In 2009, I wrote a few bits and pieces for a now-defunct comedy and entertainment site. I pitched the idea of interviewing a practicing Scientologist, which they loved. Instead of the cringe-comic piece I had in mind, I ended up getting into a respectful email exchange with a guy who dabbled in Dianetics and got out. I was intrigued by the idea of focusing on someone who briefly joined a group with such a toxic reputation and left with no obvious trauma or hard feelings.
The editors never responded to the finished submission. That’s okay.
This episode happened to cross my mind today and, out of curiosity, I Googled Gandalf Parker, the thoughtful gentleman who shared his Scientology experience with me years ago. Obviously, he won’t be able to read this now, but I decided to finally publish it as a modest tribute. The original text is below, minus one bad one-liner. RIP, ‘Dalf.
His actual, Christian name is “Gandalf.” He’s an inquisitive dude. He’s practiced with Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and neo-pagans. He knows a lot about the LDS, Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, Zen and science. And, while he was serving on a military base in California, an attractive woman convinced him to dabble in Scientology.
“I took her picture,” he says. “When I looked at it later, it did not strike me as being more than average. A Scientologist, in person or on film, seems to be more than they are in still photos.”
Like most people who try Scientology, Gandalf never swabbed the deck for the Sea Org. He “took a couple of the cheaper courses and moved on,” including the introductory Communications Course, “which was excellent. I had taken some in high school and community college, but none compared to theirs. Prior to taking it, I was a geek who couldn’t speak to women, and definitely not in public. After taking their course, I had no trouble in either.”
Soon afterward, he left the fold. “I had what I needed. The next courses were great things. Getting off drugs and alcohol, fighting peer pressure, clearing blocks to your goals. But they were more expensive and, at the time, I didn’t feel I had much need for those. But I do feel that I received far more full life benefits than I expected in direct return for the money I paid.”
Like the majority of fledgling Scientologists (at least 62%, according to the most virulent anti-Scientology sites), Gandalf hung out and got out. He remembers Scientology as a functional self-help club, especially as compared to, say, the Baptists.
“There was no group singing, reading, or chanting. No repetitious standing and sitting or kneeling,” he recalls. “No push to come up and declare your allegiance. Compared to other religious practices I’d have to say its rather boring.”
So why the hate?
“Scientology,” says ‘Dalf, “seems to draw many detractors who seem to just want to be detractors. Some have personal experiences. But most of the ones I talk to have never even met a Scientologist and have no wish to. They come armed with things they have heard… I’ve met people over the years who have tried to force-feed me their version of the truths about Scientology in ways which were clearly similar to what they feel they are condemning.”