I’m a fan of science fiction, and I love a good ruse. P.T. Barnum holds a fascination for me; he was a man who knew the power of a well-told story. He also created some really freaky objects. Today, the people who carry on in Barnum’s spirit are known as Scientologists.
A kooky “religion” concocted by a third-tier science fiction author, the Church of Scientology is now a hugely successful business with headquarters in many American cities. They recruit from all walks of life, from the anonymous to the very famous. They have the dubious distinction of being hated by the Germans. I guess you can say that the Germans are a little more sensitive than other nations when it comes to crazy organizations.
What really galls most people about Scientology is not that it holds far-fetched beliefs. It is the attitude of the organization. The Church of Scientology takes money – lots of money – from people who generally don’t know how to budget. They are also very litigious and very secretive. This strikes me as more con than religion.
It was with a healthy curiosity that my brother and I set out to find the secret Scientology base in New Mexico. We were ready to reaquaint ourselves with the road and maybe find a few answers, as provided by L. Ron Hubbard. My brother lives in New Mexico, not far from a known Scientology base. (Thanks to Google Maps for the following image.)
A few searches revealed that others have made their own pilgrimages to this Land of Nod. I also found a set of directions that would take us near the site. Our goal was to go, take a few pictures, and hopefully not get brainwashed.
When you look for something you usually end up finding something else. We went in search of a secret compound of Scientologists and instead found the Virgin Mary. Near the dirt road that lead to the base, we found this shrine. We don’t know who built it or who uses it, but it is free and open to any traveler passing through this part of New Mexico.
I left a buck for Mary.
That, to me, expresses the profound difference between a wacky scheme and a religion. A religion is not something you hide. It is not something you get paid to do. I imagine that whoever took the time to build this shrine did it not for selfish gain, but as a benefit to humanity. It appeals to me as a gesture of goodwill.
In contrast, this is as close as we could get to the Scientologists:
Their base, including those crazy interlocking circles, underground compound, mansion, and airstrip, is hidden on the other side of that ridge. The dirt roads leading back into the desert are all gated and locked.
If the main principle of religion is that it is open to all people, then the Church of Scientology is no religion.
We walked down a few of the dirt roads, hoping to catch a glimpse of the forbidden kingdom beyond. This is the dirt road that would have led us closer to the compound itself. It was gated but we hopped the gate anyway. We’re pretty close to being rebels.Most of it was ranch land. I wonder if they get a lot of curious seekers driving through.
Another dirt road looked promising but ended about a half mile in with this cart.Whoa means stop.
This is a good view of the ridge (it’s on the right). If you go back to the satellite picture you can see how it surrounds the Scientology base. The lone hill on the left is also visible in the satellite picture. The gated dirt road winds between them (toward the horizon in this picture) and up to a riverbed.Was it a successful journey? We went looking for a phony religion and found a real one instead. We got to listen to Patton Oswalt on the way home. We shared secrets we had never told anyone before, not even our wives. We weren’t brainwashed, not even once. It was a grand day out.
Someday, when the Earth has been long abandoned and the Scientologists drive their UFO back to retrieve the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, they’ll land on what was once New Mexico. Their spaceship will have blue and green lights that will illuminate the surrounding desert. Maybe it will frighten a rabbit, who will scurry under a nearby bush. They will step out in their spacesuits and survey their hidden base. Unlike the pyramids, it will have remain undisturbed for thousands of years. Once inside the underground vault, they will finally read the words of the man who sent them on their interstellar voyage. What will those words say to them?