Tampa Tribune, June 30, 2000
DANIEL RUTH Strolling through Clearwater's old Fort Harrison Hotel, home to the Church of Very Weird Stuff, I asked Marty Rathbun if he minded if I took a brochure. No, not at all, feel free, the cleric from the Planet Ferpill replied. And then, having second thoughts perhaps, Rathbun paused and snatched the brochure away. ``Let me see that. You're probably just going to trash us.'' Marty, you gotta take your chances, I explained, snatching the brochure back. The document was a Church of Scientology come-on for people to: ``Get your FALSE PURPOSE RUNDOWN AUDITOR COURSE LECTURES.'' Wow! For an undisclosed fee, Scientology parishioners could get their false purpose rundown on: The GPM, at 1 hour, 3 minutes; for the State of OT, at 1 hour, 9 minutes; or Flattening a Process, at 1 hour, 23 minutes - among other exciting options explaining how thetans get trapped, or why a thetan adopts aberrated stable data, which then cause his decline. We're having huge big fun now! What does all this gibberish mean? Beats me. But from the looks of the bustling activity throughout the Fort Harrison and other Scientology locations around downtown Clearwater, there is no shortage of folks in pursuit of what another flier pitched as ``L12 makes a stable thetan exterior whose ability is greatly increased and is not likely to become PTS to anything.'' Ah yes, a stable thetan. It's a good thing. In all probability, as Rathbun - a very senior Scientology official - explained, I don't understand any of this hooey because of three roadblocks to learning articulated by the sect's founder, L. Ron Hubbard: (a) Lack of mass, (b) Too steep a gradient and (c) The misunderstood word. Well, there you have it. I had always labored under the assumption, based on my college years, that the three basic roadblocks to learning were: a) women, b) pool and c) beer. And oh yes, there's a fourth - not giving a rat's patootie, which is about where I was on a sunny morning in Clearwater. After a recent column on Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who spent 17 days under the cult's care back in 1995, only to turn up dead in New Port Richey, Rathbun thought it would be a swell idea for me to pay a visit and take a tour of the group's operations. Okey-dokey. I even got to see Hubbard's little sailor hat resting on a desk in an office shrine dedicated to the Scientology creator. It was just too, too thetan cute. Rathbun is a personable, low-key, intense chap. Unlike past dour, glazed Scientology spokesmen, who often came off as extras from ``Invasion of the Body Snatchers,'' Rathbun has at least a bit of a sense of humor. How much did I know about Scientology, Rathbun asked before answering his own question, referring to a story I had written about the organization in 1977, around the time he became a member. But what I know, or don't know, about Scientology is irrelevant with respect to Lisa McPherson. After a minor car accident in downtown Clearwater, McPherson stripped off her clothes and started walking down the street. Transported by paramedics to nearby Morton Plant Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, McPherson instead was moved by Scientologists to the Fort Harrison for ``rest and relaxation.'' Seventeen days later, she was dead. You might say she had terminal aberrated stable data. The death of McPherson set off a firestorm of controversy, leading eventually to the church's indictment on charges of practicing medicine without a license and abuse of a disabled adult. But the case subsequently withered under the weight of conflicting forensic reports and shifting church alibis. However there is one unalterable, undeniable, uncontested truth about McPherson's death. When her body ultimately failed, the dying woman was not taken to Morton Plant, literally moments away, but to a Scientologist doctor in New Port Richey. That act alone will forever cast a pall over the cult's negligent culpability in this young woman's death. It is a fact not even Marty Rathbun disputes. At last, we were all ``clear'' on at least one thing.