Apparently what a city plagued by eternal road-works needs is a brand new religion. And no, it’s not the one that Madonna belongs to. Her influence hasn’t spread quite so far yet.
Instead, Manchester has been graced with it’s very own Scientologist church. Situated in Deansgate, it seems to be planted in a suburb of lesser known religions. Down the street is a Christian Scientist reading room, and further down is the Quakers Hall.
When I first saw the letters ‘Church Of Scientology’, I was stopped in my tracks and could only muster a “Oh wow, really?”. I knew my city was weird, but surely not that weird.
Only three months later did I dare pass the doors. Accompanied by an equally curious friend, of course.
The interior doesn’t look like a church in the slightest. It’s best described as a cross between a book-shop, and a waiting room at the dentists. Books line the shelves, their bright covers and fonts grabbing our eyes. Every single book has been written by L. Ron Hubbard, who’s essentially the Buddha of Scientology.
When greeted by a friendly (And slightly creepy) volunteer, my friend and I claim to be exploring different religions. This is the easiest way to receive the free personality tests being given out. After being handed the sheets, we are sent off to complete the 200 question quiz (Only in L. Ron Hubbard’s mind would one of his tests require more questions than a standard driving test).
Most of the questions were extremely vague.
‘Do you ever experience periods of sadness?’
‘Have you ever been overcome by feelings of anger?’
‘Were there ever moments in your life where you felt alone?’
One question stood out to both of us, to the point where we were holding back laughter. I still remember it to this day.
‘Which of the following things can a child not live without?
A. His Toys
B. His Eyes
C. His Mouth
D. His Lungs ‘
I’m sure my answer to that question was essential to understanding my emotional well-being.
Whilst our tests were being marked, we took a chance to glance at the books being sold on the shelves (For at least £70, which is more expensive than most meals in Manchester). Though, if the books truly delivered on their titles, they may be worth the price.
‘How To Have A Successful Marriage’
‘The Way To Happiness’
‘The Problems Of Work’
‘A History Of Man’
Interestingly, this one featured a Neathendral on the cover. So at least they believe in Evolution…I guess?
My friend’s attention was suddenly drawn to a voice from nearby. It was a woman singing Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, from a television in the next room. Surely she wasn’t a Scientologist too?!
However, we found that a large TV had been playing loops of Scientology propaganda. The excerpt we heard was from a fundraising concert. Bizarrely, the only one interested in watching the videos was a old man.
We were then treated to a DVD of Scientology’s greatest hits (Even the Church itself would consider that a over-complentary title for what we watched).
Actors, all young, good-looking and american, were presented as everyday people on the streets. They gushed about their love of the new religion, and their devotion to it’s teachings. How fortunate that the film crew was able to find so many of these people on one street!
Then the DVD took us on a tour of a Church. Needless to say, it’s Californian back-drop made it look nicer than the one we were sat in. More actors were shown, touring the building and laughing along with Church staff. People of every race were shown there, all co-existing happily under the reign of L. Ron Hubbard. Even Stevie Wonder could see this was blatantly a cult.
By the time our test results were complete, the DVD had rotted our brains with mindless drivel. Funnily enough, the DVD was very similar to the ‘Skynet’ propaganda film shown in the Terminator ride at Universial Studios. Not that I’m saying Scientology is similar to a evil organisation from a sci-fi movie but…
Sitting down at a circular table, the examiner’s face looked grim. Both of us being ‘South Park’ fans, my friend and I knew what was coming.
“You’re both below what we’d consider a healthy emotional state” explained the examiner, showing us two identical charts, “At points, you dip into levels similar to those with depression”.
Never have I been diagnoised with a severe illness by a man with no background in medicine, but there’s a first for everything.
Next came the inevitable shilling of merchandise. He tried selling us a book, and then a pamphlet. A fucking pamphlet! Who SELLS pamphlets? Even Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do that.
Once it was clear that we weren’t interested, the conversation moved onto a endorsement of Scientology’s most infamous invention- the E-Meters!
The E-Meters have been used as a research tool in human studies, long before L. Ron Hubbard rolled onto the scene. However, with Scientology’s rise, the devices are associated with ‘spiritual well-being’.
Two metal tubes protrude out of the device, with a scale behind a glass panel on the centre of the device. We were told that this e-meter could read our negative and positive thoughts. I gave it a go first, even though it looked like one of those machines at an arcade (That give you an electric shock).
“Now, think of a negative thought” instructed the examiner, “Any negative thought”.
I cast my mind back to an argument I’d had with my friend, and the arrow behind the glass dipped onto one side of the panel.
“See! There we go!” The examiner exclaimed, “It measured your negative energies!”
There wasn’t much to argue on this. In hindsight, I wish I’d thought of a positive memory just to fuck with them.
My friend was then instructed to try it out. And to sweeten the deal, the Scientologist explained ‘the pinch test’. As my friend grasped the metal tubes, the examiner leaned over and pinched him on the back of his arm. The arrow jittered about on the scale.
Some religions threaten you with Hell…some threaten you with bad Karma. Scientology will pinch your arm.
After this, we essentially barraged the poor volunteer with questions about Scientology. Most were concerning the world’s most famous scientologist – Tom Cruise. Usually the questions were of a “Did you know that Tom Cruise said..” or “What did you think when Tom Cruise…” variety.
Throughout most of the discussion, I was relatively tepid. Nothing he was saying was particularly objectionable.
Then we got onto the subject of psychiatry.
And things got fucked up.
In 2005, Tom Cruise went on TV and slammed Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants. At the time, she’d been suffering from post-partnum depression, resulting from a truamatic birth, her father’s recent death and a family history of depression.
Being the self-appointed expert on mental health that he is, Tom Cruise suggested that she simply go for a jog, rather than turn to psychiatry. And this isn’t just one stupid Hollywood actor talking.
This is what the Church of Scientology actually believes.
“Well, Tom Cruise was certainly right to express those views” explained the examiner, “In our eyes, psychiatry is a psuedo-science. It harms more people than it helps”.
Inside of me, I could feel my blood boiling.
“For example, the terrorists in Paris…they were on psychiatric drugs the day they attacked all those people in the concert…” He went on to say, “In fact, they believed themselves to super-human…to be invincible…as if they were unstoppable”. *
This is where I had to speak up.
“Sorry, but that’s just not true. The reason they did what they did was because they WANTED to die. Their whole mindset is that their certain type of religious extremism is going to get them to Heaven. They wanted to die”.
Our Scientology tutor looked a little meek, “That’s certainly a possibility”.
After this point, we were no more convinced of the truth of Scientology. And they had not managed to sell a single pamphlet or book to us.
Leaving through the doors of the Church, only one thing was clear – You can never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.
* At the time of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, some reports claimed that six of the eight shooters were on drugs. However, a toxicology report released in January 2016 shows that none of the attackers were drugged with any psychotropic drugs. There were trace amounts of cannabis and alcohol were found in the blood of two of them men, but so small that they couldn’t have been ingested on the day of the attack.
Paris Attackers Toxicology Report