Sensory Deprivation
Making A High Prophet


An encounter with Scientology
By Jon Buckingham, Dark and Hungry God

L. Ron Hubbard
Crushing the infidels, one rock at a time

Readings from the book of Excreta: chp.7, vrs.8-42:-

In the Beginning was the Word...

...which is overly dramatic really, since the Word in question was "Hiya!", although it came from a source that, while probably not divine, was certainly expensively dressed. The owner of the voice and the pricey duds was a tall young man, who was also in possession of a wide smile, a tan, and a pamphlet. The latter was proffered to me as he stepped into my path on the tail end of a sweaty Saturday, blocking the way to Flinders Street station.

"Hiya! Howsit going? We've got these free EQ tests we're doing! You know about Emotional Quotient?"

I nodded vaguely, made assenting noises. Politeness has a lot to answer for if it means we have to make conversation with depressingly cheerful people and their unnaturally white teeth.

"Cool! Well, we're doing these tests for free. They're really fun - helpful too! I took one myself just the other day. Wanna have a go? Only takes about twenty-five minutes. Our office is air-conditioned, of course."

And there they were: the magic words. I'd missed my train, the temperature was high, and the hot dusty wind carried with it that special smell Melbourne gets in the latter hours of a warm day: exhaust fumes, rotting remains of yesterdays discarded McDonalds, the armpits of the homeless.

"Well. Why not then", I sighed.

My new best friend's smile widened (an action I wouldnt have believed possible had I not seen it) and I walked off with him towards the top of yon high mount, or at least as far as Russell Street, chatting mindlessly as we went. He introduced himself as Rob or James or something similarly innocuous. We talked about the weather (yes, it is hot isnt it); we talked about the price of fish (yes, halibut is disgustingly expensive, I agree). Eventually, I managed to voice a small thought that had been jostling for attention in my frontal lobe. Just what was I doing these tests for? Some sort of psychological study?

"Oh, uh. No," Rob/James/whatever said, "it's for the Church of Scientology. You know? Good! Hey, just in here!" He smiled a smile that must have afforded his dentist a new boat and a holiday.

Scientology. The Church of.

Well, what did I know about them? I was apparently walking into their sunny air-conditioned offices, and suddenly really didn't want to be, but apart from that, not much else, as it turns out. I knew its founder/messiah/head accountant-cum-nut-bag was one L. Ron Hubbard, whose garishly covered sci-fi novels I consciously avoided on bookstore shelves. To me, any religion that regards Battlefield Earth as its gospel needs to be approached with extreme caution. It had a lot of celebrity whack-jobs for members. Most people thought it was a money-based cult.

Propaganda never looked so distasteful

Beyond that, nothing. Nor, at the end of my experiences with them, had I learned much more. And as it turns out, most people can't fully explain the manifold beliefs of Scientology, including the majority of its members. Scientology is fairly hierarchical, and its "higher mysteries" are privy only to those who have progressed far enough along the path of enlightenment. It is only with subsequent research that I've managed to discover some facts behind L. Rons religion - although religion is a term he would have balked at facts which are mainly derived from the testimony of former members.

At base, Scientology claims to be a philosophy (not religion or belief system) which is completely compatible with all other faiths and convictions, and is equally applicable to atheists and the pious alike. It is a way to find inner harmony and salvation, and to help others to do the same. Presumably, in much the same way that the Spanish Inquisition was a proactive method of encouraging people to act in a moral fashion (the red-hot pokers up the jacksie were only incidental).

Actually to mix metaphors a little, the path to salvation is not path. Apparently it's a bridge. Each step across is achieved by undergoing a series of daily tests called Dianetics to increase awareness, sharpen powers of observation, and unburden yourself with implants (what are implants? Neophytes arent informed. But read on and all shall be revealed, grasshopper). The steps are known as OT levels, and there are 8 of them. And how is each tests to move on to the next level passed? Why, by paying money of, course. You pay for instructions on the mental exercises, the tests, their administration, and the materials required to perform them. And let me tell you folks, salvation doesnt come cheap. It costs approximately $385,000 American to walk that shining Way. More if you aren't particularly good on the tests. But hey, in other religions you have to give up violence, extra (and occasionally intra)-marital sex, certain types of food, and possibly have to mutilate yourself. What's roughly 400k between the blessed?

