A triangle has three sides

Welcome, friends, to Scientology Mecca. That is, Los Angeles.

When you live here, or even if you don’t, you tend to have encounters with people who are Scientologists. These folks don’t necessarily tell you they claim L. Ron Hubbard as a guru, but instead may engage you in looping, leading conversation in order to ultimately, if you let them, make you feel inadequate, to cause you to wonder if perhaps you are less than; if, just maybe, you’re searching for something.

Could it be you don’t know you’re searching for it?

Case in point: I was called for jury duty last spring. During the pre-trial selection one man asked the judge to be excused based on the fact that “the individuals in the case are their own jury, Your Honor, and I don’t believe in a system where I make a decision that someone else has already made.”

I thought, Yeah, okay, whack-job, and the Judge dismissed us for a short recess. Outside, the guy lit a cigarette and walked up to me looking at the vending machine choices.

“You wanna know why I don’t believe in a jury trial?”

“Sure,” I said, unsure. I am nothing if not polite.

“Do you know where your mind is?” he asked.


“Yeah, you think your mind is in your head, don’t you?”

“Um, maybe. I guess so.” I took a small step backward.

“Okay,” he said, “I want you to picture a cat. A cat, okay? You got it? You got the picture of a cat?”

“Yes. I can picture the cat.”

“Now, where is the cat?” he asked, looked at me intently, and dragged on his cigarette like it was true love.

“The cat is… in my mind?”

“Yes, you can see the cat, right? But where is the cat? Where is your mind?”

He lit another cigarette. “… And if you believe that your mind is everywhere and nowhere, you can understand that you can do anything. Anything you want.”

Like die of lung cancer? I thought.

“See, I’m a Scientologist and have been for many, many years. I know what the mind is. The court system exists because people don’t have any awareness of their own minds.”

We were called back inside. The guy was dismissed. I thought about cats.

Case #2:

I have a friend; let’s say his name is “John.” John and a visiting pal from high school thought it would be fun to go to the Scientology Center, to get on the inside and take one of their advertised Personality Tests, with these tag lines promoted around town: “Your personality determines your future” and “If you are not happy with life, you can find out why.”

John and friend were put into separate rooms and given, first, aptitude tests, which consisted of many mathematical and logic-based questions. John thought these tests were easy.

Then he took the personality test. It included constructions like:

Choose one:

[I believe that I create my reality.]

[I believe that I create my reality, but that other realities intersect with my reality.]

[I believe that there is an outside force which is in charge of my reality.]

This test had fifty questions. Down at around question #40 appeared:

[A triangle has three sides.]

John pondered the idea for awhile, trying to unlock its mystery. He put a little question mark next to the statement.

Later, John met with a “representative from the church,” a youngish guy in a white dress shirt and blue uniform suit pants and jacket, like all the other people working at the center. The representative told John that he’d analyzed John’s report and that John was showing signs of serious depression. The guy asked John how he was feeling. John said he was feeling quite good, actually.

“Well, your report shows that you’re pretty unhappy. It also shows you as coming in low on the ‘awareness’ scale.”

John listened quietly.

The representative continued, “So, you might not even know that you’re depressed. Why don’t you tell me something that you want in your life, something you’d like to see happen.”

John said that he was really feeling happy and content with everything that he had.

But the representative insisted that John was sad and in denial and wanted things in life and was, therefore, probably a little bit bitter. They went back and forth, disagreeing for awhile, when John noticed that the representative was becoming somewhat frustrated with him, probably since he insisted he was feeling pretty good. The representative went out and brought in another suited-up representative who looked over John’s test results and then told John that Scientology had done so many wonderful things for him in his life, and now he was living an improved, before-only-dreamed-about existence. John asked for an example of one thing Scientology had done for the man, but the second representative said there were so many things he couldn’t think of just one.

At home, John put the printout of the test on the refrigerator. He had scored below the average in every category except “certainty,” where he was way up at the top of the scale. Strangely, the test results were inaccurately represented in a line graph, where the score in the “happiness” category was linked by a line to the “confidence” score, then linked to the dot in “awareness” and so on. John knew the results should have been shown in a bar graph. The line graph, however, depicted him as a personality failure. He had basically flat lined except for that spike in “certainty.”

