The Bulletin, Tue 24 Apr 1984, pp54-57


Move over Mammon


As the Christian world celebrates Easter more off-beat religions are enjoying a boom. In Sydney BRUCE STANNARD studies the now-legal Scientologists and in the US LAURENCE GRAFSTEIN profiles Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and other odd-balls.

MOST minds are the slaves of external circumstances and conform to any hand that undertakes to mould them.

- Samuel Johnson

IN ALL the broad universe, there is no other hope for Man than ourselves. This is a tremendous responsibility. I have borne it myself too long alone. You share it with me now.

- L. Ron Hubbard

JOHN HARDY is what Scientologists call a "body-router." He is a very good body-router. In Park Street, Sydney, between Castlereagh and Pitt, he and neatly-dressed colleagues can be seen from 9 to 5 - seven days a week - routing (or, more correctly, re-routing) bemused or just plain curious pedestrians into the NSW headquarters of the newly legal Church of Scientology.

Armed with a clipboard, a grin like the Cheshire cat's and patter reminiscent of a slick side-show spruiker, 22-year-old Hardy personally routes more than 30 people a day into the nondescript four-storey building beside the Catholic Club in Castlereagh Street.

Hardy's job may seem boring and repetitive but it is one of the more important in all of Scientology. The men and women he shepherds into the church are, in a real sense, units of production. They are not necessarily converts but they are, for the most part, vital contributors to the cash flow upon which Scientology depends so heavily.

We can learn a lot about Scientology from Hardy.

Before he became a church member two years ago, he was, he says, sullen, deeply introverted and anti-social. He says he took drugs and drank fearsome quantities of hard booze. All this while he worked as a sound-mixer with a pub rock group.

"One day," he said, "a guy with a clipboard stopped me in the street and he actually smiled - at ME - and said, 'Good morning, sir.' How about that! Good Morning, sir! He said, 'I'm conducting a survey on behalf of the Church of Scientology and I'd like to ask you just three questions.'

"I thought, 'Oh, oh, here we go with the loonie brigade.' But the guy was so nice and he kept on smiling at me so I went along and we talked some more and, hey presto, here I am. No drugs, no booze, tons of self-confidence. I can smile and talk to people. It's great, I love it. I'm somebody."

Scientologists say that more than 3000 Sydney people have been routed into their city headquarters since January 1. All were hooked or at least intrigued by the same three questions which grabbed Hardy:

The "be, do and have" questions invariable provoke brief flights of fantasy, visions of wealth, fame and importance. Then comes the invitation to do something about it, to take a "free personality test" or perhaps spend $10 on a book on Dianetics ("What the Soul is doing to the body") by Scientology founder L. (for Lafayette) Ron Hubbard.

There is nothing lavish about Scientology's Sydney headquarters. Downstairs, the main public room is dominated by an imposing bronze bust of Ron (everyone calls him Ron) and on the walls are various of his "old cuffs" or slogans and a banner urging "GO CLEAR." Close to the street is Ron's office, kept perpetually in readiness just in case the reclusive leader who has not been seen in public since 1968 should suddenly pop up in Sydney.

The staffers here are members of the "Sea Org" - or organisation - a highly structured group in quasi-naval uniform complete with service decorations won in what amounts to the world war being fought for Scientology's survival.

A theatrette on the ground floor screens an introductory movie presented by a man who looks and sounds like George Negus in full cry. The film's message: within all uf us resides an immortal spirit known as "Thetan," which is inhibited by "engrams" (blocks) in the "reactive mind." Ridding ourselves of these "engrams" through "auditing" and the acquisition of Scientology technology leads to a state of "clear" in which we achieve true happiness. After the movie came an invitation to buy the Dianetics book and a little basic auditing ($20).