The thing is, though, you don't actually find out what Dianetics are for, what OT stands for, or what the benefits are until you have progressed up to OT level 3. And paid several thou of thy hard-earned. That's when the holy shit hits the fan of transcendency.

His eyes follow you around the room

I could've paid Willis' bail for that much!

OT3 is known colloquially as the "wall of fire". Those who achieve this level learn that the emotional analysis tests that they have been performing day in day out have been designed to "open their mind" to memories they have forgotten and thus lower their OT count. And pardon me folks, 'cos Im about to get weird now.

OT stands for Operating Thetan. This bears some explaining. According to L. Ron, the first to pass the wall of fire, Thetans are the omnipotent spirits which created the universe. Forget the seven-days-let-there-be-light stuff or the big bang. Creation happened like this: In the pre-creation nothingness, a bunch of bored Thetans who had nothing better to do and no-where to do it decided that there should be a single plane of reality. And lo! upon making this decision there was a loud snap of light. A chariot appeared, turned left, and then turned right. A cherub came out (where from, Im not sure. Probably the same place as the chariot) and blew a horn. There were another shattering series of snaps, and then everything faded to black. The Thetans scattered, and the universe came into being.

That's it. No kidding. Don't let Stephen Hawking tell you different.

The problem is, of course, that during the process the poor little Thetans got a bit traumatised by the shock of having made, well, everything - causing them to forget about most of their super-nifty omnipotent powers, and to generally wander around bumping into things. Well, it would, wouldn't it? Unfortuately, they never really recovered from this, which didn't put them in good standing from what happened next.

75 million years ago, the Thetan's constant buggering about and generally getting in the way got up the nose of the evil galactic emperor, Xenu (and no, I swear I'm not making this stuff up). In order to stop the Thetans cluttering up his evil empire, Xenu rounded them all up, and exiled them to the universes' first interstellar ghetto, Earth. And then he dumped them in volcanoes. And blew up the volcanoes with H-bombs.

Ooooo, what a wicked galactic ruler Xenu was.

Still not content, Xenu then made the Thetans watch bad movies (presumably Michael and Phenomenon) and gave them all R6 implants (more on these later). Now, while neatly providing Xenu with a solution to his over-population problem and duly entertaining him, this sort of treatment didn't do the Thetans much good. Though unable to be killed, they became very confused, lost their remaining powers, grouped together in clusters, and tended to take drugs (how bodiless entities take drugs and where they got them from 75 million years ago remains unknown to yours truly. Mind you, so does my name on most days). Eventually, groups of them started to inhabit lower life forms and to climb the evolutionary ladder. And they became humans.

So says L. Ron, anyway. According to the dictates of Scientology, we are all God, but we've just forgotten how to be omnipotent. What a trite little gnostic nicety. Sounds suspiciously like the plot of a hack sci-fi novel, don't it?

Subliminal messages are fun!

Ron sets sail for gullibility

All this is revealed when one reaches OT 3, and the Thetans resident in one's body begin to remember (thanks to the awareness tests) the whole Xenu affair (by this stage, it's assumed that you either believe all this stuff, or you've paid too much to go back now). However, this leaves one slight problem: all of us are full of forgetful, drug-taking, severely traumatised Thetans. All the bad things that happen to you are because the Body Thetans keep knocking about inside you and making you mess things up. What, oh what, are we to do? Well, thanks to L. Ron, we have Scientology to save us (hurrah). As we progress through each OT level, the daily tests and analysis help remove the Body Thetans by allowing them to remember who and what they are, leaving them free to leave their hosts and be reincarnated as new-born infants. Along the way, at each of the higher OT levels your Operating Thetan will slowly remember it's mental powers. At OT 7, a Scientologist is theoretically able to manipulate physical matter with the mind, fly, have out of body experiences and control the minds of lesser human beings and animals. Incidentally, OT 7 is the level that John Travolta is currently at. What a pity his mental powers don't allow him to, oh, say, not fuck up every movie hes made in the past 5 years. Or lose weight.

