by Shéa Bennett
I recently had a job interview for an IT position with the Church of Scientology.
Let me explain. I wasn’t aware of my potential employer going in. The company in the advertisement was Narconon, who bill themselves as “the world’s most successful drug rehab,” and apparently have been in the business of narcotic rehabilitation since 1966.
I know, I know – some of you are screaming, “What!? How could you not have known that Narconon was a Scientology front?” Well, I didn’t. I have no real excuse – I simply did not know. You probably don’t know, for example, that there are four different models of the IG-88 assassin droid in the Star Wars universe.
Oh, you did? Ah.
I should have done more research. I did some research, but I didn’t look up Narconon on Wikipedia. My mistake — it won’t happen again.
I live in East Sussex, which is on the South East coast of England, and my interview with Narconon was on Wednesday morning at one of their main drug rehabilitation centres. The building, a Tudor mansion that is well over one hundred years old, is quite simply magnificent.
I’d arrived a little early and took a moment to sit on a bench outside, soaking up the majesty of the surroundings. Very impressive indeed; must have cost a fortune.
Moments later, somebody came out to see me, and introduced himself. It was Bob, the chap I’d spoken to on the telephone when arranging my interview. We entered the building via the reception – the inside was as pretty as the out – and Bob handed me an application form.
I was taken to another room, and there I met Adam, who was also applying for the position. Bob explained that even though Adam had arrived first we would be interviewing together. The importance of this unity – that Adam and I needed to stay together – was reinforced upon me on several occasions thereafter, to the point where, looking back, I have to wonder if Adam was actually a genuine applicant, or somebody they had used to watch over me. But that’s crazy, paranoid thinking. Right?
I finished the application form and returned it to Bob. Adam followed. Now back in the reception area, I was admiring the beautiful fireplace when I noticed a large, fairly old-fashioned looking book on the mantle. The author’s name grabbed my immediate attention.
L. Ron Hubbard
The book was still shrink-wrapped – it was available for purchase. It’s not unusual to find an association between religion and rehab programs, but this still caught me a off-guard. My mind drifted back to the application, and a section therein that asked if I represented a newspaper or had the intention of writing a story about the facility. I had assumed this was a legal procedure to protect the guests, and I’d ticked the box marked “no.” Hindsight is, of course, 20-20.
Bob then led Adam and myself into a private room, and said we needed to watch a video that explained the history of Narconon. Fine; this was not the first time I’d had to sit through introductory materials for a new job. What Bob neglected to mention, however, was that the video was essentially an introduction to Scientology. Sure, it was mostly about Narconon, but L. Ron Hubbard and/or Scientology were typically given a very specific (and often congratulatory) mention at the beginning of every new scene.
The video traced the history of Narconon through founder William “Willy” Benitez, a former inmate at Arizona State Prison who, in 1988, started a program for recovering addicts after reading Hubbard’s 1966 work, The Fundamentals of Thought. Hubbard would then go on to sponsor the incorporation of Narconon as an organization, and it wasn’t long before new programs were opening all around the world.
Numerous “celebrities” made appearances on the tape at various points, but it wasn’t until Kirstie Alley showed up that I was finally presented with a name I actually recognized. Indeed, the producers of the show obviously realized this, too, as she then appeared again. And again. And again. Before we had a moment with Kelly Preston. And then more Kirstie Alley.
Alley, it turns out, is a national spokesperson for Narconon, and thanks to her Scientology training has now achieved the level of “OT VII,” or “Operating Thetan Level 7.” Impressive stuff. Incidentally, Alley is the only cast member of Cheers never to appear on Frasier, allegedly because of that show’s positive portrayal of psychiatry, the practice of which Scientology is decidedly opposed.
As for the program itself, the gist of it involves the use of vitamins and minerals alongside exercise and lots of time in the sauna, to cleanse the body of toxins. Patients are then rehabilitated using the principles of Scientology.
The video lasted for 30 minutes. I was quiet throughout, but Adam kept saying odd things, like, “Wow, they’re really doing well for themselves,” and, “They’ve mentioned everywhere but here!” when the show had failed to say anything about the St Leonards building in which we were seated. He seemed quite interested in the information, and this odd behaviour on his part prevented me from making any obnoxious jokes. Quite clearly he either didn’t know who or what Scientology represented, or he didn’t care. Or both.
His attitude fascinated me. The situation was becoming increasingly surreal; with my mounting paranoia, I’d begun to check the room for hidden cameras. I was torn between my curiosity to see where this was going, and the blossoming worry that any time now somebody was going to start injecting me with chemicals until I declared allegiance to The Leader. Whatever happened, assuming I got out alive, and with my mental faculties otherwise intact, I was sure of one thing: I would have a half-decent story to tell.
As soon as the video finished, Adam was out of his chair, off to tell Bob. He returned to the room a few moments later, alone, and proceeded to switch off the DVD player and the television, a decision on his part I thought more than a little presumptuous.
Bob arrived, and asked us what we thought of the presentation. “Hmmm,” I said, nodding. “Hmmm?” asked Bob. “Hmmm,” I replied. He didn’t press the matter any further.
Pullquote: By now I’d accepted that Adam was going to kill me.