He shuddered. If he had chosen to put on the blue suit, he probably would have felt really sure about his decision.

Case #3:

This case involves “Beth,” who has been looking for work in the city. She set up an interview at a marketing firm recently and arrived on time and dressed up. The interview was conducted in a small office. Beth was immediately put on guard by the Dianetics poster in the front room, dooming all who enter by the reds and yellows of an exploding volcano. But she’s a curious girl. And she needed a job.

About five other people were waiting for the same interview. A man with orange hair handed each candidate a form as he explained that the interview would begin with some tests for, you guessed it, aptitude and personality style. The form was, he said, a simple agreement to take the tests, but as Beth read over the finer print, the form was in fact a disclaimer releasing all liability from the organization in case an individual “reacted poorly” to the test questions or results and wanted to sue. Beth did not sign her full legal name. Just in case.

She was a bit offended by the “aptitude” test which had questions that seemed to be around eighth-grade level. Beth has a degree in mathematics. You would think they would have pre-screened her resume.

The personality test was more fun. She wondered what the accurate Scientologist answer was for each question. Number twenty-three on the personality test read: Mark one answer only. #23: A triangle has three sides.

In Scientology, the triangle actually becomes two triangles defined as an upper triangle, representing “knowledge, responsibility, and control,” and a lower triangle, which represents “affinity, reality, and communication.” But Beth was not a Scientologist and felt a little irritated. She likes rules and the rules said to “mark one answer only.” She left it blank anyway, thinking it was a misprint. The interview was weird. She was not offered the job.


I’ll admit it, the triangles sound wholesome, maybe even intelligent in their simplest forms, but a little more context for your opinion, dear reader:

A friend of a friend had just broken up with an incredibly jealous boyfriend. She theorized that part of his insecurity was because he had been raised strictly Scientologist and couldn’t deal with her independence and occasional flirtiness. One morning before the break-up he called her, very upset about a horrible, horrible dream he’d had. He was sure he was going to lose her.

She coaxed him into sharing the dream, which he was reluctant to recount–it was so disturbing! With sad and shaking voice, he told her that in the dream they had arrived at a party where there were only men, naked men. He watched as she was approached by one of these naked men carrying a tray of hotdogs. And the tray, positioned conspicuously at waist level, held one special penis-in-a-bun just for her.

This dream may have nothing to do with Scientology, but it sure is funny.

Lastly, we can consider the Scientologist celebs, including Linda Blair and Lisa Marie Presley. What are we to make of this list? How did each star answer the triangle question? And why have so many of their careers taken an eventual turn toward infomercials? (Folks, I’m sorry to report, Beck is one too.)

In the end, it’s up to you. Maybe you are searching for a free personality test at a $500.00 value. Can you picture a cat? Where is the cat? And what about this triangle? Mark your answers below.

61 responses to “A triangle has three sides”

  1. Dave says:

    Did you see Boston Legal last night? James Spader totally ripped Scientology a new one.

  2. Rachel says:

    A war in the heavens? The earth as a testing ground? A concept of eternal glory that categorizes people on a gradient scale? Illimitable numbers of souls possessing godly powers? Holy Xenu! Who would believe such ideas?

  3. Lisa Parrish says:

    “‘Sure,’ I said, unsure.”

    This is why I love Lisa T.

    That, and “This dream may have nothing to do with Scientology, but it sure is funny.”

  4. bryan says:

    I like the ones Lisa P mentioned and this one too:

    I have a friend; let’s say his name is “John.”

    And I like Rachel’s point.

    Say hi to “John” for me, Lisa. Loved your post. bw

  5. bryan says:

    i also was struck by the problem of someone having been “raised strictly Scientologist.” i hadn’t really thought of that before — that there are lifetime Scientologists out there, or Jack Scientologists, even. i’ve only ever thought of the Beck types — people with lots of money and lots of insecurity and emotional vulnerability who get suckered into this kind of thing — economically, if not emotionally, the opposite of the types of people who convert to most other religions.

  6. Rachel says:

    Beck was born and raised in Scientology.

  7. Stephanie Wells says:

    You gotta read the Rolling Stone expose from a few months back (last spring maybe) about people born and raised into it. It was super long but I was riveted to every word.

  8. bryan says:

    Just in case some of you have never seen this, I thought I’d link to the ever-wonderful Betty Butterfield’s account of her encounter with Scientology.