My auditor was a pleasant 26-year-old named Ian, a former bottle shop salesman working his way up the Scientology ladder. The auditing room consists of a series of booths thrown up around two walls to give some semblance of privacy. The auditors sit in straight-backed chairs while those undergoing auditing are permitted the comparative luxury of soft armchairs. And that was just as well because, in my case, the questions tended to induce a state hovering between the soporific and the comic. "Are you your brain?" Ian asked with great solemnity. "Are you your mind?"

After an hour of this sort of questioning, Ian allowed me to open my eyes. How was I doing? "You tell me," said Ian. I decided I was well adjusted, even happy. That was definitely unusual.

Ian said I had scored a low 1.1 on the tone meter. It was, he said, a reading akin to "covert hostility." Why then, he asked, had I come? "Curiosity" was a reply he had not received before. The word is not in his handbook.

He found it in Webster's Dictionary and smiled. Why was he smiling? "Because," he said, "I want to see you smile." I smiled.

At the other end of the room, a plump teenage girl with blonde-streaked hair and her head buried in her arms was pouring out an amazing tale which sounded very much like a condensed version of a very bad midday soap opera. It was impossible not to hear about her unwanted pregnancy, her bashings, her flight from home, her search for someone who might "understand" her.

In the middle of all this came the deeply disturbing sound of a woman sobbing. No one else was in the room and yet the sound was so close that she might almost have been sitting in the same chair. Ian seemed to take no notice. Between the sobs and in a slow and deliberate voice, the woman repeated again and again: "I can't take it any more. I just can't take it any more."

"I hope that woman is getting some help," I said.

"That," Ian said impassively, "is what she is here for."

He did not elaborate but she may well have been undergoing what the Scientologists say is a very effective "Purification Program" for alcohol and drug abusers. It includes heavy doses of vitamins; exercise and saunas.

Seven years ago, 26-year-old Kerri Ellis was routed off a Sydney street. Today, she is Scientology's chief executive in Sydney. She was introverted, deeply moody and completely lacking in self-confidence - characteristics which she says are shared by many of those who go to the church for help.

"Sydney," she said, "is a very big city full of people who can't communicate with each other. They're searching. They want to be more certain about their lives, who they are, why they're here, where they're heading. There is an awful lot of confusion out there. That's why people get drawn into Scientology. We believe that we have the answers."

Scientology (officially defined as "the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, the universe and other life") is based on the proposition that self-discovery will create a desire for self-help.

Self-help costs money.

The high costs of Scientology's particular brand of spirituality have aroused almost as much controversy as have its curious methods.

Struggling across the bridge from mere mortality to spiritual perfection involves acquiring Hubbard's "technology." His complete works (all 68 volumes) cost $7038. Then there are 23 booklets and 375 reels of tape-recorded lectures. Study courses and auditing (which is, in effect, a form of mental processing) can cost up to $3000 - the price of a second-hand car, according to Audrey Devlin who is Scientology's Director of Official Affairs.

"Some people think the world owes them a living," she said. "They're not aware that they must contribute with some form of exchange. If we dropped the exchange factor from Scientology and people decided they could get this for free, what value would they put on it?"

A tall, slender, middle-aged woman, Devlin has ridden up and down with the church's fluctuating fortunes from the darkest days of the mid-60s, when a Victorian Government board of inquiry banned what was then considered to be the "evil" cult of Scientology, to the High Court's decision in October last year to grant it full recognition as a church.

"The High Court's decision," she said, "was a relief, a validation, a vindication. We viewed it as a nice win for Scientology."

The public assumption has been that his "win" and the tax-exempt status it conferred will make an enormous difference to Scientology's financial position. But, according to Devlin, the church in NSW has never paid much tax.

"We looked for and received quite a lot of tax exemptions prior to the High Court decision," she said. "We were accepted federally as a church in 1974 when the then attorney-general (Senator Lionel Murphy) said we could register our marriage celebrants.

"In NSW, we had payroll exemption since 1972.

