Tom Cruise is part of it, John Travolta is part of it and for all I know, you, dear reader, could be part of it too. Despite a number of controversies, the Church of Scientology has several thousand members. From a dictator called Xenu to a volcano full of aliens, to an outsider their beliefs seem odd at best. The church exhibits great efforts, though, to attract new members. One of the ways to recruit people is the Oxford Capacity Analysis; a free personality test which, despite of what you might be lead to think, has nothing to do with the University of Oxford.
When I was strolling down Hollywood Boulevard the other day, a friendly man handed me a flyer of this very test. “Come, do a free personality test”, he said with a smile that was just a little too beaming. I stared at the piece of paper. It looked like it came right from the 90s and I knew that Scientology is classified as a cult. So I did what any millennial would do. I decided to go for it.
Partner in crime
I didn’t take the test all by myself, though. Along with me came Kim, a dear friend whom I met all the way back in 2013 during my exchange semester in Pensacola, Florida. She’s the kind of friend that would drive five hours just to pick you up from the airport. The kind of friend that pulls an all-nighter in New Orleans with you, even though she has to work on the next day. And the kind of friend that does the Scientology personality test with you.
On our way to the headquarter we‘re getting nervous and excited alike. We’re wondering if we’re about to get brainwashed. “Shall we pick a safeword?”, Kim asks me. I suggest that “Help!” “SOS” or “Get me outta here!!!” would work. Eventually, we agree that, if we’d just look out for each other, we‘d be fine. Or would we?
If we’d just look out for each other, we‘d be fine. Or would we?
A twitching eye
We’re getting off the bus at Hollywood Vine. From there it’s just a five minute walk to the testing center, which is located right at Hollywood Boulevard.
“You do the talking”, I say as we enter the building. The entrance hall reminds me of a book shop. Various works by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the church, and other Scientologists are exhibited and available for sale. We approach the front desk.
“Hello, we’re here for the…”, Kim says without being able to finish.
“The personality test?”, the Scientology guy at the front desk asks. We nod.
“Okay. Go ahead and fill that out for me, please.”
He hands us a form where we have to write down our names and our addresses. Besides this, we’re asked how we found out about the test and if we had seen movies about Scientology. Kim actually had.
“I watched a Joe Rogan video”, she says.
“Joe Rogan usually makes fun of us”, the front desk guy says.
“Yes”, Kim says for she’s also the kind of friend who wouldn’t mind pissing off a cult.
At this point, the front desk guy is still smiling. But for one split of a second, his right eye twitches. Curiously enough, one of the questions we would have to answer later would be “Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles when there is no logical explanation for it?”. Kim and I glance at each other. That dude sure wasn’t a Rogan fan.
Uniforms, clipboards and radiant smiles
After we‘re done filling out the form, a lady leads us to the next room. As we walk down the hallway, we pass a number of Scientologists, all wearing the same uniform – black pants, a white blouse and a vest. Some of them are carrying a clipboard with documents and each of them has a radiant but somewhat frozen smile on their faces. The whole building looks bright, neat and clean. It reminds me of a research center.
We enter a hall with several desks, aligned in a circle. A couple of people are already there, busily filling out a questionnaire. “We seek no revolution. We seek only evolution to higher states of being for the individual and for Society”, it says on an arch near the ceiling. It’s a quote by L. Ron Hubbard.
Yet another Scientology member approaches us. Let’s call him Brian. Brian leads Kim and me to two tables and hands out forms.
“When you’re done, raise your hand”, Brian says.
In the first part of the test, we have to answer 200 questions. They want to know things like “Are you embarrassed by a hearty greeting such as a kiss, hug, or pat on the back, if done in public?” or “Is your life a constant struggle for survival?”. All we have to do is answer with “Yes”, “Maybe” or “No”.
It takes us about 20 minutes to finish the first part. After we’re done, Kim and I raise our hands, as we had been told. Brian approaches our desk, takes our forms and gives us another set of papers. The second part is an IQ test.
Symbols, circles and shocks
We have half an hour to complete math tasks, language ability exercises and to answer questions such as “All students passed the test. John is not a student. Did John pass the test?” That leaves me wondering if it is actually possible to fail the Scientology test.
Finally, Kim and I make it to the final part of the process, where we have to complete yet another set of exercises, such as identifying symbols that are identical. And: “Write your name to the left handside of the page, circle in your last name twice and your first name once.” We’d later learn that these tasks determine how well we could implement instructions.
When we’re done, Brian leads us to another part of the room. We sit down and wait as our tests are being processed. I‘m wondering if I‘m allowed to take photos.
„I distract them while you do it“, Kim says and starts doing stretching exercises in an overly enthusiastic manner. Hastily, I take a couple of shots. I mean the non-alcoholic kind. The one you do with your phone’s camera, aka pictures. Although I wouldn’t have minded regular shots at this point.
A few minutes later, Brian heads over to us and asks me to follow him as I quickly store my phone in my bag. I sit down next to his desk and he hands me two aluminium bars that are attached to a machine via cables.
“Don’t worry, you won’t get shocked”, Brian says, seemingly joking. Up to that point, I hadn’t even thought about that but thanks for letting me know, Brian.
Don’t worry, you won’t get shocked.
I hold on tight to the bars while Brian is looking at the machine and taking notes. At one point, Brian looks up only to realize that I am staring right at him. He smiles. Of course, he does.
“Are you measuring my heart rate?”, I ask.
“No”, Brian says while continuing to take notes. We sit in silence for a couple of seconds while he scribbles down words which I cannot make out. “It sends currents through your body an we’re measuring how you react”, he eventually explains.
“What was that again about not getting shocked?” I think. But of course, it’s only minor currents so I don’t feel anything really. As I would learn later through a South Park episode, the machine he’s using on me is an e-meter.
