments dealing with the endocrine system?" I thought people just ate grapes and did Sudoku when they were in hospital. How the hell do people fall for this shite?
People are obviously getting something from Scientology. John Travolta claims it saved his career. Is he not mixing up Ron with Quentin Tarantino? Ron's book about dianetics, Dianetics, the Modern Science of Mental Health was apparently on the New York Times bestseller list for 28 consecutive weeks and has since sold over 20 million copies, not including the one I bought. Dianetics gets rid of our reactive minds. That's the hidden part of your mind that stores all painful experiences and then uses them against you.
Most non-Scientologists get their knowledge of Scientology from the media. Tom Cruise blasted Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants after she experienced post-natal depression. Scientologists believe that street and prescription drugs "decrease mental alertness and can contribute to many undesirable states, from unfeeling to hostile. This bio-chemical factor is a barrier
to spiritual freedom." We all heard how Tom Cruise's wife Katie Holmes had to have a silent birth. Ron wrote: "Everyone must learn to say nothing within the expectant mother's hearing during labour and delivery." You can make noises, just no words. The objective is to have as peaceful and relaxing an environment for the mother and child as possible.
The wedding vows are quite interesting too. The groom is addressed by his name, but the bride is apparently referred to only as "you" or "girl". We use "you" and "girl" in Tralee too. Come here "you". Thanks "girl". The groom is then reminded that "girls" need "clothes, food, tender happiness, frills, a pan, a comb and perhaps a cat". Where did he get the inspiration for that? It's like he was flicking through a Lidl leaflet -- "Mmmm, yes, a pan to cook my dinner, some clothes for yourself, a comb to keep you looking pretty, and, oh, look, here, buy some Lidl food and get some free tender happiness." Another vow states that "young men are free and may forget their promises". So you may not get that cat from the Mr Right you were waiting for all of your life.
There are a lot of people out there claiming that Mr Hubbard was a science-fiction writer with an overactive imagination, who realised that real money could be made from a combination of religion and gullible people. "Through application of Scientology technology in an auditing session, a person is able to remove the barriers and unwanted conditions and so become more himself."
Apparently, what they are removing in these expensive auditing sessions is an invisible infestation of aliens from outer space which Scientology calls "Body Thetans" or BTs for short. Scientology, allegedly, doesn't disclose this information to its followers until they have purchased the document called 'Operating Thetan Level 3'. Even at seven years of age watching the TV show Alf, I knew he didn't really exist.
The pro-Scientology sites are pretty sane.
Absolutely no mention of aliens or the handing over of lump sums. However, there are numerous websites against Scientology on the internet. The gist is that Scientology brainwashes people to hand over huge amounts of cash. It is accused of murder, ruining lives and tearing families apart. And making fools out of humans. They claim that it's all based on some science- fiction story about Xenu and tax audits.
In return for the money and brainwashing, Scientology provides answers to many questions about life and death -- "a person is able to remove barriers and unwanted conditions and so becomes more himself". Sounds like a bargain to me. Not forgetting too that Scientology claims to "cure" homosexuality. You won't find that bit on the pro sites.
I decided to visit the Scientology centre in Dublin and check out some real-life Scientologists. From reading about them on the internet, I was expecting people with flames in their eyes and spiders running out of their lips as they hypnotised me. I also thought that my brain could do with a good washing: a 40-degree cycle please, I don't want it to shrink anymore.
I was warned by so many people to stay away from the place. When I said I had to go for the purpose of this article, the cries of "Carol, don't do it!" switched to "OK, well, at least don't bring any money in with you." Also, I brought my mentally stable friend Sarah D with me. Sarah stops me doing bad things. She keeps me on the right track: "No Carol, don't swallow that, you will die" and "Carol, stop shouting at her, she is only two years old," etc.
