22 March, 2010

How to Confuse a Scientologist

A couple of years ago, I went to a spirituality and wellbeing show.  I’m sure you’ve seen the kind of thing before – one of those expos where you can have your palm read while someone sticks a candle in your ear to restore your equilibrium or something.  As you can probably tell, I took it all with a grain of salt but it is always interesting to hear what some of the people there have to say.  I ended up having my aura read.  It seemed harmless enough.  A machine reads the colour and then the vendor interprets it for you.  It turns out that I’m witty and creative.  Who’d’ve thunk?

The scientologists were there too, although somewhat tellingly, they had their marquee set up outside the hall, not inside with the others.  On my way out, a young lady asked me if I’d like a free stress test.  Rather than blow them off completely, I went over to hear what they had to say.  Rather than being a questionnaire of some sort, I was presented with a set of aluminium electrodes roughly the dimensions of Red Bull cans, hooked up to a machine. 

“Oh, cool!” I said, “A multimeter!”
“Oh no,” she told me.  It’s a sophisticated system for measure the mass of your brainwaves.... or something.
“No, it’s a multimeter,” I replied.  But I played along.

She told me to hold the electrodes, on in each hand, and to first think about things that make me happy, and then when she asked me to, to think about things that make me angry.  I explained, trying not to be too condescending, that the machine obviously measures conductivity and that when I think of things that make me angry, that will cause me to tense up, tightening my grip on the electrodes, which will increase the area of contact with the electrodes and therefore make the meter go up.  She assured me that there was more to it than that.  I agreed to do the test her way if she let me do it my way afterwards.

In the interests of fairness, I tried my best to follow her instructions and I didn’t try to mess with the results by deliberately loosening my grip on the electrodes when she asked me to think angry thoughts.  Sure enough, the meter went up. No surprises there.

So then it was my turn.  The tubular electrodes were open-ended, so I balanced them on the first finger of each hand to ensure that I could not alter the conductivity either deliberately or involuntarily.  At this point, she started to make excuses.  She told me it would give an inaccurate reading since she would have to turn the gain right up on the machine to compensate for the reduced contact I had with the electrodes.  This suggests that she knew at least something about the physics of the process.  I granted her that point but insisted that she humour me, since I had humoured her method.  Just as predicted, it made no difference to the meter when I switched from thinking happy thoughts to angry thoughts.  She already had her excuse; it was all to do with having to turn up the gain, even though that would have amplified any minor reaction I might have had.  She tried to tell me that thoughts and brainwaves have mass, which the machine measured, but I was having none of it by that stage.  I don’t know if she genuinely believed what she was saying or not.

For measuring the mass of your thoughts, apparently
Also handy for testing batteries

Let me be clear that I am not here to shitcan anyone’s faith or religion.  I’m about as ecumenical as they come.  George Harrison once said that it doesn’t matter what you call God so long as you call Him.  I agree.  But you see, that’s the difference: God.   Every religion, from the most moderate, middle-of-the-road, non-denominational church, to the craziest of militant fundamentalists has one thing in common: they all refer to God.  That’s kind of the point.  There are disagreements – some valid, some insane – about how best to recognise and worship God and they all have their lunatic fringes. Frankly, if you’re the kind of person who tells people that God hates them, or if you think God wants you to strap bombs to yourself, then you have deeper problems than a poor choice of minister, but if nothing else, all forms or religion are settled on God.  Except one.

When have you ever heard a scientologist talk about God?  We hear them talk about L Ron Hubbard, about dianetics and of course, about how misunderstood and persecuted they are, but I have never heard any of them talk directly about God.  On the odd occasions when they do refer to God, it’s in a deeply wishy-washy way – not the centre of the faith, as most religions tend to have it.  You also never hear scientologists talk about prayer.  Those are two pretty big reasons why I say it’s not a church, and it’s not a religion.  I don’t deny them the right to believe whatever they want, but it’s not a church.  It’s whackos like that who give real churches and believers a bad name.

So if you’re ever accosted by a scientologist offering to guess the weight of your personality problems, and you have the time and inclination, try blowing their minds with a bit of actual science.  Or, if you’d rather do the test yourself, you can get the same results from a product that’s available for under $30 from any Tandy store.


  1. Fantastic post - I would have loved to have seen her face. It never continues to amaze me how many suckers fall for this though. Probably the same people who give their bank account details to Nigerians!


  2. They call themselves a religion to get the tax breaks. It's really a self-help system of psychoanalysis. Which is funny since they consider psychiatry evil.

  3. I love the way atheists deny their tendencies to act like a religion by pointing out they don't have a tax exemption. If the first practical distinction they come up with is their tax status, that tells me a lot.

    Interesting point about self-help. I guess they have to say that psychiatry is evil since it's their main competition