After Brian is done directing currents through my body, I’m sent back to the waiting area. Next to me is a booth with brochures about various topics such as “Creating a successful marriage”, “Knowing who you can trust” and “Effective time management”. I take some and put them in my bag.
Kim takes out a package of gums and puts one into her mouth.
“Where’s my gum?”, Brian asks.
“Take one”, Kim says and hands him the box.
“No, I was joking”, Brian says.
The three of us look at each other in silence. Oh Brian. He proceeds and takes Kim to his desk to use the e-meter on her.
While I’m sitting in the waiting area, my eyes wander across the room and I’m observing other people taking the test. Kim returns, sits down next to me and leans over, whispering: “I wonder how many of them take this seriously.”
We watch a Scientology lady leading two visitors to a room next to the testing hall. Apparently she wants to show them a movie. I can hear music and voices, coming from a TV as the Scientology lady leaves the room and closes the door. 20 seconds later, the door opens again and the two guests sneak out.
Finally, a woman – she must be in her mid-twenties – comes to the waiting area. She has bangs, wears fancy nerd glasses and, of course, the Scientology uniform. Her face is in a perfectly symmetrical shape. She doesn’t have a name tag but in my mind, I baptize her Michelle. I wonder if Scientologists get baptized. My drain of thoughts is interrupted when Michelle calls out my name.
“Claudia?”, she asks. I raise my hand for Scientology really makes me feel like I am a schoolgirl again. “Will you please come with me?”, she says and walks to the back end of the room. Ready to hear about my results, I follow her.
We sit down at her desk and Michelle takes a piece of paper out of a folder. It has my name on it. Apparently, they couldn’t read my handwriting when I jotted down my exact address earlier because I’m simply referred to as “Claudia from Austria”. On the paper is a graph that reminds me of the calculations we did in tenth grade Math class. Michelle studies the document for a second, then looks at me.
“So your IQ is 139, which is above average”, Michelle says emotionless. “That’s a good start and you could come even further if you get the right training. Now let’s go through your graph.”
Michelle explains that the black line in the middle represents the average. At first glance, my graph doesn’t look that bad. I’m above average in every category except for two.
Stable, happy and composed
“You’re stable, happy and composed and you’re very active”, Michelle says, without breaking eye contact with me. She stares at me for another second before she continues. I peek at the paper. There’s a cloud-shaped symbol on the graph right were it says “Active”.
“Having said that, though, sometimes you’re not active at all. That’s what the cloud stands for”, Michelle says. “You see what I mean?”
“We all have those days, right?”, I say, laughing.
Michelle looks at me through her glasses with a straight face. “Well yes, but this means you’re inactive for a considerable period. You see what I mean?”
I don’t see what she means. “Interesting”, I say while I lean back in my chair.
Michelle gives me further details concerning my graph, finishing every section with “Do you see what I mean?”. Kim and I already have plans later this afternoon and the procedure seems to go on forever so I politely agree when Michelle tells me that I can be aggressive – in a good way, as she points out – and take over responsibility.
“Also, you like to disagree with people”, Michelle says and I tell her that I agree on that, trying to hide my smile.
“And you tend to be a cold person”, she continues as I give her my most heart-warming and vivid smile.
Throughout the conversation, Michelle tries to find out more about my personal life by asking me questions about past relationships and arguments I had gone through. I keep my answers short and I feel like she’s having a hard time with me. But we’re far from being done.
Lack of empathy
When we get to my measured communication level, Michelle says: “You’re lacking empathy.”
I look at her in an understanding manner. “I know you’re only able to work with the results you got through my test answers. This must be a tough job, which I can absolutely relate to.” I’m, by no means, making fun of her. I’m just trying to make a point.
“All we’re really trying to do is to help people”, Michelle answers, unimpressed. “Do you see what I mean?”
She looks at me and I look right back at her. This has just escalated to a competition about who can hold eye contact the longest. During our stare-down, Michelle begins to talk about common misconceptions about her religion without ever blinking once.
“Scientology eats babies”
“Some people think Scientology eats babies. Of course, that’s not true. Scientology actually saves lives”, Michelle says. I’ve never heard of such a rumour but I’m glad Michelle told be because now I know what I’m actually dealing with. “And some think we eat placenta”, she continues.
For the first time during our conversation, she’s showing true emotions. Obviously, the alleged baby and placenta feast makes her very upset.
“Do you think I would eat my pets? Of course I would never do that”, she assures me. I’m relieved.
Do you think I would eat my pets? Of course I would never do that.
I’m about to ask a followup question when, all of a sudden, we’re interrupted. Kim, my friend and saviour, is standing right in front of me. She seems a little bit shaken. “I’m sorry, but we have somewhere to be”, she says.
Before I get up, Michelle writes down an URL below my graph. It’s her last ditch effort to promote her beliefs.
“I want you to check this out”, she says. “There’s this thing called Scientology TV which will tell you all about us.”
I grab the paper and follow Kim. We hurry down the hall, pass a couple of Scientologists who smile at us. Finally, we arrive at the exit. As we wait outside for our Uber, Kim tells me that they had taken her into a separate room where they tried to sell her stuff, ranging from a 200 Dollar workshop to a 20 Dollar book.
“I told them, I was broke”, she says and shrugs her shoulders.
In the car, we compare our graphs which, curiously enough, look quite similar. According to Scientology, I’m just a little bit more stable, happier and composed than her and Kim’s IQ is 129.
“Well, at one point during the test, I was getting bored and stopped trying”, Kim says.
But that’s what all the 129s say, isn’t it?
Have you ever done the Scientology personality test? How was that experience for you? If you haven’t done it yet, would you consider signing up for it? Tell me about your experience, leave a comment or drop me a message!