Scientologists used to "odd, strange" image

 

IT IS like wandering into a book shop full of airport paperbacks, but most of the books are the same. In a fairly dingy shop on Middle Abbey Street the Church of Scientology mission of Dublin has its base.

L. Ron Hubbard's bestseller, Do it yourself Improvement Package, with its erupting volcano cover, is virtually the only book in the shop. And most of the floorspace is taken up with tables and chairs used in "counselling" sessions.

Mr Gerry Ryan is an architect and a scientologist. He acts as spokesman for the group, set up by Limerick man, Mr John Keane, about four years ago. It has around 300 members, he said, most of them in their late 20s. "You are not allowed to become a member of our church if you're under 18 without the permission of your parents."

He became involved with scientology when he was in his 20s, studying in Britain. His friends were horrified. He sent a book back to his brothers and told them to read it. Now all three are members.

"Our point of view is that in order to get a sane planet everyone needs to be counselled on what has happened to them in the past."

The mission in Middle Abbey Street (it does not have full church status) has carried out more than 30,000 personality tests. These are heavily advertised through leafleting, and a sign outside the shop offers the "free personality test".

In order for one to be "saved" all have to be converted, according to the teaching, so recruiting new members is an important part of the movement.

"In a place like Ireland where it's virtually unifaith that's always going to be a struggle."

On a simple division of the number who took the test by the number of members, one in every 100 people taking the "personality test" joins up.

The 200 question test highlights character traits, Mr Ryan claimed. "These traits are a reasonable indicator of where one is at. We feel that we can improve any trait."

The solution to problems comes in the shape of books and courses, Mr Ryan said. These cost between £60 for five hours counselling and a few hundred for a longer course.

He defends the movement from the charge that it targets weaker people. "When I got involved I was definitely not weak and I'm not sad," but he understands others' doubts. "People are going to conclude that we're a bit odd and strange, but so what?"