Eventually, when all your Body Thetans are gone and only the single Thetan that is your soul is left, you are "cleared", and a truly Operating Thetan. And, presumably, rather poorer.

However, as I said, only the higher, richer, initiates know this. I certainly didnt as I stepped on into the Victorian Scientology head offices reasoning that though I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, I would fear no evil. 'Cos quite frankly Im the baddest mutha in the valley (dont's baseless but reassuring thoughts like this that keep me going). They weren't going to be able to make me do anything I didn't want to I decided, and anyway...I might enjoy being whipped into religious subservience. I've been down on my knees plenty of times before - doing it for god would be a novelty, is all.

Unfortunately, nary a hint of chain nor spike nor sacrificial virgin was there to be seen. The well-appointed offices contained only neatly designed workspaces and friendly, pretty (but curiously sexless in the same way that newsreaders are) people, all of them industrious, all smiling, smiling away. And at that point I should have known to be scared. Ignorance was ever my shield, though.

My friend with the teeth sat me down at a work station and, leaving me with a pen and a questionnaire, went to practice winning grins and non-confrontational hand gestures with the other acolytes loitering around the reception area. Several other people were currently engaged in whatever test it was I had agreed to do, all of them apparently aged between about 18 to 30.

The predilection of the Church of Scientology for the younger generations has gotten them into trouble before, and not a million miles away either. In 1963, concerned parents and tutors of many of the students at Melbourne University accused the Scientologists, just recently come to our fair shores, of corrupting the minds of Our Youth, who seemed unnaturally attracted to them. This eventually led to a state government inquiry into the dictums of Scientology, and whether they were affecting the mental well being of the young for their own gain. The inquiry sat for 150 days, and ended up concluding that the Church was nothing but a cult, based on getting money out of its followers by unlawful means, including deception and brainwashing. Its proliferation was limited for some time thereafter.

L. Ron and the Church, not to be out done by a "kangaroo court" (not my appalling pun, a quotation) published their own report in answer to the inquiry's findings, concluding that the Victorian government was biased, illegal, and probably used brainwashing itself. Here's some of the nice things they had to say about your home state: "Only a society founded by criminals, organised by criminals and devoted to making people criminals could come to such a conclusion...The foundation of Victoria consists of the riff-raff of London's slums - robbers, murderers, prostitutes, fences, thieves the scourings of Newgate and Bedlam...The niceties of Truth and Fairness...are not for men whose ancestry is lost in the promiscuities of the prison ships... We will be here teaching and listening when out opponents names are merely mis-spelled references in a history book of tyranny...". Nice invective, no? Dont it make you proud to be Victorian?

The fact that the plight of those transported to Australia as prisoners mirrors in it's own small way certain events around 75 million years ago appears to have escaped L. Ron and Co. Never mind. The upshot of the whole affair was that the Church backed off for a short while, and then redoubled its efforts down-under, anxious to civilise the barbarians. And don't get me wrong, while the stuff I've been telling you about sounds a lot like a lot of old toot, to the initiate who knows Scientology only as a self-help philosophy based on personal development, it seems novel, interesting and very convincing - all very much designed to attract young people.

Forget J-Lo! L-Ron is da bomb, y'all.