We were then informed that we needed to take a personality test. Two hundred questions, all of which needed to be answered in one of the familiar three ways: definitely yes; unsure; and definitely no. The instructions made it clear that, where possible, we should always strive for a yes or no answer.
What made me laugh is how so many of these “personality” questions were deliberately leading. They’d be like, “Do you sometimes wish you could advocate all responsibility to a greater power?” or “Do you often feel the world is a dreamy place?”
Several times the test asked if my muscles twitched during certain events, like when I’m in a situation that might turn hostile – I mean, they do, but I put “no” to be safe, in case it led to injections – and of course like all personality tests there were lots of the same question delivered repeatedly in different ways, and I made sure I answered each of these in the opposite manner to which I had before.
This took about half an hour. I finished before Adam, and took my answers out to Bob. He had a quick look-over, seemed pleased, and then announced that we now had to take an IQ test. This was timed over 30 minutes, and meant another 80 questions. The paper proudly stated it was an “Oxford IQ Test” on the front sheet, but many of the questions were, once again, more than a little leading. Between the standard fare about which shape comes next and the usual mathematical queries were some strange word pairing problems, and one question – and I swear this is true – actually asked you a brainteaser about the letters that make up the word “lobotomized.”
Still, eighty questions is eighty questions, and part of me likes to do well in these things, no matter who I’m representing – if the Devil himself gave me a quiz I’d want to get an A – and I finished with literally seconds to spare. Adam didn’t finish, and Bob had to come and make him stop. Neither seemed enormously bothered by this fact. By now I’d accepted that Adam was going to kill me.
The Truth Laid Bare
Back at reception, we were told we’d need to speak with Dawn, the boss, before we left. She duly arrived, happened to pick up my file first, and led me into another room. This was the first time I’d been separated from Adam or Bob. It’s worth noting that nobody apart from the narrator on the video had mentioned Scientology up to this point, but Dawn didn’t hold back, immediately launching into her pitch. The teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, I was told, were pivotal to both the Narconon foundation, and the occupants of the building.
She then asked me what I knew about Scientology. Unlike Adam, I knew a fair bit, but I’m inclined to be polite to those who are polite to me, and responded to her questions with courtesy. I told her I was essentially an atheist at heart, to which she nodded approvingly, which confused me a little. Did she believe that one already with religion is a harder convert than one without? Perhaps this is true.
When she asked me what I could do for the program, I told her that I had some ideas regarding using social media to build a “loyal following.” These perhaps weren’t the best choice of words, but I didn’t offer them with humour or malice – I was being sincere. I’d checked out Narconon USA’s Twitter account and found it decidedly lacking. Of course, I’d done all this on the assumption that Narconon was just a drug rehabilitation centre.
Oddly, Dawn told me she had never heard of Twitter, but that the organization stayed away from social media because, quote, “there is so much bullshit out there.” All of this explained how such an obviously popular search query as “drug rehab” yielded so little traffic for Narconon; evidently, most of the visitors did a little more research than I did, and never went back again. And probably warned their friends.
I still didn’t know an awful lot about my duties or anything about the package that came with the position, so I asked Dawn about the remuneration involved. I was shocked to hear that Narconon were expecting a 48-hour week, over six days, and were paying exactly the national minimum wage of £5.73 per hour. Nothing more. No perks; no extras. That was it. “We all work for minimum wage,” she told me, which was almost certainly not true. Still, somebody was picking up the tab for the building, and every penny counts. Tom Cruise’s money has to go somewhere – why waste money on the staff?
Still, this irked me, and even though I attempted to maintain a civil tone, clearly I’d let something slip as she started to wrap up the interview, adding that she’d keep my details “on file” if I was interested. I said that I was – in the back of my mind, Bob was waiting outside the door with his needles, and from here on there were only wrong answers. Of course, even if they are crazy enough to offer the job to me, there is no way I’m going to accept.
The Other Side of Narconon
Narconon now has a presence virtually everywhere in the world. Its program and methods have caused considerable controversy, and despite Narconon’s claims of a success rate of over 70%, one Swedish study found that the organization’s numbers were closer to 6.6%. Each independent Narconon centre pays 10% of its gross to Narconon International, an institution that is part of the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE), a promoter of Scientology. Narconon International has been accused of everything from website plagiarism to lawsuits involving wrongful death, and their targeting of children through the UK school system has particularly come under fire.
The Church of Scientology has a lot of money. Patients at a Narconon centre in the USA stay for 3-4 months at a cost of up to $30,000, typically paid for by quickly-disillusioned parents. You think they’d know better. You think they’d have a little more savvy when it comes to making believers out of ordinary folk.
So, 48 hours each and every week to help in the publication of propaganda for a religious cult? No thanks. I mean, for fifty, maybe sixty thousand a year, I’ll “believe” whatever you want me to, up to a point. I may not ever openly acknowledge the existence of Xenu – you know, like most Scientologists – but I could maybe look the other way when he’s doing his rounds. Somebody has to do the website – might as well be me. For a hundred grand, I might even do a little door-to-door. You know, on the QT.
But, I’m sorry – I have some scruples, and it takes a lot more than minimum wage, a lovely old building and, yes, some happy shiny people, to make me a convert.
While the events in this article are reported accurately, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.