I Made My Dad Join a Cult

I Made My Dad Join a Cult

Inside Scientology’s Weird, Half-Arsed Attempt at a Kiwi Church

You might know something about Scientology. Like, Tom Cruise is a part of it. And didn’t South Park do an episode on it or something? Bet you didn’t know, however, that the second ever Church of Scientology was based in New Zealand. That’s right, even when it comes to starting shitty cults we’re still only second best. And when I found out that they had recently spent $16 million dollars to revamp their church in Auckland (enough to nearly buy both a shed and a parking spot), I just had to get in there. Unfortunately, Dunedin is as far away as possible from Auckland as you can get, so getting there and joining them would be tricky. So, I convinced my dad to do it instead. What can I say, Critic doesn’t pay me enough to get beers andplane tickets.

I did at least do some journalisting (shut up, it’s a word) to prepare dad. The church of Scientology was started after its creator, L. Ron Hubbard, a former science fiction writer, wrote a book called “Dianetics, The Modern Science of Health”. After it sold faster than the morning-after pill on O-Week Sunday, Hubbard realised he could scam idiots  started a religion on the back of it. The book could be critically described as “a load of absolute wank” and is more pretentious than a pack of 2nd years when they see a fresher. It does have one thing going for it, the cover is a volcano which apparently represents “the incident in which galactic overlord Xenu placed billions of his people around Earth's volcanoes and killed them there by blowing them up with hydrogen bombs”. Which, no matter how you feel, is still way cooler than the Bible (seriously, a cross? Way to draw your reader in, God).

But what do Scientologists actually believe? It’s a whole goddamn mess that would take this entire magazine to describe (and we have to keep space for Booze Reviews since that’s all we really care about). A few key points then, are Thetans and Auditing. Thetan is basically your consciousness, and it also may have existed in a previous time when we were spacefaring spirits. Auditing is reliving traumatic moments in your life so that you can be blackmailed if you ever go against Scientology you can cleanse your soul. Oh, and also they hate psychology, calling it “a barbaric and corrupt profession” which means L. Ron Hubbard definitely failed PSYC111.

They’re also famously evil bastards, having a reputation for blackmailing and harassing critics and ex-members. New Zealand even investigated them back in 1969, and found that they had been harassing and stalking members who had left, including “contributing to estrangements in family relationships” (trying to break up families like a reverse Parent Trap). There was no punishment, however, because Scientology promised they’d be good boys and promised to not do it again, which is about as likely as you actually keeping to your promise of “never drinking again” that you make at least once a month. 

So, considering Scientology’s reputation as an extremely powerful cult that’s ruined lives and generally are batshit crazy, you may think I’d have warned my father about what to expect and what they were about. Well…that would’ve been less fun, so I just made him do one of their tests to see what came out the other end. Before you judge me, this is a man who regularly wears jeans with jandals, so he deserves it.

Dad entered with the intention of taking the personality test they advertise online and seeing just how they’d try to lure him in. It was already off to a good start as “There was no attempt to hide the cult-like nature with everyone dressed in black and wearing a strange Star Trek-like emblem”. After finally tracking down someone to give him the test, he was shown the “information centre which was an incredibly high tech multi-terminal library” while he waited for the tests to highlight just why he should join the wonderful world of scientology. How would they convince him? Brainwashing? Hypnosis? Making him watch Tom Cruise run and promising that if he joined Scientology he could run just like that?

Sadly, the conversion methods were pretty piss poor. The personality test was your run of the mill psychology test you can find online, although with two hundred questions. The point is to validate yourself even though it barely means anythingidentify key aspects of your personality that you can improve. Instead of offering any proper advice (or whacky shit like saying his thetons were out of date or something) all they did was point at two “low points” on the results and tell him that their two-day seminar would “fix everything”. Now seeing as my father had also been a salesman at one point in his life he could tell that, one professional to another, “this guy had no fucking clue what he was talking about”.

And that seemed to be the theme of the entire day. No matter how much he asked how he could be fixed or what they could do to help him, they’d just offer their seminar or L. Ron Hubbard’s famous book (the one with the sick volcano). “After refusing to attend the two-day seminar that weekend which prompted some surprise, I was then taken to the cash register, shown the EFTPOS machine, and told the book which been dangled in front of me for the last half an hour would cost $40.” Apparently if they weren’t going to gain a new follower that day they were at least going to try and make a profit. Sadly for them, my father is as protective of his money as any student on a Monday and they were unsuccessful, although apparently there was “a rather awkward standoff, until I bulled my way out of the building”.

Obviously they were unsuccessful in turning my dad into a diehard Scientologist. But why? Everyone’s heard of how effective Scientology is, after all they boast 15 million members. So, they must be somewhat good at convincing people to play into their absolute batshittery. There’s horror stories all over the net about how they lure people in. So why not my dad? 

One explanation is that he’s just not what they’re looking for. From frantic googling and Wikipedia searching my extensive research, cults look for people who are not completely in their right mind. Prime targets are those who have recently lost a loved one, moved away from home or just might not be that bright. So, it’s possible that they could tell that dad was a well-adjusted man who wouldn’t fall into a dangerous cult with crazy beliefs. Which is strange, considering Dad once voted National, but everyone makes mistakes.

However, there’s also the possibility they were just shit. After all, it seems like Scientology in New Zealand just isn’t doing so well. “It was also striking that there were no NZ-born Kiwis there. Everyone I met or overheard had a foreign accent.” The whole operation apparently reeked of “lots of money but little effort”. Scientology’s other efforts to recruit us have been laughable, such as trying to lure in Asian-New Zealanders with dumplings (to be fair food would work on me, I’d join a cult for a slice of cold pizza).

So, what’s going on up there? Why invest $16 million, buy up a massive building, then just be crap at what you do? If you’re not Auckland University, then it just doesn’t make sense. Well, a cynic might point out that Scientology somehow managed to con its way into getting itself labelled as a charity, meaning they avoid a whole lot of taxes (because apparently God’s a big libertarian). Then they might point out the fact that we’re also a tax haven for rich bastards.. Maybe they’re simply stashing all their money in a faraway place where they can avoid taxes and fund their nefarious schemes throughout the world. Or maybe they’re prepping for the doomsday that totally is going to happen and are planning to rebuild the human race. 

Although you’d think that even in an apocalypse, you’d go somewhere other than Auckland.

This article first appeared in Issue 21, 2018.
Posted 12:09am Friday 31st August 2018 by Callum Doyle.