    The rest of her religious encounters are available here.

    We’ve referenced these before, but it’s been a while.

  9. Rachel says:

    That article was wild, Stephanie! As an English teacher, I was repelled by the ass-backward, doublespeaking vocabulary alone.

  10. Lisa Tremain says:

    Damn! I missed the Boston Legal episode.

  11. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Yeah, but can a Scientologist create great art? Is there a great Scientologist artist?

    As for Beck, he is not only a Scientologist but a card carrying member of the overrated club as well.

    And it’s always nice to see a James Spader reference, keep ’em coming.

  12. Lisa Tremain says:

    Record clubbers will kill me for this disclaimer, but I was just able to login and change some really obvious syntax issues in the post.

    Whew! I feel better now.

    You’re right, Ruben, Beck is overrated now, but Mellow Gold was a great record. Hey, that album cover looks like a dianetics poster!

    John has a colleague who auditioned for bass on the Guero tour, but Beck gave the job to the other guy– a Scientologist.  Don’t you love Hollywood gossip?  It’s true, I swear!

  13. Tim Wager says:

    Well, what was Beck supposed to do? That bass player needed the cash to get to OT IV. Plus, he could totally as-is the bass parts, first time.

  14. so beck was born into scientology? for real? well, that’s kind of cool. it’s a lot better than converting along with the parade of brain-dead celebrities.

    and no, ruben, there never will be a great scientologist artist, because l ron hubbard was their great artist and he was a pretty mediocre one to begin with. i know my funky american prophets, and that fellow was no joseph smith. an orson scott card, maybe, but in my book that makes him even more suspect.

  15. Jeremy Zitter says:

    Isn’t Tom Cruise a great artist? (Haven’t you all seen Days of Thunder?)

    Great post, LT.

  16. Dave says:

    Beck’s dad is a scientologist, but Beck was raised by his mom.

  17. oh — a part member family. that explains everything.

  18. Lisa Tremain says:

    I’ve read that Beck’s mom is a Scientologist as well.

  19. bryan says:

    Wow. what an article. or press prep. or whatever.

    So funny thing is I just won tickets a couple days ago to go see Beck this weekend. But I’ll be in Amsterdam. I passed them to a grad student. And then just now I got an email from the Beck people (I’m somehow on their mailing list — I think from Sea Change online listening prerelease stuff) saying he’s playing a special small acoustic set on Sunday. Oh well. Miss that one too. I would have loved to have staged an intervention to save him from his cultish ways.

  20. James says:


    Really. I swear.


    Okay. So I was staying at a friend’s house in Burbank, and she came into the kitchen and said “Linda Blair wants your car keys”. It turned out she lived across the street, noticed I was parked the wrong way, and wanted to move the car so I wouldn’t get a ticket.

    So it’s not REALLY a life-threatening sitch she saved me from, but it was still pretty cool.

  21. Lane says:

    Beck was raised a Jew! I just read this in . . . the Voice or something, I know this is right. It really saddened me to read about his scientology thing.

    When that art director from Interscope calls I’m going to turn them down.

  22. Lane says:

    WOW I just read that Scientology article. It backs up this interview I read just last week. Beck’s official line is that he was raised Jewish (I found that surprising when I read it having followed him – even ACTUALLY once down Houston Street – since ’94 and had never heard a Jewish reference.)

    All in all that’s pretty sad. It also makes me soften my recent pronouncement about Mormonism being “a cult”. It’s more like Mormonism WAS a cult and now it’s just an eccentric American Christain heresy. But again it’s a sliding scale isn’t it? A matter of degree, like Opus Dei.

    In any event, all this talk about Beck makes me sad.

  23. i don’t know. i was more turned off when wayne coyne revealed what a total ass he is to ordinary people — the kind of guy who sends food back on a regular basis, who rides in limos and then worries about what people would think if they knew he rides only in limos.

  24. Lane says:

    No it’s not so much turned off (who is Wayne Coyne?) I really just think it’s sad! Beck is so cool (screw you people that think he’s overrated! Try to do what he does, as long as he has, consistantly and in as many interesting ways!)

    That article just makes him sound like he . . . was raised in a cult. I’m serious when I say Mormonism is wierd but it’s NOTHING like what that article describes.

