My Scientology Experiment in Copenhagen
It was on a winter afternoon, during a stroll through the aesthetic architecture that Copenhagen is known for, that an impulse to cultivate myself with knowledge about an alien cult struck me. Gold typography that read Scientologi Kirken Danmark (Church of Scientology Denmark) glistened before my eyes. I stepped in to look.
Before me unfolded the USS Callister Starship I had seen on Black Mirror (2011). The overflow of advanced-looking flat screens (meant for exhibition purposes) gave off a futuristic look. What stood out most were the many delicately preserved hardcovers held up by shelves and plastered onto the walls in perfect cordons here and there. The distinctive books displayed the face of L. Ron Hubbard – American science fiction and fantasy writer, and the founder of the Church of Scientology – each of them from a different angle. I dug how funky it appeared when glancing at every nook and cranny of this space; it was as if were designed to brainwash our atheist generation.
A lady came, clacking her heels through the labyrinthian hall. She was draped in mouse gray hair, which was tucked in a formal ponytail. Her sleek appearance contrasted her face, which wrinkled itself into a gully grin.
“Do you want coffee? With sugar? Milk?” she said.
“Both, please,” I replied. She fiddled with the remote, played me a documentary and took off into one of the chambers.
I sat still, gazing at flickering, melancholy landscapes. A soft yet formal voice of a male Brit led me through the pixel experience. Perhaps I brought certain expectations with me. I would have imagined the traditional experience of a one-on-one talk to quench my curiosity. But the Morgan Freeman-style introduction tape proceeded, and eventually faded to an end. The only thing it had, admittedly in various ways, was that Scientology teaches about life as a blend of science and spirituality.
“Does this give you sort of an understanding of what Scientology is about?” the lady asked. She had reappeared in the seat next to me.
“Yeah, sort of.” I lied. “I noticed as I was exploring Copenhagen that there are two Scientology churches here. That’s a lot.”
“Copenhagen is the centre of Scientology in Europe. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the religion, chose Copenhagen himself – and it was for a reason; Denmark is a stable country.”
“Are you a believer yourself?”
“What made you turn to Scientology?”
“My parents are Scientologists, but it’s not like you’re born into the religion. As a teenager, I drank and had too much fun, so my parents suggested that I take some Scientology courses. My mother is from the US. She went hitchhiking around Europe, which was how my parents met. She got in my father’s car, who was already a Scientologist. My mother gave birth to me, so she decided to stay and take some Scientology courses in Copenhagen. Eventually, she became a Scientologist herself.”
“You have an interesting story,” I said to fill the pause, but instead the rest of the conversation shifted to become solely about me. The dynamic between the lady and I went from teacher-and-student to therapist-and-patient. She suggested that I take a personality test, and I did.
It seemed like they knew more about me than I did. After ticking off what felt like a thousand boxes of the paper I was given, the lady talked about my personality while holding up a new document. This showed a linear graph nearly as drastic looking as the 762 zigzag turns on the way from Chiang Mai to Pai in Northern Thailand from a satellite view. It looked like I had severe depression, among other issues.
“Okay. What now?” I asked after a dark hour of an unforeseen therapy session with the lady had followed.
“Now I suggest we get started with the next step,” she proposed in her friendly body language. I think she meant auditing, which she talked briefly about. Unlocking the next chamber of truth costs 290 Danish kroner. So I declined.
The cult has its rituals like any other religion. The difference is that the Scientologists make use of newer technology, such as the E-Meter. The device sends energy of 1.5 volts through the bodily system of the ‘pre-clear’ (the term for the unconverted Scientologist), and back to the device. This is what is called auditing, and it takes place in rooms in the cult’s churches – also in this particular church of Copenhagen.
Applicants are called ‘pre-clears’ because they are considered to be people who do not yet see clearly, according to linguistics of the Scientologists. Then there is the auditor, who pushes all the buttons during the ritual. The goal of these sessions is to rid the pre-clear’s burdened thought patterns concerning any life situation.
The Way to Happiness is one of Scientology’s practices, and it was originally a book – ‘The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living’ written by Hubbard himself. The concept eventually became a physical organisation based in California. In Copenhagen, it entails running humanitarian projects, and there are rehabilitation centres with a connection to the Church of Scientology in Denmark. Non-believers are also welcomed to incorporate The Way of Happiness in their paths to truth-seeking.
There – I have articulated how the E-Meter and ‘The Way to Happiness’ works, in the same way the Church of Scientology would articulate it. However, the E-Meter functions the same way a lie detector does.
The lady’s straightforwardness took my mind on a wander back to my last trip in Indonesia, prior to my arrival in my Scandinavian homelands. The Muslims whom I had crossed paths with all told me that religious education should be free – and that if anyone demanded money, I was to turn them down. My Arabic teacher in Java – one of the many Indonesian islands – had introduced me to the ways of Islam, hassle-free from any implication of paper notes. He also provided me with discounted accommodation.
In Scientology, monetary transaction after monetary transaction is required to attain enlightenment, which is no surprise stepping toes onto Western soil. Islam’s philosophy seemed far more selfless – in the East at least.
People who vent to the Church of Scientology in Denmark could be anyone from former drug addicts to people suffering with depression to privileged people. Depression is a serious condition, where getting out of bed in the mornings might be the hardest thing in the world.
The cult remains foreign to me. On a positive note, a Nordic gust of relief hit me when breathing outside again, as if I had left a fragment of myself tucked on the side of the pavement by the entrance. Life is good on the other side of the door.
The rest of my evening was spent roaming around the streets of the silent city at dusk. I made my 290 kroner worthwhile, spending it on vegetarian Mediterranean dinner buffet and pints of beer.
Life is good.
Cover art and inset by the author