View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship
By Mary AdamskiSaturday, October 27, 2001
The Saturday afternoon church gathering was restful at best. A scriptural reading carried a timely message, warning that when religion declines in society, the state assumes the role as arbiter of public morality, and do we really want that? A little ritual of rapid-fire questions had us focusing on our self-centered tensions as leader Amy Suzuki directed us consciously relax "parts of body that you don't have to police."
The setting featured a bust of L. Ron Hubbard, scientist and science fiction writer who founded the church in 1954, a large tome of his writings that constitute the scriptures, and an eight-pointed cross that symbolizes a key piece of doctrine.
It was my first firsthand encounter with the Church of Scientology. It was a service staged to host the Open Table Pilgrimage, an ecumenical group that sponsors an educational stop at a different church each month. It was not at the usual Sunday service time and not at the group's Bethel Street storefront church, but rather in a public park meeting room. That may be why other outsiders besides myself expressed the opinion that we didn't have a "real" experience of Scientology.
Suzuki explained later that the real thing for members, who number about 125 locally, is not centered on group worship but one-on-one counseling sessions.
There the spiritual self, with the guidance of a professional, works to balance relationships within the eight levels of reality to reach a sought-after state of clarity unimpeded by all negative spiritual and mental accumulation.
Or in Scientology-speak, the Thetan goes through hours of Processing with an Auditor to understand the Eight Dynamics with the goal of becoming Clear.
Suzuki, who as senior case supervisor is responsible to ensure that teaching exercises don't deviate from the dogma laid out by Hubbard, gave me a sample of the one-on-one processing later in a brief session on the E-Meter, an electro-psychometer that is considered a religious artifact.
I felt nothing as I grasped cylinders that completed an electrical circuit carrying current comparable to a watch battery.
She tells me that the gauge flickers or spikes as questions she asks arouse negative energy, which interferes with the carrier wave flowing through my body.
It's not possible to have a Scientology experience without bringing background baggage along, years of reading factual and fictional stories published about this organization. It has had years of confrontations with government agencies, much of it generated before the IRS in 1993 approved it tax-exempt status as a religion. It has been its own worst enemy in generating unwelcome publicity, for example when the actions of internal enforcers called Guardians heightened its image as a cult. More recently, the spotlight centers on entertainment personalities who are avid followers.
Local spokeswomen Suzuki and Sakura Thompson were extremely serious and sincere about conveying information but I kept thinking of a line from a favorite song of mine: "They speak a language that the stranger does not know."
Nothing demonstrates how richly endowed is the international organization better than the numerous volumes it publishes to explain its unique religion-as-technology.
One reference was specifically created with "answers to questions most commonly asked by media," which alone says a lot about its corporate view of itself.
"What do you believe about God?" was a question at the service. Said Suzuki: "We leave that to the individual."
Thompson said "It is a religion because we believe man is a spiritual being, in fact, man is immortal."
Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
Email her at email@example.com.