Last night Anderson Cooper presented a story of a BBC reporter screaming at a Scientologist. The reporter was filming a documentary about the “religion” and he got very angry with his subject when the discussion moved to whether Scientology is a cult. (As of post time, the CNN story was not available. Footage of the reporter screaming is on YouTube) If you’ve had any interactions with this group, you can understand why the reporter would feel this way.
The first time I encountered Scientology was when I was an undergrad in Boston. Walk down Boyleston Street any day of the week and there was always someone there with a clipboard. They would ask the seemingly innocuous question, “Would you mind answering a few short questions?” And you would say, “sure, no problem” thinking the questions were on the clipboard. After you’d said, “yes,” however, they would invite you down the street to take the test at their headquarters. When you’d protest, they continued to say that it will only take a few minutes, come on, come on. Once you took the test, they — of course — would have all of your contact information and someone from the church would repeated call until you came in and started taking classes. (The test, by the way, was a survey wherein they determined all the things that are wrong with you and why you so desperately needed to join the church.)
This is a great example of marketing religion. Scientologists are nothing if not super salespeople. They have a perfect target audience — college students away from home for the first time who are very vulnerable to suggestion; They intice prospects with a simple questionnaire that leads to getting people into the store, and finally, they develop a database of all potential customers who can be followed up with telemarketing.
My encounter with Scientology occured in the late 1970s. Since then they’ve added celebrity spokespeople as a key means of attracting young people — Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirsty Alley, to name a few.
All of this has worked incredibly well for a faith that was created by a sci-fi writer. L.Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, is quoted as having said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If you want to make a million dollars, create a religion.” In his case, he was obviously right.
By the way, they wouldn’t let me take the test, because I was 17 — I’ll let you guess why.
Have a Scientology story? Let me know.