So, in we went for a "stress test". I actually was stressed as I had left my wallet in a taxi the previous night (so they definitely weren't getting money from me) and that morning I had broken something I shouldn't have. I can't say what I broke as it wasn't mine and I don't think the owner has copped yet. So, anyhow, we were excitedly escorted upstairs into a room a bit like a common room in a hostel. There was a great little buzz; people working away. There was one man sitting silently on the couch just staring with his shaky legs crossed.
Sarah refused to take the test, which had now changed from a stress test to a personality test. But I sat down with mine. I filled in my correct name and my home address in Kerry. Why did I do this stupid thing? Because I always do. When I got arrested last year in Kilkenny, I gave my real name and Kerry address, so that my mother could answer the door to her daughter's summons. Nothing came of that night in Kilkenny, so let's move on and erase it out of your minds. Think of an ocean, a vast blue ocean, you're floating in it, you feel the waves gently rocking your body, you're sleepy, very very sleepy. AND WIDE AWAKE.
A pale man with dark eyes handed me the test. "Answer the 200 questions; don't think about them too much". I thought about them way too much: "Do you eat slowly?" I do. I have always eaten slowly. As a kid, my other brothers and sisters would be finished at the end of Home and Away. I was still eating well into Eastenders. "Do you intend to have two or fewer children in your family even though your health and income will permit more?" Well, does that count if kids terrify me? The test went on. "Do you speak slowly?" Does that count if you have swallowed a sleeping tablet? "Do you often sing or whistle just for the fun?" Yes. And so many people have commented on my whistling, saying that it's the sign of the devil, which I think is a bit harsh.
As I was answering the questions, Sarah was offered a film to watch while she was waiting. They were trying to brainwash her, I thought to myself. I gave her a look that said "Don't do it, girl". She watched. It was a series of short films about kids getting bullied and society and stuff. She survived. I then had to wait for the results and have a little interview in a room the size of the men's cubicles in my local pub. My results were processed and then Mr Eyes handed me a graph. The graph clearly stated I was depressed and withdrawn, but was active and appreciative. So, actively withdrawn and appreciatively depressed. Mr Eyes just said my chart was pretty average. He then said a childhood event was holding me back and that I should purchase a copy of Dianetics and everything would be all right. I bought it with a loan of €10 off Sarah. I wanted a private jet like John Travolta.
As I was waiting for Sarah's change, I overheard a lady on the phone. "So, your wife left you and she won't let you see your kids. Well, look, why don't you have a shower and come on in here for a chat? What? Oh, you're in jail. Well, let's leave it so."
Mr Eyes gave me the change and my new book. And then he said goodbye. And that was that. Just a goodbye, no "Will I see you again?" Nothing.
The Scientologists didn't want me. I felt rejected. Not that I wanted a new religion or anything, but it would have been nice to be offered one. That night, Sarah and I went drinking with pals. We are the only two in the group that don't remember much of the night. Was it the Spanish vodka and fresh limes in my house, or were our brains nice and clean and easily influenced by alcohol? Who knows?
I'm a Catholic. Not necessarily a practising one, more of an attempting Catholic. I don't go to Mass, but I pray and I visit churches. I prefer churches when they are quiet so that there is no competition for attention from God. I sit there and whisper like an old lady, chat to Him/Her about things. I slag him about making life a teenie weenie bit shit and unfair. I do definitely believe in God. Once, I told this boy I fancied that I didn't believe in God. His parents were alternative; I thought he would ravage me there and then. He didn't. God forgave me. As a Catholic, I am just loving the whole eternal happiness for my loved ones and myself.
OK, look, maybe I am just a bit cynical about Scientology. We all need something to believe in. When times are bad, it helps you cope. When things are good, well, you don't bother too much with your beliefs -- selfish but true for some people And don't most religions involve the handing over of money, be it thousands of dollars to Scientology or €1 in the plate at Mass on a Sunday.
Either way, I'm sticking with the Catholics on this one -- there is nothing like Catholic guilt to help you lose a few pounds.