But let's come to the tests. Were they something exotic and intriguing and insidiously mind warping? No. Hate to disappoint you. You can pick up things like these on the Internet, or even at your local library, for a dime a dozen or 3 for 10 cents Australian. Please answer the following as truthfully as possible: How much do you think your friends like you? - rate your likeability 1 to 5. Are you happy in your work? - rate your happiness 1 to 5. Do you sleep get the picture. Nothing controversial, nothing along the lines of: Would you like to overthrow your government in a holy war? - rate your jihadiness 1 to 5...How much money is in your wallet? - rate your dollars 1 to 500. All in all I felt quite pleasantly reassured. No evil brain-washing so far, no asking for money, no abduction-and-sexual-torture (dang). And on top of that, I was going to ace this test, it being on my favourite subject - moi. It was all simple and unthreatening and fun if you like that sort of thing. If this really was a cult, they were a very polite one. While I still had no intention of joining, I felt that they'd been unfairly given quite a bad rap.

My testing duly administered I went to find James/Rob/thingumy. He turned on the dental high beams, gave me the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head, and invited me to go over and take a seat in the lounge area while he tallied up my test. It wouldnt take long, I was assured. The lounge area was the other side of a low partition that separated it from the testing desks. The partition turned out in fact to be a long set of shelves, covered with merchandising.

L. Ron's books on Dianetics - they were there; his sci-fi "masterpieces" - they were there; as were pamphlets on creed and dogma, as were manuals on how to interpret the creed and dogma, as were large boxes labelled "Dianetics Apparatus", as were posters of L. Ron - all of them were there. All of them were clearly priced. All of them were quite expensive. This caused a slight raising of my eyebrow, but I continued to withhold judgement. I knew the scientologists were keen on money, but so far they hadn't asked me for any of mine (a cardinal sin in the gospel of Jon). I was quite prepared to keep my greasy mitts off of the products, and continue lounging. It did occur to me that my armchair just happened to face all the merchandise, that I was sitting there staring at them for quite some time, and that the L. Ron poster's eyes were following my every move, but I remained unconcerned. What I did find mildly disturbing was the fact that all of L. Ron's Dianetics products had a picture of a spurting volcano on them. The man obviously had a thing for mighty ejaculations. That, or I just have an inclination to dirty thoughts.

continuing the trend...

The central creed L. Ron gave his disciples was to "make money, make more money, make others produce so as to make money". Exactly how the gaining of wealth improves one's spirituality is unclear, but the Church strives hard in every respect to pursue this dictum to the limit. For example, according to L. Ron and the Church, it's OK to lie if it means more members or making money. Scientology is the pursuit of Truth, and if you have to deceive others in order to make them serve the Truth, so be it. This is why new members aren't told anything about Thetans or Xenu. In fact, the Church encourages the deception of all non-members, who it regards as lesser beings who are at best misguided, and at worst a threat that needs to be extinguished. Non-members are full of R6 implants, which make them stupid and erratic - the same implants Xenu started giving us, and are still administered by his agents. These implants are mainstream religion, psychology, and any belief that might cause one to shy away from the Truth of Scientology. It's quite alright to make money off those who have implants in any way possible. And yes, while he was alive, most of the money found it's way to L. Ron. The creation of Scientology ensured that if he could not become a god, he could at least make himself a high prophet.

Robby-Jimmy-Blah's return was heralded by a small cough behind me, and then a big grin in front of me.

"Weve got your score ready!" he informed me. I'd like to say that I didn't visibly jiggle in anticipation of being told how well I did, but I don't think I can. I'm very shallow like that sometimes. "Come with me and well go and talk about it."

Now, this did make me hesitate. I had been given the impression that I was going to be given a bit of paper with a tick and a smiley face on it and sent on my merry way. Instead, I was being lead deeper into the building, to a lone desk hidden from the view of the main offices. On the desk was some weird electrical apparatus - a black oblong about the size of a shoebox, all dials and wires - which I must admit, was quite impressive, but not quite so impressive as the price tag on the volcano-embossed packaging next to it.

"Have a seat," said Whatsisname. He wasn't smiling now. Then he disappeared off down a corridor, without looking back. I sat alone and somewhat agitated in the shadow of a plastic potted plant, but for no more than a few seconds. Suddenly a stranger appeared at my elbow, as if from nowhere.