"We have had exemption from lodging returns with the taxation from the mid 70s. We don't pay water rates and we haven't paid land tax since we acquired our Sydney headquarters ($800,000 - from the Public Service Board) in 1979.

"Now we're fighting to save $9000 a year in city council rates."

Devlin, a former senior nurse, has been a Scientologist since 1957. "Joining didn't involve a sudden, blinding flash," she said. "It was more a realisation that there was a better way people could be helped. It brightened up my whole life.

"Scientology directed me to look for myself, to find out what it was that was putting kinks in my life. It allowed me to improve my relationships with other people. These are only very basic things but Scientology can also tell you what's going on in the universe. If you keep asking questions, you keep getting answers.

"I don't want to see planet Earth blown up by some nuclear device but I'm afraid that's what's going to happen because we don't have enough sanity at the right levels to stop this battling over who is going to be first to let the bombs loose. We can escape that if enough sanity can be returned to people. Scientology can do that.

"The goal of Scientology is a planet without crime, war or insanity where Man is free to achieve greater heights."

Australia is one of the key zones in what the Scientologists call ANZO (Australia, New Zealand and Oceania) and the immediate aim of the Sydney church is to "clear ANZO."

"That," said Devlin, "would be a situation in which people were no longer under any complsion or instruction from the reactive mind. They would be on a plateau from which they would take a forward view of their lives. There is no point where Scientology ends. There's no point where you think, 'OK, that's it; that's all there is to know ...' You never reach that point because there is always something more you can know.

"You see, we are Spiritual Beings. That's one of the basics of Scientology, that Man is a Spiritual Being; he's not just a body with a mind: He is a Thetan, an immortal. The Spiritual Being is the You or the I. You hear about people striving for immortality. But what they don't realise is that Man is immortal. You can't kill a Spiritual Being. There is no fear of death for a Scientologist. We have experienced past lives and we will experience future lives. As Spiritual Beings, we simply progress into another lifetime."

Devlin is adamant that Hubbard is neither a deity nor a messiah figure for Scientologists. Nevertheless, she and thousands of others write regularly to the founder and are convinced that they receive his personal replies.

Ron's "Communicator" gathers up the letters each week and mails them to headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. Along with the letters go cheques from each of the Scientology churches around the world. This "management fee" varies, according to Devlin, between 10 and 15 percent of gross revenue. A further 10 percent is paid locally as a management fee.

"Ron is a friend," Ellis said, "a very, very, very dear friend. He helped us and now we are helping him."

[Sea Org members posed for photo] The Scientology "Sea Org" on parade: they fight for the church's survival

[Ron's office] Waiting for Ron: the Sydney office

[Ron on 'Parade Marshall' motorbike] Leader L. Ron Hubbard: the last sighting in public in 1968

[Kerri Ellis] Scientology's Kerri Ellis: "We believe that we have the answers"

Feared, revered, disappeared

IF HE IS alive, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is 73. The former science-fiction writer, described as a brilliant and dominating figure both feared and revered, was last reported seen (privately) in 1980.

The church in Australia accepts the official line that he is simply in seclusion by his own choice but some outside speculation is that he may be mentally incompetent, a captive of former aides or dead.

Hubbard, who insisted that he lived through a series of incarnations and was 74 trillion years old, has left a bitter struggle to gain control of the 30-year-old church's assets - estimated at more than $280 million.

It was reported in January last year that a group of young zealots had purged 75 senior church leaders in a coup aimed at thwarting the power and influence of Hubbard's 50-year-old estranged son Ronald De Wolf.

Meanwhile, the United States Internal Revenue Service has demanded some $6 million in taxes and penalties from Scientology for the years 1970 to 1974. The sum is allegedly due from income not used for church purposes.

Estimates of the number of Scientologists in Australia (who pay annual $25 church membership fees) vary from 30,000 to 40,000.

The world-wide figure was put at two million at the height of the movement in the early and mid-70s, with 75 percent living in the US.

[Press articles on Scientology]