The most important, and highly anticipated, of the eight "OT levels" is OT III, also known as the Wall of Fire. It is here that Scientologists are told the secrets of the universe, and, some believe, the creation story behind the entire religion. It is knowledge so dangerous, they are told, any Scientologist learning this material before he is ready could die. When I ask Mike Rinder about this, he casts the warning in less-dire terms, explaining that, before he reached OT III — he is now OT V — he was told that looking at the material early was "spiritually not good for you." But Hubbard, who told followers that he discovered these secrets while on a trip to North Africa in 1967, was more dramatic. "Somehow or other I brought it off, and obtained the material and was able to live through it." he wrote. "I am very sure that I was the first one that ever did live through any attempt to attain that material."
Scientologists must be "invited" to do OT III. Beforehand, they are put through an intensive auditing process to verify that they are ready. They sign a waiver promising never to reveal the secrets of OT III, nor to hold Scientology responsible for any trauma or damage one might endure at this stage of auditing. Finally, they are given a manila folder, which they must read in a private, locked room.
These materials, which the Church of Scientology has long struggled to keep secret, were published online by a former member in 1995 and have been widely circulated in the mainstream media, ranging from The New York Times to last year's South Park episode. They assert that 75 million years ago, an evil galactic warlord named Xenu controlled seventy-six planets in this corner of the galaxy, each of which was severely overpopulated. To solve this problem, Xenu rounded up 13.5 trillion beings and then flew them to Earth, where they were dumped into volcanoes around the globe and vaporized with bombs. This scattered their radioactive souls, or thetans, until they were caught in electronic traps set up around the atmosphere and "implanted" with a number of false ideas — including the concepts of God, Christ and organized religion. Scientologists later learn that many of these entities attached themselves to human beings, where they remain to this day, creating not just the root of all of our emotional and physical problems but the root of all problems of the modern world.
"Hubbard thought it was important to have a story about how things got going, similar to the way both Jews and Christians did in the early chapters of Genesis," says UCLA's Bartchy. "All religion lives from the sense either that something in life is terribly wrong or is profoundly missing. For the most part, Christianity has claimed that people have rebelled against God with the result that they are 'sinners' in need of restoration and that the world is a very unjust place in need of healing. What Hubbard seems to be saying is that human beings are really something else — thetans trapped in bodies in the material world — and that Scientology can both wake them up and save them from this bad situation."
The church considers OT III confidential material. But there are numerous science-fiction references in Scientology texts available to members of all levels. The official "Glossary for Scientology and Dianetics" includes an entry for "space opera," a sci-fi genre that the glossary says "is not fiction and concerns actual incidents." Scientology's "Technical Dictionary" makes reference to a number of extraterrestrial "invader forces," including one, the "Marcab Confederacy," explained as a vast, interplanetary civilization more than 200,000 years old that "looks almost exact duplicate [sic] but is worse off than the current U.S. civilization." Indeed, as even Rinder himself points out, Hubbard presented a rough outline of the Xenu story to his followers in a 1967 taped lecture, "RJ 67," in which he noted that 75 million years ago a cataclysmic event happened in this sector of the galaxy that has caused negative effects for everyone since. This material is available to lower-level Scientologists. But the details of the story remain secret within Scientology.
Rinder has fielded questions on Scientology's beliefs for years. When I ask him whether there is any validity to the Xenu story, he gets red-faced, almost going into a tirade. "It is not a story, it is an auditing level," he says, neither confirming nor denying that this theology exists. He says that OT material — and specifically the material on OT III — comprises "a small percent" of what Scientology is all about. But it is carefully guarded. Scientologists on the OT levels often carry their materials in locked briefcases and are told to store them in special secure locations in their homes. They are also strictly forbidden from discussing any facet of the materials, even with their families. "I'm not explaining it to you, and I could not explain it to you," says Rinder heatedly. "You don't have a hope of understanding it."
Those who have experienced OT III report that getting through it can be a harrowing experience. Tory Christman, a former high-ranking Scientologist who during her tenure in the faith reached the near-pinnacle of enlightenment, OT VII, says it took more than ten years before she was finally invited onto OT III. Once there, Christman was shocked. "You've jumped through all these hoops just to get to it, and then you open that packet, and the first thing you think is, 'Come on,'" she says. "You're surrounded by all these people who're going, 'Wow, isn't it amazing, just getting the data? I can tell it's really changed you.' After a while, enough people say it and you're like, 'Wow. You know, I really feel it.'"
Natalie has a long way to go before she reaches OT III. Although virtually everything about the OT levels is available on the Internet, "I don't look at that stuff," Natalie says. She believes it is mostly "entheta," which are lies, or negative information about Scientology meant to undermine the faith. "You know, sometimes in school, kids would hear I'm a Scientologist and be like, 'No way — are you an alien?'" Natalie says. "I don't get mad about it. I just go, 'OK, let me tell you what it really is.'"
Natalie's view of Scientology is the one church officials promote: that it is not a religion about "space aliens" but simply a set of beliefs that can help a person live a better life. And Natalie appears to be the poster child for Scientology as a formula for a well-adjusted adolescence. Articulate and poised, she is close to her family, has a wide circle of Scientologist and non-Scientologist friends and graduated from high school last spring as a straight-A student. "I'm not saying that everybody must be a Scientologist," she says. "But what I am saying is that I see it work. I've learned so much about myself. LRH says, 'What is true for you is what you observe to be true.' So I'm not here to tell you that Scientology is the way, or that these are the answers. You decide what is true."
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