Which isn't to say he just coalesced in a puff of smoke and sulphur and evil laughter. I just hadn't heard him.

He was tall and well dressed too, but he never showed his teeth when he smiled, and that smile was never more than a tightening of the lips across the jaw. I know he introduced himself at some point, but his name was eminently forgettable too. Let's call him Paul.

Paul sat down beside me with a small wave of the hand and the ubiquitous pleasantries, and it was then I realised that not one of my brand spanking new smiley friends had attempted to shake my hand today. I don't know if thats significant. Maybe I just smelled.

"Well," said Paul, after he'd asked how I was today, "it's nice to see you here. And we're here to talk about your test. But tell me first, Jon, why did you choose to come to the Church of Scientology today?"

"Uh," I said, with all my usual brilliance. "I dunno. It just seemed like a bit of fun, I guess."

Paul stared at me for a full ten seconds, unblinking and silent, before he said in a tight voice, "I see."

In the further ten seconds of awkward silence, I realised that I'd just called his religion, his whole belief system and way of living "a bit of fun, I guess". I slumped a little lower in my chair, and smiled crookedly. Paul looked up for a second at something behind me, and I heard the rustle and creak of a chair being drawn over to the desk. Someone had just sat down directly behind me. Someone big.

"This is Dennis," (no, its not his real name either) said Paul. "He's going to sit in with us for the rest of this interview."

Now, understand that until this point, I was unaware that this was in any way an "interview"; for the rest of whatever it was, though, Dennis was right behind me, no more than a foot away. I couldn't see Dennis unless I turned right around in my chair. He never spoke, and he never moved, but there was always this hulking presence, staring at the back of my neck.

"Let's talk about your test," Paul said while I tried to get used to Dennis. "Now, how do you think you did?" I prepared to preen a little. In the sort of test that has "no wrong answers", I was bound to have kicked arse. But when I answered that I thought I probably went quite well, Paul replied firmly but gently, "No, you didn't".

He then proceeded to explain to me that my test showed that I had incredibly low self-esteem. I projected an aura of confidence to others to try and fool myself, but deep down it was obvious I was depressed and unhappy. I needed some kind of help to come to terms with my lack of self worth, but my false sense of confidence would make me try and deny it and run away from anything that made me confront my inner pain.

And that's so much hokum as I write it down, but as he spoke in his calm, firm voice, what Paul said seemed naggingly probable to me, in the same way that what your horoscope says about your personality seems to be very nearly right, or a quiz in a cheap womens magazine appears to tell you a lot about yourself - in both cases, by making gross generalisations that are able to cover every contingency. If I didn't believe what Paul was telling me was true, it was the old self-denial kicking in. And with Dennis looming behind me and Pauls unblinking gaze in front of me, I did indeed begin to feel a bit insecure.

"But let's demonstrate this", said Paul, and he pulled the black box with the wires towards him. This was the Dianetics device. I willingly allowed myself to be hooked up to it. Actually, that sounds rather painful, and it wasn't. The apparatus consisted of the main box, some dials on its forward face, and two sets of wires leading from it, each with what appeared to be a small tin can at the end. Being "hooked up" merely involved holding a can in each hand.


The Dyanetics device was invented by L. Ron as a machine which was able to read your soul, measure your emotions, and enable you to monitor the amount of Body Thetans currently inhabiting you and their level of control. It was an instant hit: with it Scientology could prove that the soul existed, and that the human mind could exercise power over physical objects.

Paul very gently pinched the flesh of my arm. The needle on the big dial moved.

"Now", he said when the needle had returned, "Remember what that felt like."

I concentrated, and the needle moved again.

"Now remember the last time you felt ill."

The needle moved further. Then Paul told me to think a calm and happy thought while focusing on the needle. It returned slowly to the static centre.

"It's the power of you mind doing that," Paul told me. "With our help, you'll be able to focus yourself so that all the pain in your life is removed, and you're able to see things clearly. That's what this machine is for - it'll show your level of dis-ease with yourself".

