By Eric Jayne
The Church of Scientology opened their new 82,000 square-foot building to the public last October. The building, formerly home to the Science Museum, sits kitty-corner to the Fitzgerald Theater and is currently the largest Church of Scientology in the Midwest. One month after its ribbon cutting ceremony about 35 atheists invaded the new building in spite of poor road conditions from the metro area's first significant snowfall of the season.
It wasn't truly an "invasion" since the local Scientology church agreed to host a Minnesota Atheists group tour, but only after some persuasion and a vetting process by a church leader named Karen. After I answered all of Karen's questions she said that she will need some time to decide whether or not to allow our group in. Two days after our conversation Karen confirmed our group tour for Saturday, 19 November.
Those of us who braved the snowstorm gathered in the atrium where we were divided into two groups, each with its own tour guide (Karen and another church leader named Nancy). The tour began in the main gallery where a dozen video-information stations were scattered. Photography was not allowed, except by me and only after I obtained permission. While one group was instructed to watch a sanitized, church produced Scientology video celebrating the life and accomplishments of L. Ron Hubbard, the other group was getting a live E-Meter presentation. When we were finished with the first presentation we switched to the other.
The E-Meter presenter explained that the E-Meter reads and shows human thoughts. A volunteer from our group was invited to demonstrate how the E-meter works (see picture below). The volunteer was told to grab two silver cylinder conductors attached by two wires to a watermelon shaped device with dials and a meter. He was asked to think of something negative and when he did, the meter needle moved about two-thirds to the right. Our presenter suggested that is what a negative thought looks like. When asked what a positive thought looks like, she simply said that the meter would be in a different place. As she explained that there are 27 different thoughts that the E-meter can read, I couldn't help but think that the mood ring is a bit more stylish and accessible approach to pseudo-science.
When we asked the presenter to tell the volunteer to think of a negative thought but have him actually think of a positive thought so that we could see if he could trick the E-meter, Karen interjected by saying that the E-meter won't give an accurate reading in this public setting. She claimed the device works best in a private, closed door setting in a one-to-one interview. One of the atheists asked if there is ever more than one person administering an E-meter session so that other interpretations of the meter reading can be considered. The answer was a firm, "no" and it was stressed that E-meter sessions are strictly private between the person getting their thoughts read and the person judging what the meter says.
When asked about the power supply and manufacturing of the E-Meter, we were told that it has a rechargeable battery and that they're manufactured in their own privately owned manufacturing plant that also manufactures all of their DVDs. These are the same DVDs featured at their video stations in the church building.
After being told that there was no time for more questions we were hurried out of the E-meter presentation and rushed back into the main gallery where we were instructed to walk around and watch more videos at the self-service propaganda video stations promoting different aspects of Scientology. It's interesting to note here that the other half of our tour was still watching the L. Ron Hubbard biography video so there was plenty time for Karen (our group's tour guide) and the presenter to take more questions if they really wanted to.
We were then herded to the chapel, which is open to the public on Sunday mornings at 11:00, where the original OmniTheater was located. This is where I first noticed that the Scientologists were videotaping us. In the corner of the theater was a Scientologist (identifiable by their matching white, navy, and yellow suits) behind a video camera pointing right at us! I was then notified by another fellow atheist that they were videotaping us during the DVD and E-meter presentations. After we saw two 3-minute videos celebrating Scientology on their impressive movie screen we were guided through the hall toward their cafeteria.
We were offered a nice assortment of cheese, crackers, cookies, vegetables, and choice of coffee, soda, and juice. This was the time that Karen and Nancy specially designated for questions and answers. The two of them took questions while half a dozen Scientologists stood along the perimeter of the wall (along with a video camera) and silently observed.
One of the first questions from our group was about past lives. Nancy took this one and said, without batting an eye, that she believes she has had past lives. When somebody asked if she thought that everybody had past lives, she responded with, "if it feels right to you then you do" and told our group to watch the video stations (see picture below) in the main gallery for more information.
Another question asked by our group was about the Church of Scientology's stance on GLBT issues and same-sex marriage. Nancy was unfamiliar with the term "GLBT" and had to have it explained to her by the questioner. After she got clarification she said that the topic is covered under the second point of the eight point Scientology cross. For more information about the eight principles represented by the eight point cross, we were referred to the aforementioned video stations.
Regarding the existence of God, we were told that, "if God is true for you and you believe in Him, then He exists." We were then directed to—you guessed it!—the video stations in the main gallery for more information. When I asked Nancy how far her past lives go back and if her lives go as far back as the time when Xenu brought humans to Earth 60 million years ago she said, "I can't answer that because I've never heard of whatever you're talking about" and took the last question immediately afterward. In total, the Q & A lasted no more than 15 minutes even though several of our hands were eagerly raised to ask more questions.
Our guides told us the tour had concluded and then led us back to the main gallery. They encouraged us to take our time and visit the video stations at our leisure. Most of us had our fill of propagandist videos and evasiveness for one evening and opted to walk three blocks in the freshly fallen snow to Amsterdam, a new Dutch tavern on 6th and Wabasha. We were able to exchange our shared thoughts and feelings (free from E-meters!).
If you're interested in seeing the church for yourself, the main gallery is open to the public during the week and, as previously mentioned, the chapel is open to the public every Sunday at 11:00 for a morning service.