[ rjbs, March 2022: I don’t really know when I wrote this, but probably 2002 sometime ]
I arrived in Boston in late August in 1996. I would start college, as a Philosophy and Mathematics major, in a few weeks. Until then, I had nothing to do but relax and enjoy my new home. I spent a lot of time sitting around campus and reading, enjoying my new access to the School of Theology Library. I also did a lot of exploring.
One day I was out exploring the back bay, looking for cheap shops. (Let me save you the trouble: there are no cheap shops in the back bay.) As I walked down Newbury Street, a pleasant-looking young man with a clipboard approached me.
“Hi,” he said, “would you like to take a personality survey?”
Well, I guessed that this guy was a grad student who needed to collect data. I wanted to help him. I said, “Yeah, okay.” I was young and naive.
We started walking down Exeter, and he asked me whether I was from Boston, and why I was there. When I told him that I was going to study philosophy, he was excited and asked which philosophers I liked. “Oh, I like Unamuno, and Buddha, and Jesus Christ.”
He smiled. “Yeah. I’m interested in religion, too, and religious technology. Do you know anything about L. Ron Hubbard?”
Well, now I knew I was doomed.
I figured it would be pretty rude to just run, so I spoke with him politely until we got to the Church of Scientology. They put me in the basement with a standardized test form, and I answered a lot of questions.
Do you often sing or whistle just for fun?
Does emotional music have quite an effect on you?
Do you feel sometimes that your age is against you?
You are an angel heading for the land of sunshine, and fortune is smiling on you!
Ok, I made the last one up. I was mildly mind-blown when I realized that the lyrics to Land of Sunshine came from the Scientologist personality evaluation.
Once I was done, I waited and waited. I think I had a book with me, and read it. Finally, someone came and fed my paperwork through a machine and sent me to see some kind of Scientologist head shrinker. He tried to help me figure out why my life was so awful.
“Why are you so unhappy?”
“I’m not unhappy.”
“But you said you don’t smile much.”
“Smiling isn’t the same as happiness. Actually, you asked whether I was unhappy, and I said no.”
Questions like these continued for a while, and finally the guy reverted to smalltalk. “What will you be studying?” So, the previous talk of Jesus and Buddha repeated, and the guy said, “Oh, Buddha! He’s great! Scientology is a lot like Buddhism.”
I think I did a spit take at this point, so the guy pulled out a big textbook about Scientology and turned to some page in the middle, where there was a picture of Jesus, Ghandi, Guatama Buddha, and L. Ron Hubbard (in a pith helmet) standing on top of a mountain, with the sun setting behind them. In my memory, they are arranged like the classic “descent of man” images, L. Ron Hubbard arising from his slope-browed spiritual predecessors.
“Well, I’m not sure,” I said. “Didn’t you say that Scientology was going to help me better connect with my fellow men, and strengthen my bonds with my family and work?”
“Didn’t Buddha teach that we must abandon this world and our attachments to it?”
“Well, that doesn’t sound like Scientology at all! You must be confused.”
“No, I think you might be a little confused. I’m not familiar with Mr. Hubbard, but I can tell you that if he said what you’re saying, then Scientology isn’t very similar to Buddhism.”
“Oh, it’s very similar!”
“Could you give me a better explanation of how they’re similar?” I asked, growing bored of the non-argument.
“Look, as far as I’m concerned, Scientology is a lot like Buddhism.”
I stared. “Ok, but can you provide some evidence?”
He seemed pretty upset, and said, “Wait here, I’ll be back.”
I waited around for about five minutes, and finally he came back and said, “I’ve spoken with my supervisor. I don’t want to have an argument with you, and I know you don’t want to have an argument with me. I think it would be best if you left now.”
So I did.