That Time I Almost Accidentally Joined a Cult

3 min read

All the chatter about the HBO documentary on the Church of Scientology, Going Clear, got me thinking about my own experiences with a similar church I’ll call the Church of OddPhilosophies. Because I would never say anything bad about the Church of Scientology.

I was once on the run from the Church of OddPhilosophies.

Ok, so things weren’t as dramatic as that, but there did exist a time when I had to avoid the COO.

Picture it: the early ’00s, Los Angeles, California. A city of towering palm trees, near constant sunshine, and an overabundance of injectable-filled faces. A twenty-something woman full of youthful energy and naiveté dreams of a brilliant acting career.

(This young woman is me, by the way).

I’d often flip through Backstage West, an entertainment newspaper, looking for classes, seminars, casting notices and odd jobs. On one such occasion I came across an ad that looked something like this:

Fake Ad for Acting Seminar | The Girl Next Door is Black

That’s not exactly what it said, but that’s sure how I read it! Every actor knows there’s big opportunity and money in nationally broadcast commercials. SIGN ME UP!

It wasn’t until I arrived at the Famous Centre on the eastern edge of Hollywood that I realized it was part of The Church of OddPhilosophies.

I should have turned around as soon as I made the connection.

Instead, I parked and entered the estate. I’d driven by the grounds of the Famous Centre before and thought it beautiful and quintessentially old Hollywood. Now I had the chance to see the inside! Besides, I figured other churches sometimes rent out use of their space to non-religious groups as an income generator.

Church of Scientology Celebrity Center | The Girl Next Door is Black

The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, which looks very similar to the Church of OddPhilosophies Famous Centre
Source

A cheery young blond man ushered a group of about 30 of us hopefuls into a small room with seats arranged in rows facing the speaker.

“Hi, I am Felicia Lister, Denise’s less famous and less talented sister.” What happened to Denise?! Who is Felicia?

For the next half hour, Felicia charmed and dazzled us with motivational platitudes and positive affirmations.

“Maybe your dream is to win an Oscar one day. Your dream is RIGHT WITHIN YOUR GRASP! How badly do you want it though? Do you just talk the talk or do you WALK THE WALK? Do you want success?! Are you tired of worrying about how you’re going to pay your rent?”

Yes! Tell me how!

“I’ll tell you how! Some of our students are today’s biggest stars. We can’t name names because we respect their privacy. But, you know who they are.” Felicia winked.

Most of the actors were focused on Felicia, transfixed by her promises of glory and riches.

“We can help you achieve your dreams! Our methods are highly successful. So, if you’re serious about being serious about MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE, Chad will take you into the next room to watch a short film.”

Wait – so far, no one has mentioned anything about commercials. When is that going to happen?

I didn’t get the chance to ask as we were quickly hustled into an already dark screening room with about 20 seats. Somehow we’d lost 10 of our original number, so we all fit. I was beginning to feel trapped.

They showed us a 30-minute film that was part history of the Church of OddPhilosophies, and part propaganda documentary, including a direct sell from the church founder J. Don Buzzard.

It’s still one of the scariest films I’ve seen in my entire life.

Chad blocked my attempt to exit after the film.

“We’re almost done.” His smile slowly widened and his eyes glistened, “After this we’ll talk a bit about the program and then you can go if you’re not interested in MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.”

I now understood how I people get entangled in cults. Save me.

Help me, Save me - Photo by miamojoline, | The Girl Next Door is Black

Help!

After the film, Chad led us into yet another room. This one grander, with a vaulted ceiling and lots of glittery gold. It was when they told us that for the program to work we’d need to sign a promise to stop taking any and all mind-altering drugs like antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds and the like, that I got my ass out of there.

Holy crap. Even nutritionists tell you to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications. What the hell kinda crazy?

Oh had the tale ended there.

Unfortunately, I’d given my home phone number to the COO when I signed up for the seminar. A week later I received a call from a sugary-voiced member of the church, Mandy. Mandy wanted to know if I would like to finish my consultation and join them on the road to MAKING MY DREAMS COME TRUE.

“It’s not for me.”

Mandy protested, insistent that the COO held the keys to my future bounty, but I cut her off: “Yeah, I am not interested. Thanks, Mandy! Bye!”

