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Columnists

Personality test

James Cary

Cary

In the last ten years or so, I've spent many hours walking up and down Tottenham Court Road. I've not been hunting down cut-price electrical goods. Since eBay and Amazon, the shops on this road no longer look so cheap. Neither have I been hunting down furniture, although I do enjoy looking at the nice things in Heal's. Despite being a Calvinist, I like to think that I enjoy style and design as much as the next man (unless that man is not a regular Calvinist).

But the Calvinist in me still raises his eyebrows at the prices in Heal's and wonders where, in God's providence, I might find a suitcase full of money which also contains directions to another suitcase full of more money so I could shop at Heal's. That said, even if I had the money, I'm not sure I could bring myself to pay that much for their lovely homeware and sofas, especially in a world which contains the more acceptably priced, co-operatively- owned John Lewis.

I am usually loafing about the Tottenham Court Road part of London because I'm often working at the Drill Hall, a theatre where shows like Another Case of Milton Jones are recorded. It's especially fun to work with Milton as he is a Christian, something of a rarity in the industry. The comedy world is awash with comedians raised by vicars (Miles Jupp), lay-preachers (Mark Thomas), and the occasional bishop (Hugh Dennis). Actual church-going card-carrying Christians, though, are quite rare, not least because there isn't a card to carry.

On the day of a show recording at the Drill Hall, we all turn up at lunchtime, and after the first read-through of both scripts being recorded that day and some hasty rewrites and cuts, my work is largely done. There is a technical rehearsal as the cast go through the scripts once more with sound effects played in, so that they're not surprised by anything during the actual recording. Meanwhile, I'm strolling up and down Tottenham Court Road, finding a coffee shop in which I can open up my laptop and pretend to work on the next script before I return to watch the show performed in front of an audience. (The laughter is real, by the way).

In so doing, I usually walk past the high-street outpost of the Church of Scientology by Goodge Street Underground station where recruiters stand in the street, encouraging people to take a personality test. Clever. We all love to be told what kind of people we are. That must be part of the appeal of horoscopes and Briggs-Myers tests. I did one of the latter recently. (INFP, in case you were wondering. Classic Libra).

The way in for Scientology is a personality test based on a scientific theory called 'dianetics', devised by L Ron Hubbard. It sounds extremely plausible, doesn't it? You can imagine seeing an interview on TV with a Harvard Professor of Applied Dianetics. And the very word 'Scientology' sounds doubly factual where even the word 'Science' has been given an '-ology'.

If you look up Dianetics on Wikipedia, the editor says at the top that 'this page has some issues.' A masterful understatement. The article says that 'Dianetics has achieved no acceptance as a scientific theory, and is an example of pseudoscience.' Obviously the Hubbardists would disagree.

I have no desire to make Scientologist look ridiculous. They do most of that by themselves. Read the works of L Ron Hubbard and you can be the judge. But if you agree to take the test, you answer questions in the style of a 1950s B-Movie, since you have to sit there holding onto two electrodes, wired up to some kind of meter. The results are presented as some kind of dianetic graphic profile and you've taken the first step to becoming a scientologist.

So on Tottenham court Road, incredulous and baffled, I witness normal, intelligent people walking into this bizarre, unscientific religion that I clearly disagree with on many levels.

It was only recently that I realised that this is how my colleagues probably see me and my other Christian friends in the industry - normal intelligent people who've walked into a bizarre, unscientific religion that they disagree with on many levels. We are worlds apart.

But the comfort I have is that I'm not ultimately promoting a religious system, or even a mythology but a person. This person didn't invent a religion, create hierarchies, claim tax exemption or even write a book - we did all that. And he's someone who's set us free from shame and guilt. So maybe there's a case for a trip to Heal's after all.