Like other places filled with traipsing tourists, Times Square is filled with people trying to shove pieces of paper into your hand as you walk by. Some of these are simply trying to encourage you to visit a comedy club around the corner, or one of the many Broadway or off-Broadway musicals. All very well. What I found more interesting were the people holding out flyers for religious reasons. One of the more bizarre was the elderly Chinese woman who was handing out pieces of paper with the warning not to get the mark of the Beast, which is 666 if you didn't know (shame on you if you didn't). Of course I took the paper, and I read it with interest. and having done so, I'm not really sure what her point was. She wasn't trying to sell a particular church or anything. She just felt the need to warn people of the Beast and his mark. A free service as it were. And for that I suppose I should be grateful.
A little further along the sidewalk was Lloyd. I didn't know his name was Lloyd at this point, he was just another person handing out flyers to passers by. Lloyd's flyers were professionally printed glossy cards inviting us to go and watch an "orientation" video about the virtues of Scientology. Now normally I would just keep on walking and probably not even accept the card as it was held out to me. But not this time. This time I showed an interest, and I learned that the New York office of the Church of Scientology was just round the corner. We toyed with the idea of paying a visit, but the lure of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building proved too much and so we assured Lloyd that we might come and view the film tomorrow.
And that's exactly what we did. The next day (after our return visit to the camera shop), we crossed Times Square to see what Scientology had to offer us. Inside the impressive church/office building, we were greeted by a receptionist who ushered us down some stairs to another receptionist. We explained to the second receptionist that we were here to see the orientation video. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Lloyd appeared. He explained that the orientation video lasted about 45 minutes and that it would be showing again in about 20 minutes, but while we were waiting we could look at a display that explained some of the ideas behind Scientology and "Dianetics" the so-called science of the mind upon which much of Scientology was based.
It was at this point that I think both Rachel and I started to have concerns that maybe we had already taken things a little too far. For me, it was probably the slightly-too-firm grip of Lloyd's handshake as he asked us our names and led me by the hand down a corridor further into the building. We were already forming our excuses.
"We're keen to see the orientation video", I explained, "but we are due to meet friends in Central Park at around 3.30pm", I fibbed, looking at a clock to pick a time that would give us about 30 minutes to spare for the Scientologists.
"That's OK", said Lloyd, who had probably heard every excuse in the book. "I suggest you watch the Dianetics video. That lasts only 15 minutes, and gives you an introduction to some of the ideas behind Scientology." That sounded like a good compromise.
Lloyd led us into a small auditorium (i.e., a room with no windows) in which there were rows of seats laid out facing a cinema screen on one wall. We were the only ones there. Lloyd turned out the lights and left the room as the film started. The film was a glossily produced, but poorly acted, attempt to introduce the basic ideas behind Dianetics, a "modern science of mental health" devised by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Some of the ideas I had no trouble with. For example, I'm happy to accept that we can be affected by events that have happened to us in the past, and that if we increase our awareness of how these influence us we might be better for it. This seems to be a major part of what Dianetics is saying. However, the reliance on what seemed to be pop-psychology concepts like the "analytical mind" and the "reactive mind" didn't sit too well. About half way through the video, both Rachel and I suddenly started to wonder how easy it would be for us to actually get out of the building. And once this panic set in, it was hard to shift. I even suggested that maybe they were recording everything we were saying, after which I was careful not to say anything critical about the insightful and well acted film we were watching.
The moment the film ended, the strip lights were turned back on (who needs retinas?), and a young man appeared holding a couple of clip boards. No sign of Lloyd. Oh dear, they're dragging us in, I thought! The panic was uncalled for. He simply wanted our opinions on the film, some contact details, and to know if we'd be interested in attending one of their seminars.
So we survived! We had a chance to talk further with Lloyd when he reappeared (how does he do that?), and we even bought a couple of books on Dianetics so we could do some further research. We re-emerged in Times Square and continued on our walk to Central Park to meet our "friends". All we need to do now is make sure we avoid getting the mark of the Beast.
More information about Dianetics and Scientology can be found at www.dianetics.org and www.scientology.org. (I don't think the elderly Chinese woman has a website.)