The Reluctant Scientologist
Thorsten Overgaard was originally skeptical of religion, but has found understanding in scientology and an organization where his skills can be used to help others in need
By Damien Currie
At 21, Thorsten Overgaard thought that religion was not for him. Raised in an atheist family, he had no desire to find God, and especially not within the Church of Scientology.
“I saw it as something dangerous because that is the only thing I’d heard about it,” he says of the faith that would one day play a large part in his life.
“It was for losers from my viewpoint.”
“It wasn’t for me. That was the bottom line”.
Following in the footsteps of a successful friend, Overgaard enrolled in a series of business classes from the Church of Scientology to improve his management skills for his newly established company.
On his first day, his lecturer began talking to him about Dianetics, the fundamentals that make up Scientology. This became a turning point in his life.
“I was sold on the idea. I became less and less sceptical”.
On the spot he purchased 10 hours of auditing valued at 1.000 Danish Kroner as well as a textbook on the subject.
Business turns into faith
His interest grew and 25 years later Overgaard is now a volunteer minister within the Aarhus church. He has devoted high amounts of hours and kroner to the study of the religion, and has travelled the world as a part of it.
Standing just less than six foot, he wears a black military jacket, slim dark jeans, and leather boots. He appears more like a musician than a minister.
Away from the church, Overgaard is a full time photographer and runs his own company. His pictures have appeared in Life Magazine and he has shot portraits of celebrities and political figures including Kylie Minogue, Crown Prince Fredrick, and Bill Clinton.
Overgaard does not seemed fazed by the negative media attention his religion has received and accusations of it being a cult organization.
“The BBC Documentary was bullshit” he exclaims in reference to the documentary The Secrets of Scientology: A Panorama Special by John Sweeny in 2010.
“I met him two years ago in London and thought ‘what an asshole’”.
Not to be pessimistic, Overgaard subscribes to the theory of any publicity is good publicity.
“The bottom line is it makes people interested. People see this and think, “That’s a piece of bullshit. I wonder what it is really”, and they walk into a church.”
A reasoned approach to negativity
This relaxed attitude comes as a stark contrast of the Scientologists portrayed both in that particular BBC documentary, and others involving investigative journalists out to expose the religion.
“It wouldn’t take someone long to look at the books or look at the church and realise that this isn’t a UFO religion and it’s not about the money”, he says calmly.
Overgaard knows that you cannot force a religion onto another person. Not even his children.
“My viewpoint is that my kids are free to choose”, he explains.
“But it would be also be stupid that I know this thing that has the answers. They have to be told about this and they can pick up on it if they want”.
His two eldest children are 14-year-old twins. One is proud of his Dad’s religion, but knows that it isn’t for him. The other embraces it.
“She definitely considers herself a scientologist.”
Overgaard laughs cheekily as he admits that the church does not prevent divorce, as he has two ex wives. However, it does give you an understanding of what “fucked up” in the relationship, he explains.
Overgaard has used his connections with the church to make a difference around the world. After the tsunami disaster in 2004, he funded his own travels to Sri Lanka to assist in the devastation.
“I was prepared to do anything that was needed. I brought all my cameras because I am a photographer. They said that we needed photos. We needed a way to tell people what we are doing here, what the donations are buying”.
“You go out as a volunteer. You don’t go out to sell scientology or convince anybody about anything. It’s just the organization that brings you there.”
He is currently considering travelling to Japan to do the same.
Later this year he will fly to L.A to complete a further course in Scientology to achieve the Clear status. At this level, you are able to successfully communicate with anybody about anything and you are free from the pain of any troubling baggage from your past.
The road to enlightenment
After completing this stage, there are 20 more subsequent levels. The last seven have never yet been achieved.
“Scientology gives you a lot of hope that you can do something because any problem that you have, anything you want to be better, you can do it.”
Overgaard, like most Scientologists, believes in reincarnation after death.
“You are a spiritual being. You have a mind and a body. So what will happen when you die? That’s up to you.”
And as for Lord Xenu, the alleged creator of the earth that some people maintain is a belief of Scientology?
“God knows,” he says jokingly. “That’s the Google thing you know. It doesn’t exist in scientology. We’re not going to take over the world or the Whitehouse,” he says with a smile.
Overgaard is proof that scientologists are not that different to anyone else. They are guided by a set of core values instilled by their faith and are intent on finding peace and understanding of the world around them. They still laugh and joke around like anyone.
“The wiser you get one day you will understand what is God.”
What you didn’t know about Scientology
- Scientology is not an officially considered a religion in Denmark.
- Scientologists refer to the soul as a ‘Thetan’.
- Each course with the church to move closer to understanding requires a payment.
- Scientologist use an ‘e-meter’ during auditing sessions. This machine uses small electrical charges and assists parishioners in freeing themselves from the troubles of their past.
Overgaard’s photos can be found here on his blog.