Despite myself, I was impressed. I had moved the needle in response to my feelings. Then my brain, which I can only assume was on hiatus until then, kicked in. I remembered psychology lectures (thank you liberal arts education) on the Galvanic Skin Response: the flow of electrical conductivity through the skin, the amount of sweat produced under pressure. It's what makes a lie detector work. And this box was doing exactly the same thing. The needle was just responding to the slight electrical current produced in the dermal layering when it experiences pain or the brain remembers it. No soul measurement or telekinesis involved. But I decided not to mention this to Paul and Dennis. Just as well too, or they doubtless would have demonstrated the effects of pain with an electrical current through the scrotum.

"So you see", Paul was continuing, "we want, and are able, to help you. According to your test, you think you don't need us, but its our job to show you that you do." He leant forward, uncomfortably close to me. I noticed his pupils had become pinpoints. "We'd like you to become a member of the Church of Scientology so that you can be cured and happy".

Cured and happy

And the next ten minutes were spent trying to talk my way as fast as politely possible out of there. It wasn't pretty. I did a lot of squirming. I'll spare you the details. Given that if I screamed I'd probably be heard by someone out the front, Paul eventually and reluctantly let me get up and walk away, on the proviso that I'd be back when I finally realised that I needed help, and soon, before my life was ruined.

I walked out quickly, and the smell outside the doors of sweat and car exhaust was sweet. Everything they said had sounded very, very convincing, and I'm sure they did believe that in their own rather skewed way, they would be helping me. And that made it all the more hard to leave. Nothing I had been told there had been an outright lie, just a lot of half-truths, which tend to be worse, because they're harder to spot.

It dawned on me that I had been given a light brain-washing, and a quick spin in the tumble dryer afterwards - I had come in of my own free will, had had my confidence probed and shaken, had been provided with a few unspoken threats, and finally shown a piece of high-tech sorcery which would be my salvation. And it had been effective, because even as I left I was still not certain that what theyd told me was wrong. And I'm a fairly intelligent person. No, really. It sounds laughable, but when you're there, it all seems perfectly right and natural.

Later I found that I'd gotten off lightly. Those who join and try and leave the Church are lucky if they just get shunned. Occasionally they are recruited back by the Rehabilitation Project, which gives those it gets hold of an "introspection rundown" (which has been known to cause psychotic episodes, so intense is the procedure by which you are "convinced" to return), or a "purification rundown" (combining a toxic dose of niacin, calcium and magnesium with a course of strenuous exercise which does the soul no end of good, but sometimes causes the liver to fail). Non-members don't do too well either. L. Ron once declared that at least 25% of the population was both insane and irrelevant, and at the right time, should be disposed of quietly and without sorrow.

Religion and belief are fine and noble things. It is belief in something, whether it be God, or justice, or a cause, that makes us human beings. By the same token, it is not my place to say that Scientologists are a bunch of fucking weirdoes to believe what they do when countless millions also believe that God was born of a virgin and rose from the dead, or that they will be reincarnated life after life until they achieve nirvana, or that Elvis is still happily mooching around the place eating jelly rolls and occasionally jumping out in front of folks who just happen to have video cameras. Any belief is worthy, even if its misguided.

However, religion and belief may be fine and noble things, but should never be taken too seriously. Thats when the Inquisition heats up the iron spikes, the jihad rattles its sabre, and the Untouchables are left to die in the street. I have no right to mock Scientology for its pass-the-lobotomy-please belief in Xenu and the Thetans - for all I know L. Ron was right. What I object to are the actions they justify with them, whether it be attempting to brainwash poor fuck-wits like me or screwing the credulous out of their pennies, or some of the darker rumours I've only read hints about. Or allowing John Travolta to keep cranking out the crap, limp scrotum that he is.

But hey, feel free to join the Church of Scientology if you want, kiddies. Me, I'll stick with Onanism, which at least sounds like a religion, and doesn't require you to get out of bed on Sunday morning.

Here endeth the overly long and preachy lesson.