In the following six months, I received monthly – sometimes bi-monthly – calls from the Church of OddPhilosophies. This, despite requesting multiple times that they remove me from their list and failing that, flat-out hanging up on them. I told my roommate to regard calls with extreme suspicion if the person on the other end asked to speak to me and sounded unnaturally happy.

It took moving to a new apartment and disconnecting my phone number to finally dodge the COO.

I haven’t heard from them since.

I still screen all my calls though. You can never be too careful.

Let this serve as a cautionary tale, my friends.

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31 Comments
  • Mai Tran
    June 28, 2015

    What an eye-opening story to me! I need to watch out more for this kind of cult trap!

  • @CptIglo1
    June 1, 2015

    “Let this serve as a cautionary tale, my friends.” http://t.co/b02ydB83M4 #Scientology

  • @CptIglo1
    June 1, 2015

    “Even nutritionists tell you to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications. What the hell kinda crazy?” http://t.co/b02ydB83M4

  • @CptIglo1
    June 1, 2015

    “… including a direct sell from the church founder J. Don Buzzard.” http://t.co/b02ydB83M4 Church of OddPhilosophies. Not #Scientology.

  • Terry Tyler
    April 19, 2015

    Waaaaah! And look, I can read all your posts now and comment on them! This post is so funny, I was only watching a doc the other day about people getting suckered into Scientology. Sooooo scary!

  • whatvaleriewrites
    April 15, 2015

    Love this! It’s just is hilarious (and a tad alarming, I won’t lie). I sort of wish you HAD joined and then escaped because then there’d be many further articles related to it. Great job!

  • Charlotte
    April 15, 2015

    Uhm, yea. this is all sorts of nutso. Also I have watched the documentary, out of sheer, morbid curiosity and also because I have an aunt who may have fled the family to join the Schmurch of Schmiontology. Don’t want anyone tracking me down here either 🙂 It’s insane the methods people will use to attract members–ie, posting a false ad in a paper for commercial hopefuls. Glad you hightailed it out of there!

  • Christy@SweetandSavoring
    April 15, 2015

    Ugh, they are so not cool but I’m glad that ‘almost’ and ‘accidentally’ are in your title! I love how all these stories are coming out. I read Going Clear but haven’t seen the doc yet, don’t know what I’m waiting for.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      April 15, 2015

      Haha. I didn’t watch the documentary until after I wrote this post and for as much as I’d heard about that church, I was still amazed to hear the experiences of some of the former top members. It’s definitely worth a viewing!

  • Mrs. AOK
    April 13, 2015

    YIKES!! That is crazy. I’m glad you were able to free yourself. 😉
    I have not watched Going Clear, yet.
    XOXO

  • Lana
    April 11, 2015

    What an interesting read. Glad you got out right away! Visiting from SITS Saturday.

  • Katina
    April 11, 2015

    LOL. Remind me to tell you about the time I washed out of a silent retreat. It may have been a cult thing too. I’m still not sure…

  • BritishMumUSA
    April 11, 2015

    Sat and watched the documentary two weeks ago. So disturbing, and so sad that entire families are caught up in this and then when one doesn’t agree they are asked to disassociate from that family member!!!! As for the rest of the doc, it got more and more disturbing as the story went on. What is really scary is that there are so many young people out there wanting to BELONG to something, and end up belonging to this…. So glad you had the wherefore though to high tail it out of there…. Good grief!!!!! Another thing I am going to have to set the teen straight on before I release her into the wild. I mean college!!!! 😉

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      April 12, 2015

      I can’t imagine being part of a religion or any group that demanded you break from your non-believing family members.

      Definitely can’t hurt to talk to your daughter about being wary of offers that seem to good to be true. College students are particularly vulnerable to such tactics.

  • Alysia from My Domestic Dish
    April 11, 2015

    Saw you on SITS and the title grabbed me lol. Hope you’re having an awesome weekend- loved this post!

  • ercatalano10
    April 11, 2015

    So creepy. Talk about a hard sell. If only they started w/ that bit about Xenu, I mean, Hank. 😉 Loved “L. Don Buzzard.”

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      April 11, 2015

      They really have their methods down. They know if they immediately busted in to Xenu talk, people would hightail it right out of there! 🙂

  • Sarah
    April 11, 2015

    That’s crazy!

  • plaguedparents
    April 10, 2015

    Wow! They are experts in the Con game! Good for you for seeing through it. I wonder how many of the hopeful actors didn’t.

  • mojoshawn
    April 9, 2015

    We miss you, Keisha.

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