    It’s just sad that someone would have parents that would do that to them and then because he can’t really get out of it he’s going to do it to his son as well. As if growing up in Hollywood wouldn’t be wierd enough.

  25. Lane says:

    And you know what Ruben if you want an east/west holy war this is it.

    The single coolest radio station in this country is WFMU. You almost never hear the same song twice. And the DJ’s that play there are some of the most seriously connected art/music industry people around.

    On a very rare occation you will get a bonafide FMU hit. A song that “goes into rotation” and these songs are NEVER hits on the outside world. Except BECK!

    Brian Turner plays Beck
    Trouble plays Beck
    Dave Mandel plays Beck
    Scott Williams plays Beck
    Ken Friedman plays Beck
    Charlie plays Beck
    FABIO plays Beck
    Hatch plays Beck
    Tom Sharpling plays Beck
    and Sue Braun (Fridays 8 – 11) who does not suffers fools plays BECK!

    You, Mister Mancillas ARE WRONG!

    California has ROTTED your BRAIN!

  26. bryan says:

    Lane — I love how you shouted FABIO. That’s so funny. And surprising. Shit, if FABIO plays Beck you know you’ve got a point. Only thing better would have been if Kenny G played Beck. (Did you check?)

    Wayne Coyne sings for Flaming Lips. He is probably one of the four or five coolest people on the planet, even if his band has lamed out a little. (A little!) He made those comments after Beck asked them to tour with him and play as his backing band. They thought he would be their kind of people, but it turns out they were wrong. They later retracted comments, cuz I guess they hurt his feelings or something.

    Ruben — I kind of have to agree with Lane here. I never really got into Guero, but when I’m in a public place and one of those songs comes on, it’s generally pleasant. Of all the 90s indie icons, Beck remains most interesting. Malkmus? Nah. Kurt Cobain? Now let’s talk about overrated. At least Beck is interesting. Are there newer artists doing way more interesting things? Sure. But I do have a soft spot for the freak. We’re almost exactly the same age, and like Lane (guessing from the comments above) I kind of overidentify with him as an artist. When I was on the job market I used to psych myself up for interviews by asking myself the question, “What would Beck do in this situation?” I guess that’s kind of lame but it worked at the time.

    Are we to believe all the anti-Scientology stuff we’ve linked to? I guess having grown up in a culture that’s perceived by many as a cult makes me suspicious of propaganda on both sides when it comes to religion. But then again, Scientology seems to me to be a “religion” more than a religion. Always sucks for the new kids on the block.

  27. PB says:

    So well written, I really enjoyed this–especially the lines noted above. I love how much the post shows/ tells you through the case studies and dialogue. I have always loved science fiction and fantasy as the alternate language of belief, sort of parallel religions. At their best, great sci fi/ fantasy allows people to “play” with their relationship to God and power in a non-threatening way. In this case, what feels so uncomfortable is the story has moved from fiction to real life–and yet, hiostorically, what is religion other than a few great stories taken way too seriously. It kind of weirds me out, this group is freaky, no doubt, but in 2000 years? What messiah will win? And why do we always need one? Clearly I am depressed.

  28. Lisa Tremain says:

    It’s okay, PB, we love you. And, really, do we honestly think any messiah will win? If so, I’m rooting for the Dalai Lama.

  29. Dave says:

    Beck did that Hannukah/Christmas/robot song a while ago with part of a Hebrew prayer in it.

    From the interview I read, I gathered he isn’t that hard core about Scientology, but he identifies as a member (partly, it seemed, out of loyalty to his dad) and gets a bit worked up about people calling Scientology a freak religion.

    I totally agree with Lane on Beck. Not overrated at all.

    Re: Bryan’s Are we to believe all the anti-Scientology stuff we’ve linked to? I guess having grown up in a culture that’s perceived by many as a cult makes me suspicious of propaganda on both sides when it comes to religion.

    Didn’t growing up in the culture you did make you realize that a lot of what the dissidents say is correct, even if you don’t always like their tone?

  30. Lisa Tremain says:

    Yes. I started an east/west argument. Does that put PB and Rachel in the intellectual middle? Can you referee, girls, please? I think Lane is a little out of line saying California has rotted Ruben’s brain.

