Students may have passed their stand at the Bull Market and wondered why they’re there. Some may have even questioned if they were truly happy and thought about taking them up on that free stress test offer.
On Sunday, about 200 people protested the Church of Scientology, according to the St. Petersburg Times, and more protests are planned for March. But the Church of Scientology wants students to know that they aren’t trying to recruit, just spread the word, members working at USF said.
The late science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard introduced the world to Scientology in 1950 with his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The book studies the mental and psychosomatic physical problems caused by recordings called engrams. According to the Dianetics Technology Web site, engrams are past painful memories that are stored in the reactive mind.
Scientologists came to USF to educate students about their beliefs and help other students live a better life following scientologists’ tools.
The only scientologist who agreed to be interviewed and wanted to be referred to only by his first name, Eric, came to USF as a field staff member “to spread the word about his belief in Scientology.” He said that what some students say about the religion isn’t true.
“We are not trying to increase recruiting in the University, but the reason we come here is to let students understand themselves better on a spiritual level,” he said.
He said college students are just more alive, interested and willing to look into the church.
“They are easier to talk to,” he said.
Eric said scientologists are trying to give more students the tools to better their lives, and help students look for answers about everything and everyone in their life.
One scientologist, who was administering free stress tests from the Scientology life improvement center, said students have a laundry list of things to be stressed about, including relationships, studying, money and family. He cited this as the reason why scientologists give these tests to students.
John Kieffer, a graduate student in religious studies, said he has been on the inside of Scientology and is a former recruiter.
“I received training and auditing at a local Scientology organization for five years and here at USF, I have written papers and lectured on the topic of Scientology in conjunction with religious studies undergraduate and graduate academics,” he said.
Kieffer used to administer stress tests as well.
“Yes, I got a bunch of checks, it was great. If you recruit someone, you will get 10 percent of whatever they pay. In fact, if that person takes (an) intensive 12.5 hours a week, he pays $4,000, and depending on how many people you have convinced that week, you could be making $14,000 a month, which you can spend anyway you want,” he said.
He now considers himself a naturalist, a belief that the scientific method is the only way to interpret reality.
“I do not necessarily believe in all Scientology beliefs any longer,” he said.
He said the people you see at the tables on Wednesdays are field staff members who go to the public and help others understand Scientology.
“You are trained to become a field staff member only after you have gained an ability, like self confidence for example,” Kieffer said. “Before you get to work with the public and audit, you are passed through a test, the security check and asked questions. The meter will detect any problems … that you might have, which is exactly why I think you cannot fake being a scientologist.”
Many celebrities are known for spreading the word about Scientology. Perhaps the most vocal is Tom Cruise, who’s near 10-minute YouTube video of him talking about the religion – with the Mission Impossible theme playing in the background – has been viewed more than 500,000 times.
“Scientology is a privilege … when I read it I just went poof! This is it … now I know that I can effectively change lives,” Cruise says in the video.
Eric said scientologists do believe in a greater power, but Dianetics does not tell you what to believe in.
“You can be of any religion and follow scientologists’ tools and ways for a better life,” he said.
But not everyone believes the religion can be accepted in the formal sense.
“I’m not really for Scientology mostly for the reason they reject Jesus Christ and their lack of belief in God,” said Paul from Freedom Church, a college-aged ministry. “I think it might be very financial and just a sale tactic.”
Paulette Cooper said in her book, The Scandal of Scientology, that the “Church of Scientology rarely mentions God and the speech is more like a sales pitch than a revivalist meeting. The man is obviously selling something, but it’s hard to tell exactly what it is. He does not talk in terms of prices or bargains – he seems to be selling an elusive product called ‘happiness’.”
That sentiment comes with a large backing. In 1977, L. Ron Hubbard “began making statements to the effect that any writer who really wished to make money should stop writing and develop a religion or devise a new psychiatric method,” according to the Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
Regardless of common perceptions, Eric said scientologists will continue to come to USF in hope of spreading their word.
“If everyone in the world followed Scientology, the world would be a better place,” Eric said.