    I was at the “dress rehearsal” show at the Claremont Colleges for Sea Change/Yoshimi. It was awesome! They’d each do songs two or three times, like a real rehearsal, but in front of, like, 1,200 people. Truthfully, Sea Change is my favorite Beck album. Or maybe One Foot in the Grave.

    Anyway, it was interesting to see how relaxed Wayne was with the crowd, talking to us between songs and coming out into the audience. Beck mostly just talked to his band mates. When they played a song or two together at the end, Wayne tried to get Beck to come down into the audience, but he wouldn’t. We could all see the tension in Beck’s face– and Wayne wondering if he’d stepped over the line somehow.

  31. bryan says:

    Not really. Most anti-Mormons are evangelical Christians, and most of the assumptions they operate on are more repulsive to me than the parts of Mormonism that made it untenable for me in the first place.

  32. Jeremy Zitter says:

    Bryan, you wondered what Beck would do while interviewing for a job as an early-American literature specialist? I’m wondering what you eventually decided Beck would do in that situation… and what you did, as a result.

  33. Jeremy Zitter says:

    Sea Change is my favorite Beck album, too.

  34. bryan says:

    I quite like Mutations, but I probably would pick Sea Change too. Such a lulling, lovely album.

    I saw Midnite Vultures in a medium-sized auditorium and it was fantastic. But the small secret show at Maxwell’s a couple years ago was even better. His band is so amazingly tight.

    Lane called to say that Trouble, one of our favorite DJs, played a new Beck song this morning, even as we were starting this argument.

  35. jeremy — i’m not sure why #33 went into moderation, but i fished it out.

    no — i was thinking in more abstract terms. what kind of confidence would he walk into a room with, on his way to plug a project or negotiate a contract. that sort of thing. i just thought of him as an ideal young artist playing his game with style.

  36. i came up with that exercise after a good friend told me that she got through her interviews by imagining she was pocahontas on display before british royalty.

  37. Lisa Tremain says:

    I’m totally gonna steal the pocahontas visualization.

    Jeremy, I remember when you were anti-Sea Change…and then you listened to it.

  38. autumn says:

    regarding Beck interviewing for a job…I have from reliable sources that Beck was once employed at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Los Angeles and he was ‘let go’ due to bad hygiene. that is neither here nor there but I wonder: is it just a coincidence that just this morning I downloaded ‘Soldier Jane’ one song from Beck’s new album because the back beat made me move? anyways, I’ve been waiting for the perfect time to share that Beck trivia and Miss Lisa T. – another great post.

  39. bryan says:


    hey i finally remembered where the line came from: “autumn leaves, and doesn’t say where she is going ,,,”

    it’s off the new lambchop album. it’s also a song about california.

    nice to see your name on the screen.

  40. Ruben Mancillas says:

    So it’s California that rotted my brain?

    Mystery solved.

    I can’t think of many artists who fit “L.A./California” stereotypes more than Mr. Hansen himself but I suppose that is a different post altogether.

    What would Beck do?

    Funniest damn thing I’ve read on this site in a long while.

    I’m picturing little kids studiously weaving their multicolored WWBD bracelets at…Beck camp?

    “I kind of overidentify with him”

    You think?

    Note that I called the guy overrated (yeah, I know, screw me and my rotted brain), not untalented. And I hope that most of you caught the reference to Yale and Mary’s list in Manhattan and the attendant absurdity of making such lists.

    I’ve never heard of those DJ’s listed but he did get played on Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour so that’s something in my book.

    A lot of smart people like it. I get it. And bless everyone for their enthusiasms but I think the (overly?) defensive tone regarding his diminished relevance is far more telling than my isolated opinion that his music just isn’t that good anymore.

  41. Lane says:

    Hey don’t get me wrong. I LOVE California brain rot.

    I dream of someday living there, infact I have done so since I was 8, and letting my whole being turn to mush.

  42. hey ruben — i just wanted to clarify that my WWBD days were back 6 or 7 years ago, when he was at the top of his game. i can’t say that i’ve even given guero a half dozen listens through. i agree with you that the latest stuff is not as interesting. but it still seems to be better than it gets credit for from jaded pop culture snobs like you. (meaning i’ve noticed you like to stir up trouble with messages that include a bunch of obscure pop culture allusions, and then when people get riled — which was your objective — you come back all defensive and claim it all had to do with people not recognizing your allusions. i would hate to see what happens on the fantasy basketball court.)

    your brother in bowie in any case,


  43. G-Lock says:

    Wait, I thought Scientologists were those preternaturally perky closeted gay folks who offer massages at the Times Square subway station.

  44. Tim Wager says:

    “preternaturally perky” – now *that’s* funny. LOL.

    In re Scientology, I can’t believe no one’s referenced the South Park that got Isaac Hayes to quit. There’s a couple-minute long section in which they summarize Scientology’s science fictional eschatology (well, all eschatology sounds like science fiction, I guess). It’s bizarre shit. Clams! Clams!

    In re Beck, sorry to go against the flow here, but he lost me at Sea Change. In that so many of you whose opinions I respect love that record, maybe I should give it another listen, but all I remember is endless mopey whining and many overly-long songs that had the same structure and tempo. Gimme the wit and concision of Odelay! and Mutations any time. One Foot in the Grave is a really good one, too, but I speak from ignorance of Guero and The Information. I’ve heard some tracks on the radio, but haven’t listened closely.

  45. WW says:

    On the train yesterday, I was reading the TV section over some guy’s shoulder. Across the top of the page was a banner ad for Smallville, with the subtitle, “Every triangle has three sides…” Also, this season, Nip/Tuck has been doing a storyline about the upside of Scientology. Fo reals.

  46. Stephanie Wells says:

    Okay, it’s light years after the fact at this point, but I somehow missed all the Beck convo that flew after this post. Although I am a brainrotted Californian, I must take issue with Mancillas here and say that Beck, tragically Scientologist though he may be, is not overrated; Midnite Vultures might be the greatest party album OF ALL TIME!!! I’m not trying to stir up any new shit, especially since I contributed to the Bowie storm a little more than my share, but I cannot let this go unstated.Okay, that’s all.

  47. i’m with you my sista. on this side of the continent we had some good times listening to midnite vultures at bacon’s old house (with pool!) back at the turn of 2000. oy what a time.

    is it true you’ve all gone home and left us?

  48. Stephanie Wells says:

    Yup; Dave, I’m home. (Couldn’t see THAT coming, could ya?)

    The best thing about your response is that one second after I screwed up my link in my comment, I started to write another comment asking you to fix it, but felt it would be tedious; yet you fixed it immediately anyway, and yet I am writing a tedious comment anyway. Well, Tremain, I’ve got you pushin’ 50!

  49. The Midnite Vulture says:

    Gee, this is seeming like it could get my vote for most insider-y commenting.

  50. and yet it’s only 11:00 on the east coast. what time is it out there? are you sure you’re not the primetime vulture?

  51. Shugar Shack says:

    Yur burnt. I win!

  52. The Midnite Vulture says:

    It’s always Midnite where I’m at, baby. (Pushing #55)

  53. these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. [jedi hand wave]

  54. Tim Wager says:

    I sense something; a presence I’ve not felt since…

  55. …. since i reordered all those posts that were thrown off by daylight savings time?

  56. Tim Wager says:

    Yes, master, not since then. [bows head]

  57. trixie says:

    y’all are a bunch of badasses.
    (bows head)

  58. Beck says:

    Not sure what to add to the comment by Ms. Wells other than to wonder what suddenly possessed her to offer it in the first place…other than to rightfully step up and once again acknowledge my brilliance on this site.

    Is there an award for most lag time between comments?

    If not, I nominate October 20-January 10, 2007.

    And how great is it that I get to look up above this box everyday and see “Welcome back Beck (Change) ?

    The answer, by the way, is very great.

  59. Lisa Tremain says:

    Sorry, Beck, but I think Literacy won the “lag time” on comments with her May 24 posting of Be-cows I’m ever so bewildered. But thanks for the nomination.

  60. DO the RIGHT thing says:

    WOW. I just finished reading the Rolling Stone article. IT IS WRONG to do that to children!! Oh my!!! Now, I know what a cult is, a perfect example would be scientologist. And before you judge me about being narrow minded, I was siding with Scientologist, reasoning that it is just a belief. As long as the belief helps people and not hurt people, I support it. To force young children and “beat” their will is just evil. JUST EVIL.